So, it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow. It’s been a while since we last tacked the subject of dating relationships, so I thought I’d revisit the topic. In covering this topic, there is going to be a lot of Law. We’ll get to the Gospel in this area, but in our society and even in our churches, there is a great deal of lawlessness in the area of romantic relationships.
Where does the Bible address dating?
Before I answer this question, let’s start off by clarifying what we mean by “dating”. In our modern context, “dating” in its cleanest form is what we call two unmarried individuals getting to know each other in hopes of determining whether or not they’d like to marry. I have no doubt that there are some who put this into practice with the best of intentions. In its dangerous form, “dating” is a short-cut to companionship and carnal knowledge between two unmarried individuals in hopes of gleaning all of the benefits of marriage without any of the commitment. Should this “relationship” last long enough as the most desirable, or the best each individual can hope to get, then it might progress into a marriage relationship. The common theme here is that it’s somewhat considered a process for selecting a spouse, but the difference between good dating and bad dating is the level of premarital intimacy. A major element in American culture is the hyper-individualism we embrace in every decision we make. We “date” for what we think will make us the most happy. We explain away dating mistakes, abuses, and heartbreak through the lens of “finding ourselves” or “doing what’s right for me”. Nowhere in Scripture is the marriage relationship described in such selfish and self-centered terms. Since marriage is never described as such, how can anyone justify “dating” with that mindset as a valid approach to finding a spouse. So, we have an issue with the term “dating”. Our modern context goes about it selfishly, carnally, and individualistically. So, let’s discuss this Biblically. For starters, let’s ask a better question than “where does the Bible address dating” by asking “Where does the Bible address finding a spouse”.
Where does the Bible address finding a spouse?
The short answer is “Yes, but not in great detail”. The first mention of finding a spouse we’ll look to is in Genesis 2. Let’s also look at what Jesus taught in regards to the Law of marriage.
Genesis 2:23-24 (ESV)
Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
The first point I want to make here, is that until we are married, we are not individuals, we are very much a part of our family. Western society had a “kick them to the curb at 18” when I was growing up, and millennials tend to more of a “the kids know what’s best for them these days” mentality. Each of this is destructive to our understanding of the estate of the Family and the vocations of parents and children. The fourth commandment (5th Reformed) is in play here (honor your father and your mother) for both the man and woman leading up to marriage. Who you choose to marry impacts both families greatly. There are those whose family ties are already fractured, for now I’m talking to families that are intact. There are boundaries that need to be placed, for it is you who must choose to marry, but the fourth commandment applies across every social context. Rebellion is a horrible way to enter into the marriage covenant.
The sixth commandment (7th Reformed) “do not commit adultery” is one we modern-day Christians like to minimize either by stratifying the degrees of adultery or by crafting environments where we can understandably “oops” into sexual immorality by suddenly being overcome by burning passion, “in the heat of the moment”. The first approach comes by renaming the form of adultery we are more comfortable forgiving/excusing into “premarital sex” rather than adultery. We like to reserve that word for when one or both parties engaged in sexual intimacy is in-fact married to someone else. Then, we like to create degrees of error depending on the extend of the physical intimacy so there’s sex, and then there’s foreplay, and there is “heavy petting”, wet vs dry kissing, sexting, flirting, etc. Is this the right approach? No, it isn’t. To quote Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (ref)“. Changing what we call a sin, and inventing our own taxonomy of terms sub-dividing that sin into categories does not have any real impact on the sinfulness of the sin. It’s still sexual immorality. It’s still adultery. Jesus addresses this attempt at diluting the Law directly in His sermon on the mount.
Matthew 5:27-30 (ESV) | Lust
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
This goes for women, too, by the way. None is immune to this sin. So, if thoughts and fantasies apart from action are no less adultery, there is no muting of the sin of adultery in your dating by simply drawing a line in the sand where you think you’ll be able to refrain from crossing before marriage.
