You can listen to an audio version of this article here.
If you missed the previous article, “Dating and the Father’s Headship” you can read that here.
The Christian dating scene can be so confusing and frustrating. So much different advice, and so many complexities to navigate. How is a Christian single supposed to find a mate these days? Not to mention the added challenge in recent times of COVID and lockdowns. I definitely don’t miss the days of searching for a spouse – but I also feel for my single friends.
Now, marriage is not an ultimate thing and will not “complete” you in some magical sense (we’re to be content in the Lord). However, it is an important thing. Sometimes we can speak in one of two imbalanced ways – either:
- “Oh, I’m happily single and don’t even want to get married” while secretly struggling to keep up the charade
- Or obsessed over marriage and emotionally falling apart at every sappy chick flick or reminder of your singleness.
Marriage is good, and the desire to be married is a good one that you should pursue with godly wisdom. It is part of God’s normative design for men and women.
I hope to be able to help give some of that here (though I would not consider myself some sort of relationship expert by any means!). The focus won’t be on strategies to find someone to date in this episode, but rather on dating (or as some rather call it – courtship) itself. I pray some will find some helpful principles.
So, here are 7 Tips (and biblical principles) for Christian Dating:
1. Date for Marriage
Don’t be unequally yoked
Firstly, don’t date unbelievers. Paul makes this abundantly clear in 2 Corinthians 6:14 and we will not spend a lot of time unpacking this obvious principle. To intentionally become unequally yoked with an unbeliever is not just unwise, it is sinful. There are far too many young, foolish singles who have fallen prey to this and regretted it. Don’t add your names to the toll. Dating is to discern whether a relationship will head toward marriage and a Christian should marry another Christian. It’s that simple.
However, being unequally yoked goes beyond just mere salvation. It is also important to consider your potential mate’s level of spiritual maturity and life direction. The person you’re yoked to will inevitably significantly impact your life’s direction – for good or for bad.
Say no to recreational dating
Related to this first point, don’t date merely for fun. Know the end goal and the purpose of dating. Many people date forever because they don’t have a clear end goal for dating. Having fun will come as a welcomed accompaniment to dating, but it is not to be the main point. Dating is not meant to be a perpetual state. That would be like taking a bus to a destination, but then never getting off – you just keep riding it around the city. Yet this is what many couples do for years on end. Dating should take no longer than it takes to discern if you’re going to marry this person or not. Furthermore, prolonged dating tends to not be wise – especially in terms of maintaining your purity (more on that later).
To avoid these pitfalls, you must know what marriage is for: companionship, procreation, mission, imaging Christ & Church. So, ask yourself, “could this person help you do those things? And is this person the right ‘tool’ for the job?”
Because dating is for marriage, you must also understand the biblical gender roles.
Women – you are called to respect and submit to your husband (Eph. 5:22-24, 33). So, is the guy you’re dating someone deserving of your respect and who you can joyfully submit to his leadership? If not, you’re going to be making things harder for yourself in marriage. Titus 2:3-5 says that older women are to train younger women (literally in Greek) to be husband-lovers and children-lovers. Do you have older women mentoring you in that? Do you love children? Do you see yourself becoming a mother and have a growing desire for it?
Men – you are called to lead and love your wife (Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:19). Are you leading yourself? Do you have a plan for your life that you can ask a young lady to come alongside you in as a helpmeet and be excited about that mission? Are you the type of man that others would follow? If not, then why do you expect a godly woman to follow you? Be the man the woman you’d want to marry would want to marry. How are you loving the women God has already put in your life – like your mom and sister(s) if any?
Men are supposed to wash their wives with the water of the Word in their imitation of Christ (Eph. 5:26)- are you washed in the Word or are you still dutty? Are you under authority? You won’t know how hard it is to live under authority, especially when you disagree with that authority unless you’re living it (e.g. in Church under godly elders) – and so, you won’t know how to live with your wife in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7).
