Dating provides a wonderful–albeit, at times, challenging–opportunity for two disciples to honor God in their relationship. Although there are many ways a couple might do so, let me offer three specific ways for your consideration.
One, date on purpose with purpose.
Dating disciples should discern marital desire, intention, and compatibility as soon as possible. The longer a couple dates the more emotionally attached they become. If a member of the relationship has no discernible desire to marry the other, then the dating relationship should end.
As disciples of Jesus, we should not do anything half-heartedly or without intention or purpose, including our approach to dating. Honestly, the only sensible reason to date another person exclusively is to explore the prospect of marriage. If that is not the goal, then it will be very hard to honor God through the relationship, as it would lack an all-important telos—God-honoring goal or outcome.
When Kim and I dated, we invited people into our dating relationship. We green lighted friends and mentors to ask us hard questions regarding the direction, pace, and intentionality of our relationship. Then, we listened and considered strongly their observations and insights. By God’s grace, that enabled our relationship to move towards a healthy, God-honoring goal and outcome.
Two, in the process of discerning the relationship’s future, I often advise disciples to avoid praying together about marrying one another.
While Kim and I were dating we did not pray together about the future of our relationship. We occasionally discussed it, but we did not pray about it while together. Instead, when we prayed together, we focused on what Jesus was teaching us and how He was actively changing our hearts to love both God and people. Much of our prayer time together, then, focused on the content of our characters. This enabled us to remain relatively objective when trying to discern God’s direction for our lives, including the prospect of marrying one another. Had we prayed together about marrying one another, I believe, it would have been difficult for us to discern God’s shepherding guidance through that process. After all, we were attracted to one another, which could have easily compromised what little objectivity we may have held regarding our relationship. Mutual attraction, a marriage does not make. More is needed.
Three, recognize the other as a brother or a sister in Christ and relate to them accordingly.
In Christ, we are adopted as beloved sons and daughters of God. Our relationship with one another, then, is utterly unique from all other earthly relationships. The New Testament often utilizes familial language to describe our shared union in Christ. Spiritually speaking, we are brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. In 1 Timothy 5:1, Paul writes to Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” In the family of God, our relationships with one another should be characterized by purity. We spur one another one in the process of offering every thought, feeling, and action to Christ in heart-warming obedience.
The most difficult place for a non-married couple to honor God together is in their physical relationship. A dating couple does not share a marital commitment with one another. Therefore, their relationship lacks the healthiest and safest context for experimenting and enjoying God’s gift of sex. A person is never more vulnerable than when engaged in sexual intercourse. God intended the marital relationship to provide the necessary security for such life-enhancing vulnerability to occur.
In my experience with making disciples, I am often asked by dating couples, “How far is too far?” They want to know what type of physical intimacy is appropriate for them to pursue. I do not like this question because it usually reveals that their relational priorities are disordered. Nevertheless, I guess I should be glad that they are at least asking it. Doing so reveals that they are cognizant of the fact that God has good, life-enhancing plans and purposes for sex. However, there is a much greater question dating disciples should be occupied with.
Rather than focusing on what’s permissible, the couple would honor God more clearly by focusing on what is profitable. Instead of asking, “How far is too far?” start asking, “How can I help my girlfriend or boyfriend grow as a disciple of Jesus?” I’ve never seen disciples mature while sliding hands into one another’s pants.
While studying 1 Corinthians with The Hallows Church, I had the privilege of preaching three sermons on Sex, Singleness, and Marriage. Here are the links. I hope they serve you well!