Building Blocks for Dating Relationship
Genesis 2:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 7-8
According to verses 24-25 (ESV), “24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed”.
We should observe two dynamics that bind the man and woman together in marriage and serve as building blocks for growing a healthy dating relationship: commitment, and intimacy.
The first of these dynamics is commitment.
In modern dating, intimacy precedes commitment. In biblical dating, commitment precedes intimacy.
Commitment is an absolutely necessary component of any relationship. For the sake of a woman, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24). This-to leave and “cleave,” as the King James Version puts it-is what commitment is all about, and a dating relationship that is moving toward marriage will have more and more of it over time.
Commitment involves cleaving, that is, uniting together in a new relationship. As a dating relationship grows, more substance will develop in it, and the man and woman will each have more of themselves in the relationship.
What does commitment involve?
It involves giving time to the relationship; and
it involves a growing attention to the needs of each other.
At the start-on a first date - commitment is low. The couple is not likely to be dating exclusively, there is little expectation for each to give time to the other, and, while they should certainly seek to be a help and blessing to each other, their obligation is little higher than that toward any other brother or sister in Christ.
By the time they have married, how much this has changed!
The man is completely committed, loving his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) and practicing the kind of self-sacrifice for her that Jesus showed us on the cross.
The woman is no less committed, submitting herself wholly to the authority of the man as the church submits to Christ.
Between a first date and a wedding, this commitment must grow if the relationship is to flourish.
Cleaving involves leaving, of course. As commitment increases, parts of the old life must be left behind or adjusted.
The man will watch less sports on television,
while the woman will spend less time on the phone with friends.
Many singles today, especially men, flinch when it comes to commitment. They want to enjoy the new relationship without giving up anything from their former lives. They especially fear to close the door on other options in order to “settle for” a sole mate. But what they are turning their back on is love as God designed it between a man and a woman.”
The lack of clarity regarding commitment causes many women to suffer. The man is not obliged to commit to a particular woman, but he is obliged to be clear and honest about his commitment. The woman, of course, is not obliged to accept a man's offer of commitment. She may think that he is moving too fast and that a lower level of commitment is better.
The point is that for a dating relationship to be healthy, the commitment level must be defined and understood, and it is a Christian man's duty to take the lead in this. In so doing, he will gain the trust and respect of the woman he is dating; indeed, it is precisely by his unwillingness to address commitment issues that so many Christian men earn the suspicion and contempt of godly women and sour otherwise promising relationships.
So what does a woman do when a man is unwilling to show commitment? She should remember that the level of commitment defines the amount of intimacy that may be safely enjoyed.
Intimacy follows commitment, and a woman should not offer increased intimacy-time spent together, sharing of the heart, little acts of helping ministry-without increased commitment from the man.
Far too many women conclude that the way to win more commitment is to give more and more intimacy. This is a dangerous mistake, both for the woman and for the relationship.
Commitment is a major issue in many dating relationships because it is an indicator of a man's and a woman's readiness to take on the responsibilities of marriage.
2. The second dynamic of the Dating relationship described in Genesis 2 is intimacy.
The modern dating approach tells us that the way to figure out whether I want to marry someone is to act like we are married. If we like it, we make it official. If we don’t, then we go through something emotionally — and probably physically — like a divorce. In biblical dating, Scripture guides us as to how to find a mate and marry, and the Bible teaches, among other things, that we should act in such a way so as not to imply a marriage-level commitment until that commitment exists before the Lord.
Genesis 2:24-25 says that the committed couple “they shall become one flesh”. It says of Adam and Eve, “25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
As a good initial principle here, we should affirm that sex itself (and sexual activity in general) is not inherently negative or sinful. On the contrary, in the proper context, it is a kind and good gift of God. The Scripture passages on sex, taken together, make very clear that God instituted sex within marriage for purposes of procreation, pleasure, intimacy, holiness and — ultimately — for His glory.
In Song of Songs, God has given us a holy and beautiful picture of a marital sexual relationship. Even there, however, God is clear that sex is uniquely for marriage: “Do not arouse or awaken love before it so desires.” (Song of Songs 2:7).
Clarity vs. Intimacy
I got lots of things wrong in dating, but as I think back over my mistakes and failures —
dating too young,
jumping from relationship to relationship,
not being honest with myself or with others,
failing to set or keep boundaries,
not listening to friends and family — one error rises above the others.
