It has been called different names in different ages. It has certainly been conducted in different ways in different cultures and centuries. Somehow, a man and a woman come to the point of marriage. Do they get there through parental arrangement or by personal choice? Today they might even meet online just as much as in person. Do they court? Perhaps they should date? Or maybe we should call it “going out” or “going steady.” I’m surely causing some young people to bury their head in their hands as they determine how out of touch I am. To keep things simple, I’m going to use the word “dating” as a term for an unmarried man and an unmarried woman spending social time together as a couple, to the exclusion of other people.
In this area, a Christian must dare to go against the tide of today’s culture. The themes that we’ll cover in this issue and the next are distinctly Christian. In former times, there would have been little difference between the Christian and the non-Christian in this area. But the sexual revolution from the 1960s has led to such immorality and supposed freedom that the very idea of dating before marriage seems outdated. Today many are prepared to accept multiple dates with multiple people, involving sinful practices, often with the “help” of a cell phone. Sadly, today’s “Christian” young person is not immune from playing the field, sexting, and such like. Determining in our hearts that we will not be conformed to this world, but rather be transformed will ensure that we find the will of God to be good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2). In other words, if we think through the subject of dating with our Bibles open, we will enjoy the benefit in our lives now and in the future.
Dating as a concept falls into the area of Christian liberty. For the purpose of this article, I’m defining Christian liberty as an area of life and conduct about which the Lord does not give explicit command and which is not in and of itself sinful. As we’ll see, there are areas of conduct in dating that are not areas of liberty, but dating as an act is not dealt with explicitly in the Word. There are various ways in the Word whereby a man and woman enter marriage. (Consider Isaac and Rebekah, or Boaz and Ruth). The Bible does not give us one way in which a man should find a wife. Therefore, we must allow some liberty as to the process. That being said, the Bible is sufficient as our rule of faith and practice so that even in areas of so-called Christian liberty we turn to the Word for important principles to guide us (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The crucial principle that we can glean from the Word of God is that dating ought to commence with the possibility of marriage in mind. Remember our definition of dating. Should this be purposeful or is it legitimate for young couples to simply enjoy each other’s company without any particular focus? Well, obviously it is not always sinful for a man and a woman to spend time in each other’s company. The Lord’s interaction with the woman in John 4 is sufficient to make that point. Furthermore, it would be foolish to suggest that every dating relationship must end in marriage given that one of the purposes of dating is to determine the suitability of a possible marriage.
If a single man desires social interaction with a single woman, the Bible presents principles that such interaction should have a marital focus. Dating should not be an end product. It should be seen as a means to an end. That end should be marriage. The ideal boy-girl relationship in Scripture is not a sexless “platonic” relationship, but rather Christian marriage. The first boy-girl relationship in the Bible is a marriage. God commends marriage as a good thing (Hebrews 13:2) and so, by implication, dating that is marriage focused is commendable. God’s ordinance of marriage gives propriety to activities leading to that end. The Bible presents a close tie between romantic love and marriage and presents several negative examples of social engagement where marriage was not the overarching focus (Genesis 38; Judges 16; 2 Samuel 13).
When we ask the Bible for other goals for dating, we are met with silence. Why are you dating? For some young people the answer is that they desire the benefits of marriage without the commitment. To defend other reasons for boy-girl pairing up and exclusive social interaction is to deny what we know to be true regarding such relationships.
So far in this series of articles we have noted that marriage is a covenant of companionship and that dating should have marriage as its goal. These principles will help us answer some of the questions that arise around the subject. Whom should I date? When should I date? For how long should we date? What should we do and not do when we date? Perhaps we’ll consider some of these matters in the next issue. In the meantime, if marriage is a long way off, then don’t rush to date. Spend time with people in group settings without the pressure of the need to pair off. Get before the Lord and ask Him to prepare you for marriage and prepare a spouse for you—if that would be His will.