Sign up for the weekly email:
3 Things to Consider Before Dating or Courtship Begins
We have been married for nearly two decades. I often think back to our dating years and the first years of our marriage and think how different things would have been had we known what we know now.
When two are made one, God sanctifies the two individuals within the marriage relationship as he knits their hearts together. We made many mistakes due to our selfishness and ignorance over the years. This realization drives us to share with those who are seeking to marry the pitfalls common to many young adults in order to help them avoid similar mistakes.
Here are a few of those things that we wish we had known before we walked down the aisle.
1. Modern dating is not a biblical model for seeking a spouse.
Dating is not a foreign concept to us as we didn’t really know anything different until after we were married. It was the norm among our peers. We grew up in very conservative Christian homes being taught very conservative Christian values. In fact, we watched the rise and fall of the purity movement in the broader evangelical church. We saw its benefits as well as its many failures.
These failures were not due to the principle of sexual purity being wrong, but the way in which this movement demonized sex and did not adequately prepare men and women for their biblical roles within the marriage context. It provided the right guilt and shame, but none of the structure that would enable people to actually avoid it. Merely being taught Christian values in the absence of accountability was not enough to force purity. Instilling fear and not wisdom was a recipe for disaster and trauma for many. It became very difficult for many to turn the page and embrace a healthy sex life in marriage when they had only ever been taught to be afraid or suspicious of sex.
What is the purpose of dating? Some might say it is a way of socializing. Others might claim that it prepares one for adulthood and marriage, by allowing a teenager or young adult to “shop around” for the traits he or she might desire in a spouse. It allows them to practice at marriage without the commitment, testing with whom they are compatible.
Theoretically, it could be said that couples practice divorce when they break-up and move onto someone who makes them happier. In our modern context, most begin dating due to attraction, not due to a sincere intent to marry that person. Marriage may come, but that is considered a bonus, an afterthought to the initial hook-up. This is a broken and unbiblical system which often renders disastrous results because it completely negates God's entire design for marriage.
The modern model of dating only gained popularity when Christian parents divorced the father’s covenant headship over the daughter and parents abdicated their role in raising up men prepared to lead and provide for a family. On the other hand, a biblical approach to what is commonly referred to as courtship is when men and women enter into a relationship together with the intent to marry under the direction and supervision of family and friends.
When young men and women are intentionally prepared during the most formative years to assume their God-given role in the context of building a family, they will likely grow up desiring to undertake the task presented to them. The idea that youth just need to sow their wild oats before being tamed into domesticity is a pagan ideal.
2. Young men and women should pursue a spouse using biblical principles as their guide.
We have made a case for why modern dating isn’t a biblical model for a Christian to follow when pursuing marriage, but what does that look like practically? Men and women should not begin pursuing marriage until they are actually ready to get married. If a man desires to marry, he should be learning about what it means to be a biblical man, seeking mentorship through his church family. He should be building wealth, as he is able, to provide a home and stable income for a future family. When he does find a woman he desires to marry, he should seek the permission of her father and work within the bounds that father requests, as he is the woman’s spiritual head until he gives her away to a husband. If the woman’s father is unwilling to provide accountability for their courtship the man can seek such wisdom from his church family.
Women who desire to marry should be seeking to learn what it means to be a woman, wife, and mother from a biblical worldview. By seeking mentorship through her church she can be discipled and learn certain skills necessary to fulfill her current duties as a daughter and her future duties as a wife and mother. When the time comes that she finds an acceptable suitor, she should rely on her father’s leadership for this help. If he is unavailable or unwilling, spiritual leaders in the church can provide a measure of that structure and protection for her.
Ultimately the couple should seek to not be alone together in a way that would increase temptation. There is plenty of time to build both physical and spiritual intimacy after they are married. They should seek the wisdom and input of others into their relationship to help them grow and keep them accountable to biblical principles until they are married. This kind of oversight ultimately provides more than just accountability, but also protection for both parties as friends or family may detect potential red flags before the marriage takes place.
Listen on the Reformed Faith and Family Podcast ... Dating vs. Courtship: Biblical Principles for Finding a Spouse
We grew up ignorant of history and entrenched in modern evangelical culture. This church culture led us to believe that it was most beneficial to shop around for our future spouse by dating a lot of duds until we found "the one." After seeing the myriad of pitfalls inherent in this model, we have opted for a different way in helping our children find a spouse. Join us in this episode as we define the courtship model, and discuss biblical principles of for finding one's spouse. In the end, the terminology we use doesn't matter. The word courtship does not find its roots in Scripture; the principles for finding a spouse, however, are revealed in Scripture. To be truly consistent in our application of those principles, we ought to be intentional to not just follow the course set by the world, or what is considered normal in broader evangelicalism, but align ourselves with God's Word in every area of our lives, including this area of finding a spouse.
