From “Hi” to “I Do” in a Year

The following is a copy of the article

Biblical Dating: From “Hi” to “I Do” in a Year by Scott Croft

from the Boundless Webzine (a ministry of Focus on the Family)

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Before continuing with this column, please review the preamble included at the beginning of Scott’s first article in this series, “Biblical Dating: An Introduction.”

My hope over the next few columns is to spend some time focusing on fuller answers to some of the more specific questions generated by our outline of biblical dating principles. As is usually the case when reading one of these columns, I’ll try to avoid fully repeating the ideas we’ve discussed in the past, so you’ll be helped by glancing through the rest of the “Biblical Dating” series if you haven’t already done so. If the editors are on their game, links to some or all of those pieces can be found below.

One question that has come up repeatedly — and somewhat passionately — is “why do you suggest that people should be married within a year of starting to date?” I do in fact believe that in the vast majority of circumstances, couples should commit to marriage within a year and should actually get married pretty soon after that. Let’s talk a little more specifically about why I would foolishly provoke the wrath of bloggers and commenters everywhere by making such a statement.

As always, it’s important to remember that we’re talking at this point about possible implications and application of a scriptural principle, and not the principle itself. The thesis of this article is not that if you’re in a relationship, and you hit the year-and-a-day mark without being married, you’re necessarily sinning. I’m about to discuss what I think is wise, and what, according to my study and experience — and building on that of others — I believe to be the best course.

So here’s the big idea: In matters of dating or courtship, I generally recommend that people either get married or break up within a year or so of beginning a dating relationship. Most relevantly — in terms of the type of questions we’ve received on this — I also believe that this recommendation applies with equal force to single men and women in college. I’ve arrived at this conclusion by thinking through a number of the biblical principles we’ve already discussed in this space.

Avoiding Temptation

In an earlier column, we discussed that one of our bedrock governing principles in biblical dating — and in how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ generally — is not to “defraud” our single brothers and sisters by implying a greater level of commitment between us and them than actually exists (see 1 Thess. 4:6). I discuss this principle more fully in “To Kiss or Not to Kiss” and “What Does a Biblical Relationship Look Like?” As a quick refresher, we can “defraud” our brother or sister in a dating context by showing or encouraging a level of intimacy — either emotionally or physically — that the bible seems to reserve for marriage and marriage only. If we act like we’re married before we’ve made that commitment, we’re defrauding (and sinning).

Emotional Temptation

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed this, but people involved in a dating relationship tend to get to know each other better over the course of that relationship. In fact, they are usually really enthusiastic about doing so. We might even say that getting to know one another better and more deeply is (up to a certain limited point, of course) the very purpose of a dating relationship. When two people are dating — especially when it’s going well and two people are really into one another — the desire to spend more and more time together, to know each other better and better, to confide in each other more and more often and exclusively, is overwhelming. As your general comfort level around each other rises, that momentum grows even more.

Now picture, for example, college life. We’ll assume, per another clear principle from Scripture, that both members of our college couple are Christians. On most college campuses, that likely puts the two of you in the same relatively small social circle. Perhaps both of you are active in the same campus ministry, you go to the same church. Over time, maybe you take some of the same classes, live near one another, etc.

In that context, living with the desires I’ve just described, how likely do you think it is that over the course of two or three or four years — some couples date over most of their college years — you will be able to maintain enough emotional discipline and distance to avoid acting emotionally and relationally “married”?

I’ve spoken to numerous “long-dating” couples, in college and beyond, who other than living together, could do little to intertwine their lives any more than they already are. They see each other every day, are with each other’s families every holiday (and often know their partner’s family as well as any son or daughter-in-law does), they travel together, spend most of their non-working (or studying) time together, they daily confide in one another (and maybe only one another), and are without doubt, closer emotionally with one another than with anyone else on the planet.

This is exactly the level of intimacy that is reserved for marriage only, and that dating couples should make every effort to restrain until the appropriate time. Can this level of emotional intimacy happen between people who have been dating for a shorter amount of time? Of course. But the longer a couple dates, the harder it becomes to avoid it.

Physical Temptation

Scripture calls Christians to “flee” from sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), not to “see how difficult we can make the temptation and still prevail” or to “see how close the line we can get without sinning.” In my view, Scripture teaches clearly that there is to be no romantic physical intimacy outside of marriage. See fuller discussion of these issues and arguments in “Growing in Intimacy” and “Tips for Engagement” and “Physical Intimacy and the Single Man.”

