Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 14, 2003
Holy & Free, Part 7 – Dating, Courtship & Marriage
This morning we will continue in the series of messages I have entitled “Holy & Free.” We have been examining the scriptures to see what Biblical commands, principles and precepts apply to various areas of everyday life. Many people strive to live the Christian life bound by non-Biblical rules that not only steal the joy out of walking with Christ, but are often legalistic in that they define righteousness by standards that God did not set. Other people go to the opposite of extreme in which they view the liberty spoken of in 2 Cor. 3:17 or the freedom spoken of in Gal. 5:1 as license to do whatever they want. But neither is true.
Galatians 5:1 tells us that Christians have been freed from the yoke of slavery of the Mosaic Law by which men tried to establish their own righteousness through obedience to it. The Christian is made righteous before God through faith in Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:9). Many replace the Mosaic Law with their own list of self imposed rules just as the Pharisees had done. Such people honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. Those who teach as doctrine the precepts of men worship God in vain (Matt. 15:8). When you insist on rules of conduct that are beyond what God requires, you have entered the realm of legalism, and God hates it.
The other extreme are those who insist that the Christian can do anything they want. That is license, and God also hates that. Being saved by God’s grace and freed from the Law does not grant us license, instead it frees us from our bondage to sin and makes us slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:12-22). Our freedom in Christ enables us to pursue holiness, not ignore it. Our freedom should never be used as a covering or excuse for evil (1 Peter 2:16).
Always remember that while Christians are free from the Mosaic Law, they are still under the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Jesus has given us commands that He expects us to obey, such as His “new commandment” to love one another, even as He has loved us (John 13:34). The Great Commission that Jesus gave to His Church concludes in us teaching one another to observe all that He has commanded (Matt. 28:20). The Christian has liberty in Christ, but it is for the purpose of pursuing holiness, not license.
This morning I want to address Christian liberty and freedom in the areas of dating, courtship and marriage. We will start with looking at Biblical commands and precepts concerning marriage, because without understanding God’s purpose and plan for marriage, you cannot understand and practice a godly approach to dating and courtship.
Definition. In order to understand Christian marriage, we first have to define it. We live in a society in which there are many competing ideas for what marriage is supposed to be.
On the humorous side we find comments such as, “Marriage occurs when cupidity meets stupidity.” Someone else said that marriage is a partnership in which two people agree to change each other’s habits. Another person said that “Marriage is the world’s most expensive way of discovering your faults.” Abraham Lincoln said that “marriage is neither heaven, nor hell; it is simply purgatory.” Someone else said that marriage was like a pair of shears. A man and a woman are “so joined that they cannot be separated; they are often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them.” While there is a lot of laughter in a good marriage, marriage itself is not a laughing matter.
On a more serious note, many people define marriage in terms of a legal contractual agreement. Webster’s dictionary defines it as man and woman being legally united on a permanent basis. Under this definition, some will drawing up pre-nuptial legal contracts in case the contract is breeched. Others define marriage in business terms. For them it is a partnership in which a man and woman agree to work together for the mutual benefit of each other. Others who hold to one or the other of these ideas but wanting to sound more spiritual will call their partnership a “covenant” because that is a Biblical word and more solemn sounding than “contract.” But marriage is much more than a contract, partnership or covenant.
On the perverse side, we find that though Vermont refrained from using the word marriage, it has given legal status to same sex unions. The recent Supreme Court decision that threw out anti-sodomy laws in Texas will be used by homosexual activists to push homosexual marriage in the United States. Canada already recognizes that perversion. Sinful people want society to accept them in their depravity, and though they may be successful in that quest, they cannot be successful in gaining God’s approval or getting Him to change His definition of marriage. And ultimately, only His definition matters, for He is the both the one that created marriage and He is the one that will judge those who disobey His commands.
