Dating and Courtship
By Richard Bacon
Copyright 2003 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

[This is the third of a four part series of lectures on the subject of finding a life partner and the dangers and evils of dating. The first part, Finding a Life Partner, appeared in v7#12 (1998) and the second, Dangers of Dating, in v9#4-6 (2000). The fourth part, Practicing for Divorce, may appear in a future issue. All four are a subset of the 25 lecture series, A Directory for Domestic Duties.]

This is our third lesson in our study of dating. God has given us instructions on how we should find that one with whom He would have us spend the rest of our lives. Obviously, because of the nature of such a subject, we are speaking primarily to those who are not yet married; and yet, because of the covenantal nature of the family, we also are speaking to fathers and mothers. In the Biblical understanding of this subject, fathers and mothers are to have a part in finding spouses for their sons and daughters. Lest I be misunderstood, I am not suggesting that the covenant community ought to follow the pattern of pagan nations and have arranged marriages. I do believe that arranged marriages would be a step far more righteous than what we presently have in this country, but that is not at all what I am advocating. What I am advocating is what you might call “overseen courtship:” a courtship that is overseen by the parents of the young men and women who are looking for a spouse. This is foreign in today’s society, but it is not foreign in the history of the church. We are going back a hundred to a hundred and fifty years to reclaim those things that the church has lost, and as a result we are having to “re-dig wells” that have been stopped up (Genesis 26:18). We are having to be somewhat opposed to the culture of this day. There is an antithesis between the wheat and the tares; there is an antithesis between the sheep and the goats; there is an antithesis between those who are called by God and those who are passed over by him in his sovereign election. There is, in fact, a great gulf fixed between the two peoples on the earth — the children of God and those that are not his children. God has called us to holiness, righteousness, and to live in a way separate from the world. He instructs us to come out from among the heathen. It therefore follows logically that we would have a world and life view — a culture — that is different from the world. Because our world and life view is centered upon God’s law and his righteousness, this effects every area of our lives. It even affects the way that we go about finding a spouse for ourselves or for our children. Even in this task, our main goal must be to glorify God and to obey his commands.

We have looked at the current method of teenage dating in the previous lessons. We have discussed four things that we find contrary to our goal.

First of all, today’s dating system minimizes and sometimes eliminates parental oversight. There-fore, even though it is the world’s culture, we have to stand opposed to it. We believe firmly that parental oversight is key: it is an essential element of biblical overseen courtship. We believe in the solidarity of the family. We do not just give lip service to it: we attempt to live it. And therefore, the family — particulary the fathers — must have a key role in the choosing of their child’s spouse.

Secondly we noted that dating promotes or even encourages sexual promiscuity. The Scriptures are very clear, that “this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” We often hear people of all different ages asking these questions, “Who is it God wills for me to marry?” “How will I know?” “How will I know what is the will of God?” None of us here are so old that we do not remember asking that same question. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 gives us the answer to those questions. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel [that is his body, the earthen vessel in which we live] in sanctification and honour.” When Hebrews 13:4 says that “the marriage bed is honorable in all,” it is speaking of abstaining from fleshly lusts that war against our souls. We sin against our bodies and we also sin against our souls when we allow our desires to have full reign. Therefore, as we consider the question of how we go about finding a life partner, we must always remember that this is the will of God: that you abstain from fleshly lusts and from fornication, and that the will of God for you is your sanctification. Whatever way we go about finding a life partner, it must involve purity; it must involve chastity; it must involve a greater sanctification. When God first brought Eve to Adam, his purpose in bringing her to him was not as a temptation to see if he could withstand fleshly lusts. God gave Eve to Adam to be a help meet for him: to be a help face to face with him, that corresponded to him, as none of the animals did. Just prior to that God had Adam name all the animals. Adam did not have to go hunt out the animals. God brought the animals to him and Adam named them. He gave them appropriate names; he categorized them. He was doing zoology and biology. He was, in fact, engaging himself in his occupation commanded by God to subdue the earth to the glory of God. But God recognized that Adam needed a helper who could stand face to face with him. He needed a helper who could be a partner. Finding a partner in any way that promotes sin in our lives is doing exactly the opposite of what that partner is supposed to do. Our partner is to help us in our occupation commanded by God to subdue the earth to the glory of God.

