As children pass into adulthood, one of the accepted institutions of our modern society is dating. Boyfriend/girlfriend relationships are expected and often encouraged by parents, relatives and friends. Yet dating can be one of the most spiritually perilous and challenging periods in a person’s life, with possible ramifications that span an entire lifetime and likely beyond.
Are there things we need to know before approaching this stage in our lives? What do the Scriptures say specifically about dating? Well, actually, the Scriptures do not say anything about dating. That’s right. The Scriptures say nothing about dating, at least not by name, because this practice as we know it has only come into existence in the last century.
Before this time, marriages were arranged by parents or older relatives, and relationships between opposite sexes outside of marriage were strictly prohibited—taboo. Even today, many cultures still hold to this tradition. Shouldn’t this fact alone cause us to re-examine dating with thoughtful scrutiny instead of blasé acceptance? But while the Scriptures don’t specifically use the term dating, they do speak extensively by principle and implication on the topic, and we would be well served to consider God’s direction before approaching a practice that could carry with it such lasting consequences.
What is dating? Originally, this practice was promoted as the best means by which a person could independently find and assess a member of the opposite sex as suitable for marriage. However, since its inception, dating in the United States has been eroded to a practice that has little to do with marriage, and more to do with short-term recreation.
Dr. Joy Browne states, “The purpose of dating is simple: getting to know someone and letting that person get to know you so you can decide whether you’re interested in spending any more time together. Put aside the notion that you’re looking for a mate, or a one night stand, or someone to please your mother. After all, dating should be fun. It’s not like your whole life or livelihood depends on one or several dates.” (Dating for Dummies, 3rd edition, Dr. Joy Browne, PhD, Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2011 p. 1)
Does this fit with the biblical, God ordained picture of a sober-minded young person’s outlook before marriage? Let’s explore the modern institution of dating just a little further before we compare it to what we find between the covers of God’s Word.
WHAT IS THE REALITY OF MODERN DATING?
Dating concentrates on the here and now, and on personal satisfaction. If two people should happen to like each other enough, a date could possibly lead to a conditional commitment later—that condition being a self-seeking, demanding condition: if you cease to please me, or if you even cease to provide me with excitement, I’m perfectly justified in moving on to the next experience.
Compare this short-sighted outlook to the Lord’s admonition in Proverbs 4:26: “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.” Instead living for today, our thoughts should be, “How will this moment affect the rest of my life? What direction are these footsteps leading me?” Dating for fun dangerously narrows our focus to the present moment (Eccl. 11:9–12:1).
The practice of making and breaking multiple relationships promotes an unfettered and carefree, yet somehow grim and distrustful outlook in the young person (who, we must be reminded, is supposed to be having fun). It instills in a heart the lack of faithfulness and steadfastness: if things don’t work out, “Oh, well. There’s always the next one.”
So later, if a marriage is no longer perceived as fulfilling, the person’s vows may mean as little as all those sweet nothings whispered to multiple boyfriends before they were married!
Compare our culture’s multiple relationship model with God’s thought on the seriousness of promises made between a man and a woman in Malachi 2: 11-16. How do you suppose God judges the actions of a heart-breaker? Dating can decimate fidelity. Some believe relationships ought to be based on chemistry, yet chemistry may not be what we are led to expect.
Just what do we mean when we talk about chemistry? Kuriansky says the term is defined as, “…physiological reactions (which are) triggered in attraction…You spot her across the room and know she’s the one. His eyes meet yours and you melt…Your heart pounds and a thrill rushes through…You want to be close, and you know it’s that chemistry…” (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dating, 3rd edition, Dr. Judy Kuriansky, Alpha Publishing, 2003, p. 20).
The Bible calls this thrill lust (Matt. 5:28). A relationship based on chemistry, may be as fleeting as the emotion that drives it. Recall Amnon and poor Tamar in 2 Samuel, chapter 13. As many older couples can testify, lasting love is not about emotion or chemistry; it is a multifaceted quality based on trust, commitment, faithfulness, serving one another in selflessness, bearing with one another’s faults in honor and respect, and so much more. Genuine love doesn’t hit like a lightning bolt: it is nurtured and grown. True love never fails. (I Cor. 13:4-8).
Dating presents situations which necessarily complicate, not enhance, our efforts to evaluate another’s true character and suitability for marriage. As two people relate intimately, passion interferes with clear thinking. It is well documented that a heightened state of excitement causes the body to release certain hormones and chemicals, among them adrenalin, (the fight or flight hormone, which shunts blood away from the brain and stomach to better supply the heart and major muscles,) phenylethlamine (the natural high chemical,) oxytocin (the amnesia/bonding hormone) and endorphins (pleasure chemicals). All of these chemicals or hormones apparently have one thing in common: they reduce the effectiveness of the brain for normal thought!