What then is God’s intention for marriage? Marriage is to be a monogamous, lifetime relationship between a man and a woman which is bound together by a love that reflects that of Jesus Christ for His church and in which each spouse can fulfill their God given roles to one another, the family and society. God has a plan for marriage that is much better than the dreams most people have when they enter matrimony, and God cares about that marriage more than either spouse does. That is why I can confidently tell people that there is great hope for their marriage regardless of how bad it might be in the present. They just have to quit doing it their way and start living in their marriage, divine style. To understand this we need to look at the nature and purpose of marriage.
Marriage is Good. The first thing I want to point out about the nature of marriage is that it is good. God established marriage on the sixth day of creation and it was included in God’s pronouncement that all that He had done was “very good”(Gen. 1:31). Ecclesiastes 9:9 states, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life, and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” Marriage is good.
I take the time to make the point that marriage is good because so many have such a negative view of marriage. People marry with romantic dreams in mind, but when problems occur they blame marriage. Most jokes and quips about marriage are from a negative view. Marriage is not the problem. People are sinful and so they will have problems to overcome in any relationship, but marriage is good.
The negative view of marriage in our society is seen in comparing Census Bureau figures from 1970 with 2000. Thirty years ago, 70.6% of households were headed by a married couple. Only 10.6% were single parent households and 16.1% were single people living alone. By 2000, only 52.8% of households were headed by married couples while single parent households went up to 16% and the number of single people living alone jumped to 25.5%. Marriage is also being delayed longer. In 1970 the median age for first marriage for women was 20.8 years and 23.2 years for men. In 2000 the age jumped to 25.1 years for women and 26.8 years for men. Regardless of what American society thinks or does, marriage is still good.
Some of you come from religious traditions in which it is believed that being single is spiritually superior to being married. That has also resulted in a negative view of marriage. While Paul does make the case in 1 Corinthians 7 that it was good for people to remain unmarried as he was (vs. 7,8) and that there are advantages in being single in serving the Lord (vs. 32-35), Paul does not advocate singleness as spiritually superior. He recognizes that singleness or marriage was according to the gift of God (vs. 7). Part of his concern was the “present distress” that the Corinthians were facing (vs. 26). He also makes it clear that there was no sin in getting married (vs. 28,36) and that giving in marriage was good (vs. 38). Paul makes it clear in other places, such as Ephesians 5, the glorification of God that can occur in marriage. In addition, Paul also made it clear in 1 Timothy 4:3 that those who forbid marriage are paying attention to the doctrine of demons. Marriage is good and is the normal state that God calls men and women too. Jesus pointed out in Matthew 19:11,12 that celibacy for the purpose of spiritual service is a special gift from God.
Marriage is a Blessing. Another aspect of the nature of marriage is that it is a blessing. Proverbs 18:22 states, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord.” Proverbs 19:14 states, “House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, But a prudent wife is from the Lord. Song of Solomon expresses the blessing of marital love. There are also the examples of good marriages that were obvious blessings such as Ruth & Boaz, Elkanah & Hannah and the marriage described in Proverbs 31 in which she is a blessing and in turn is praised by her husband and children. The jokes about marriage being a curse are many, but that is only because people do not follow God’s plan when they get married or after they are married. God designed marriage to be a blessing.
Marriage has Struggles. To say that marriage is a blessing does not mean that a good marriage is without struggles. People are sinful by nature and practice, and so when they get married there will be problems that will arise because of that sinfulness. Even in Christian marriage this will happen because no believer walks in perfect holiness. All of us will continue in that struggle against sin until we are fully sanctified at Christ’s return.
In a Christian marriage, the problems that are faced are used by God as one of the means of making us more holy. Keep in mind what James 1 & Romans 5 says about the trials and troubles of life. We should consider them a joy knowing that the testing of our faith produce in us endurance, perseverance, and the maturity of proven character. How else can a person learn to love unconditionally and sacrificially except in such a relationship? The commitment made by the promise to be true and love for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health makes the difference in moving us out of our selfishness and into true love. Marriage is a means by which God matures both the man and the woman into greater Christlikeness.