The third thing is that dating has a tendency to depend on romantic ideas rather than covenantal considerations. Dating causes a young man and a young woman to be attracted to one another. Then they make decisions based upon that attraction rather than basing their decisions upon covenantal considerations. We characterized it this way: Dating has a tendency to choose who we love whereas covenantal considerations require us to love the one we choose. We should make our choices not based on romantic considerations, but based upon what God’s word says we should be looking for in a spouse.

Finally, the fourth thing we saw wrong with dating is that it trains us to have casual relationships that are easily broken. Dating trains us by experience in the same way an athlete practices to do something again and again. Promiscuous dating teaches our young people to break up again and again. It is an alarming fact that the countries which involve themselves in dating have a much higher rate of divorce than those which do not. I may be committing a post hoc fallacy, but we do see again and again in countries where dating becomes the normal way of finding a spouse that the divorce rate soars.

I. Feelings (The Romantic Approach)

In this lesson I want us to look at dating and romance versus courtship and covenant: two different approaches to finding a spouse. Romance is based upon feelings, affection and emotions. We become emotionally involved with someone. And, because we become emotionally involved, we believe then that the next logical step is to make that person our life partner. Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to base any decision of this magnitude on something like an emotion or a feeling. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that romance is the basis for marriage. The idea of basing such a major decision on mere feelings is relatively new. Let me suggest to you that those who do get married for reasons of emotional attachment are asking for trouble. I did not say that their marriage will never work. I said that they are asking for trouble. This is just like a child is asking for trouble when he plays with matches. He may not burn the house down the first time, but we still do not encourage him to play with matches. In fact, we tell him, “don’t play with matches, because you could burn the house down.” And so it is with our emotions. I warn you much the same way that the Bible warns in Proverbs 6:27, “Can a man take coals to his bosom and his clothes not be burned?” If we continue to act in an ungodly way, we are placing ourselves at risk. If we play with sin, we are apt to get burned.

The Bible teaches that feelings are the byproduct of covenantal commitment. A byproduct is something that is in addition to; it is not an essential part or main function, it is something extra that results as an happenstance of the main purpose. First we have a covenantal commitment. First we commit ourselves to the one that we believe God would have us to marry, and then the emotions follow as a byproduct of that commitment. Because God is satisfied with us; because God delights in what we have done, he grants to us the right feeling about our life-long mate. Dating, on the other hand, places feelings as a precursor or even the foundation for the commitment to a marriage. But what happens when those feelings change? Then the foundation or the precursor or the presupposition has gone away and the entire marriage is ready to collapse. I don’t listen to modern music, but I am sure that you are as aware as I am of the fact that most modern songs are about relationships that have ended because somebody’s feelings changed. It is a part of our culture. Not only is dating a part of our culture, but the outcome of dating is a part of our culture. In our culture today, we are very used to the idea of relationships ending. Many times, because the marriage was founded upon emotions, the marriage quickly ends in divorce when those emotions change. Pastors and the worldly marriage counselors see couples whose relationships are not only fragile but cracking, ready to break apart. Note that it is very interesting that very few people have time for marriage counseling before marriage but many seek counseling only after the marriage begins to fail. It is like the old saying that there is never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it twice. And so it is in a marriage: if we get the counseling ahead of time, if we know where we are going before we do it, then we can expect success. Ephesians 5:25 speaks about how a husband is to love his wife. In the Greek language, there are three key words that mean love. The word “eros” is the word one would expect to find for a husband and wife: it is the word from which we get the word “erotic.” It means a passionate desire for someone. In Ephesians 5:25 where Paul is telling the husband to love his wife, we would anticipate that he would be referring to that kind of love. But the love of which Paul speaks, in Ephesians 5:25 is the Greek word “agapao.” “Agapao” is a volitional love. It is a love that I have decided to feel. It is a love to which I can be commanded and to which I can command others. It is not a love that I have to crank up emotions to feel: it is a love that I can begin doing immediately. Just as I am called upon to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and my neighbor as myself, I also am called upon to love my wife as Christ loved the church. Paul does not require us to love our wives in an erotic way, but rather he requires us to love our wives with agapao love. We are required to love our wives with the same kind of love with which we are to love God. It is a volitional love: it is a love that we have determined we will do. Does that mean that we are not to have feelings for our wives? Of course not! But we are to get the volitional love going first, then the feelings will follow as a natural byproduct of the volitional love.