No reasonable person would argue that physical temptation does not increase — a lot — the longer two people date who are attracted to each other and who grow to love each other. Sadly, statistics and anecdotal experience both indicate that even the vast majority of Christian couples who spend time in dating relationships of any length, sin physically.

The longer the relationship, the higher the percentage. Where a relationship is shorter, accountability stronger, and the level of emotional intimacy more responsible, the level of physical temptation, and the likelihood of sin, goes down.

The Bottom Line

To put it simply, “not acting married before you’re married,” perhaps the sum total of the principles we’ve discussed in the rest of these columns, gets exponentially more difficult the longer a pre-marital relationship persists. If, as has been written before in this space, our goal is to move positively toward God-glorifying lives (rather than simply to “walk the line” by attempting to satisfy our fleshly desires as much as possible without sinning), wisdom and godliness would seem to counsel keeping relationships shorter.

Certainly, as God’s people, we don’t want to live in fear and have our lives be primarily defined by avoiding temptation rather than positively seeking after Christ. I’m not suggesting that we do. Still, where particular known areas of temptation exist, it’s not living in fear to be deliberate about taking the wiser course. Continue reading

The Christian Hedonist Takes a Wife

Our God has made another way To put his glory on display. His goodness shines with brightest rays When we delight in all his ways. His glory overflows its rim When we are satisfied in him. His radiance will fill the earth When people revel in his worth. The beauty of God’s holy fire Burns brightest in the heart’s desire.

I am a Christian Hedonist Because I know that if I kissed My wife simply because it’s right, And not because it’s my delight, It would not honor her so well. With pleasures I will praise Noël, And I will magnify my wife By making her my joy in life.

So may this blazing, God-like flame Ignite in us for his great name A holy passion, zeal and fire That magnify him with desire.
I hail him as my joy in life, And take from his pure hand my wife.

John Piper, Velvet Steel, pg.22-23.

Martin Luther to Katharina Luther

Here is a sweet letter from Martin Luther, to his dear wife, Katharina, encouraging her to worry less about him 😉

[Eisleben,] February 10, 1546

Martin Luther to the holy lady, full of worries,
Mrs. Katharina, doctor, the lady of Zolsdorf, at Wittenberg, my gracious, dear mistress of the house

Grace and peace in Christ! Most holy Mrs. Doctor! I thank you very kindly for your great worry which robs you of sleep. Since the date that you [started to] worry about me, the fire in my quarters, right outside the room, tried to devour me; and yesterday, no doubt because of the strength of your worries, a stone almost fell on my head and nearly squashed me as in a mouse trap. For in our secret chamber mortar has been falling down for about two days; we called in some people who [merely] touched the stone with two fingers and it fell down. The stone was gig as a long pillow and as wide as a large hand; it intended to repay you for your holy worries, had the dear angels not protected [me]. [Now] I worry that if you do not stop worrying the earth will finally swallow us up and all the elements will chase us. Is this the way you learned the Catechism and the faith? Pray, and let God worry. You have certainly not been commanded to worry about me or yourself. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you,” as it is written in Psalm 55[:22] and many more passages…

Your Holiness’ willing servant,
Martin Luther

Michael A. G. Haykin, The Christian Lover: The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers, pg. 4.

Should I Marry My Non-Christian Pregnant Girlfriend?

The following is Russell Moore’s response, to the ethical question that he first posted:

Shortly after I posted this question, Candice Watters pointed me to the counsel of Christian scholar J. Budziszewski to a man ina very similar predicament. You can read his advice here. I agree almost entirely with his assessment.

Several factors bear on this decision. The first is that, yes, the Scriptures make it clear that Christian marriage is to be the union of a faithful man and a faithful woman. We are not to be, the Bible maintains, “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). If you were merely dating this woman I would counsel you to immediately end the relationship. But the situation is, of course, more complicated than that.

The Apostle Paul, for instance, does not treat already existing marriages believer to unbeliever as an ongoing state of sin. Those who are already in this predicament should, Paul says, continue in it, unless the unbeliever abandons the marriage (1 Cor. 7:12-16).

Well, why? Wouldn’t it be better for one’s sanctification to be married to a godly spouse than to an unbelieving one? Sure. But divorcing one’s spouse, walking away from one’s vows and responsibilities would compound the sin, piling sin upon sin, in a way that furthers the damage already done. The Scriptures tell us not to “yoke” ourselves with unbelievers, true, but we are also not to abandon our responsibilities to the “yokes” we already have.

The question here is not whether you will be yoked unequally with an unbeliever. You are. The question is whether you can or should get out of it.