Ladies – avoid a man who does not live under authority. He will not know how to steward his authority gently. That man will run the danger of being a cold dictator in the home or a reckless and unaccountable rebel. Observe how he interacts with the authority over him – especially if you can observe how he deals with instances where he disagrees with them, yet has to respectfully submit to them. It’ll tell you a lot.
Men – you choose the woman you love then love your choice. In loving her in marriage by your spiritual leadership, you will make her lovelier. Ladies, by respecting and honouring your man in marriage, it should make him more respectable and honourable because it motivates a godly man to live up to that. That’s how God’s design of reciprocity in marriage works. Godly men and women will naturally want to live up to how they are respected and loved. Hence why it is of utmost importance to choose a godly mate. It is also the irony of ironies then that when we withhold those things from our spouse, they grow less lovely and respectable.
Love the design
We must believe in God’s design and love it. Not just merely affirm it. There are many conservative Christian men and women who will affirm gender roles because they have to because they’re in a conservative church or denomination. However, there are very few who actually love it because they see the beauty of the design. You can tell which one you are when the rubber hits the road and things get tough. So, when you’re dating, try to figure out if the person is just affirming the gender roles or if they actually love the design and see it as beautiful. Because that’s the one who will trust and be committed to God’s design even when the going gets tough. The ones doing lip service will likely abandon it and find a convenient excuse to justify it.
2. Guard your hearts
Don’t act like you’re married when you’re not.
This principle is pretty simple to understand but often hard to implement. But, don’t be stupid, foolish or naive. Understand that attraction is like a fire. In the right context, it can cook your food. In the wrong context, it’ll burn your house down. God has designed it that way, and within marriage it is a formidable tool for godly couples against the carnal temptations of the world, the flesh and the Devil. But, building undue physical attraction outside of marriage can be dangerous. This is obviously not to say that you should not be attracted to the person you’re dating, but rather that you should be aware of how attraction is designed to naturally build and culminate in marriage. Understand that it is fire and you’ll know its proper context where it can be useful versus destructive.
So, men – How you guard her heart now will tell her how she can trust you with her heart later. Are you building attraction too far beyond your level of commitment? Let your actions and words be appropriate to where your level of commitment actually is. Don’t be writing sonnets to her on your second date or signing a lease agreement together, unless it’s the place you’re moving in together AFTER you get married. Many men want to seek after a young lady’s attention, physical closeness, and verbal affirmation when they’ve only just started dating and haven’t actually made any sort of commitment yet. That guy is a player and is not guarding her heart but rather playing with it. Don’t be that guy.
Conversely, women are tempted to use their appearance, verbal flattery and physical closeness to win a guy’s commitment, affections and love. However, that’s putting the cart before the horse. That’s inverting the priority and order.
Lastly, think covenantally. When you’re dating, you’re not in martial covenant, but you are in familial covenant as believers. So, as a simple principle then, if you’re seeking to live consistently with your covenantal status – whatever you’re unwilling to do with your biological brother or sister, you should not do with the person you’re dating. Until that marriage covenant is made, your status has not changed. So act accordingly.
3. Seek Accountability
One of the major reasons couples who are dating fall into sin is a lack of accountability.
Firstly, respect the Father’s headship (go back and listen to the episode or read the article on seeking the father’s blessing). Have regular check-ins with spiritual mentors and brothers/sisters in the Lord who know you and are unafraid to call you out in love (Prov. 27:6).
Set conservative boundaries for yourselves and don’t overestimate your self-control. Understand how we’re built for attraction to the opposite sex. Don’t be stupid and put yourselves in situations that breed compromise. Ladies – be wary of a guy who is resistant to setting boundaries. Men – be wary of a young woman with no boundaries. Many of us know what that’s like – we set boundaries then willingly make compromises “just this one time” assuring ourselves that we’ve got enough self-control to be OK. Then with our guards down, we’re caught with other things down too. Save yourselves the regret and shame. There’s nothing shameful or weak about setting conservative boundaries that will honour and pursue the purity of your future mate.
Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t be able to look her future husband in the eyes and tell him about – because you don’t know 100% yet if you’re gonna be her future husband. Likewise, ladies – don’t do anything you wouldn’t be able to look his future wife in the eyes and tell her about.
Self-control and Modesty
Men – how you model self-control in dating will tell her how much she can expect faithfulness in marriage. If she can trust you to fight for her purity now, she’ll be able to trust you with her intimacy later. Women – how you model modesty and chastity in dating will let him know you’re wife material and not just another hussy from down the road. Help him look you in the eye more than the… you know where, and don’t be surprised if he starts liking you for what’s in your head more than just what’s in your knickers. Both of you, act and dress for the role you want to fill.
4. Pursue Intentionality
Great marriages don’t happen by accident. So don’t date as if they do.
Make a list of desirable qualities in a mate – check it with your parents and mature spiritual mentors. Have them tell you which ones are stupid or unnecessary then take them off your list. Trust that they’re looking out for your best interest and can see things you cannot – especially if your passions are running on high gear!
Bring a list of questions for dates. When I was dating my wife, we used a list of 1000 questions to ask before marriage to help us be intentional in our conversations on dates. We knew what dating was for, we know the mission of dating, and therefore we pursued it intentionally. This was incredibly joyful and liberating to have a list prepared beforehand so you didn’t feel pressured to always be coming up with deep questions on the spot. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to do that when you’re in the moment and especially if you’re trying to impress your date!
So, come to dates prepared, with a plan (know where you’re going, how, and with whom) and with a healthy dose of godly wisdom.
Remember the goal
Remember, you are working towards a goal – marriage or not – that’s what dating is for. Having a good time together comes as a welcomed accompaniment to that core goal. Thus, dating should take no longer than it takes to determine if this is heading towards marriage. Don’t become a “career dater”. You know the type – the ones who have been dating for 8 years but still have no engagement ring to show for it but only a long list of regrettable compromises. Don’t do that to yourselves. Even when dating does not end in marriage – that’s a success, because that’s what dating was trying to figure out! Having a clear idea of what the purpose of dating is going into it will help you with processing things coming out of it.
Read books on godly masculinity and femininity separately. You should come into marriage at least knowing the basics. As the relationship progresses, start reading books on marriage and the Biblical purpose of marriage. Discuss what you’re reading together on your dates and compare notes and ask older couples for feedback. Consider, is this the man I could see as the father of my children who will raise them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord? Or, is this the woman who I can see as the mother of my kids who will model for them Proverbs 31 and 1 Peter 3:1-6 virtues?
5. Date in Community
Seek community out and invite yourselves into godly people’s lives. Don’t expect busy families with young kids to always think of you. Go and be a part of their family – even doing mundane things. Perhaps especially doing mundane things! Since those are usually the times they have the brain space to have deep conversations. Go over to a godly couple’s house for dinner and do more observing than talking – especially about how they relate. If you can get into the house of a newlywed couple, a couple 5-7 years into marriage, and a couple 20 years into the marriage – that’s gravy! It will give you an idea of what to expect at different stages of marriage. Observe what’s on their bookshelves and ask them about it.
Date in the open in your church community. Apart from the first bit when you’re figuring out whether to pull the trigger on officially dating or not, out yourselves to your godly community and invite them to come alongside you. Your church community should be the people who most significantly define and shape your lives – so involve them early. Let them make observations of your relationship and invite them to tell you honestly. They’ll see things you cannot.
Involve your parents – if this works out, it’d be best to get on good terms with the in-laws early and not make them outlaws. Men – getting to know her mom and dad will tell you a lot about the woman they raised. Women – getting to know his dad and mom will tell you a lot about the calibre of man to expect. Now, this is not always true since we are not enslaved to repeat the sins or the victories of our parents. But more often than not, it is their example that we will imitate in marriage. So, at the very least, it’ll help put things on your radars that you should be aware of.