So the very act (of being intimately alone) that is supposed to assist in clearer understanding and evaluation your date, in reality does the exact opposite. Dating can render us senseless (Pro. 7:21-23). Modern dating, by its opportunity to fulfill romantic and emotional needs, may postpone a person’s desire to marry and to become responsible to care for a family. Instead, as it fulfills the immediate needs of the individual, it allows for an unnaturally extended childhood before the distasteful responsibility of marriage and getting serious about life is thrust upon a person.
Is it any wonder the divorce rate is so high nowadays? We have been duped by our society into believing that the value and beauty of true love in a purposeful life isn’t worth the responsibility it necessitates. Instead, we believe in the hoax of instant happiness through little counterfeit marriages, which we call going steady. When all is said and done, what is left of a person’s life for the beauty of marriage? (Pro. 5:1-23, 1 Tim. 5:8) Dating robs from marriage.
WHAT ABOUT CASUAL FLIRTING AND PLATONIC RELATIONSHIPS, WITH MEMBERS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX?
Christian college campuses, Bible Chair facilities and church youth groups are rife with these platonic relationships. Every day one may see young people laughing and talking intimately, lounging around, hugging each other, their heads in each others’ laps, or giving each other shoulder massages. They defend themselves by saying, “We’re just Christian friends. What’s a little hug? We’re just showing affection.”
These open demonstrations of affection are usually shared with everyone in the group. Can such intimacy be justified? Has God ordained that our physical affections belong to everyone we know? Are these young people changing something sacred into what is common? Are they making it cheap by widespread use?
Intimate affection should be dear, precious and much too expensive to waste it on just anyone. Indiscriminate (some may say impartial) sharing of physical affection is nothing short of pouring out fornication on every passer-by. “But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was” (Ezek. 16:15).
Why is it so hard to see fornication for what it is during your dating years? It is difficult to see because we’ve been lied to and conditioned out of rational thinking! It is because we are in the middle of the years that our bodies make the temptation strongest. Don’t let yourself be fooled! God says even looking at a woman to lust after her beauty is adultery! Touch, no matter how slight, goes a step beyond that!
Study the account of Isaac and Rebecca when they were forced to go to Egypt during a famine (Gen. 26:1-11), and then explain how Abimelech knew Rebecca was Isaac’s wife. Was what he saw simply a platonic relationship between a brother and a sister when Isaac was seen sporting with Rebecca? Abimelech automatically knew Rebecca was not just Isaac’s sister by the demonstration he witnessed. You may think that the word sporting means something more sinister than our word today, but take note of the actual Hebrew definition: OT: 6711 HEBREW tsachaq (tsaw-khak’); a primitive root; to laugh outright (in merriment or scorn); by implication, to sport: laugh, mock, play, make sport.
Christians are admonished to treat “…the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). Would a God fearing young man treat his sister that way? Would he touch her with such familiarity? Why then is petting, or even giving a back rub considered harmless? “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away” (Pro. 4:14-15). “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Pro. 4:23).
Balaam loved the wages of unrighteousness and went charging up that hill with Balak, to get as close to the opportunity as he could, all the while proclaiming, “I can only say what God commands me to say.” Was obeying God what he really wanted, or did he desire an opening to curse the people so he could garner Balak’s reward and get rich quickly? Are we unwittingly like Balaam, getting as close to temptation as possible by putting ourselves in the WAY (location) of temptation like he did?
SPECIFICALLY, WHAT IS FLIRTING?
Flirting, no matter what you intend, is an invitation! If you would not do what it appears you are asking for, then your actions are a lie. Look at God’s picture of it:
For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life: To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids. For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house. But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away (Prov. 6:23-33).
We may not be the one setting out to flirt, but what if we are the target of another’s invitations? The Lord spends a remarkable amount of the Scripture warning us very specifically about the grave danger of this situation, which we would do well to heed. Talk about take him with her eyelids! And the descriptions the Lord gives are yet again perfectly dead on. Another revealing quote on flirting, gleaned from among many about the effectiveness of fluttering eyelashes or downcast eyes, says, “The eyes are the windows to the soul…When you look at someone, you are saying you are willing to be seen yourself…Once you’ve made eye contact, longer looks usually work….” (The Flirting Bible, Fran Greene, Fair Wins Press, Beverly Massachusetts, 2010, p. 130) One aspect of this process God warns us most about is flattery, and this is not without purpose.
SO LET’S ZERO IN ON FLATTERY!
Many admit that flattery is THE key and single most powerful tool of flirting. Do men know what they are doing when they tell a young lady she is beautiful or that her clothes suit her well? Are they using lies to lower her guard? What is her defense in this situation? This effective tool is used in a calculated way by both men and women as a means of control. We can see this stated outright in many writings today. One source says it this way: “The Six Rules of Flirting: (an acronym): F is for Flattery. The fastest way to a person’s heart is to find something you truly appreciate about how he or she looks or acts…” (Kuriansky, p 121)
Another writer asserts: “Flirting strategy #1: Say Hi…Flirting strategy #2 Pay a Compliment. From my arsenal of opening line strategies, using compliments is my all-time favorite. It is the most natural way to start a conversation, and it always generates pleasurable results.” (Greene, p 160.)
