At sixteen, I was told to learn the opening words of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune; must be in want of a wife.”
Forget the good fortune bit, it is usually the case that young men come to the point in life when they find themselves “in want” of a wife. Young ladies are no different. Some have the gift of singleness. Others have the desire, but God’s providence overrules according to His wisdom and goodness. Most seek and find a spouse!
The wise man says: “Whoso findeth a wife, findeth a good thing”(Proverbs 18:22). The question is, how does one find a wife? (Or a husband for that matter!) Should my father send a servant with loaded camels? Should I find my nearest threshing floor? Should I work for a man for seven years and hope I get the right daughter? The Bible does not give explicit direction as to how two young people end up together in marriage. The models we have are very instructive in principles, but they should not be read as precepts.
Today’s culture has lost its bearings when it comes to biblical marriage. The church has not escaped. Young people, in many churches, play the field, engage in serial dating, and enjoy the moments with little focus or biblical direction. There is a place for boys and girls to interact socially without having marriage in mind, but there is insufficient caution as young people couple up in the spirit of the age. Some questions arise: When can I start dating? Whom should I date? Where can we go on dates? How far can we go on dates?
Let’s begin at the end. The Bible sets out marriage as the ultimate boy-girl relationship. When we are clear in our understanding of marriage, it will govern our actions in all other boy-girl relationships. Dating, courtship (call it what you will) is a step between singleness and marriage. Dating is not an end product! No one really wants to date forever. If marriage is the ultimate end, then our views on marriage will alter our views on dating.
A clear grasp on the nature and purpose of marriage is vital in today’s world, which has so disregarded this institution of God. We often think of the attack on marriage from those promoting same-sex “marriage.” We might think of the increasing “normality” of couples living together. Yet, within the church, marriage is sometimes undervalued, joked about, and poorly practiced.
Marriage is God’s institution; therefore, He alone has the right to define what constitutes marriage. (Read Genesis 2:18-25 with Matthew 19:1-12). We can glean an interesting definition of marriage from Malachi 2:14: “Yet she is thy companion, the wife of thy covenant.” Marriage is a covenant of companionship.
Marriage is more than a passing arrangement, it is a sacred commitment, a covenantal agreement. It is a solemn pledge and promise. It involves a binding oath (See Hebrews 6:13,17 to see the oath of God in covenant). Speaking of marriage in terms of covenant is most appropriate. Christ is the groom of the church (Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 19:7). His relationship to the church is covenantal. Some implications arise from this:
The Solemnity of the Marriage Bond
With the making of this covenant come all the duties and obligations of the one to the other. As such, marriage must not be entered into lightly, but prayerfully. Dating must then be conducted within a climate of sobriety.
The Security of the Marriage Bond
The making of covenant is the entering into a relationship of security. It is a binding covenant. Christ will never relinquish or desert His bride. The blood that He shed is called the blood of the covenant. His blood proves
His commitment to the covenant and secures the blessings of the covenant. Marriage, in God’s purpose, is for life. The ground of this security is love—a love that is emotional and covenantal. Love is an act of the will as well as a delight in the heart. In marriage you must choose to love as well as delight to love. Thus, dating should begin not simply with a desire for emotional, romantic satisfaction, but with a determination of the will to commit, should the relationship lead into marriage.
The Sanctity of the Marriage Bond
As an institution of God, it is a holy institution. As such, it is good (Hebrews 13:4). When Israel broke covenant they were guilty of spiritual fornication. Intimacy must be expressed only in the context of covenantal marriage. Just because someone might become your spouse doesn’t make them your spouse now!
All dates will not end up in marriage. But they might! Dating is not the end —it’s a means to the end!
Dr. Stephen Pollock is minister of Malvern FPC, Malvern, PA and present editor of Current.