6. Work at Clarity
There is a big danger of mismatched expectations in dating. It is better to talk openly and clearly about where you’re in the relationship and your expectations. Do this often. Have regular updates. This will be an ongoing conversation as the relationship develops. It is the worst when one person is further along than the other and has different expectations that are unvoiced then ends up feeling crushed inside quietly. The solution is open, clear communication.
Speak plainly and directly. Leave beating around the bush for landscapers.
Men – you need to state your intentions and explain what you mean by them. Even though it is often a point of struggle for men, you need to lead the way in working at clarity in the relationship. Marshall Seagal notes,
“The whole dating game thrives on adrenaline and ambiguity— always showing enough to pique someone’s interest and curiosity, but never enough to answer the most important questions… We bait each other with half-truths about the best parts of ourselves, always selecting exactly what to show and how to show it, only revealing what might entice or intrigue each other. Dating today also tends to center the whole world around me—my interests, my friends, my preferences. Many of us think we’re pursing marriage as we chat and flirt with one another, but we’re really just pursuing ourselves—our own image and self-esteem, our own selfish desires, and our own ego.” (Marshall Seagal, Not Yet Married)
Have convictions, not compromises
Address the hard topics upfront such as gender roles, submission and headship, kids and what it means to be fruitful and multiply, discipline and what you think of the commands to spare not the rod, finances and how to budget, your mission and vision for Kingdom work. Don’t try to say what you think the other person wants to hear. State your convictions and stand by them. Dating is not a time for compromise. If you don’t have convictions, perhaps this is not the right time for you to date because convictions are necessary to filter these things as you explore if dating will end in marriage. Spend some time in your singleness to develop strong biblical convictions on these topics. That’s one of the most productive uses of the extra time you have as a single person.
7. Seek the Kingdom together
Dating does not put a pause Jesus’s command to seek first His Kingdom (Matt. 6:33).
Find opportunities to serve together. This can be a way to see the other person’s character on display (e.g. outreach, evangelism, etc). Serve in church together if you fellowship in the same church. Or take turns serving at each other’s church if you don’t fellowship at the same congregation now – because once you’re married, you will.
Share what God is teaching you through His Word. What insights are you gleaning? Are there sermons, podcasts, or books that have helped you grow in some area?
Read books on the Christian faith (e.g. theology, biblical studies, apologetics) together in public spaces. Not all of your reading needs to be about relationships and it’s probably healthier if it isn’t. At the end of dating, if you both end up more mature in your faith and understanding of God’s Word, that’s a win!
Caution on Spiritual leadership
Careful not to go ahead of where you are (i.e. men, don’t take spiritual leadership where you’re not yet in that role). Even as you read books together, men – you’re not teaching/discipling her. That’s not your role, yet… You come as two Christians discovering together and discussing. If there are major issues of theological disagreement (e.g. on divorce or gender roles), then that is better handled by referring to their spiritual mentors such as pastors or small group leaders. Sometimes even praying together requires some caution as it can become a really intimate time of spiritual bonding if done in a way that takes up a “husbandly role” before that time. You should pray together, but as brother and sister in the Lord. Pray for guidance in your relationship, but don’t only pray about your relationship. Pray for your church, pray for your city, pray for the Gospel and for the expanse of the Kingdom in your local contexts.
Keep the mission first
As you seek the Kingdom together, perhaps you may end up marrying, perhaps you may not. Either way, the time can be productive and not regretted if you were both serving and seeking the Kingdom together. Too many couples get so fixated on their relationship that they stop serving and stop being on mission. Yet the Great Commission has no pause clause and this is one of the greatest spiritual dangers to every Christian. When we get off mission, we go off course. Ultimately, what we’re seeking in marriage is a partner in the mission to multiply our missional effectiveness and fruitfulness. Marriage should increase and refine your mission not decrease it. So, dating should not damper your commitment to Christ and His Kingdom. The irony is that in seeking first His Kingdom, He has promised to add all these things unto you – yet that is exactly what many couples dating today neglect.
I hope that this article of thoughts on a Christian approach to dating/courtship has been helpful. Please share it with your friends if you’ve found it useful.
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