Read Dr. Moore’s response in full.

Lionhearted, Lamblike Physical Provision and Protection

I posted last month a quote on biblical womanhood from John Piper’s recent book, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence. To balance things off, I thought it’d be appropriate to post a quote on biblical manhood.  I couldn’t find a shorter, more succinct quote, so this will do.

Piper spends two whole chapters addressing men (ch.6 and 7).  He explains the biblical foundations in ch.6,  practical implications in ch.7, and contends that biblical manhood first entails leadership in spiritual provision.  However, I’d like to highlight a couple things that we might overlook:

2. Leadership in Physical Provision

The husband bears the primary responsibility to put bread on the table.  Again the word primary is important.  Both husbands and wives work.  In all of history this has been the case — both the man and the woman work.  But their normal spheres of work are man: breadwinner; wife: domestic manager, designer, nurturer.

That never has meant there are not seasons in life when a wife cannot work outside the home or that the husband cannot share the domestic burdens.  But it does mean that a man compromises his own soul and sends the wrong message to his wife and children when he does not position himself as the one who lays down his life to put bread on the table.  He may be disabled and unable to do what his heart longs to do.  He may be temporarily in school while she supports the family.  But in any case his heart — and, if possible, his body — is moving toward the use of his mind and his hands to provide physically for his wife and children. (89-90)

Piper goes on to assert leadership in spiritual protection in his third point.  But in the fourth point, he continues:

4. Leadership in Physical Protection

This is too obvious to need illustration — I wish.  If there is a sound downstairs during the night and it might be a burglar, you don’t say to her, “This is an egalitarian marriage, so it’s your turn to go check it out.  I went last time.”  And I mean that — even if your wife has a black belt in karate.  After you’ve tried to deter him, she may finish off the burglar with one good kick to the solar plexus.  But you’d better be unconscious on the floor, or you’re no man.  That’s written on your soul, brother, by God Almighty.  Big or little, strong or weak, night or day, you go up against the enemy first.  Woe to the husbands — and woe to the nation — that send their women to fight their battles. (91-92)

This Momentary Marriage is probably the best book on courtship/marriage/singleness I have ever read.  I highly recommend it: for men and women, married and those not.

The Community Project of Mutual Discipleship

Warning: This was written in one sitting in Starbucks after a lot of caffeine.  Editing may be needed.

Back in 2005, I was not yet fully Reformed in my soteriology, I was not Baptist in my ecclesiology, I was not yet charismatic in my pneumatology, nor was I complimentarian in my understanding of gender roles.  I knew little about what genuine church growth looked like, nor how true discipleship was done.  And in that time between my junior and senior year of college (a.k.a. “3rd and 4th year of university” for you Canadians reading this), I had my first real dating relationship.  I was 21 going on 22, and I knew little about how or what I should be doing in such a thing.  Nor did my local church teach me much about biblical betrothal or what Christian courtship looked like.  In short, I was ignorant, stupid, and young.

Yes, I was young and stupid; and ignorance is no excuse.  I should have known better.  For the sake of the relationship, I had no mentor couple, nor did I have pastors who would encourage me to pursue biblical manhood, nor did I have church elders (same thing, imho, as “pastor”) who exhorted me to take the initiative, step up, take the lead, and pursue a girl (who was pursuing biblical womanhood).  I soon found myself to be 22 years old, with no godly influence in my life to tell me to stop messing around, and just grow up, and get married.  I certainly knew I was a born-again Christian, but you might as well call me one of those former “carnal” Christians who was trying to discern the post-breakup crisis moment in my life.   I was just waiting for a Divine epiphany to wake me up from my slomber, fill me with spiritual power and an ability to maintain purity of heart.  For the most part, this could all be attributed to my spiritual upbringing. Continue reading

Struggles against Hardship, Blinded by Adversity

I am not a believer in love at first sight.  For love, in its truest form, is not the thing of starry-eyed or star-crossed lovers, it is far more organic, requiring nurturing and time to fully bloom, and, as such, seen best not in its callow youth but in its wrinkled maturity.

Like all living things, love, too, struggles against hardship, and in the process sheds its fatuous skin to expose one composed of more than just a storm of emotion–one of loyalty and divine friendship.  Agape.  And though it may be temporarily blinded by adversity, it never gives in or up, holding tight to lofty ideals that transcend this earth and time–while its counterfeit simply concludes it was mistaken and quickly runs off to find the next real thing

Richard Paul Evans, The Letter.