In our first post regarding Gospel-Centered Dating, we covered the intent and purpose of dating from a biblical perspective—a Christian philosophy for dating, if you will. This time I want us to begin exploring how we see this philosophy realized in our lives in more practical, everyday kinds of ways, and make our way toward wrapping up our discussion next time.
Roles & Expectations:
When discussing dating with college students, or even young professionals, I have, without fail, always had the question come up regarding what our expectations should be when dating someone and what the respective roles are for each person involved. After considering these questions I have come to the point where I always do my best to turn our conversations toward the Scriptures. In this case I think it is important to briefly explore what the Bible shares regarding the roles for Husband and Wife.
In Ephesians 5:22-30, Paul famously elaborates what the biblical expectations are when it comes to the roles of both men and women within the holy covenant of marriage. It is often seen as controversial today, but the roles outlined in this passage are intended to expound upon what Paul mentions earlier with regards to the church at large—namely, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (see Eph 5:18-21). I bring this up because the roles expressed by Paul are meant to build up the body of Christ through this microcosmic picture of the gospel of Jesus—the marriage relationship. We see the picture of Christ and the Church in the midst of this analogy, and the underlying expectations are those of faithful believers seeking to glorify Christ in their relationship. That being said, the roles are specific and respective to each gender. Man must love his wife as Christ loved the church being willing to give himself up for her. Woman must be willing to submit as unto Christ in this relationship—not to puff up the ego of the husband; rather, to glorify God and support her husband as he seeks to lead their family closer and closer to the Lord. There is a beautiful, almost lyrical mutuality and complement to the depiction.
So how does this apply to dating? Well, if you recall my last post I warned not to consider dating to be some form of “marriage-lite,” and though it may seem I am negating that here, I promise you I am not. I do not see the roles for husband and wife as those for boyfriend and girlfriend. This is mainly due to the fact that while dating you are not in the covenant relationship of marriage, and if we are honest, you may never be. But what I do want to emphasize is that the roles reflected in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians should be evident in the tone, trajectory and development of the lives of the person you are dating.
Now Ladies, does this mean you expect your boyfriend to lead you like your husband one day will in spiritual matters, etc.? No. But Guys you should exhibit your capacity for leadership by being the ones who initiate the relationship, pursue these young ladies, and prioritize holiness. You can make your intentional spiritual trajectory toward being a godly husband (for the sake of the gospel) quite clear through your actions and even your attitude toward the woman you are dating.
Guys, does this mean your girlfriend should submit to you and your leadership and spiritual care like your eventual wife hopefully will? No. But Ladies, it does mean that you can exhibit the desire to grow as a helpmate—as one who challenges, and encourages bold and confident growth in Christ, along with being supportive as he seeks to do so.
So how does this effect our expectations for dating relationships? Well, first and foremost, seeing what Scripture says about the roles of man and woman in marriage should temper our expectations of our boyfriend or girlfriend while dating, not expound them. What do I mean by this? We have already mentioned, that dating is not marriage, but it needs to be an exercise that leads to marriage, or breaking up, because of its intrinsic purpose of godly discovery.
But at times, actually really often, the expectations we typically have built up in our minds after years of romantic comedies, television shows, and even love stories, fight against what the Bible says. Or at the very least, our romanticism influences and can exaggerate what we are looking for in someone. I think each of us should have godly standards when considering whom we want to be with, but the idealistic, idyllic notions of marriage we have come to dream about, including perfect spouses, just do not exist. In other words, there is no perfect person for you, nor is there any perfect relationship.
It may not be the popular, romantic notion, and I am aware that I may make some angry with what I am about to say, but, y’all, there is no such thing as “the One.” Now, before you think about throwing things at me, I just want you to know I am not alone in this. Matt Chandler, in his book Mingling of Souls, states it this way:
“I have never been particularly convinced by the idea there is a ‘one’ for you. I just see no reason to agree with the worldly romantic notion that every person has just one ‘soul mate’ out there waiting for him or her. In fact, I find that idea to be anticovenantal, contrary to grace. It forces prospective spouses into a routine of measuring up, of being investigated, or even interrogated rather than considered. It turns the search for a godly spouse into an audition to be the one who ‘completes’ you.”
I want you to consider turning away from the notion of there being a perfect “one” out there for you because, with that standard, you will never find someone who meets your expectations. This is how I think Scripture tempers our expectations. What Paul writes concerning our roles in marriage can only (remotely) be accomplished by a husband or wife through the grace offered in Jesus Christ. These roles are not a legalistic checklist we must achieve in order for our spouse to love us, no. They are a set of guidelines we seek to achieve out of respect for our spouses, to build up the body of believers, and, primarily, glorify God.
That same temperance, or mindset must be what we operate with when considering who we date. We cannot hold someone to a perfect standard when we know we could never measure up to someone else’s perfect standard.
Such temperance extends to the relationship itself, too. If you or the person you are dating, or want to date, believes that healthy relationships are only those where there is no disagreement or fighting you may need to take a step back and reconsider. If there is no perfect person out there for us, is it fair to think that there could be such a thing as a perfect relationship, or even perfect compatibility that leads to a fight-free, or disagreement-free relationship?
I would say not.
Matt Chandler continues this way,
“When you are navigating a dating relationship, part of getting to know each other means working through misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Don’t try to hold out for perfection, because only Jesus can offer that. Instead, what you should ask yourself is: Does he show a trajectory of health and godliness? Is she willing to repent when she does wrong? Is he a faithful follower of Jesus Christ?”
You see our expectations in relationships, just like our philosophy, must be flavored by the gospel—by Jesus himself. When we are looking for the person we hope to be with for life, we often want to be accepted for who we are and granted grace, but we are often times stubborn when it comes to reciprocating grace and understanding. This is Paul’s emphasis in Ephesians 5. We submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, but we also submit our unrealistic expectations of others (especially romantically) to Jesus because he calls us to walk in wisdom, and wisdom dictates patience, love and temperance.
For More on this Topic:
Matt Chandler, The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex and Redemption, David C. Cook, Colorado Springs, CO, 2015
Rev. RJ Voorhees
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