Principles of Courtship
Pastor Larry Bond
With the recent courtship and marriage of my son, Nathan to Dorina Seeley, the principles of courtship are fresh on my mind. What a blessing it has been to watch these biblical principles in action in their lives! I would like to cover these principles from the pre-courtship time right up to the marriage altar, and show the stark contrast between God's way and the way of the world which, unfortunately, is also the way practiced and promoted in many churches, Christian schools, and colleges. Once again many Christians have been deceived, duped, and pressured into taking the world's broad road to destruction. And, destruction it is when 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce, which is about the same failure rate as the unsaved. When we do it the world's way, it yields the world's results! The dating game is like Russian Roulette - 50% make it, 50% don't! In considering these principles, I hope and pray young people and parents will be committed to the biblical principles of courtship.
The Dating Game
Dating began rather recently only about 75 years ago. That's about when Hollywood movies began. Could there be a connection? Here is how the dating scenario works: Susie and Bill are attracted to each other and begin to date, while Sally and Tom also begin to date. Both couples are first motivated by physical attraction, and such is the foundation for their relationships. After awhile Susie decides that Bill is not the only fish in the pond, and starts looking for a bigger catch, namely Tom. Bill is crushed and Sally is becoming irritated at Tom's drifting attention toward Susie. Surviving a break-up begins to be a skill. Emotional highs and lows seem to dominate their lives. Best friends, Susie and Sally now have become worst enemies. Eventually Susie marries John, her prince charming who soon gets fat and falls off his horse. She is now well prepared for marriage, divorce, remarriage, re-divorce, and re-remarriage. She knows how to survive a break-up and the entire emotional trauma that goes with it. What is dating? It is preparation for divorce! What is dating? It is emotional fornication! What is dating? It is a physical foundation (physical attraction) for marriage! God has a better way!
Focus on the Lord
What then should young people be turning their energy and attention to if not the opposite sex? Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth". And, I Corinthians 7:32b says, "He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:", also note verse 35b, "that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction". It is clear from scripture that young unmarried men and women ought to be focusing on the Lord, building a strong spiritual foundation for their lives, and serving the Lord without the distraction of dating. You say, what about the natural biological and emotional pull? We are seeing young people who are thoroughly committed to the Lord, by God's grace, lay all that down. Adam slept while God was preparing him a wife, and these young people have put their affections to sleep while God prepares them a husband or a wife. When God is ready, He will awaken them. God did not need Adam's help to make him a wife, and God did not need our help to save us, and God does not need our help in getting a wife or husband. I Corinthians 7:27 says, "…seek not a wife". In Proverbs 18:22, "Whoso findeth a wife…", does not mean "finding" in the sense of searching - on the prowl, but rather unintentionally discovering the one God has prepared and has brought across his path. And, what a blessing, "a good thing" he has found! Imagine Adam awakening to find before him the beautiful wife that God had prepared while he was sleeping, totally unaware and unconcerned about what God was doing!
One of the main causes for failed marriages is a "self-serving" attitude in one or both partners. Instead of, "what can I give to the marriage" it's, "what can I get". Teenagers are served by their parents. Mom becomes a taxi service, and dad works overtime to provide the "necessities" of life - designer jeans, Niki shoes, and all the other cool stuff. Susie and Bill don't do anything around the house because, after all, they are busy dating. Galatians 5:13b says, "by love serve one another". Are we teaching our children to be served rather than to serve, to get rather than give? Instead of teens being preoccupied with dating, perhaps they should be learning to serve others, so that they will eventually serve and give to their marriage partner. "Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband." (I Corinthians 7:3). "Render…benevolence " means to give kindness, to give one's self for the benefit of another. It's not so hard for a young husband to give himself away to his wife when he has been giving himself away for 20 years - it's a habit! Young people, there are plenty of needs and opportunities to learn to serve. Start at home serving your parents and younger brothers and sisters. Help with the home schooling. Is everything in the house in order - find a need and fill it. What a blessing young ladies can be to a mother of a large family, and likewise, young men to a father struggling to make ends meet! Could a young person be an encouragement by acts of service to a struggling Christian family with several small children - enough encouragement to keep them from giving up and limiting their family size? By the way, young people who are very busy serving others don't have time or energy to be thinking about the opposite sex. While they are sleeping in the Lord, they can be a blessing to others, and learning the habit of serving.
Who Owns the Heart?
