“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Colossians 3:17).
Dating: A Modern Practice
Although opinions vary greatly among social historians, most would agree that “dating” as we find it today is a relatively new social practice. In Holy Scripture we read that the custom of arranged marriages was the norm. The father, as head of the household, made the choice; and even today this custom prevails in many cultures. Nevertheless, the modern custom of “dating” seems to have begun after the so-called Victorian Era (1837-1901), during which couples rarely saw each other without a chaperone, and marriage proposals were often made in written form.
It appears that modern dating practices arose afterward, so that around 1920 informal dating became more commonplace. Thus began a series of un-chaperoned male and female interactions ranging from the utterly frivolous to the marriage-serious. There were no real rules; and, as today in 2010, what was considered “acceptable” behavior was largely determined by the individual’s own values —or lack thereof! In the 1960s the so-called “sexual revolution” resulted in a record number of unwed mothers, sexually transmitted diseases and temporary “living in sin” arrangements; and dating was often viewed as an opportunity to indulge in sexual experimentation. To this very day, some see a date as a prelude to a sexual encounter without any commitment beyond the “one night stand.” The fear of AIDS and virulent STDs has acted as a curb to some of this behavior but only to a certain extent.
Because dating is largely a social custom without sharply defined rules and often determined by the influence of popular culture and peers, a precise definition of dating is unattainable. The world “out there” is an inconsistent place, and social customs are in flux and often quite chaotic. Generally speaking, “dating” today means “going out” or “spending time together.” It may be as non-committal as casually eating together, sitting together, and sharing “small talk.” On the other hand, a date may be a long evening spent talking on the most personal level in an attempt to get to know one another and to learn more about the other person’s deeply held values and judgments; and such knowledge might eventually help a person to make the choice of an individual with whom one would want to enter into the holy estate of marriage with a lifetime commitment. Usually, dating progresses from the “fun” level to the “serious” level over time; but some relationships move very quickly as if driven by forces beyond one’s control. Yikes! But more on that later.
Dating and the Christian
Scripture enjoins: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). How does this apply to our subject at hand? Obviously, a true Christian, according to the New Man, does not conform to the attributes, desires, motivations and behavior of those of the world, whom Scripture accurately describes as being “without Christ…having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12), those who “…walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their heart, who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19). They, in their entire behavior, have a manner of living that is entirely governed by the “old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22), who do not even know “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2) but oppose all spiritual things of God and cannot do otherwise in their carnal mind: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14), “because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8). The Holy Ghost also speaks to this marked contrast between believers and those of the world in these telling words from St. Peter’s first epistle: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries; wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you, who shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead” (I Peter 4:1-5).
Any Christian man or woman who thinks that a worldly person is not “as bad” as Scripture itself depicts him is not only fooling himself or herself, but is calling God a liar and rejecting God’s Word! Sad to say, such a compromising attitude about worldly people is usually the result of already having given in to their influence and having allowed the sinful flesh to conform the naive person to their deceit. The common argument, “But he (or she) is not like that!” is completely erroneous and flies directly in the face of clear passages of Holy Writ, the only source and norm for Christian faith and practice! Don’t deceive yourself! And don’t be deceived by the world!
Dating and the Sixth Commandment
Dating, as a Christian should understand it, must be according to the Biblical norm, namely in accordance with “that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). As our title-text clearly enjoins, “…whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Colossians 3:17).
What do we learn from the Bible about God’s will in male–female relationships? Consider the commandment that focuses on these relationships: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” With Luther we ask, “What does this mean?” and reply on the basis of Scripture: “We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and each love and honor his spouse” (Small Catechism, Sixth Commandment). God Himself instituted holy matrimony in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:18-24) as a lifelong union (I Corinthians 7:39) of one man and one woman (I Corinthians 7:2). The chief purpose of marriage is companionship as God’s own solution to loneliness (Genesis 2:18, 21-24); and His blessing upon marriage is the gift of children (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 127:3). Since the Fall, marriage is also a deterrent to fornication (I Corinthians 7:2-5) as God protects marriage with the Sixth Commandment and instructs us regarding His will for the lifelong intimate relationship that He ordained as legitimate between a man and a woman: Marriage.
