Questions of the first category, those about courtship, typically address exceptions to the general pattern of courtship found in Scripture, exceptions that occur all too often due to our fallen, sinful condition and culture. Can God’s ideal of courtship still work in my messed-up life and in our post-Christian culture?
Absolutely yes! Biblical courtship isn’t simply an option, it’s an obligation. As we explained in previous articles, dating is not a moral alternative for any Christian, no matter how corrupt his life or culture has become. God established the courtship approach to marriage as trans-cultural, and thus normative for all people in all cultures and in all times. So it is our duty as faithful Christians – faithful to God and to our families – to work through the enigmas and impediments that hinder us.
When we classify something as ideal, we tend to dismiss it as unachievable. But ever since Adam sinned, the ideal has been flawed. Yet God still wrote the Bible filled with principles that we are to return to time and again, whenever we fail, no matter how badly or how often. Be perfect as your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:48) and be holy in all your conduct (1 Pet. 1:15) constantly keep before us God’s ideal, God’s target toward which we are to aim in the strength of Christ.
So what are some of the obstacles that clutter our line-of-sight when we try to aim at the target of courtship? Let’s see if we can clear them away!
QUESTION #1 – Are these standards for courtship realistic? If we had used them for appraising our own relationship, we would have never married one another!
This is surely a common attitude. Frankly, my own courtship would never had withstood the scrutiny of such careful examination! I was far too immature in inward character, convictions, and direction to marry when I did. But what should be the standard for our children? Does God want us to use the lower benchmark of our own paltry experience as the model for our children, even if God has given us grace to live beyond it (cf. Rom. 6:1)? Don’t we want something much better for them? If you are living in a house needing constant repairs because it wasn’t well inspected before the purchase, don’t you want your children’s houses to be free from such headaches?
The foundation for a happy, successful marriage is to use biblical standards during courtship. In his first letter to the scattered believers of his day, Peter penned these words:
Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy. –(1 Pet. 1:13-16)
Peter doesn’t lower the standard but directs our hope to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him, explains the Apostle John, purifies himself just as Christ is pure (1 Jn. 3:3) How? The author of Hebrews answers, by striving against sin (12:4), combating sin as an enemy in your life rather than coddling sin as a guest.
So, evaluate a suitor by God’s standard: Is he striving to be like Jesus Christ? Though he will never reach perfection, is this his direction? Is he, by the grace of God, making real progress in the Christian life, sufficient to sustain a marriage relationship? And where he fails, is he truly repentant toward his sins, demonstrating his repentance by making efforts to change where he previously failed? As Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, Go and sin no more.
QUESTION #2 – Doesn’t biblical courtship take romance out of the relationship?
No, not at all. Actually, the biblical approach to relationships puts romance in its proper place, and its proper place is not during courtship. By romance, of course, we refer to the emotional and physical affection between a couple in love with each other. Emotional romance, God says, is to be reserved for the betrothal stage of a relationship after a binding commitment to marry has been made, preventing the broken-heart syndrome. This is why we urge that no romantic words, gifts, or private communication occur during courtship. Contrary to its historical corruption, courtship is not the stage for starry-eyed romance but the time for serious-minded investigation. Not until betrothal should a young man declare to his fiancée, I love you.
Similarly, physical romance is to be withheld until the wedding where the chaste couple experience their first embrace and kiss. This is why the traditional wedding ceremony includes, You may now kiss the bride – it hasn’t happened before, at least in the biblical order of things. The kiss was the symbol for sealing the new marriage covenant. Only by following the biblical pattern for relationships will romance be protected from the tarnish of impurity so that it remains beautiful rather than harmful to the new couple.
QUESTION #3 – Are there different roles in courtship for sons vs. daughters?
Christ states in Matthew 22:30 that sons marry but daughters are given in marriage. So the question arises, Do sons, then, act independently from their father while daughters submit to their father’s oversight? It is certainly true that sons do not require the same level of physical, emotional, or moral protection as daughters, since sons are relatively less vulnerable. Sons are also properly shown in Scripture as the initiator in relationships. However, Solomon is clear in Proverbs, that sons are morally threatened by loose women and, therefore, are in continuing need of a father’s counsel and oversight, especially while they are still young men, say, in their teens and twenties.
