Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a manual in the Bible about dating in the 21st century? Biblical Dating for Dummies? It could have the topics you’re supposed to talk about on a first date, or give a list of things to do so the person who doesn’t even know you like them will get you noticed. Unfortunately God didn’t give us the “Dating for Dummies Appendix”, but we can be assured that we will live without it. Even though the Bible does not speak specifically about the modern notion of “dating” (this would have been an extremely foreign concept in Jesus’ day), it does give us principles for wisdom that can be applied to dating. This is really helpful because it seems like everyone has wisdom and opinions on dating and it’s often hard to figure out who to listen to. But if we are Christians, our opinions on anything need to be shaped by Scripture and held in humility. We need to willingly admit that our opinions aren’t authoritative in the same way the Bible is.
So having talked with lots of students about dating, and having dated a very nice lady myself (hi Polly), I thought I would share what I have found to be two beneficial nuggets about dating based on Biblical principles. I hope you find them informative and helpful as you one day start to date someone, or as you apply them to your current relationship. You may not agree with everything I say and that’s fine because the things that are my opinions are just that – opinions.
The goal of dating is the goal of marriage. One of God’s main purposes in marriage is for each person to help the other become more and more like Christ (which is why the Bible in 1 Cor. 7 says believers cannot marry unbelievers – they have different end goals). When a married couple is more concerned about their spouse flourishing in their relationship with Christ before themselves, the marriage naturally flourishes because both are focused on serving Jesus more than their own interests.
Now I don’t mean to create such a close connection between dating and marriage. Just because you are dating someone does not mean you should immediately start talking about marriage. However, the patterns you set while dating are the patterns that will be seen in your marriage. The earlier you start healthy, God honoring habits in dating the easier and more natural they will become if and when you get married. So here are some questions to ask yourself (or one day ask yourself if and when you start dating) that will help you figure out if you are helping your significant other become more Christ-like: (1) Am I encouraging the person I’m dating (or thinking about dating) to flourish in their relationship with Christ? Are they doing the same for me? (2) Am I forcing the person I’m dating (or thinking about dating) to be the person I want them to be, even though it probably is not who God created them to be? Are they doing the same?
Use extreme wisdom in communication. Self-expression is perhaps the highest virtue in our culture. We are inundated with messages that tell us if we feel something, the only natural thing to do is express it. An underlying assumption of this virtue is that our natural instincts are right and good. But the Bible tells us the exact opposite – our natural instincts are fallen and broken (Romans 3:9-20; Mark 7:14-15), and thus are not to be trusted. When I was dating my wife Polly, I saw the tendency in my own heart to want to word vomit every single thing I was thinking and feeling because I was so attracted to her in a lot of ways. This desire is a healthy one, placed there by God. But problems arise in what we do with that desire, and I’ve seen unwise choices made fairly often among people who are dating, or are simply thinking about dating. They communicate extremely personal things (especially physical pasts) right off the bat, and when such intimate sharing is begun so early on, the emotional intimacy of the relationship is raised, and when this happens physical intimacy follows close behind. Emotional and physical intimacy are good things in and of themselves, but they are mean to increase and flourish in the context of marriage. I’m afraid that when a dating relationship starts off with such high emotional and physical intimacy, the relationship cannot bear the weight of the expectations that are placed on it and an unhealthy and destructive pattern of acting out physically begins.
In my opinion, one spark that sets off this process is when the “L-bomb” is dropped. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention that saying I love you breaks any laws. But when that line is dropped, the emotional and physical intimacy of a relationship sky-rocket, which can lead to many struggles. If you have and currently say I love you in your relationship, it’s not like you have committed the unforgiveable sin, nor am I necessarily assuming you are not practicing wisdom in your relationship. My point is to help us think through the implications of our words.
I hold this conviction because in a previous relationship, I dropped the L-bomb early on and it led to some unhealthy habits. So when I started dating Polly, one lesson I learned and tried to practice (many times imperfectly) was to not assume my initial instincts about communication were right and good. Which leads to a practical implication of my point – surround yourself with people you trust and will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Run things by them first before you communicate it to your significant other (and be that for someone else too!). Give them permission to say hard things to you.
I have the guys I surrounded myself with to thank for having a wife in the first place. Our first date was at Sophia’s. Polly and I had been hanging out for a couple weeks and were texting back and forth on a regular basis. Every instinct I had told me that I should have the DTR (determine the relationship) talk at dinner, but my guys told me cool my jets and wait a little longer. So I waited until the next week for the DTR and after getting the green light, it turns out that if I would have done it at dinner the previous week she would have told me she needed more time – and who knows what that means!
Dating can be fun, exciting, nerve-racking, stressful, confusing, and maddening all rolled into one. But thank goodness God has left us with principles to shoot for in dating: the patterns you set in a dating relationship will characterize the marriage, wisdom is needed in communicating, and the ultimate goal is to help the other person flourish in their relationship with Christ and help them become who God made them to be. With God’s grace we can achieve the words of John the Baptist in dating when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”