Today’s ideas about “biblical” love, dating, and courtship come from a variety of sources. Notable influencers in this area have been Bill Gothard, Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye), Josh McDowell and Richard Ross (True Love Waits). I’m sure all of us are affected by our own experiences as a young person navigating the mine field of romantic relationships, and all this combined together may add up to more confusion than clarity.
My biggest concern is the lack of Bible in “biblical” advice about The Search for a Spouse. The Bible guides us in several ways, including command, doctrine, principle, precedent, and illustration. Taking in all the preaching and teaching I’ve heard over the years would lead me to believe that there is a mandate for every Christian to focus on acquiring a spouse with an accompanying list of commandments so each can find The Right One.
We are not very quick to acknowledge the few clear Scriptural reasons we are given to pursue marriage: to avoid fornication, as a picture of Christ and the church, and to raise godly children. Even though Paul advocates for singlehood, we can ignore him whenever he speaks by permission and not of commandment. Right?
If we believe the personal work of the Holy Spirit combines with the revelation of Scripture to lead and guide us to truth, then every person has the freedom to seek a spouse, or not seek a spouse.
Since we as parents, teachers, and church leaders do not know which way God will lead those we guide and influence, what should we be telling them?
Why not teach them how to be a good friend?
Although romantic movies and Valentine’s Day emphasize love as primarily for those seeking a partner for life, love is not reserved for romance in Scripture. Far from it.
- God describes Himself as the embodiment of love (1 John 4:8).
- Love is a defining characteristic of discipleship: ”By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
- Love leads to sacrifice for one’s friends. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
- The “love” chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, doesn’t describe anything remotely like romantic love. Instead, it defines the optimistic, unselfconscious generosity of love.
There are many deeply meaningful friendships in the Bible, as well as verses about how to be a good friend. I think we neglect this essential and foundational aspect of character building because we are just flat out scared of our kids having sex before marriage—so we skip right over the part that will most likely ensure they will think twice about having sex!
- A friend looks out for your best interests.
- A friend is truthful.
- A friend is trustworthy.
- A friend will respect your choices.
- A friend will hold you accountable.
- A friend will forgive.
- A friend will seek your forgiveness.
Any relationship based on such principles of love and friendship will not quickly stray into sexual immorality.
We’ve tried to inoculate our kids against sexual immorality by making sure they are never alone with the opposite sex and that they don’t have access to a phone or computer without supervision. We’ve held True Love Waits ceremonies and given Purity Rings so young people will believe that their worth in the sight of God and man is based on their sexual purity. We’ve scared them to death with stories of STDs and HIV, and shamed unwed mothers mercilessly to make an example out of them.
Our scare tactics don’t work very well because they are tainted by our own insecurity and fears, and leave out the most important part of the human equation—love and friendship.
Instead of debating courtship vs. dating, why not focus on teaching our kids how to develop and maintain healthy relationships?
Principles of biblical friendship not only encourage our children to nurture the characteristics of love within themselves, but how to look for virtue in others, and surround themselves with people who are striving for the same things. They don’t have to share the same ethnic background, the same education, or the same hobbies—but they do have to share the same beliefs about what it means to have integrity and courage, compassion and generosity, and to search for meaning from God’s point of view.
It’s also important for our young people to view each other as human beings first and foremost, instead of potential sexual partners—which is the irony of focusing so much on courtship and dating.
I’ve spent many years as a parent trying to figure this one out, and quite by accident, I discovered that if my kids knew how to be good friends and to seek good friends, the rest mostly works itself out. They get to know people and have a good time, unburdened by the need to make life-altering decisions before they are old enough to graduate high school. They are less likely to view others as sexual objects if they aren’t hearing adults constantly referring to their friends as sexual objects. It’s amazing! Who knew?
I think it’s time to truly kiss dating and courtship goodbye, and embrace the simplicity of healthy friendships.