Numerous Scriptures convince us that a son is to work cooperatively under his father’s leadership in the courting of a spouse. We see, for example, how Abraham sought a bride for Isaac (Gen. 24:3) and how, in the absence of a father, Hagar took a wife for her son, Ishmael (Gen. 21:21). Judah likewise took a wife for Er, his firstborn son (Gen. 38:6). Even Samson, though his choice of a Philistine woman was wrong, still asked his father to get her for me. Ibzan, one of Israel’s judges, brought in thirty daughters for his thirty sons (Judg. 12:8-9). And Jehoash, king of Israel, sent to Amaziah, king of Judah, saying, Give your daughter to my son as a wife (2 Ki. 14:9). Jeremiah 29:6 states the biblical norm when God tells the Hebrew fathers to take wives for your sons. In fact, this is the same pattern followed by Christ Himself in his marriage to the church, His bride, which was given to Him by the Father: All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me… (Jn. 6:37).
Yet the son also plays a very active role as pursuer of his bride, just as Jesus did with His bride, the church: For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk. 19:10). Likewise, in the Old Testament examples we generally find this active, though cooperative, role exercised by the son in the pursuit of a bride. But when he is a young groom, he is always to be under the wise oversight of his father. Genesis 2:24 explains that for the cause of marriage, a man shall leave his father and mother. Normally, then, a son remains under the roof of his father until he leaves and cleaves to his wife. Yet even if he is not living at home, he remains under the counsel and oversight of his father for the purpose of marriage. When he rejects this oversight, the courtship often falls into impurity and the resultant marriage is almost always a disaster, as with the sons of God in Genesis 6, Esau in Genesis 26 and Shechem in Genesis 34.
QUESTION #4 – What is the role in courtship for church elders and other advisors and acquaintances?
In our last article we focused on the role of the father, the mother, and the son or daughter in gathering information about a potential spouse. But this may not always give the complete picture. It’s only human (sinful) nature to view ourselves in the best light, to overlook our own sins and to present ourselves most favorably. In fact, we’re taught from early on to put our best foot forward. So, to be thorough, we should note how business and government have learned to seek the truth about potential employees by asking questions of others who know them well. Likewise, we fathers should inquire about a prospect by questioning his relatives, friends, fellow believers, co-workers, neighbors, and – most importantly – his church elders. Because of their counseling role, elders are often in a position to know details about a person’s life far beyond what is publicly revealed. And though an elder must be careful to maintain confidences, he may be able to advise you either toward or away from a potential spouse for reasons that are beyond your ability to know.
QUESTION #5 – How important is it to examine the suitor’s family?
In our investigation of the character of a suitor, we ought likewise to evaluate the character of his family. Whatever questions you ask of the suitor, ask also of his parents regarding their spiritual maturity, personal convictions, and cooperative attitude. This is necessary for at least three reasons. First, a suitor’s relationship with his parents and siblings is largely what has made him who he is in character, beliefs, personality, outlook, habits, manners, and much more. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it, says Proverbs. If a child is trained up by godly parents, he will likely become godly; and if he is trained by mediocre or ungodly parents, he will likely become spiritually mediocre or ungodly. Yes, there are exceptions both ways. But they are still exceptions; the rule is, whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap, meaning: like father, like son; and like mother, like daughter.
A second reason for investigating the suitor’s family is because of the life-long influence they will have on the newlyweds and on the children produced by that union. Year after year the in-laws, aunts, and uncles will be giving the new family suggestions, recommendations, and advice. Will it concur or conflict with your own counsel? If their worldview, beliefs, and lifestyle are considerably different than your own, then their influence may take the form of bias, distortion, and indoctrination! Your children and grandchildren may be caught in a philosophical tug-of-war.
Thirdly, you must investigate the suitor’s family because you will be related to this family as long as you and they live. This can be either a wonderfully blissful relationship or a terribly baneful one, depending upon their spiritual maturity, personal convictions, and cooperative attitude. Clearly, then, it is absolutely crucial to investigate the suitor’s family – his parents as well as his siblings.
QUESTION #6 – What if the parents are unsaved, uncooperative, or unavailable to oversee courtship?
This is a particularly troubling question for those of us who revere God’s design for the family and who respect the patriarchal role of the father. But it must be addressed because we live in a fallen world. The betrothal approach to marriage is part of God’s creation model for all mankind, not just for believers. So even unsaved fathers should be involved in protecting and providing spouses for their children. Yet, since courtship is now so foreign to our culture, a Christian young person will sometimes need to introduce his parents to this topic in a careful and methodical way – one step at a time so they don’t feel overwhelmed.
