Many of us have parents and friends who love us in spite of the dumb things we do. Whether you threaten to call CPS on your parents for spanking you, or you smother Vaseline on the door handles of your friend’s dormitory, you know that there is a certain love and care between them and you. Yet, that is usually not enough. A majority of people have a desire for some other form of affection. You desire a “deeper connection” with someone; you desire romance. You desire the good gifts of marriage and all of its intimacy.
Romance is a reflection of God.
Looking through the biblical story, there is a clear connection between God’s love and his bride (which he pursues and redeems). If this is the case, then our romantic relationships ought to reflect God. Therefore it is not sinful to desire romance. It is not sinful to desire intimacy. We have bought the lie that to be content as a Christian means disregarding our feelings and desires. That’s not true contentment. Contentment needs a focus. We need something that shines brighter than romance. Something that we can hold onto that will never move. We need a solid rock. We need Jesus to be the anchor of our hope. In our search for romance, we should not turn to it to save us, but point us back to God.
Dating or Courtship is the wrong question.
Do we date? Do we “court”? Are these the only two options? Whatever your position, I think that we should wrestle more with the purpose of romantic relationships, rather than the label for pursuit. We might be spending too much time focusing on our terms rather than dealing with the issue at heart: How do we honor God and neighbor well in our romantic ventures? Personally, I do not think that either side has it right because there are different definitions for what each look like. My caution to those who prescribe courtship as the biblical model is to not impose things that the Bible does not state is the case. The Bible does not speak to us whether you should date or court, but it does say a fair share of who you should be and what to look for.
What To Look For
Whether certain physical or spiritual characteristics, everything beyond these commands come down to preferences. Here are what the Bible prescribes for romantic relationships:
- Marriage is between only one man and one woman (Matt. 19:4–5, Cf. Gen. 2:24).
In recent years, the question of homosexuality and the Bible has come up. If one reads the text (in English or in the original languages), there is nothing that says that gender is defined by how one identifies, rather it is something bestowed upon someone. It is a gift given by God. Therefore, in order to follow God’s will in marriage, one man can only marry one woman and one woman can only marry one man.
- Marriage is not restricted to Christians, but Christians should only marry Christians (1 Cor. 7:39).
The first one is easier than this command. Christians are free to marry any other Christians. However, before you go and ask Carla from the Unitarian church out, we must understand that not everyone who confesses Christ is Christian. This is not a call for you and I to play the Holy Spirit and wonder how far people are on their journey towards being sinless. It is a call to look and make sure that you are not going down a foolish road towards an unhealthy relationship.
Another helpful way to discern if two Christians should get married is to think about a list of biblical qualities that you seek in a spouse. If your list is saying that your future spouse must make a certain income or must have a certain physique, I want to stop you there. Wealth comes and goes and outer–beauty fades. While it is wise to marry someone you’re attracted to, there’s more to a person than outer–appearance. I would encourage lists that maintain moral qualities over physical ones because I believe that helps us understand a person for who they are, rather than what they look like. If you want to know what are some ways to start that list, we can start with two explicit commands in the Bible when looking for a significant other.
Here are four of the things that I look for:
- Confession: Do they confess Jesus as Lord?
- Conviction: Are they walking in the Spirit (or as John Owen might say, are they “mortifying sin”) and looking to Jesus (Galatians 5)?
- Community: Are they in a church that faithfully teaches the Bible on its own terms and are they growing in the knowledge of Christ?
- Compatibility: Is it possible that any two Christians can get married? Yes. Does that mean any two Christians should get married? I don’t think so. Can we do things together both ministry and hobbies? You do not need everything in common, but there should be some common ground.
Now take your personal list and pray that God would make you more like all of these things. You may realize that as you pray over some of those very things for yourself that some of them might be unreasonable. If you do not expect the same things for yourself, do not expect the same things out of those whom you pursue for marriage.
As you proceed, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Always seek and get wisdom. I would extremely discourage lone–ranger couples who think they have it all figured out and can make it on their own. They tend to only listen to themselves and assume that no one understands them (Prov. 18:2). How do we become wise? Ask God (James 1:5–7) and go around your bible–believing community and get wisdom (Prov. 4:7). Meet with mentors individually and let people into your life to help you walk in wisdom.
- Give each other space. You do not have to do every single thing together. It’s good to do things together, but learn to make time for other relationships as well. Hang out with others as a couple and as individuals. This will also give you time to assess your relationship and see if you want to continue moving on towards marriage.
- Look to Jesus. This seems obvious but it is easily forgotten. We can quickly get wrapped up in our relationships and forget that Jesus is worthy of our worship, not your significant other. If you keep your identity rooted in humans, you will quickly feel and see what terrible gods we make.