Dating around may be the popular option in our culture, but the Church could and should do better than the culture surrounding it. When the Christian’s only standard for dating is, “marry a Christian and don’t have sex before marriage,” this leaves a broad road for a myriad of potholes in which to fall, especially when one lacks the wisdom or accountability to properly navigate that road.
Modern dating is not a biblical model for finding a spouse, so we implore Christians to consider the biblical principles of fathers taking responsibility for their daughter’s purity and protection by being a part of the process of finding their daughter a suitable spouse. This practice may sound foreign to us today, but just a couple hundred years ago it was the norm for all of Church history.
On the other hand, we encourage parents to reconsider how they are raising their boys and their girls. By intentionally raising men and women who are trained in Christian character and have been equipped with the skills and values that every husband and wife should have, we will be raising men and women ready to build families of their own to the glory of God.
3. Marriage is not about being in love.
Marriage is not about being in love. Being in love with your spouse is a wonderful benefit of marriage, but it is not the purpose of marriage. Many will nod their heads at this because often it is easy to realize that marriage is not an easy road. However, do we truly realize WHY marriage is not about being in love?
Marriage is not about the individual. Marriage is about covenant. It is specifically a symbol in this life mirroring the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. Marriage is a parable of the sacrificial love and faithfulness that God has shown to His chosen people since the beginning of time.
When we deface the marriage relationship ordained by God by allowing pornography, adultery, homosexuality, or divorce to seep in, we in essence are presenting a false picture of Christ and His Church. Christ is faithful to His Church, so why would a spouse not be faithful even when it is beyond hard to do so? In our society divorce is easy, marriage is cheap, and sex is a barter system. We would be naive to think that the Church has not been impressed by these cultural norms and its people unwittingly adopted these common thoughts and practices.
Men and women ought to be prepared for the trials of marriage before they enter into marriage. There will be times that they do not like their spouse. There may be times where it will feel easier to walk away than stay and fight. This is when one must look to God’s Word for his comfort and direction. God is faithful, so we must be faithful. God is forgiving, so we must be forgiving. The Lord tells us to love our neighbor like we love ourselves. If our spouse is not our “neighbor,” then who is? Men, love your wife as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her. Women, submit to your husband as unto the Lord.
There are nuanced situations that we have not addressed here, but, nuances aside, we can say with hearty assurance that divorce should not be a consideration or “Plan B” for the Christian when entering the marriage covenant. Marriage is not about being in love, but about living out the Gospel in covenant as you both purpose to build a family on Christ as your foundation.
Because marriage is about our covenant keeping God and His Church, this institution cannot be understood apart from a firm foundation in Christ and a knowledge of His Word.
This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence
The chasm between the biblical vision of marriage and the common human conception is immense. Reflecting on over forty years of marriage, John Piper exalts the biblical meaning of marriage over its emotion, exhorting couples to keep their covenant as a display of Christ's covenant-keeping love for the church.
He aims to lift the church's low view of marriage to something infinitely greater, namely, a vision of Jesus's unswerving allegiance to and affection for his bride. This Momentary Marriage unpacks the biblical vision, its unexpected contours, and its weighty implications for married, single, divorced, and remarried alike. Now available in paperback with a freshly redesigned cover.
This Momentary Marriage
John Piper in his book This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence states,
“Romance, sex, and childbearing are temporary gifts of God. They are not part of the next life. And they are not guaranteed even for this life. They are one possible path through the narrow way to Paradise. Marriage passes through breathtaking heights and through swamps with choking vapors. It makes many things sweeter, and with it come bitter providences.”
When marriage and all of its components are put in proper perspective within the context of the Gospel, it creates a paradigm shift. Our modern culture claims that marriage is about the individual’s happiness. Children are viewed as an accessory to marriage. Marriage is easily expendable in the world's eyes.
"When God stands as witness to the covenant promises of a marriage it becomes more than a merely human agreement. God is not a passive bystander at a wedding ceremony. In effect he says, I have seen this, I confirm it and I record it in heaven. And I bestow upon this covenant by My presence and My purpose the dignity of being an image of My own covenant with My wife, the church." (This Momentary Marriage, John Piper)
Browse Our Library of Recommended Resources
Looking for solid Christian resources to help you grow in your walk with the Lord? Check out our Recommended Resources Section on all topics concerning theology, marriage, raising children, and more!
Like what you see? Read more!
Lindsey Stomberg is wife to Caleb Stomberg and co-author here at Reformed Faith and Family. She is a work-from-home, homeschooling mom of seven children. Lindsey has enjoyed blogging for over a decade. Lindsey is the former owner of The Road to 31 Blog and author of The ABC’s for Godly Children Bible Curriculum. She enjoys reading, writing, and graphic design. Her favorite pass times are family read-aloud time, snuggling with her babies, and going on walks with her family.