Spring is the season of love, or so they say. Working with college students, it’s no surprise that a number of the conversations I have revolve around dating, love, marriage, and the like. And it never fails that this time of year those conversations hit an uptick in frequency. Since spring has sprung, I felt like it would be a good time for all of us, but especially those who are single in our congregation, to establish and understand what it means to date well so we may be able to better to encourage one another.
This time around I want to establish a philosophy of sorts for dating well, while next time covering more from a practical standpoint. As a framework for our philosophy, I think we should explore the intent and purpose of dating as believers. So, how should believers understand the intent and purpose behind Christian dating? For our purposes I want us to view intent as our aim, motivation, determination, or resolution to perform a certain task or achieve a certain goal. And purpose should be considered as what God has established for his creation, as well as our call to live within his establishments.
Let’s elaborate intent for a moment. In Ephesians we see Paul’s concern for the church, as well as his desire for believers to relate well with one another under the banner of Christ. We see numerous relationships discussed in this letter including relationships between members of the Body of Christ, Christian marriage, and even how parents should treat their children (see Ephesians 5 and 6). Just before this, Paul discusses the individual in regards to his/her encounter with the gospel. You see, Paul knows, as we do, that you must deal with the individual before you can deal with masses when it comes to the matters of the heart and spirit.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:17-24:
17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, [excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality [b]for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn [cChrist in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old [d]self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new [e]self, which [f]in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
This passage revolves around one simple, yet profound truth about the gospel…that it is transformative. Once in Christ you are made new, and this necessarily leads to lives that depict transformation through salvation. The gospel has a trickle down effect in this way, one that flavors every interaction, decision, and even one’s attitude.
So where am I going with this? Well, our intent is influenced by our salvation and thus ultimately by our Savior. What once could have been considered our natural disposition in regards to dating someone (namely, self-centeredness or even shallow attraction) has been redeemed—it’s no longer merely “who we want when we want them” (as the world would have us think)—it’s now a decision to enter into a relationship with someone under the banner of Christ. And not merely anyone, but your brother or sister IN CHRIST!
When any believer is interested in dating another the first question asked should be “What is my intent in beginning this?” Our intent in relationships should be to serve the Lord through our relationships as those belonging to the family of God. Our transformed intent should be evident in two ways especially:
First, our intent should be defined by commitment. We should enter into any relationship, but especially a romantic one, unwaveringly committed to the betterment of the other person for the sake of the gospel. When we seek to serve the other person as Christ served the Church we display our commitment to His truth and love. This bucks against cultural norms and preaches the gospel through our actions.
Second, settling should not muddy our intent. Jesus did not settle for a tarnished bride. No, he sought to redeem his beloved. The same goes for us who have come to know the gracious salvation of Jesus. We must seek to be agents of redemption without compromise. This ties into who we are in Christ and necessarily colors our relationships.
This leads us to our purpose in dating. Any takers on what the biblically defined purpose of dating should be? Yep…Marriage. Earlier I suggested we look at purpose as what God has established and what He desires. If that is the case, then I believe without question that our intent, our motivation, should revolve heavily around God’s purpose for romantic relationships—marriage.
I recommend you only consider dating someone if you are willing and ready to discover whether or not you can marry that person. Now, this is not to say that every date is meant to be some deeply spiritual examination, nor that you need to wait to go out with someone until you know him or her incredibly well. No. What I mean is that even the first date with someone, which is typically meant for getting to know the other person better, should be entered into knowing what the Lord’s standards are. It keeps the waters clear, free from cloudy intentions, and sets the stage for both of you to continue on in your pursuit of holiness.
It is also helpful to remember that God’s desire for romance is that it be exclusively fulfilled in marriage as a covenant expression that teaches us how much he loves us, and ultimately brings Him glory. Marshal Segal, from the Desiring God organization, writes:
“The vision of marriage we see in God’s Word—the beautiful, radical display of God’s infinite persevering love for sinners—makes it worth it to date, and date well…Those who recklessly give themselves to a love-life of dating without really dating, of romantic rendezvouses without Christ and commitment, are settling. They’re settling for less than what God intended and less than he made possible by sending His Son to rescue and repurpose our lives, including our love lives, for something more. More happiness. More security. More purpose.”
Dating’s purpose necessarily revolves around God’s standards for Christian marriage. Don’t get me wrong, dating does not always lead to marriage, nor do I think dating should be some sort of “marriage-lite”, but with Christian marriage as our standard of commitment (as the picture of Christ and his church that Paul discusses in Ephesians 5) our dating relationships take on new light. Dating becomes a godly practice of community building and discovery. Dating becomes more than a series of interviews, or tests one has to pass before they can move toward more emotional involvement. Dating becomes an exercise in grace when facing God’s standard, because we see how much he has offered to us and forgiven us for. It becomes less about what we can get out of it, and more about how we can serve the Lord while serving the other person.
I hope this has been somewhat helpful in establishing a sort of working philosophical foundation for considering dating. Due to the transformative power of the gospel, our purpose and intent matter. How our philosophy plays out in our interpersonal relationships speaks volumes to a lost and dying world. If you are a single believer in our congregation that desires to meet someone please continue praying for the Lord’s guidance, and when you do meet someone remember to date them well as ambassadors of Jesus!
For more on this topic:
Marshall Segal, “When the Not-Yet-Married Meet: Dating to Display Jesus”
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