Marriages do not break apart because of problems and struggles. Problems arise in every relationship. In a godly marriage those struggles will result in a stronger marriage as the couple works through the problems. Marriages break apart when people remain selfish and do not love enough to work through problems. Divorce occurs when at least one partner refuses to keep the promises they made to their spouse.
Marriage is Optional. None of this means that you must get married. I have already mentioned that Paul points out that there are some great advantages to being single. Specifically, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34, “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and [his interests] are divided. And the woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”
There are very pragmatic advantages to being single. I did not get married until I was 29, so I had many years in which I was able to make use of those advantages. My time, energy and finances could be used however I thought best without concern for caring for a wife or children. Time and money went into furthering my education in Seminary. That would have been much more difficult to do if I had been married. I was able to give a lot of time to ministries that I would not have had time to participate in had I been married. I was even able to consider going on missions trips to places that would have been dangerous to take a wife. Once I was married, there were new priorities and responsibilities that changed how I used my time and finances and which ministries I would be involved in.
The Bible does not command all people to get married, though the vast majority of people will get married because of the way that God has made men and women to be attracted to each other. As I pointed out earlier, Jesus explained in Matthew 19:11,12 that celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is a gift from God. If you are a single adult, then you have to ask yourself whether God has gifted you to be single. If so, then you need to consider how you can use your singleness to its greatest advantage in serving the Lord. If not, then you need to consider God’s purposes for marriage and then how God would have you find a life partner.
The Purpose of Marriage
The Bible gives several reasons for marriage. The first is found Genesis 2 in the recounting of the sixth day of Creation. In verse 7 God formed man from the dust of the ground. God then planted the Garden of Eden and set Adam in that garden. In verse 18 God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” God then forms all the animals and has them come before Adam to be named, but none of them were suitable for Adam. In verses 21,22, God forms Eve from one of Adam’s ribs and presents her to him. Adams response is, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” Marriage is then established for future mankind in verse 24 in the statement, “for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”
The first purpose of marriage is companionship. Adam’s singleness was the first “not good” that occurred in creation and God corrected that before the end of the day. God’s design of a man and a woman is that they correspond to each other. They are to have a symbiotic relationship. Together they can do more than the sum of what they could do individually. Solomon mentions a couple of the advantages of this in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm [alone?] And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.” Mortality tables show that married people live longer than single people.
The second purpose of marriage is also found in Genesis and is related to them cleaving together and becoming one flesh. After God had made Eve and given her to Adam, he instructed them in Genesis 1:28 to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Mankind could not fulfill God’s intended role of having dominion over the earth unless there were more men and women. He could have continued to keep creating them individually, but God’s chosen method was procreation. Man was to reproduce after his kind in a manner similar to the other forms of life God had created. Children are a to be a product of marriage, not just biological activity. That leads to the next purpose of marriage.
In 1 Corinthians 7:1,2, Paul says that though it is good for a man not to touch a woman, in the sense of physical intimacy, because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” He summarized this in verse 9 saying, “it is better to marry than to burn.” Physical intimacy is another purpose of marriage.
The Bible is clear that physical intimacy between a man and a woman belongs only in marriage. If it occurs before marriage, it is called fornication, and it is an evil which under the Mosaic Law could result in capital punishment (Deut. 22:13-27). If it occurs outside of marriage, it is the sin of adultery (Ex. 20:14), and under Mosaic Law it also could result in execution of the adulterer (Lev. 20:10).
Groups such as Planned Parenthood reject God’s design for human sexuality. They view man as animals that cannot nor should not control their sexual urges. That is why they pass out birth control devices to unmarried teens and advocate them to be available in High Schools. Society reaps the consequences of their evil advocations in abortions and single mother families.
God’s design is that human sexuality is to be expressed only within the marriage relationship, and that within that marriage relationship, it is a wonderful and holy expression of love. Proverbs 5 contrasts the evil of adultery with the blessing of marital love. Song of Solomon extols the physical relationship within marriage as virtuous. This is a purpose of marriage which can be enjoyed, but it is an activity that is not to be engaged in by those who are single.