II. Commitment (The Biblical Approach)

Secondly in our discussion of dating and romance versus courtship and covenant we need to look at commitment. Feelings are not what we are to base a marriage on. We are to base our marriage on commitment. We began our discussions on the directory of domestic duties by discussing the fact that God calls us to a task and that task is best carried out in a family setting. In Genesis chapter one God called us to the task of subduing the world to His glory, of replenishing the earth, of filling the earth with children. In Genesis chapter two, we saw that this is carried out in a marriage context. Filling the earth with children presupposes that we have a mate. We must look back to our purpose as we think of marriage. God has designed marriage to give us a partner in life to help us in our occupation to subdue the earth to the glory of God.

A few weeks ago I went to Des Moines, Iowa. I was in the airport terminal. I knew I wanted to go to Des Moines, but I could not just get on any airplane to get there. I had a purpose, a destination in mind, but there was only one airplane that would take me where I wanted to go. We need to apply this same principle in our desire to find a spouse. If we know the purpose of marriage, it is going to influence how we go about getting married. What is it that I am looking for when I am considering getting married? Am I just looking for someone to share my bed? I should be looking for someone who is going to be a help to me in subduing the earth to God’s glory and in filling it up with children. Ultimately that is my purpose in getting married: that is the task God designed for marriage.

By the time we begin to look for a spouse we ought to know what our kingdom chores are going to be. We should already know what our calling is. We should already be participating in our occupation. What I am going to say next may at first offend some of our young people, but when I explain it in light of Scriptures, I hope you will realize that it is a compliment instead of a derogatory remark. Basically, when we start off looking for a mate, it should not be significantly different from the way we would go about buying a horse. Do not be offended by that. In fact, Solomon considered it to be a high compliment to compare his love in Song of Solomon to a horse, because a horse is beautiful. A horse exudes the glory of God. So I do not want you to be offended by that statement. There are several things you need to consider. When you think about buying a horse, you do not just buy the first horse you find. The first thing you do is determine ahead of time the purpose of the horse. There are several items to consider before deciding on what horse to pick. Do you want a horse that can race a mile, or a quarter mile? Then you would look at a thoroughbred. Am I going to buy this horse to cut cattle out from among other cattle? Then you might choose a Mustang. If you wanted the horse to pull a heavy wagon then a Clydesdale would suit your purposes. Once you have decided the purpose of the horse that is going to be a large part of deciding what kind of horse you should buy. Using the same principle we must first determine what kind of helper we need and that will aid us in deciding what kind of wife would be fitting for us. Then we go about looking for a wife that meets those requirements.