But the Sixth Commandment also governs the relationship between those of the opposite sex who are not married to one another. How so? The application of the commandment teaches them to lead a chaste and decent life in thoughts, desires, words and deeds, and to avoid all unchastity (I Peter 2:11; Philippians 4:8; Ephesians 5:3-4, 12; 4:29; Matthew 5:28; 15:19). Obviously, this Scriptural application also expresses God’s will regarding the conduct of those who are on a “date.”
The Purpose of Dating as a Christian Should Understand It
The world has a variety of reasons for dating that go beyond an effort to find a spouse. Some date for the sake of harmless diversion and fun among friends, while others admittedly seek carnal seduction and fornication which they refer to as “getting lucky” or “scoring.” A Christian, however, dare not determine his purposes according to a fleshly agenda (Ephesians 5:3-4). As with everything else that a Christian does here in this world, he should regard dating and its interpersonal relationships as opportunities for chaste behavior to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31-32) and should recognize that dating, as a means to an end, might well serve the salutary purpose of finding a Godly spouse with whom to share his life in the divinely-instituted estate of marriage which is honorable in all (Hebrews 13:4).
Whom Should a Christian Date?
According to Holy Writ there are only two “kinds” of people in the world: Godly and ungodly. Regarding a Godly woman, Scripture speaks of her rarity: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10), and it speaks of the blessing that the Lord bestows upon a truly Godly marriage: “Whoso findeth a [Godly] wife findeth a good thing and obtaineth favor of the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Scripture also contrasts a Godly woman with an ungodly woman in very sobering words and warns a man to use God’s wisdom, the wisdom of His Word, to avoid falling prey to the ungodly:
“When wisdom entereth into thine heart and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul, discretion shall preserve thee; understanding shall keep thee” (Proverbs 2:10-11).
“…to deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words, which forsaketh the guide of her youth and forgetteth the covenant of her God. For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead” (Proverbs 2:16-18).
“For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable that thou canst not know them” (Proverbs 5:3-6).
To enter into a romantic relationship with such an ungodly, unstable, unbelieving woman is dangerous and foolish. To marry such a woman brings constant misery: “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house… It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman” (Proverbs 21:9, 19; cf. Proverbs 19:13b; 25:24; 27:15).
Regarding a Godly man, Scripture promises: “A faithful man shall abound with blessings…” (Proverbs 28:20a) and warns against any relationship with the ungodly which allows them influence over us: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord; and in His Law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalms 1:1-2). The Apostle Paul warns us: “Be not deceived: Evil communications [Greek: companionships, associations] corrupt good manners [Greek: morals]” (I Corinthians 15:33). Moreover, we have this clear prohibition: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (II Corinthians 6:14-15). How can a Christian read such clear passages of Scripture and deliberately enter with an ungodly person into a relationship that, according to the world’s standards, is expected to become progressively more intimate with time and may eventually lead to the life-long commitment of marriage with an unbeliever? That is not the “free choice” that the world sees it to be! A Christian is free to marry whom he or she chooses, Scripture tells us, but “only in the Lord,” that is, only to a fellow-believer (I Corinthians 7:39). The Bible exhorts us: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6); and that exhortation certainly applies to making choices with life-long temporal and even spiritual implications.
We are to be responsible at all times to God and to be morally self-aware: “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left; remove thy foot from evil” (Proverbs 4:23-27). God holds us responsible for our decisions.
When He clearly warns us not to entangle ourselves with the ungodly and we ignore these warnings to our own spiritual peril, we should not be surprised when the misery God foretells comes upon us! All too often we act not upon the basis of better knowledge but impulsively and foolishly. Like Peter, we frequently consider those warnings as meant for everyone else, but not for ourselves (Matthew 26:33). What?! That is sheer arrogance and conceit! God promises great blessings to those who seek and find a Godly spouse, but do we trust His promises? God warns us of great miseries in ungodly relationships, but we often pursue and cultivate such relationships as if He had said nothing. Do we know better than God? Evidently we often think we do — just as Peter did. And Peter fell! Scripture warns us: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).