Hebrews 13:4 warns, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 6:18 concerning sexual immorality to flee it because “every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.” If you are single, then heed Paul’s warning to Timothy and “flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love [and] peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart“(2 Tim. 2:22)
The fourth purpose of marriage is the glorification of God. In Ephesians 5 Paul explains the role of the husband and the wife and then he quotes from Genesis 2:24 and makes this comment in verses 31,32 “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” Marriage is to be a picture of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ for the church and the church’s love for Him. That is why there are specific roles God gives to the husband and to the wife. Only in fulfilling those roles can this picture of Christ and the church be demonstrated in the marriage.
I have spoken in detail about the roles of husbands and wives before, so I will not be doing that again here. Get the tapes on Ephesians 5:22-33. I will only say here that the roles are not optional for the Christian and they are still God’s design and best option for the non-Christian. The husband is to love his wife in the same self sacrificial manner as Christ. He is to be seeking her best interest at all times. The husband is to seek to understand his wife and lead her into holiness. The wife is to voluntarily follow that leadership while returning his love with respect and care. Study Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Peter 3:1-7, 1 Corinthians 11:1-12, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Proverbs 31:10-31 and Psalm 15 for a greater understanding of God’s roles for husbands and wives.
Dating vs. Courtship
Now in explaining all of this about marriage, we can now come to what those who are single should do if they want to get married. Again, until you understand God’s design and purpose of marriage, how would you know what to look for in a husband or wife? That understanding will also give you help in how to find a spouse.
There are no specific Biblical commands to Christians concerning who to marry other than Christians are to marry “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39). The examples of finding a spouse vary ranging from the extremes of marriages arranged by the parents (Gen. 24) to a man taking a wife from among the women captured in a war because she was beautiful (Deut. 21:10,11). The kind of marriages that resulted vary a lot too.
Our society, including the Christian subculture, has come to accept “dating” as the normal method of finding marriage partners. Dating is an American invention that has been done a lot here for nearly 100 hundred years. It is partially a result of a multi-cultural, multi-class society that mixes quite freely. The American independent spirit and easy transportation are also factors. In prior centuries the primary method was courtship. The two are very different from each other in their fundamental assumptions, and therefore practice too.
Dating: Good & Bad
Date. The fundamental assumption in dating is that the man and woman involved will be able to decide by themselves who would make a good spouse with little to no input from others, especially the parents. In our society that decision will largely revolve around the romantic interest that is generated between the couple. Some initial spark, often a physical attraction, will begin the relationship, and then that flame of interest is built on doing enjoyable activities together. Enjoyment is a foundational aspect of dating. The most common date tends to be a meal and some form of entertainment. A guy can get a girl to go out with him if he invites her to a dinner and a show, but very few women will respond to an invitation to come help him fix his car, do chores or clean his bathroom.
Dating couples tend to define love in terms of positive feelings of affection toward each other. Since such feelings are increased by doing fun things together, a very serious relationship can develop quickly. That can easily lead to immorality problems because strong emotions are leading the relationship instead of thoughtfulness. Even if immorality is avoided, a quick engagement and wedding often result in severe conflicts later when compatibility issues that should have been dealt with prior to marriage come to the surface.
Another danger of dating is that if the feelings of affection diminish for any reason, the relationship can end because there was not a solid foundation for the relationship. One social observer put it well in saying that dating teaches you more about how to break up than how to stay together.
Personally, I am against dating because I can find so little of positive value in it. Dating is not good preparation for marriage. There are much better ways to find a spouse. There are also better ways to learn about and develop friendships with the opposite sex. Be a different kind of fruit, instead of being a date, try being a f.i.g.
Fig is an acronym for Friend In God. A big problem with being a date is that by its very nature there is a romantic pressure, especially in our sensual society. That is as true for young teenagers as it is for collegians and working singles. In dating, people try to impress each other, and in doing so they present a false image of who they really are and what they are really like. If you are simply being a godly friend, then there is no romantic pressure and you can be yourself. A f.i.g. develops relationships based in reality of daily life instead of just those things that are enjoyable. A date is an exclusive relationship in which jealousies can easily arise while a f.i.g. welcomes new people into the circle of friends. A date asks if you will go with him to an activity. A f.i.g. asks if you will join them on an activity. A date is self centered being concerned with whether they are liked or not and where the relationship is heading. A good f.i.g. is concerned about being a godly influence on their friend regardless of what they may personally gain from the relationship. Being a f.i.g. is a great foundation for a future marriage relationship.