As for the “heat of the moment” approach to sexual sin, Proverbs 5 addresses this quite plainly as well. Whether you run toward sexual sin, or simply plan to be carelessly swept away by your own passions or are caught in a temptress’ snare, death is death, and to flirt with death is folly.
The Scriptures point to sexual purity whenever the discussion of marriage comes up. The primary reason for this is that sex is given as a gift only within the covenant of Marriage. Outside of marriage, sex is a curse. Sex in all of its forms outside of marriage is sin. It is a particularly dangerous sin. So, we’ve established that sex outside of marriage is sin. Let’s take a moment to see what happens when the Pharisees tested Jesus concerning marriage and divorce, particularly with how the disciples heard His teaching.
Matthew 19:1-12 (ESV) | Teaching About Divorce
Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
If you take some time reading through Malachi, you’ll see that the priests were abusing the letter of divorce under the Mosaic covenant and leaving the wives of their youth for younger models (Malachi 2:13-16). The LORD sends rebuke through the prophet, Malachi, for this and several other grave sins. So, marriage is a life-long covenant, not to be broken by man. The disciples, realizing the seriousness of the marriage covenant here, come to the conclusion that it’s better not to marry. They were right, but Jesus reminds them that not everyone can go through life without sexual sin. That is a particular grace; therefore, God has given us marriage. No marriage = no sex of any kind. That’s the Law. At this time, adultery was punishable by death, though not always sentenced to it. If you recall, Joseph thought to quietly divorce Mary, the mother of Jesus until and angel spoke to Joseph confirming the Word of the Lord to Mary (Matt 1:19-25).
Okay, so what about choosing a spouse?
Dear brother and sister in Christ Jesus, you are free to choose whom you will marry. You are not free to include sexual sin in your selection process, that is still sin and will require continual repentance. It’s also a horrible, terrible metric for selecting a spouse. In our modern context of dating, we allow things we don’t like in hopes of getting whatever we want. It is reckless to base a life long commitment of marriage on a few moments of sexual pleasure that may or may not be genuine and may cease the moment your marriage is settled. Physical beauty is fleeting, we all age. Making physical attraction/chemistry the focal point of choosing a lifelong spouse is also foolish.
I’d like to take a moment to read through the Apostle Paul’s instruction regarding marriage and remarriage in his first letter to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (ESV) | Flee Sexual Immorality
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
The vast majority of us fall in the category of those to whom it wasn’t given to be born a eunuch. We struggle with sexual immorality. We are told to flee from it. Marriage is a blessed escape vehicle from sexual immorality, for within marriage sex becomes a gift of uniting us with our spouse into one flesh. A word of LAW here, and it is not my aim to offend any of you, but where Paul writes “prostitute” we should consider those who are comfortable with sexual intimacy outside of marriage. In this Roman culture where we find Corinth, they were more “sexually liberated” than we are even today. The “red-light” district in those days were mainstream, publicly known, and even included in worship of various deities. Paul is having to rebuke Christians for engaging in such practices and providing Biblical instruction to them on the matter. This teaching couldn’t be more relevant for us today. Brothers and sisters in Christ, do not take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute or an immoral woman, and do not lead each other into sexual immorality.
Chapter 7 goes into great detail regarding marriage, remarriage, and being single. I encourage you to read through the whole chapter as one letter, but for now I’ll quote the portions that directly relate to what we’ve discussed so far.
1 Corinthians 7:1-5 (ESV) | Principles for Marriage
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Remember when we talked about our individualistic, self-centered, selfish approach to marriage. This blows that right out of the water. Now, I’ve sat through many a “marriage seminar” that has taken this passage and turned it into a pragmatic “if you meet your spouse’s needs then they’ll meet yours”, but this isn’t teaching a quid-pro-quo approach to sexual relationships within marriage. This isn’t about negotiating sexual favors, this is about surrendering ownership of your body to your spouse. You don’t get to desire/demand the things she hates, and vice versa. And it is usually here where the temporal effects of carnal living attack our marriages the hardest. Sexual immorality scars the mind and the body and twists and shapes your desires and fantasies. There is more to 1 Cor 6:18 than unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease, sexual sin will numb the conscience and warp the mind. The enemy will fire condemnation at you for things you’ve done, and hurl accusations toward your spouse for the things you wish they do or don’t do. For those of you who have not fallen in this area, Praise be to God. Continue to abstain and pray for continued grace in this area, that the enemy will not be given more ammunition. If you’ve fallen in this already, Repent, and trust in the LORD.