The Sad Scenario Repeated So Often
How often inconsistent Christians invest in bad relationships, hoping that a rare exception will occur and everything will, miraculously, work out in the end! They give their time, attention and effort to a person who cannot reciprocate in kind because he is not a believer, does not have a “new man” of faith which after God’s image “is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24), does not know the true teachings and the power of God’s Word, and in his carnal mind, which is “enmity against God,” has no desire to be subject to God’s Law, “neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Over time the inconsistent Christian gives also his or her heart and mind to the other …still hoping that “love will conquer all,” when the other person cannot love in true unselfish charity because he or she has no living faith. Nevertheless the inconsistent Christian refuses to recognize the one-sided relationship. Is it because so much has been “invested” that to give up would constitute great emotional loss? Has the inconsistent Christian become so desperate for any relationship that he or she will settle for one that is not God-pleasing, for one devoid of Christian fellowship, for one in which Christ is not the center, Savior, and Head, for a relationship without God’s blessing and therefore destined for unhappiness, misery and failure? How can a person continue to do the same thing in relationship after relationship and expect different results? Yet, inconsistent Christians often cultivate and seek to maintain a relationship with an ungodly person for the paltry return of “feeling” loved, needed, and of course sexually satisfied — as long as it lasts! Is that all there is?? It makes no sense. It is not reasonable. It is sad. It is pitiful. And it is spiritually destructive! Even when others point out the obvious and warn against the disaster that awaits those who walk not after the spirit but after the flesh (cf. Romans 8:1 and 4), the warning is rejected in blind stubbornness. Somehow the inconsistent Christian thinks, “I will show everybody that he is wrong. I will have what I need …someday.” Such “belief” is not only without any basis in God’s promises in the Bible but is actually contrary to God’s express warnings! It is not only a form of “enthusiasm” (expecting miracles apart from God’s means) but “rebellion” (fighting against God)! How can people think that they are doing what God wants and claim His blessing upon their lives when they deliberately walk contrary to His Word and will? They are only deceiving themselves!
A Christian should not begin a dating relationship with someone on false pretenses. Even when two people are mere acquaintances and visit with one another only socially or casually, it should be a consistent Christian’s priority (assuming concern for the welfare of his friend’s immortal soul) to inquire about his religious background and beliefs. While to most people here in this world the subject of religion is NOT among the first things to be discussed, our friends should know up front that God and our faith in Him constitute the most important part of our life, that His Word is the one thing truly needful (Luke 10:41-42), and that seeking His kingdom and His righteousness is our prime consideration and top priority (Matthew 6:33). In confessing this faith from the very outset, both in word and in deed (James 1:22, 26), a consistent Christian will be on record as to what his friends should expect from him in the way of values, attitudes, opinions and judgments, as well as in overt conduct; and this agenda may well determine the eventual extent of the relationship. We cannot expect the unregenerate to be “open” to the instruction of God’s Word or to be willing to place himself under the spiritual care of a faithful, orthodox Christian pastor (whose faithfulness and orthodoxy he is in no position to evaluate); but we can rightly expect him — if he is at all interested in an on-going relationship with us — to be curious about what makes us “tick” spiritually, to be inquisitive about what we believe and why, to be interested in seeing for himself our church and in attending one of its services or Bible classes. If such minimal interest is not evident, the relationship should be kept strictly social and not permitted to become at all “serious.” Why? Simply because anyone who is unwilling even to “explore” our faith and confession — the most important thing in our life — its basis and its substance is not a candidate for a close friendship and for a relationship that is intended, eventually at least, to lead to marriage. It is that simple; it is that clear!