Courtship. If a godly friendship develops a more serious interest, then the next step would be courtship. A fundamental assumption in courtship is that godly decisions are made with multiple wise counsel. Proverbs 1:5 says, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” Proverbs 12:15 adds, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” This is the fundamental difference between dating and courtship.
A brief description of the concept of courtship is as follows. Courtship cannot begin until a man has placed himself in a position in which he can reasonably expect to support a wife in the present time or near future. Until he is in that position, he has other priorities to be occupied with. The next step is for him to prayerfully consider whether he should get married. If so, then he needs to carefully and prayerfully consider the single Christian women he knows as to their godliness and compatibility with his personality and goals. If he does not know such a woman, he continues with his other priorities while developing more godly friendships. He might even ask godly friends for suggestions of a woman they think might be compatible with him. I should add here that godly friendships are primarily developed in group settings and in ministry.
What does the woman do during this period of waiting for a man to take notice of her? She develops her character and ministry skills so that she is better prepared for whatever the Lord has for her future. I will add here that a woman can attract men by many methods, but only a godly woman will exhibit a character that will attract a godly man, and if you want a godly marriage, you will need to attract a godly man.
At whatever point he believe he has found a godly woman that seems compatible, he should talk to her about his intentions to develop the relationship. If she has a good relationship with her father, then the man should also seek the permission of the girl’s father to court her. This is primarily a protection for her. Dad can turn the boy away without her having to give any excuses. They then will spend time getting to know each other better primarily in the context of their families and friends. This allows both of them to receive very valuable advice from those who know them best about their relationship. This differs from dating in which the time is spent primarily alone as a couple. At whatever point the man and woman believe they are ready for marriage under the counsel of their families and friends, they get engaged and plan their wedding.
Again, the primary difference between dating and courtship is the wise counsel that is available and sought in courtship. The second major difference is that courtship does not begin until the man and woman are in a position of life in which they could get married. Until then, they just work at being good f.i.g.s by developing their own character and godly relationships with others. Courtship avoids the pitfalls and heartaches of dating while better preparing people for a great marriage.
For more information on the concept of courtship, I recommend I Kissed Dating Goodbye, by Josh Harris (no relation). For those that still think dating is better, there are good books by Josh McDowell and Greg Laurie, among others, but the book I have recommended the most is Too Close, Too Soon, by Jim Talley.
Let us always be diligent to pray for those who are already married that they may fulfill their roles and glorify God by their examples. Let us also be diligent to pray for those single people who desire to be married that they may avoid the pitfalls of our society and that God may grant them a spouse with whom they can fulfill God’s purposes of marriage.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children : Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times “marriage” is said. 2) Discuss with your parents the pro’s and con’s of dating and courtship
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others
Define marriage. Describe the nature of marriage. What does the Bible say about marriage? What is God’s purpose for marriage? If married, how are you doing about fulfilling those purposes? What is the historical origin of “dating?” What are the pro’s and con’s of dating? What is a F.I.G. and how is that better than a date? How do dating and courtship differ from each other? Describe the process of courtship. If single, what qualities would you look for in a spouse? If parents of singles, how can you help them find a godly spouse?
Holy & Free, Part 7 – Dating, Courtship & Marriage
Marriage is Good
Marriage is a Blessing
Marriage has Struggles
Marriage is Optional
The Purposes of Marriage
Glorification of God
Dating Vs. Courtship
Recommended books: Courtship: I Kissed Dating Goodbye, by Josh Harris (no relation). Dating: books by Josh McDowell and Greg Laurie, among others. Too Close, Too Soon, by Jim Talley.
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