1 Corinthians 7:8-16 (ESV)
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Paul is urging that we keep the covenant of marriage in as far as it is within our charge. We see here that Paul is teaching what Jesus taught (no surprise since Paul is an Apostle of Jesus Christ) regarding being single. If you can be unmarried, remain unmarried. But better to remarry than to burn with passion (sexual sin). Paul instructs the Corinthians later (2 Cor 6:14-15) not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, but here he is addressing marriage and stating quite plainly that being married to an unbeliever is not cause for divorce, especially if that unbeliever is willing to remain in the marriage. But, if the unbeliever separates, let them go.
So where does that leave us?
The Church is the Family of God, we who are of the household of Faith are all brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. The Law of God is summed up in 2 Commandments: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). If you are unmarried, take a spouse from among the household of faith. Do not prey upon the weak, do not cause one to stumble into sin.
My children are still quite young, but a day will come when I will have to give sound advice on this matter to them.
- Stop looking for “someone to date”, you’re looking for someone to marry.
- Look for a spouse from among the Household of Faith, the Church.
- Understand that finding a spouse is a family affair. Know their family and let your family get to know them.
- Remember the 10 Commandments, and pray/confess them daily.
- 1. Am I trusting the LORD for all of my needs? Have I made an idol of my singleness or my desire to marry? Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.
- 2. Have I called upon the Name of the LORD in this matter? Pray to the LORD, make your petitions to Him.
- 3. Am I resting in Christ Jesus? He is our Sabbath rest. Lord, forgive me for being anxious in the things I cannot control, and for trying to bring about my own peace of mind through dating and seeking a spouse.
- 4. Is my desire for a spouse in keeping with honoring my parents? Am I guilty of rebellion in my pursuit of a spouse? Lord, have mercy.
- 5. Have I thought evil of an ex? Have I harbored anger at a rival suitor or thought evil of a brother/sister in the Christ? Lord, have mercy.
- 6. Have I committed adultery in my heart, or in my flesh? LORD, have mercy.
- 7. Have I stolen another person’s property or failed to protect my neighbor’s belongings? Lord, have mercy.
- 8. Have I destroyed (or failed to defend) the reputation of an ex, a rival suitor, a brother/sister in Christ, my neighbor? LORD, have mercy.
- 9/10. Have I coveted my neighbor’s spouse/fiance/friendships in my heart? LORD, have mercy.
- Choose a spouse. Don’t engage in mysticism, don’t look for a “soul-mate”, don’t let fate (or hormones) decide, choose a spouse. If that spouse choose you in return, marry and be blessed in the LORD.
- The Christian life is one of repentance. The Married life is one of repentance and forgiveness. You’ll have to grow into your marriage in much the same way you grow in Faith and repentance. God is faithful and His Mercy endures forever. Amen.
As a mere layman, I’m sure this list will need some work. If you are struggling with this, do please contact your pastor about praying through the 10 Commandments.
The Gospel of Grace and Forgiveness
The problem of sin is an ever-present one while the LORD tarries. Many of our families are broken by sin, death, adultery, abuse, divorce. The wages of sin is death, but the Gift of God is everlasting life. There is forgiveness for sin at the Cross of Jesus Christ. All sin. Including sexual sin.
1 John 1:5-10 (ESV) This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
In this life, we will have struggle. In our struggling, we will have temporal consequences for sin. Praise be to God our LORD and Savior that our right-standing with God is not based upon our works of the flesh; rather, they are in Christ Jesus.
Hebrews 13:20-21 (ESV) Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,