But what if a father is still unsympathetic or uncooperative after serious and sensitive efforts have been made to inform and encourage him? Can his children still proceed in courtship without a father to protect, oversee, and counsel them? In the Scriptures, when a father was physically absent from the family through death, desertion, or divorce, the mother assumed his role of initiating and overseeing the courtship/betrothal process, just as Hagar got a bride for Ishmael (Gen. 21:21). By analogy, if the father is spiritually absent from the family, the mother may assume his courtship duties if he does not disallow it (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5; 1 Cor. 7:14). If both father and mother were unavailable (or unwilling) to serve in this capacity, the Scriptures reveal that an older relative or spiritual leader became the surrogate parent for this critical task. For Ruth, it was performed by her mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 3-4); for Joash, it was accomplished by Jehoiada, the priest (2 Chron. 24:1-3); for Esther, it was fulfilled by Mordecai, her older cousin (Esth. 2:7,11). Today, this is one of the most frequent stumbling blocks for courtship. So spiritually minded family members and church leaders may be called upon to help these orphaned young people by becoming surrogate parents for courtship.
QUESTION #7 – What if a father is opposed to his son or daughter marrying another Christian – or getting married at all?
Sometimes an unsaved father may actually be opposed to his son or daughter marrying another Christian, or ever getting married at all because of his own deep selfishness in keeping them at home. Are these adult Christian children doomed to a life of singleness and servitude in their father’s house?
The beginning point in such a situation is for the young person (together with the mother, if she is willing) to make a godly appeal to the recalcitrant father, affirming their love and appreciation for him. In most cases, such a father is acting in either ignorance or fear toward this new and uncertain responsibility. He has never seen or heard of courtship being practiced today, and he may need both instruction and encouragement to overcome his obstacles. But if he is stubborn and unyielding, is there no avenue of appeal to a higher authority?
It is my understanding of Scripture that all delegated authority – whether in civil government, in the church, or in the home – has God-ordained limits. When a government clearly and grossly exceeds its biblical purpose or jurisdiction, it loses its God-given authority to govern and may be superseded by another authority. This is precisely what happened in the righteous overthrow of British rule in the independence of our own country, and there is a large stream of biblical reasoning to support such thinking (cf. A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, by Junius Brutus, and Lex Rex, by Samuel Rutherford). The same principle can apply in a home that is ruled by a tyrant who has clearly and grossly exceeded his rightful rule. This is very sensitive territory and requires the wisdom of a multitude of counselors. But after all possible remedies have been attempted, including humble and lengthy appeals to the rebellious father, it may be proper – based on Matthew 10:16-23 and 1 Kings 17:1-4 – for an adult son or daughter to flee unjust persecution by a tyrannical father and to marry under the approval of a substitute authority. This, however, would be a rare and isolated event.
QUESTION #8 – What if a son or daughter has already left home, perhaps off to college or a job?
Once again, we are dealing with a very flawed, imperfect situation, but one which is exceedingly common in our anti-family, individualistic culture. Even the church encourages young people to leave home at age 18 to pursue college or a job. But under such historically unprecedented circumstances, how can a father fulfill his biblical obligation to provide a spouse and oversee courtship? The only honest answer is, he can’t very well and probably won’t!
Clearly, if a son or daughter is living outside the household, the principles of scriptural romance will be much more difficult to implement. The best scenario would be for the children to come back home, if they are willing. But once their appetite for the world is whetted, the scriptural approach under Dad’s authority and roof takes more maturity than most young people can muster. The biblical principle to apply in such a case is, in love, to yield all your personal rights and preferences but, in holiness, to yield none of God’s principles of piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness, and patience. In other words, be compassionate but don’t compromise. Love your children more than you love yourself, but not more than you love God.
There may be some creative ways to help your children preserve at least some of God’s plan for their lives, such as by having them see a suitor only when they come home during weekends or holidays, or by seeking the help of a trusted friend, relative, or pastor near where your children live. But these options are very prone to moral failure or compromise. How much better to restore your children to the protection and oversight of a caring father.
QUESTION #9 – Can a courtship be successful if the families live far away from each other?
The biblical norm and ideal, it seems, is to chose a spouse from nearby so that you can investigate and know them well. This also provides for the family on both sides to have opportunity for godly influence on the new couple and their children. But our transient culture today may correspond better to Abraham’s situation who, in obedience to God, left his people in Ur of the Chaldees to settle in Canaan among pagan foreigners. There are several problems that must be surmounted if courting families live far away.
The first challenge of distance is that of becoming aware of who might be available for courtship. But let’s assume that you meet a distant, like-minded family at a national conference of some sort or through a mutual acquaintance (or even through the ChristianCourtship.com web site). Now, you begin corresponding with that family.
