Dating… Well this is a tricky subject…
It’s tricky because the Bible was written within a culture that didn’t really have dating… instead, they had arranged marriages (Can you imagine your parents picking your partner?!). There are lots of issues that we face today that didn’t exist in Biblical times. The advancement of technology and cultural changes has opened lots of new challenges for the Christian life, but the question always remains the same: How can I live in my culture in a way that honours Christ?
Fortunately for us, God has given us His Word and His Holy Spirit that we might make wise decisions on the issues that face us in our ever changing culture*.
So, what about dating?
Well, it seems to me that dating for Christians is a bit of an awkward part of life… I don’t say that because I’ve had bad dating experiences (although I have!), but because dating is a very uncertain and transitory part of life… What I mean is this: no one wants to be dating for the next 60 years of their life. People only date other people because they want to find someone to have a more intimate relationship with. This is why dating is weird. It’s weird because dating relationships only exist to move on to more permanent relationships… This is true for Christians and for non-christians. Our non-christian culture even has a saying (a proverb) for dating, you might have heard the saying “play the field before you settle down”. Both our culture’s view and the Christian view is that dating serves as a means to find a more permanent and stable relationship**.
If this is the case, when should I date? And How should I date?
1. When should I date?
My hot tip is that you shouldn’t start dating until you’ve at least left high school, and I have 4 reasons for taking this line…
- To avoid extra temptation. Entering into a relationship with the opposite sex is going to provide more temptation for sexual sin because there are more opportunities for it. Let’s not kid ourselves… if you don’t have that one on one exclusive dating relationship with the opposite sex the chances are you’re not really going to have any opportunity to be tempted into sexual activity with another person. It may happen… but unlikely. Eros love (sexual love) is a dangerous thing, so why open yourself up to more temptation? 3 times in the book Song of Songs the beloved woman warns the young women “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” (Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4).
- Because break-ups are messy. It’s awkward when 2 people – who are part of a larger group of relationships like youth group – decide to break up. It’s awkward because break-ups just don’t affect the 2 people involved, but the whole community. It can breed a whole range of unhelpful feelings like resentment, jealousy, envy, and loneliness. I’ve seen what teen break-ups have done in youth groups and the destruction it causes when some stop coming to youth group because they can’t handle being around their ex, or friends are forced to choose sides. Not to mention the heart ache of being rejected or dumped. Relationships are already pretty fragile around the teenage years, so why put them in jeopardy by risking a destructive break-up? You will still risk the hurt of break-ups when you’re an adult, but hopefully by then your faith in Christ will have matured and strengthened, and you will have formed a strong and stable friendship base to get you through.
- Because people change. During your adolescent years at high school you are undergoing some massive changes physically and mentally, and the values that you have in your high school years may change dramatically once you finish school and start Uni or join the work force. People change throughout their lifetime in all sorts of ways, but the changes that happen in transition from adolescence to adulthood are probably the most dramatic. There’s a massive chance that the person you liked in high school will not be the same person you’ll like as an adult. Having said that, I do know a Christian couple who starting going out when they were 14 and are now still happily married in the 50’s.
- It’s fun being young and single. You’ve got the rest of your life to be married (and marriage is good!) but you are only young once and you should enjoy the time you have to be young and single. Marriage is good and wonderful, but there is more freedom during your years as a single person. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.“
2. How should I date?
Whenever I hear my non-christian friends and family talk about dating or playing the field, and whenever I hear it used in a movie or written in a magazine, it seems to always refer to (or at least imply) sleeping around. In order to find the right partner to have a stable and permanent relationship, you should date as many people as possible, and with each person you date you should sample all the different parts that a stable permanent relationship provides… ie. sex. This is the advice that our world is feeding to us. This is the “wisdom” of our culture. The analogy that is usually thrown around in defense of this is: “You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive first would you?” and “You wouldn’t buy a house without shopping around first?”. But these are hardly good analogies and in fact they are an insult to the sacredness of sex. These analogies make sex out to be nothing more special than the act of making a purchase. This is a very low view of sex and an ignorant view of the special place sex has in human relationships.
When we think about how to date from a Christian perspective it must mean something different because the Christian is looking to settle down in a marriage relationship. Here is where Christians have the advantage in dating: Christians can date other Christians without having to be obsessed with the physical side of relationships. Christians have the “Fear of the Lord” and trust that the one who established marriage in the beginning will be faithful in continuing to bless what he designed to be good for men and women. Therefore Christians should date in a way that honours God’s values and shows trust in his promises, ie. keep sexually pure, and display the character of Christ – humility, faithfulness, patience, justice, self control, love, etc…
Here’s the summary… My hot tip is to wait until you’ve finished high school to start dating. Dating is a tool to help find a lifelong marriage partner. You should date in a way that honours Christ.
This is not a hard and fast rule, and it’s not a sin to date when you’re young but I think there is wisdom in waiting until you’ve left school before you date.
Here is a video from Mark Driscoll about dating. Mark is a pretty straight shooter and he doesn’t beat around the bush. I probably haven’t been as forthright as Mark but I agree with what he says here.
* The book of Proverbs tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr. 1:7) and this means that we must trust God and hold onto his values as we decide how to live in our culture. Wisdom in Proverbs is made up from a mixture of life observations and wisdom from pagan nations that have been redefined to fit in with the “fear of the Lord” (ie. the knowledge of God and his values). Christians have done this throughout history.
**Given that de-facto relationships (people living together that are not married) are becoming more common and are now socially acceptable, “settling down” in our non-christian culture does not always mean marriage. But at the very least, it implies moving into a relationship that’s a lot more stable or permanent. (As a side note: it is becoming increasingly more common to hear some people, ie. magazines, TV programs etc. talk about dating as a permanent lifestyle where people do date for the next 60 years of their life moving in and out of transitory relationships, but by and large most people in our culture are still looking for some kind of permanent and stable relationship).
However the Christian meaning of “settling down” as the Bible understands stable and permanent relationships between a man and a woman always means marriage. The intimate and permanent relationship that Christians are looking for is marriage. This is the place where an intimate relationship between a man and a woman can be enjoyed fully and permanently.
The intimate relationship I am referring to here is the sexual relationship. And the sexual intimacy that is shared between one man and one woman in the safety of the marriage promises is the height of human intimacy. When we trace the Bible’s view of sexual intimacy between men and women from the Old Testament to the New, we get the picture loud and clear that marriage is the proper place for this to be enjoyed. This is the pattern of sexual relationship that is described in Genesis 2, and is described in the Jewish Law “Torah” (look at Leviticus 18), and is upheld in the teaching of Jesus (eg. Mark 10:1-12), and is taught by the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 6 & 7), and the writer of Hebrews (13:4). Sex belongs in marriage.