God & Courtship: Addendum

Posted on October 24, 2011 by


Last Sunday (the 16th) I taught a lesson in the Family-Integrated Bible Study at First Baptist Church-Las Colinas entitled God & Courtship. You can listen to the full audio here.

The gist of the message was that there are some principles laid out by Scripture regarding God’s purpose for marriage and God’s purpose for pre-marital relationships. Beyond that, though, we don’t necessarily have all of the specifics that we’d like to. So some of us, as Bible-believing Christians, have devised a system that we call “courtship.” It’s defined differently depending on the family culture, but essentially it can be differentiated from the typical “dating” pattern practiced by most of the world in three ways:

  • Emphasis on waiting for God’s leading instead of our own impulses or desires before becoming involved with an individual of the opposite sex.
  • Emphasis on the involvement of the parents (and particularly the father of the girl, as her God-appointed protector, provider, and spiritual leader) and the rest of the community for direction and accountability.
  • Emphasis on the development of a spiritual relationship before a physical one.
  • Emphasis on preserving physical purity before marriage.

Obviously, this is a distinct concept from the idea of “courtship” practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries. And obviously, it’s possible to honor the principles listed above without using the name “courtship.” Personally, as long as Christ is your focus and you are honoring the principles of His Word, I really don’t care what you call it.

The problem with any human system, though, is that even the best of them can quickly lead to legalism or idolatry:

  • Legalism is the creation of laws without grace. Because they are impossible to keep (because they add to the Word of God), those who try to keep these rules quickly devolve into a “letter of the law” attitude. In this attitude, they outwardly adhere to rules while inwardly cultivating a rebellious spirit. As such, they will try to find ways to push the boundaries of their often self-appointed rules instead of focusing on God’s principles.
  • Idolatry is when we trust in a system, such as a certain way of courtship/dating to produce happy, healthy marriages. In reality, only Jesus produces happy, healthy marriages. When we expect a system or a set of laws to produce this result, we become guilty of idolatry.

The focus of this lesson was threefold: First, I wanted to outline what the Bible actually says about God’s original design for marriage and how that should inform our pre-marital relations. Second, I wanted to encourage families (and conservative, homeschooling families in particular) not to make an idol of courtship or slip into the trap of legalism. Last, I wanted to encourage parents, communities, and singles to greater discernment about the character of prospective mates. No human system can ever replace the need for mature Christians (Hebrews 5:14). Put another way, we can’t outsource our own need for constant vigilance and an “understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:9) to any system of living, even one that has its basis in biblical principles.

In the aftermath of the lesson, a lot of people were blessed, a few had bruised toes, and two or three even had some insightful questions. I’d like to spend the remainder of this blog post replying to the latter.

Are you saying that courtship isn’t really the best way, or that it’s not something we should follow?

We have to be careful here, because there are a lot of different definitions of “courtship”, and they vary based on your family culture. However, working within the principles outlined above, let me say this: Courtship isn’t just a good idea. It’s a great idea. It’s a practical application of principles that I believe are clearly defined in God’s Word. My caution is more aimed at those who expect it to produce happy marriages and perfect spouses. In reality, you can’t get those things without a lot of discernment and the grace and mercy of God, regardless of the “system” that you are following.

Do you feel like your parents sometimes bordered on legalism during your own courtship?

No. Not at all. There were times my spouse and I would gradually tend towards legalism, and that was something that we had to deal with and correct. If you spend all of our time focusing on the things you’re not doing, you’re still focused on those things. A few months into our courtship, my bride-to-be was becoming stressed out and neurotic from the perceived pressure. I had to step in and decide that our future family would not be defined by the distance we sat from each other (as one example), and that if we were making that the focus of our courtship we would never be able to focus on spiritual oneness.

I wish I could say that we achieved perfect balance after that, but the truth is that we didn’t, because we weren’t as sensitive as we ought to have been to the comfort levels of those around us. That’s a regret that I have.

What I can say, though, is that we achieved spiritual oneness and unity before our marriage, that the Lord preserved our physical purity before marriage, and that I have always treated Sophia with respect and honored her father’s wishes, guidance, and commands before marriage. And I will always be grateful that we shared our first kiss at the wedding altar. That’s not boasting – that’s a testimony of God’s grace in my life.

Are there other biblical passages that discuss the the principles you discussed in this lesson?

Yes. Scripture is full of them, both as case studies (examples) and as outright principles. Here are a few of the passages I feel directly address our pre-marital relationships:

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. (1Ti 5:1-2)

From this we see that men should treat all women to whom they are not married as sisters and mothers. And that means that a good deal of what young men do with their girlfriends probably doesn’t fly.

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. (Eph 5:1-4)

This passage makes it clear that fornication (sexual relations outside the covenant of marriage) are loveless, that they are never born of love. There are a whole host of scriptures that speak directly to the need for sexual purity before and during marriage.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Eph 6:1-3)

As children, we are to obey our parents. There is of course, a transition period between “leaving” and “cleaving” (as discussed in the lesson). Different family cultures will handle this transition differently. I think the key should be that it be done in a way that is born out of love and that allows the man to properly assume his God-ordained role.

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Eph 6:4)

One of the most effective ways for fathers (or mothers) to provoke their children to wrath is to lay down rules without grace, laws without love. Whatever the approach to pre-marital relations that we teach our children, it should be born of and informed by the love of Christ.

My prayer is that these thoughts and this lesson would be a challenge to greater love, greater discernment, greater purity, and greater involvement on the part of communities. Remember – you can’t outsource Christian living – not even to the best system in the world.

Posted in: food for thought