BIBLICAL RULES OR PRINCIPLES ON DATING
Matthew 22:37-39; Ephesians 5:22-33; Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 10:24-26
Because there are no chapters on dating in the Bible, I don’t have one primary text for today’s sermon so I am going to bounce around a little bit.
Two Books I would recommend you to read:
Richard D. Phillips & Sharon L Phillips, “Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating”.
Marshall Segal, “Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating”.
Different Principles Between Modern Dating and Biblical Dating
So what’s the real difference?
Basically, I am going to point three main rules or principles difference between modern dating and biblical dating in terms of their respective philosophies:
1. The First Rule on Biblical Dating
Modern dating seems to be about “finding” the right person for me; Modern dating tends to assume that a good relationship will “meet all my needs and desires,” and a bad one won’t — it’s essentially a self-centered approach.
Biblical dating is more about “being” the right person to serve my future spouse’s needs and be a God-glorifying husband or wife. Biblical dating approaches relationships from a completely different perspective — one of ministry and service and bringing glory to God.
Take what Jesus described as the two greatest commandments: Matthew 22:37-39
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
We need to apply those words more seriously to every aspect of life. In dating, this requires us to honor God first. Many Christians approach dating mainly in terms of pursuing romance and meeting their emotional needs. Far too few think of it as an opportunity to honor God and grow in grace.
The first rule in Biblical dating is the first rule in all of life: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
You will not truly love anyone else if you do not love God first and most.
And no one will truly love you if they do not love God more than they love you.
The first step in dating should always be the step of faith we take toward our Lord, Savior, and greatest Treasure, King Jesus.
He captures our heart; we find our deepest joy in him.
We hide our soul in him, and stop trying to save or prove ourselves.
We devote our minds to knowing him more and more, and plead with him to conform our mind and will to his.
We put all our strength into his goal and plan for our life: to make disciples who love him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
If our heart is not there — if our soul is not already safe through faith, if our mind is distracted and focused on other, lesser things, if our best strength is being spent on the things of this world — jobs, sports, shopping, entertainment, relationships, and not on God — we simply will not date well.
Do you want to date and marry well? Listen to Jesus, and “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Seek him first (Matthew 6:33), and dating will be added according to his perfect plan and timing.
What about loving our neighbor? This commandment requires us to put our dating partner's holiness ahead of our happiness. If you are dating someone and the relationship does “not grow into marriage, the least you can do as a Christian is to ensure that dating you was a spiritually beneficial experience.”
There is a myth, which many believe today, that says there is a right person out there for you, and if you don’t find that person, you’ll never be happy. And if you’re not happy, it’s because you haven’t found that person.
But this is not how it works. Let me tell you why: You always date or marry the wrong person. For two reasons:
First, we’re not primarily lonely people who need soulmates; we’re sinners who need a Savior!
The second reason is that we are a sinner and so are you and that means people will inevitably, let you down.
I love how Tim Keller says that most people today approach marriage with
the attitude: “I want someone to fill every vacancy in me, awaken dormant gifts inside, continuously enrapture me in other-worldly emotional bliss.” And that puts tremendous, unfair pressure on them.
So what if you gave up the myth that there is a “perfect person,” and understood that the purpose of marriage was not about that anyway?
What if you saw that God’s main purpose IN LIFE was preparing you for himself, and that dating or marriage was a way he can do that, and a way he can supply some of your needs.
Rather than being on an overzealous, obsessive search for the right person who was the key to a happy life, we could put our eyes on Jesus, and focus on following him, and let him supply your needs.
2. The Second Rule on Biblical Dating
Modern dating tends to be egalitarian (no differences between men and women in spiritual or emotional “wiring” or God-given roles). So modern dating begins with either the man or the woman initiating with the other.
Biblical dating tends to be complementarian (God has created men and women differently though equally and has ordained each of these spiritual equals to play different and valuable roles in the church and in the family). So as a result Biblical Dating begins with the man approaching and going through the woman’s father or family;
Let us read Ephesians 5:22ff
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
True, these passage refer to marriage, but it is wise and right to set patterns that will serve you well in marriage, especially if one accepts the premise that the purpose of dating is to find a marriage partner.
Among the different roles assigned to men and women in the Bible, men are assigned the role of leadership. This is true in the church and in the family. This is not a signal of male superiority or of the greater importance of men. It is simply God’s design and assignment of equally valuable roles among spiritually equal beings. Men initiate, women respond.
The man should initiate asking the woman out. Whether this means approaching the woman herself or her father or someone filling that role instead of her father, it should be the guy that starts things off. But he should not do this until he is “ready” to marry. If you’re not ready to marry, you’re not ready to date.
Initiation means initiation. It means that you as the man take the first step, risk and all.
‘Wait a minute. Are you saying that all the risk is mine?’ Yes I am. ‘Doesn’t that mean that she can just tell me no and leave me twisting in the wind?’ Yes it does. Welcome to leadership. Welcome to trusting God. Welcome to being a man.