There is no verse in the Bible that explains exactly how to go about finding a spouse. But I do believe we can find Scriptural principals that will aid us in our search. The Bible speaks of love as being a command. We have already discussed Ephesians 5:25. In that verse, men are commanded to love their wives. In Titus 2:4, women are commanded to love their husbands. In this passage the older women are to teach the younger women to “… love their husbands.” How can a feeling be taught? Can feeling, in fact, be taught? No. What the older women are to teach the younger women is their duty that we have toward one another. Love is something that we do. Love is not a feeling, love is an action. Just as men are called upon to love their wives as Christ loved the church, so also women are to learn to love their husbands. What is the best time to learn to love your husband? The answer is before you marry him. Let me explain that I am not talking about loving just anyone, and maybe even, more than one, before you choose who you intend to marry. In fact, nowhere in Scripture (apart from the brotherly love that we are to have for all men) are we told to have anything that approaches the love that a man has for his wife or a woman has for her husband for anyone other than our own spouse. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded or even allowed to have that kind of love toward someone to whom we are not married. That kind of thing is reserved only for marriage. In time, passions will bloom. If the men are doing what the men are called upon to do and the women are doing what the women are called upon to do and if we are treating one another as the Bible teaches us to treat one another, the passions themselves will bloom. Passion will come along: they will arise as we are actively doing what God commands. Let me illustrate this for you. Some of us began singing the Psalms before we learned to love them. We had the same kind of love for the Psalms that we had for the rest of God’s Word, but we began singing the Psalms more from a sense of duty than from a sense of love. We didn’t know how to do it, and we didn’t do it very well, but we believed that it was our duty to sing the Psalms. But, isn’t it the case, that as you sang the Psalms week after week here in public worship, and in your homes day after day, your attachment to the Psalms grew as you sang them more and more? Why? Because passion is in the way of duty. As we learn to do what we are commanded to do, and begin to do it, God causes the passion to flower. Let me add a caution here. For this very reason, couples who are in a courtship relationship ought not to become romantically involved until after there is a betrothal. There is a time for romantic involvement later. Before betrothal we ought not to be romantically involved with any other person so that this passion will not have an occasion to arise prior to the biblically appropriate time.

Thus far we have discussed that feelings, or romantic affections, should not be the basis for our choosing of our life partners. In contrast, we saw that commitment was the right thing upon which to base a marriage. With those two facts as a guideline, let me make some applications. The first application is for those of us who are already married. The commitment is there; we made that commitment already. The application for us is to continue in the way of our commitment: we need to continue to keep our covenant obligations to those marriages. There are going to be times when you are unsure of your feelings toward your partner. That is the problem with feelings: they can change very easily. One day you may feel very close to your partner, and then the next day you may be feeling like you have had just too much of that person. The feelings are going to change. Do not count on the feeling. You cannot base your marriage on the basis of your feelings; because the one thing that you can be sure of about feelings is that they will change. Rather, cultivate a commitment to your covenantal obligation to your marriage and pray that God would cause the feelings to be what they ought to be.

To those of you who are not yet married, let me give you the soundest piece of advice that you will ever get: be willing to wait. If that means being willing to wait until you are eighteen, till you are twenty-five, till you are thirty-eight, till you are forty-nine, till you are fifty-six, even if it means that you never find someone with whom you are willing to spend your life, be willing to wait. Place it in God’s hands, knowing this: that it is not for us to find somebody. In the course of our lives, in the course of his providence, God will reveal to us who He will have us to marry. One of the difficulties of choosing a life partner is that we get impatient. We begin to be too concerned with being single for “too long.” We fear a life without a partner. But it is far worse to get married to the wrong person. It is far worse to get married for the wrong reason. It is far worse to get married at the wrong time. The most important advice I can possibly give you is to be willing to wait upon the will of God in finding a life partner.

My second application is for those young people who are still unmarried. What should you be doing while you are waiting upon the will of God? Should you be doing nothing, waiting indifferently, saying, “Someday my prince will come?” Of course not. You have a responsibility to prepare for your task of finding a life partner. First you must prepare yourself. You must prepare your “wanter.” How do we make decisions? How do we determine what it is we desire? The Word of God must determine it for us. Our “wanters” — our wills — must be informed by the Word of God. As we seek to do the will of God, he will show us that person that he has chosen for us to fulfill the desires of our heart. When we set our hearts upon Jesus Christ; when we set our hearts upon His righteousness; when we desire nothing more than we desire His holiness, then God will show us who that person is that will help us perform the tasks that He has for us in His kingdom. God has promised to reward our obedience. We understand by faith in the love God has for His people that God who loved us and gave his Son for us will surely with his Son give us everything else we need. You might be afraid that some event in your life will prevent your finding the right person. But that event came into your life because of God’s providence, and we know from Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose.” We know these things by faith. Patience is an outworking of faith. First you must prepare your “wanter” to wait upon the Lord.