My dating relationships were mainly a pursuit of intimacy with a girlfriend, not clarity about whether to marry her.
Most of us date because we want intimacy.
We want to feel close to someone.
We want to be known deeply and loved deeply.
We want sex.
With the right heart, and in the right measure, and at the right time, these are all good desires. God made many of us to want these things, and therefore wants us to want these things —
with the right heart,
in the right measure, and
at the right time.
Intimacy — romantic or otherwise — is a beautiful and precious gift God has given to his children. But like so many of God’s good gifts, because of our sin, intimacy can be dangerous. The human heart is wired to want intimacy, but it is also wired to corrupt intimacy — to demand intimacy in the wrong ways or at the wrong time, and to expect the wrong things from intimacy. That means intimacy between sinners is dangerous, because we’re prone, by nature, to hurt one another.
Intimacy makes us vulnerable, and sin makes us dangerous. The two together, without covenant promises, can be a formula for disaster in dating.
While the great prize in marriage is Christ-centered intimacy, the great prize in dating is Christ-centered clarity. Intimacy is safest in the context of marriage, and marriage is safest in the context of clarity. If we want to have and enjoy Christ-centered intimacy, we need to get married. And if we want to get married, we need to pursue clarity about whom to marry.
Much of the heartache and confusion we feel in dating stems from treating dating as practice for marriage (clarity through intimacy), instead of as discernment toward marriage (clarity now, intimacy later).
In Christian dating, we’re not trying marriage, but trying to find someone to marry.
The Problem with “How far can we go?”
In my view, the problem with asking, “How far can we go?” is that if we want to positively pursue godliness, it’s simply the wrong question. What that question really asks is, “How close to the line (sexual sin) can I get without crossing it?” The problem is that Scripture explicitly tells us not to try to “approach” the line at all, but to turn and run from it.
“Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
The Greek word for “flee” in this passage is an exaggerated form of the word “repent” that means (roughly) to turn and run from something. It might mean “run in the other direction.” It might mean “walk in the other direction.” What it certainly does not mean is flirting with sin, especially sexual sin.
The only way to handle sexual temptation is not to toy with it but to flee from it. We are to leave compromising situations, and like Joseph from the arms of Potiphar's wife, we are to do so immediately.
Romans 13 admonishes us not even to “think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Ephesians 5 tells us that there must not be “even a hint of sexual immorality” among the followers of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 7-8
3 .For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
7 .For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8.Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
The question is not “How far can I go in indulging my desires for sexual gratification or intimacy without getting too close to this thing the Bible utterly rejects?” The question we should all ask — in any area of our lives — is “How can I best pursue that to which God in His Word has positively called me?” He has called us all to pursue holiness and purity in our personal lives. That leaves little room for intentional flirtation with any sin, sexual or otherwise.
As one Christian woman said, “You don't have to kiss me to know my character.” A man who puts a woman's heart first can wonderfully show it by preserving her character instead of pursuing her for sexual pleasure.
Sexual sin will damage and often ruin a promising dating relationship. As soon as a couple becomes sexually involved, they cease developing other, more foundational forms of intimacy-the kinds of intimacy needed for a healthy marriage. After all, if you are sleeping together, you are not going to spend a lot of time in coffee shops
discussing the majesty of God,
sharing what your childhoods were like, or
laughing at the shoes of people walking by.
What you will do is quickly pay the tab, go to one of your bedrooms, and start making love. Sex is simply too powerful, and it especially overwhelms the flesh when it is made illicit. “Stolen water is sweet,” says the seductress of Proverbs 9:17, whose chamber leads the foolish into “the depths of Sheol” (v. 18).
The message to Christian singles is clear: God calls you to abstain from sex, not to toy with it. In doing so, you cultivate a holy relationship that is pleasing to God, and you give honor to yourself and your partner. If you find it necessary to engage in sex, you should get married. Marriage being the God-given relationship in which sex is safe and appropriate.
3. Remember the Gospel
I’ll be the first to admit that this sermon has been a pretty rough slog through a type of sin many of us (myself included) have fallen into at one time or another in our lives. Let me close by reminding us all that while God hates sin, and while sexual sin — like all sin — is destructive to us and grieving to God, there is hope and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. If we truly repent of our past sins and turn from them and believe in the atoning blood of Christ, we are not “damaged goods,” but new creations. What was red as crimson has become white as snow.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).