Here are some specific suggestions for how a Christian man can put these principles into action in a dating relationship:
Commit to take the lead in the godliness of your relationship. Read the Bible's passages about how men and women and all Christians should treat one another. Especially take the lead in establishing boundaries that will keep you from sexual sin. Assume that this woman is going to be your wife or the wife of some other Christian brother (who might be currently dating your future wife). Treat her as the precious sister in Christ that she is.
Decide in advance whether or not you are willing to love a woman in the self-sacrificing, nurturing way the Bible describes. “25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her”.
Realizing that God wants you to learn to put her interests ahead of your own, ask her the kinds of things she likes to do and be eager to spend time doing them.
Pay attention to her heart. Ask her about her burdens and cares. Seek ways to minister to her and to make her cares your own. Instead of being critical of her, speak words of encouragement and support.
Do not be shy in ministering the Word of God to her. Do not preach, but exhort her and call to mind God's promises and God's love for her in Jesus Christ. “Make it a primary goal that she will be spiritually stronger by having been in a relationship with you.
If something about her bothers you, think about how you can encourage her in that area. Realize that none of us is without flaws. Pray for her weakness and try to strengthen her in that area. If your concerns are enough to deter you from wanting to marry her, let her know in a forthright manner while being as considerate as possible.”
As it is the man’s God-given role to initiate, so it is the woman’s God-given role to respond. Her response may be positive or negative, it may occur through her father, her family. But whatever the circumstances, her role is as responder, not initiator. As single men need to learn how to lead (whether they like it or not), single women need to learn what it is to let a man assume spiritual leadership in the relationship — and to respond to that leadership. Ultimately, this means learning to trust God’s goodness and sovereignty.
Clearly, this is not the popular secular view of the “liberated” woman’s role.
What, then, does submission and respect look like for a woman in a dating relationship? Here are some guidelines:
A woman should allow the man to initiate the relationship. This does not mean that she does nothing. She helps! If she thinks there is a good possibility for a relationship, she makes herself accessible to him and helps him to make conversation, putting him at ease and encouraging him as opportunities arise (she does the opposite when she does not have interest in a relationship with a man). A godly woman will not try to manipulate the start of a relationship, but will respond to the interest and approaches of a man in a godly, encouraging way.
A godly woman should speak positively and respectfully about her boyfriend, both when with him and when apart.
She should give honest attention to his interests and respond to his attention and care by opening up her heart.
She should recognize the sexual temptations with which a single man will normally struggle. Knowing this, she will dress attractively but modestly, and will avoid potentially compromising situations. She must resist the temptation to encourage sexual liberties as a way “to win his heart.
The Christian woman should build up the man with God's Word and give encouragement to godly leadership. She should allow and seek biblical encouragement from the man she is dating.
She must remember that this is a brother in the Lord. She should not be afraid to end an unhealthy relationship, but should seek to do so with charity and grace. Should the relationship not continue forward, the godly woman will ensure that her time with a man will have left him spiritually blessed.
3. The Third Rule on Biblical Dating
Modern dating assumes that what I do and who I date as an adult is entirely up to me and is private (my family or the church has no formal or practical authority). Modern dating tends to assume that you will spend a great deal of time together (most of it alone).
Biblical dating assumes a context of spiritual accountability, as is true in every other area of the Christian life. Biblical dating tends to encourage time spent in group activities or with other people the couple knows well.
Lean hard on the people who:
know you best,
love you most, and
will tell you when you’re wrong.
My Friends, it is this rule that most often makes the difference between healthy and unhealthy Christian dating relationships.
The key will be to lean on other Christians who know you best, love you most, and have a proven record of telling you when you are making a mistake or wandering away from God’s will for you.
The truth is that we all need an accountability — in life and in dating — people who truly know us and love us, and who want what’s best for us, even when it’s not what we want in the moment.
Dating often isolates us from other Christians in our lives. The closer we become with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the more removed we are from other important relationships. Fight the impulse to date in a corner by yourselves, and instead draw one another into those important relationships.
I’ve had lots of friends over the years, but the ones who have been willing to press in, ask harder questions, and offer unwanted (but wise) counsel are the friends I respect and prize the most.
Maybe that term — accountability — has dried out and gone stale in your life. But to be accountable is to be authentically, deeply, consistently known by someone who cares enough to keep us from making mistakes or indulging in sin.
Only people who love Christ more than they love you will have the courage to tell you that you’re wrong in dating — wrong about a person, wrong about timing, wrong about whatever. Only they will be willing to say something hard, even when you’re so happily infatuated.
The Bible warns us to weave all our desires, needs, and decisions deep into a fabric of family who love us and will help us follow Jesus — a family God builds for each of us in a local church (Hebrews 10:24–25).
Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
God has sent you — your faith, your gifts, and your experience — into other believers’ lives for their good.
To encourage them: “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
To challenge and correct them: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16).
And to build them up: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
And as inconvenient, unnecessary, unhelpful, and even unpleasant as it may feel at times, God has sent gifted, experienced, Christ-loving men and women into your life too, for your good — and for the good of your boyfriend or girlfriend (and God willing, your future spouse). The God who sends these kinds of friends and family into our lives knows what we need far better than we ever will.
Lean hard on the people who know you best, love you most, and will tell you when you’re wrong.