The second application to those who are still unmarried is to prepare by developing family skills. For young men that means that you primarily develop your vocation and the skills you will need for your vocation prior to marriage. You need to accomplish this primarily before you are married. You will, of course, be honing your skills all the days of your life, but primarily, you should determine your vocation while you are single. You should find out what it is that God would have you to do for the rest of your life before you are married. You should not take your wife into some adventurous trip to the poor house. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” This is the key to our vocations, men. If a man does not provide for his own family, he is worse than an infidel. If you are not prepared to support your family; if you are not financially prepared to support a wife and children, you have no business getting married. If you get married before you can financially support a family, you are making presumptions that even infidels do not make. Get your college education or your trade training before you get married. Whatever your chosen vocation requires of you in way of preparation, do that before you get married. Learn to become practically minded. Think in terms of how to get things done and what your goals are in life. Develop skills that will enable you to instruct your children. Do not wait until you have children to try to learn how to be a good father. Develop those skills now as you prepare for your future duties as a husband and father.

There is also an application for the single young ladies as well. Learn home management skills. In the Titus 2:4 passage that we already discussed, the older women are commanded to teach the younger women to be “keepers at home.” Does that mean that the only thing that a young women needs to learn is how to keep a house clean? That they are never to go out of the front door and interact with the world? That is not what that means at all. It means that they are to be the managers of the household: they are to be the guardians of the homes. We ought to just take the word “housewife” out of our vocabulary all together, and replace it with the proper word “homemaker.” Our wives are “homemakers.” They are not wives to the house. The older ladies are to teach the younger ladies how to love their husbands and how to love their children. Paul is instructing them to teach them how to keep a home. That is what it means to be “keepers at home.” It does not mean they can never leave the house. In fact, in the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs, we see numerous examples of that wife who is more precious than rubies, doing many things outside the home. I do not believe that means that she is a career woman, but it does mean that she is quite capable of managing her household. Proverbs 31:27 reads, “She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” This is not the image of a woman who is just sitting in her house, waiting for her husband to bring home the bread so she can eat it. She is not to eat the bread of idleness; rather, she is to be engaged in making that house into a home for her family. She is the home manager. She looks well to the ways of her household. She watches over it: she guards it. Because she does that, Proverbs 31:28 says that “Her children arise up, and call her blessed: and her husband also, and he praiseth her.” Develop your skills of home management.

Titus 2:4 also instructs the young women to develop the trait of sober-mindedness. Young women in our culture seem to be overtaken with flighty imaginations. This is a real short-coming very evident among young women today. There is just a giddiness — a capriciousness, a frivolousness — about the young women of the world that ought not to characterize our covenant young women. It ought not to characterize our daughters and it ought not to characterize our wives. Rather, our wives and our daughters should be sober minded. All the young women of the covenant community who are preparing themselves for lifelong partnerships should be characterized by sober-mindedness. This sober mindedness is not somber-mindedness. The Lord does not require our women to be constantly morose or sad. To be sober minded means that they are realistic. They are not flighty. They understand and choose to do their duty. They think in practical terms regarding their life and their future as keepers at homes. They make preparations toward that goal, keeping always in mind that their main objective is to become the kind of person who will make a godly partner to her future husband in their task to subdue the earth to the glory of God. They are serious-minded about what God has called them, especially as it relates to being a help fit for that one God has chosen for them.

Finally, we must confess that we are altogether unworthy and undeserving of such mates as God has given us. We should pray that God would make us thankful for giving us the mate which we have. We should pray for our children, that God would give them and us wisdom in choosing life-long partners for them. It should not be done with haste; it should not be done because of feelings or romance. Rather, we should base this life effecting decision upon the commitment that we have to God and his word.