But some may reply “No, it’s not that simple! What if the person promises that he (or she) will eventually come to church? Don’t I have to be patient! What if I think my private efforts to convert him are making progress? Do I force the ‘church attendance’ issue on him?” Our reply? “Listen to yourself. What is his ‘promise’ worth? Why do you ‘think’ that your efforts are making ‘progress’? What evidence is there of any progress whatsoever? Since when is church attendance —even out of curiosity— ‘an issue’ with him?” Do not even begin an ongoing “dating relationship” with someone whom you do not know! Do not make an “emotional commitment” to a person whose integrity is uncertain! Do not become “unequally yoked together” with an unbeliever, with a worldling, with a “carnally minded” person, with an enemy of your Savior’s cross, with a heterodox Christian, with one who is not your “brother” (or “sister”) in the faith! Remember that the “unequal yoke” endangers YOU — otherwise God’s own warning through the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 6:14ff. is an empty one. The “unequal yoke” puts YOU at the disadvantage of being led astray by the dominant “ox”; that’s why it’s a danger! The “unequal yoke” is not an opportunity for mission-work! Do the mission-work BEFORE being “yoked together” with anyone! Why would you risk getting emotionally involved with a person who is not currently under the influence of God’s Word? Without God’s Spirit working in the heart through His Word (Philippians 2:13), there is no expectation that a person will do anything but act according to his deceitful lusts (Ephesians 4:22; Romans 8:5a, 7)!
Charity: The Bond of Perfectness
Scripture enjoins: “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another if any man have a quarrel against any. Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another; in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Colossians 3:12-17). The character and actions of a consistent Christian are described here. If he is looking for a spouse, a consistent Christian should desire a true “soul-mate,” a person who shares such God-wrought, God-pleasing character, virtues and actions. Mark well the emphasis on “charity.” Charity is that unselfish, self-giving, undeserved love that only true believers know and have. Why? Because it is one-of-a-kind love, a gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus wrought in us by God’s Spirit through the Gospel. It is what forms a perfect bond. How so? As a Gospel-generated gift from God, it manifests itself in sacrificial service to others even when they deserve nothing! Unlike forms of human love which are self-motivated or stimulated by the “likeable” or “desirable” qualities and actions of other people, charity is generated in us by God, who loved (and loves) us perfectly and completely in His Son (I John 4:9; 3:16). Charity forgives and forgets sin for Christ’s sake. Charity is the fruit of genuine Christian faith (I John 3:14; Ephesians 4:32). This charity is a “bond” that joins Christians together out of gratitude for God’s forgiveness and enables a Christian couple to love one another, even when one or the other is not so “lovable”! A consistent Christian should want such charity to be the foundation of his or her marriage and, therefore, to seek only a truly Godly spouse; and the understanding of this priority should govern a Christian even in the choice of the person he or she dates!
The Prayer of Faith
Christians cherish this marvelous promise of God from Romans 8: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (v. 32). Out of sheer grace, purchased by Christ by His holy life and by His innocent suffering and death, God gifts us with the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation; and alone through faith in the Gospel we lay hold on it and make it our own. For the sake of our Savior, Jesus Christ, God the Father shall also “freely give us all things”! Does that promise include also a spouse, a life-long companion? If we desire to have one — yes! In the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray for “our daily bread,” which, as Luther properly explains, includes “everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as…a pious spouse.” God answers every proper prayer in His own time and in His own manner, very often through means. He wants us to work for our daily bread (I Thessalonians 4:11; II Thessalonians 3:12); and we should seek a “pious spouse” where he or she may be found, the most obvious place being within the congregations of our Christian fellowship! To pray for a pious or Godly spouse and then to go contrary to God’s Word in seeking someone who is otherwise, is not acting in good faith toward God! God’s Word also tells us, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass” (Psalms 37:4-5). Consistent Christians should understand that God will bless their actions when they conform to what His Word enjoins, and that includes truly God-pleasing decisions and actions in dating. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Colossians 3:17). May God work within us, by His Gospel, “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) to our own great blessing and to His glory, for Jesus’ sake.
Lord, keep me watchful then and humble,
And suffer me no more to stray.
Uphold me when my feet would stumble,
Nor let me loiter by the way.
Fill all my nature with Thy light,
O Radiance, strong and bright!
(TLH 399, 4)
— E. J. W.