“With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him” (Pro. 7:21). Do we understand the warnings our Lord has given about flattery? “A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet” (Pro. 29:5). It is so easy to see Satan at work all around us, speaking the very words the Lord warns us about. The flatterers are almost quoting the best lines of the Devil, but these are revealed plainly in the Scriptures, if we will only pay attention and be warned by them! We must be aware of the wiles of the Devil, and the deceitfulness of sin. We must not be ignorant of his devices. Dating is not harmless. “Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
TRAINING OUR MINDS AND HEARTS
It makes sense that whatever we practice, or exercise our hearts in is what we become! We can’t expect to become a great tennis player automatically without a little practice first. What we term practice is often called exercise in Scripture.
- “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7).
- “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).
- “Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children” (2 Pet. 2:14).
We can exercise our hearts in either good or evil! ..This is a decision we have to make daily: to choose to fill our thoughts and time with good or evil influences. We can surround ourselves with passion-stirring books, inappropriate movies, boy-crazy friends, rebellious music, or we can fill our time and thoughts with God’s people and His words! “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he…” (Prov. 23:7).
- “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).
- “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).
- “Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life. Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away” (Prov. 4:13-15).
- “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble. My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh. 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. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established” (Pro. 4:18-26).
ARE YOU TRAINING TO BE THE KIND OF WIFE A RIGHTEOUS MAN WOULD WANT TO MARRY? Much more could be said on this topic, but these points should provide ample thought for consideration as we examine dating in the light of the Scriptures. Our minds can be refreshed now in turning to the words inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to see the beautiful plan our Creator set out for young people’s lives. He is our Creator. He knows true love. We should take heed!
WHAT RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN DID OUR CREATOR INTEND?
According to God’s instruction manual, we have two choices with regard to our physical passions: either control our impulses or get married!
- I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain (1467. egkrateuomai—to exercise self-restraint), let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. (4448. puroo; to kindle, i.e. (pass.) to be ignited, glow (literally) or (figuratively) to be inflamed (with anger, grief, lust) (1 Cor. 7:8-9).
- Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband (1 Cor. 7:2).
Nowhere in the Bible can we find a scriptural model for dating as it is practiced in the western world today, and there is a reason for this: An unmarried person is supposed to be holy, set apart like the finest china, reserved for a particular service. “There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband” (1 Cor. 7:34). The practice of dating takes the fine china (body and spirit of an unmarried person) and uses it indiscriminately to feed the dog…or lots of dogs! If a person is not married, they do not have the right of touch. ONLY in the institution of marriage is this right granted (and even required as something that is due our partner, or is rightfully owed, as belonging to them.)
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. 5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency (1 Cor. 7:1-5).
The wording in this passage and others indicates possession and rights. The married woman belongs to her husband and vice versa. Outside of marriage, touch is theft and defrauding. We can see this clearly if a man’s wife is seen even holding hands with another man. Why is it so difficult to see when two young unmarried people are doing the same thing? It is because our society has painted this as acceptable, even desirable? God sees it very differently. Again and again in Scripture, illicit relationships are compared with thievery and cheating, and are shown to be defiling.
- Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house. But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away (Pro. 6:30-33).
- For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: 4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; 5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: 6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. 7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. 8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 4:3-8).
Note the definitions of key words from this passage:
- Vessel: 4632. skeuos; a vessel, implement, equipment or apparatus Sanctification: 38. hagiasmos; prop. Purification
- Honor: 5092. Time; a value, i.e. money paid, or (concr. and collect.) valuables; by anal. esteem (espec. of the highest degree),
- Concupiscence: 1939. epithumia,; a longing (espec. for what is forbidden)
- Despiseth: 114. atheteo; to set aside, i.e. (by impl.) to disesteem, neutralize or violate
We can see throughout these few passages that touch outside of marriage is not simply stealing from a husband or wife what is rightfully theirs; but it also robs another of their purity. Passion within the God-ordained institution of marriage is honorable and clean; outside of marriage it utterly defiles a person, making them no better than a harlot: Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). By God’s decree, it is expected that a man will seek to be married only when he is prepared to provide for a family. Recall (Gen. 29:13-21) Jacob’s arranging to work for seven years for the privilege of marrying Rachael, and recall in Genesis 24:29-38 how Abraham’s servant carefully explains to Rebekah’s family the financial situation of Isaac and thus his ability to care for her. Consider also 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
Searching for a mate is not something to be done for recreation. It is serious business, and should be handled prayerfully, with utmost care and careful consideration. Parents, according to Biblical pattern, were very often involved as overseers: recall the process for Isaac (Gen. 24), Jacob (Gen. 29: 17-28), David (1 Sam. 18:17-27) and Samson (Judges 14:1-18). God has given us the precious understanding that finding a prudent mate, ultimately, can be left up to His provision. “House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: and a prudent wife is from the LORD” (Pro. 19:14). Must I trust in my own heart and understanding in searching for a mate, or would I be better served to prayerfully entrust my God with this undertaking, and wait patiently on Him (Pro. 3:5-7)?