The wise man in Proverbs 23:26 said to his son, "my son, give me thine heart…" And again Malachi 4:6 says, "And he shall turn…the heart of the children to their fathers…". The heart of every young person belongs to his father. My children have deposited their hearts with me for safe keeping until it is time for them to be awakened by God through the authority of their parents. My son, Nathan was awakened from a deep sleep in God's time by his parents. He was totally surprised at our request for him to pray about marrying Dorina, but agreed to do so. Within a couple of days, he came back to us and said that he believed it was God's will for them to get married. Because my wife and I had already talked to Dorina's parents, we knew that they and Dorina also believed it was God's will. We strongly believe that any one of six people have veto power in establishing a courtship. Since that was all clear now, I released my son's heart, and Bro. Seeley, Dorina's father released her heart when he gave Nathan permission to write her at college. What a blessing to see them in the months ahead turning their hearts to one another! It's beautiful to see two young people at the marriage altar who have never given their hearts to any one else! No guilt, no jealousy, no extra baggage here being dragged into the marriage!
Flirting, dating, and touching is robbery - stealing away the heart. The young man who talks tenderly to a young lady is purposely drawing her heart towards him. He is stealing her heart from her father! "Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel" by talking tenderly and touching them (II Samuel 15:5-6). How much easier it is for a charismatic young man to steal away the heart of a vulnerable young lady. Likewise, a flirty girl can with her eyes, the way she moves, and by the way she dresses steal away the heart of a foolish young man. "Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids" (Proverb 6:25). None of us would even think of sneaking into our brother's home and stealing his most prized possession. My most prized possession is my children. I will give them in marriage as God directs, but I will not have them stolen from me!
The principle of not defrauding must be examined when discussing courtship, and it applies in several different areas. In scripture, the term means to rob or to keep back what has been promised. As already discussed, stealing the heart is a form of defrauding. Touching, embracing, kissing, and so forth in the typical dating scene is stealing purity or defrauding. It is taking dishonestly only what can be had rightfully in marriage. Also, flirting is defrauding. It "leads on" the other person, and is saying I am available when they're not. Once the heart has been given, to take it back again is defrauding. For this reason a courtship should be binding as was the betrothal or espousal in scripture. The courtship should not be started until both sets of parents and the young man and woman are committed to seeing the courtship through to the marriage altar. Unfortunately many courtships are broken off because of this lack of commitment, and become little more than "going steady" dating. For any one of the six people involved to back out during the courtship time, is defrauding. You have promised something that you are not willing to perform. It is good practice for the couple and their families to work through disagreements rather than quitting. Another name for "divorce" is "quitting"! The only scriptural reason to break off a courtship is moral impurity discovered during the courtship time.
The approximate length of the courtship should also be decided ahead of time. I believe it should never be more than one year. This will protect the couple from undue temptation and frustration. It should be long enough for emotional bonding to take place, and for plans and any problems to be worked out. For parents to keep extending the date beyond the original set date is defrauding their children. They promised something, but did not perform. Proverbs 13:12 says, "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
Mind or Emotion
The term "in love" is simply another way of saying "emotionally involved". People have said to me, "you can't go wrong if you just follow your heart"! The problem is that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). In the typical youth ministry dating environment, many girls "fall in love" and marry with their minds in neutral. They have no thought as to the guy's character or Christianity only that he stirs her passions. Her emotions have become her will! With the young man it's probably physical attraction that puts his passions into high gear, but with no thought as to the hidden woman within. His emotions have become his will! Emotions can be wonderful, but they should not be allowed to control our lives. The proper order should always be our minds controlling our will, and then our emotions follow. We have seen how the emotion of anger can be so destructive, and how fear can be so inhibiting to service for Christ. Why then should "falling in love" cause young people to marry the wrong person?
In the courtship environment, the decision making process is done by first parents who have the wisdom of years and no emotional influence bearing upon them, and then two young people who are not at this point emotionally involved. All parties involved are able to look at the situation with reason and understanding before a decision is made and emotions are released.
Hands Off Courtship
The first time Nathan and Dorina held hands was at the marriage altar while they said their vows to each other. The first kiss was after they were pronounced husband and wife. There was no defrauding here! When touching starts in dating it's like a car starting down a hill with no brakes. It picks up momentum, faster, and faster with no stopping until finally crashing at the bottom! I Corinthians 7:1b says, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." The car should not be released from the top of the hill until the marriage takes place. Accountability to "hands off" should always be maintained by the presence of a chaperone. The couple should be given privacy to talk but always visible. It is very important that they develop their relationship in the proper order. It's like building a house - foundation first, then the floor and walls, then the roof. Who would put the roof on first? To begin with, the couple has little or no emotional bond, so they first start to develop a spiritual relationship - praying together, studying the Bible together, memorizing scripture together, and just talking over spiritual things. This is the foundation that will support the rest of the building. Then, the emotional closeness begins to form providing the floor and walls that will also support the roof. Lastly, at the marriage altar the car is released from the top of the hill and the roof begins to develop.
This all may sound very strange, but remember that "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD." (Isaiah 55:8). What seems right to us because of our culture is not necessarily God's way. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." (Proverbs 16:25). Here are seven biblical principles that direct us to God's way for young people to get to the marriage altar. When these ways are followed, the sweetness and purity, emotional as well as physical, at the wedding ceremony is awesome.