The second problem, of course, will be getting to know them well, which can be elusive and expensive through phone calls and traveling (though email can help some). It becomes much easier to put on a good face for a week at a distance than it does for six months when they live in the same town. So you must be very thorough to investigate by means of others who have known that family for many years.
A third difficulty with distance is discipleship. If a young man has great potential but needs some discipleship by the girl’s father, this becomes very clumsy at a distance. Some dads have had the young man move nearer for this very purpose, sometimes even living, say, in a small trailer on the family property. But this can bring its own set of problems if he is living too close.
The fourth problem with distance is that, when a marriage does occur, one set of in-laws may be left remote from the new family. But if Isaac and Rebekah could handle these problems, maybe we can too. Abraham knew that a good match could not be sacrificed for the sake of proximity, even though proximity is a valid concern.
QUESTION #10 – Do older singles need to court, and if so, how do they go about it?
There are several scriptural principles and examples that guide our answer to this question. First is the principle of headship. Older singles who are the heads of their own households may court, betroth, and marry under their own authority as long as they follow the scriptural principles. According to Numbers 30, this includes most widows and divorcees unless it is a woman who has chosen to return to her father’s home. In that case, she is once again under the jurisdiction of her father.
However, God’s principles for biblical romance are not age-limited. Though younger adults may have a greater need for wisdom and oversight, we all still have a sin nature, hormones, and emotions. Even in our enlightened culture, older single women remain vulnerable and deserving of the male protection over relationships that God intended through a father or surrogate parent.
When relatively mature adults enter courtship, they often think they are above temptation and don’t need oversight in this matter. Yet even spiritual Ruth was under her mother-in-law, Naomi. In fact, moral disaster occurred with many older singles who courted in Bible times. King David (the purest man), Samson (the strongest man), and Solomon (the wisest man) all fell into sin through unsupervised courtships. Who today is purer, stronger, and wiser than these men? Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). All people, regardless of age, are in need of godly oversight in their relationship with the opposite sex. Immorality is not the exclusive domain of the young. Where parents have died, godly relatives or church elders can possibly fulfill this role.
QUESTION #11 – Can I still court after I have been tarnished through dating?
First, know this: We have been saved by a God of all grace. Though dating is a subtle error of desire-driven humanism and invariably results in sin (see Chapter 2), God is both forgiving and restoring toward those who are humbly repentant. No matter how devastating the consequences – and they surely are that – God will bring hope and help to those who renew their minds and ways through His principles of courtship and betrothal.
Second, if you are presently in a dating relationship, have both your parents as well as your significant other study these articles on God’s Design for Scriptural Romance and discuss God’s revealed will for your relationship. If he/she is unconvinced or unwilling to follow God’s principles, then this is certainly not God’s spouse for you, at least not at this time. To continue in such a relationship after you know the truth of God’s Word would clearly be sin: Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin (Jam. 4:17).
Third, if you or your suitor have baggage from prior relationships (or a current relationship), the path to purity begins with both parties understanding how damaging and selfish immorality is. Any physical expression of love outside of God’s boundaries is self-centered and self-deceiving. Desiring to please Christ more than we please others or self is the only cure and control for personal passions. Of course, it is God’s design in the first place that you not be alone together where boundaries can be crossed. If you are serious about not sinning, then you must remove what encourages sin and replace it with what discourages sin.
QUESTION #12 – How long should a biblical courtship last?
Courtship is a matter of investigation, not time. And many factors will determine the length of that investigation. So the courtship should last as long as it takes to methodically, thoroughly, and diligently evaluate a potential spouse.
Never should you feel rushed. This will happen only if you allow emotions to clutter the task – either the parents’ emotions or the young couple’s emotions. Remember, contrary to what you have learned through romance novels or Hollywood movies, courtship (at least the biblical variety) is not the time for wooing the heart. Through thought control (Phil. 4:8) and the avoidance of romantic words, acts, and gifts, you must keep emotions out of the picture until you are absolutely sure that all issues of inward character, conviction, and life purpose have been settled.
On the other hand, a courtship investigation should not be drawn out longer than necessary (my own experience suggests about 2-4 months, depending on how well the families knew each other beforehand and how distant they live from each other). Otherwise, the couple will be tempted to develop emotional bonds before there has been a binding commitment to marry, called betrothal. Once both parties have come to the place where all their questions about character, convictions, and life purpose have been adequately answered, it is time for the young woman’s father to ask, Young man, what are your intentions for my daughter?
(Full Credit to the writer)