In this day and age where many people get into (and fall out of) dating relationships, it probably gives good reason to address this topic. And perhaps at least, we finally get the chance to put onto the discussion table what the Christian perspective of dating is. Bear in mind, though I myself am not currently in a dating relationship at the time of writing, I am quite convicted about the truths in the Bible and the way they should shape how dating is done today. So although it may make me seem like a hypocrite and one who cannot talk about what I haven’t experienced, the ideas I want to present here and those that I will live by – they are, in some sense, my personal plans on how I think God wants dating to be done in my life. I would not only like to address this to non-Christians (to educate them on what some Christians think about dating) but also to some Christians (particularly to those who are also doing it with a lack of understanding of the Bible). As with all posts, I hope this creates food for thought in conversation (where we can further develop and refine these ideas), rather than try to set in stone some legalistic system of how dating “must” be done.
There is one memory I have that highlights the tension in different perspectives in dating between Christians and non-Christians. A non-Christian friend came to me one time and told me how they were rejected by someone else who was Christian (trying to not be gender specific here). It wasn’t so much the fact that my friend got rejected, but the thing that upset my friend the most was this: my friend was rejected with the statement: “I cannot go out with you, because you are not a Christian.” And my friend came up to me with the question “Why?” it became clear to me that it is important to work out the reason for dating, and hence the underlying perspectives of people that affect the way they act and the things they say in (or in this case, before) dating. As harsh as the words my friend was rejected with are, there is a Biblical argument as to why it is unwise for a Christian not to date a non-Christian. But we should take a step back and look at the deep Biblical truths surrounding relationships.
In Genesis 1, we are presented with a very broad description as to what man’s (or mankind’s) role on earth is.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)
The type of “rule” that man should have over the earth is not the typical one we picture where a master is whipping his slave, but more so to “care” for the land in a similar way shepherds care for their sheep. Perhaps a better example today is the way we have animal reserves to protect endangered species and to preserve certain types of plants so that they will endure. In terms of “being fruitful and increasing in number” it seems quite clear that this is referring to the process of reproduction; whereby in Genesis 2, God gives the means by which this will be achieved:
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man…That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:20b-22, 24)
Eve is created here as a “helper” (more discussion on that further down) for Adam, and the way they would be fruitful and increase in number is to be united as one flesh (namely, having sex). That’s just a short snippet of what man and woman’s purpose is here on earth, later passages give more qualification to what these tasks entail but just for now if we take into consideration these two tasks that God has given to us (being fruitful and having dominion over the earth), it would be plausible to say that the purpose of a (sexual) relationship between a man and a woman is to “be fruitful”; namely, to have sex and bear children.
Later on in the Bible (and even in the verses above) we are presented with the system that this bearing of children (the Bible uses the word “offspring”) should be done in the context of marriage. So if we try to build a diagram of what the Bible is telling us to do, we get:
Be fruitful and multiply <- Have children <- Be married <- ???
Today, we would replace the ??? in the diagram with our topic in discussion: dating. Bear in mind, the Bible never uses the word “dating”. Hopefully most Christians understand now that “dating” is a word created by society, and as such society determines its own meaning for that word. To Christians, this word actually should have no meaning at all. Rather we try to slot it into our “purpose” in life as the step which leads to marriage. So the first challenging point which non-Christians (and some Christians even) may not fancy is the idea that dating leads to marriage. For Christians we are given the goal of how our lives should lead (not that we necessarily all must get married – but if we are to be married we must have in mind the goal of being fruitful and having children), and as such if we adopt this “act” of dating, it needs to fit into the context of marriage and being fruitful. For non-Christians this doesn’t have to be the case since the fundamental beliefs about mankind’s purpose on earth are different – so as such they can do whatever they want in dating, because technically it is a societal construct so they can set the “rules” for it.
Why Shouldn’t Christians Date Non-Christians?
A lot of Christians generally like to give the answer to this question with a straight-forward Bible verse; namely this one:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
This is not a very helpful verse to address dating. The context of this verse isn’t actually talking specifically about marriage (remember the Bible mentions nothing about dating), but marriage is one subtopic that the passage is addressing. The verse is quite self-explanatory but is not easily understood (nor well received) by non-Christians. The reason Christians don’t recommend dating non-Christians is more than simply “because the Bible said so,” that would make Christians sound legalistic. It would be more helpful, for both the Christian and the non-Christian to actually understand (from the Bible) why it says that – but that would require reading from a number of sections from the Bible which we don’t have time for at the moment.
In addressing the story above with my friend, the answer to this question of “why” is quite straight forward. The underlying goals for dating are different between a Christian and a non-Christian. If one person wants to take dating in one direction and another wants to take it in another direction, how can the two work together? More so, how can two people work together on a really intimate level if what they believe in the core of themselves are opposed to each other? This may sound like a very blunt statement but I think there are two types of people in this world: those who are for God and those who are against God (ie Christians and non-Christians) – and sadly there is no middle ground. How can the Christian partner be asked to give up what he/she ultimately believes in? Or how can the non-Christian partner be asked to take on something that they may believe to be ridiculous? And again I emphasise that there is no middle ground: you either whole-heartedly love God or you don’t love God at all.
The Christian would want the non-Christian partner to become Christian (because we believe there is no middle ground), whereas the non-Christian (for the sake of keeping the peace) may allow the Christian partner to keep his/her faith, but not embrace those beliefs themselves. But what the non-Christian is doing in a scenario like that is that they do not want to accept what their Christian partner believes. If your friend recommended a product to you and you believed them, you’d show your belief by using that product. Similarly if you supported your partner’s Christian beliefs, you would show that support by taking on those beliefs yourself. Of course you may raise the argument in the other direction, whereby the Christian may seem unfair in not taking on what their non-Christian partner believes. But ultimately, there is clearly a conflict that deals with the core of each partner in the relationship – what they ultimately believe in doesn’t match up. And as such it is very unwise to get involved in such a deep intimate relationship.
One more thing I would like to address for this topic is the idea of “missionary dating” – whereby a Christian gets into a dating relationship with a non-Christian for the purpose of making them a Christian. There has been quite a lot of discussion about whether it works generally or not. But personally I think the whole concept is foolish. Why can you not evangelise (tell someone about the gospel) to a non-Christian outside of a dating relationship? That is, you don’t need to get into a relationship before you can start talking about Jesus with them.
Glorifying God in Relationships
Taking a step back from the idea that the goal of marriage is having (godly) offspring, our lives as Christians are meant to bring glory to God, and that means every aspect of our lives. The observation I have made about a lot of young Christian dating couples these days is that “glorifying God” is a secondary agenda to their relationship. Instead of thinking about dating could bring glory to God, they think about how they can bring glory to God in their relationships. These two thoughts may look very similar but I assure you that they are completely different. This passage might be helpful in thinking through the priorities of glorifying God and relationships:
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35)
Now this passage isn’t saying whether being married or not is good or bad – both of these things are good (see the verses that follow the above passage). However, the question to ask is what the motive of getting into a relationship is. If we know that staying single helps keep our focus on God and being married takes some of that focus away from God, it begs the question of how we can get into a relationship but still keep our focus on God. And that, I think, is the question everyone should ask themselves before getting into a dating relationship – how can I use this relationship to glorify God? What the actual answer is will vary for everyone, there are many ways in which a relationship can be used for God’s glory; but thought must be put into that before starting such a relationship.
Instead what happens nowadays with a lot of young Christians is that they get into a dating relationship first (perhaps due to their inner desire for intimacy with the opposite gender) and then ask the question of how they may use the relationship for God’s glory. But I have seen this to be wrong (you may not have in your own experience). Their priority was placed in their selfishness for physical/emotional intimacy, rather than in God; and yes, I use the harsh term “selfishness” because seemingly, these people have placed their desires above God. I know it may be hard to qualify that, but each person who gets into a dating relationship will know in their heart whether they had put God first or not. And whatever you place your priorities in, your outward actions will reflect those priorities. I’ve heard conversations about how new Christian couples want to start doing ministry together (youth group, or whatever it may be). But the question I would pose for them is whether they were already doing ministry before they started dating? Because if not, it would appear that “dating” became the motivation to start doing ministry and as such, ministry is being used to make the dating relationship appear “godly”. But this is a façade and one would question whether the Christians involved had their hearts set on God first, rather than on each other.
In my opinion, the order of thinking should be the other way round: “How can I glorify God with my life?” and then ask: “How would this relationship fit into that purpose (of glorifying God)?” By doing so, it keeps God at the centre of one’s life; and frankly this may or may not involve being in a relationship with someone. The person who is whole-heartedly devoted to God should be able to say to themselves that it is okay to not be in a relationship (perhaps ever); and though there is that daunting feeling of being “forever alone”, that is the reality of what it means to have God direct your life. God may or may not choose to put you into a relationship, and it means we should be okay with that and not try to force God’s hand and dictate how we want Him to use us. That is, to not force yourself into a relationship and then go: “Okay God, how do you want to use me?” That would be putting our selfish agenda above God’s will for our lives.
Remember that the goal of dating is marriage, which will ultimately lead to godly offspring and fulfilling the command from Genesis 2. As much as the motive for starting the relationship is important, it’s also important to consider where the relationship should go (namely towards marriage). If marriage isn’t within the scope of the goals for a relationship, it begs the question of why you got into a relationship in the first place. If you already are in a dating relationship, I strongly hope that you have thought about how your relationship fits into glorifying God (and one of those ways includes getting married and having godly offspring). If it doesn’t, maybe it’s time to change the direction of the relationship. And though it’d be harsh for me to say so, in some scenarios it might be better getting out of the relationship if it isn’t going anywhere in terms of glorifying God (and especially if marriage is out of the question).
I will probably leave this here for now. There are many more things to talk about, such as the ideas of leadership and submission; and also what a dating relationship should look like, since the Bible doesn’t really give us a model for that. But nonetheless, if we claim to be followers of Christ, we need to let his Word shape every part of our lives, including our relationships. As much as secular society would model how relationships are meant to be done as such, Christians are called to live differently to non-Christians and one way we can do that is the way we direct our relationships. We are called to lead our intimate relationships (ie marriage) with a certain purpose and so we need to shape all the preliminary steps to conform to that goal. God is love, and Christ perfectly models relationships in the way He lived. Let us pay careful attention to what Jesus said, and let His example shape the way we live.