Now that you have been dating for a while, I thought now would be a good time to remind you of some of the discussions we’ve had on this topic. Before you started dating, remember all of those important things we talked about? Remember how we even read in God’s word that part of my responsibility in training you be a Christian young man is to help you in your dating life, and to ensure that you are going about this whole dating thing properly (Prov. 9:9 and 22:6)? So let’s take this opportunity to go over some things.
At your age, it can be hard to keep the ultimate goal of dating clearly in your sights. Marriage. I can tell by the look you’re giving me that you and your girlfriend are not exactly ready to start sending out wedding invitations. That’s okay. Really, it is. Dating can be an exciting experience, and it’s good to enjoy it. Dating is getting to know someone new; it’s the potential to get to know someone at a deeper level than other friends; it’s engaging in fun activities like going out to eat or going to the beach. Of course it’s enjoyable—it should be! But, remember, all of these activities are for a purpose: for both of you to get to know each other well enough to decide if you are compatible for marriage.
Yeah, I know—some of your friends’ parents let them date just for fun. They don’t have to think about marriage when they ask a girl out. But remember what we decided when we talked about this last time? Approaching dating with a casual attitude can be fraught with difficulties. No, I’m not saying that all of your friends are sinning when they date “for fun”. But we can’t deny that there is a world of temptations that accompany dating, and that these temptations are difficult enough to handle when dating is approached with the seriousness that it deserves. To pick just one example, you know that all Christians are called to remain chaste (Ex. 20:14, Romans 13:13, 1 Cor. 6:18–20, Eph. 5:3, 1 Thess. 4:3, and many others), and that this becomes especially important for dating couples. I’m sure you can agree that starting a dating relationship with the attitude that it is “just for fun” is not the wisest way for sanctified young people to remain chaste. Note this too: I can see what kind of world we live in right now. There is an incredible pressure on guys your age to not grow up,but instead to continue having fun and living a carefree and casual life well into your 20s. Obviously this particular pressure plays right into the idea of “casual dating”. As a Christian young man, you are called to mature—to grow up (1 Cor. 13:11, Eph. 4:13–15, 2 Tim. 2:22). I understand that it must be very hard to say no to that type of lifestyle, and instead start to grow up and mature right now at your age. Realize this though: if you start dating without taking it seriously, you will inevitably develop certain habits and a mindset that can be harmful when you begin a serious dating relationship. However, if, at the beginning of your dating life, you start with a sanctified attitude that looks towards marriage and the seriousness that it entails, you will have a certain amount of help against the temptations inherent in dating (2 Tim. 2:212, 1 Thess. 4:3–5).
So, are you dating with an attitude toward marriage, and specifically, marrying in the Lord? I know… you’re right. It is easy for old married people like me to throw out ideas like “attitude toward marriage” and “marrying in the Lord” without really telling you what they mean or giving some practical advice about how to do it. Let’s take “marrying in the Lord” first, because I think you probably already have a good idea what that means. Marrying in the Lord can be thought of as making the Lord the absolute center of your marriage relationship (Eph. 5:22-–33). Yes, the fact that you are dating a girl who openly and faithfully attends a good church is evidence that you started in the right place. In order have a relationship centered on Christ, both individuals in the relationship obviously have to be committed to the Christian faith (2 Cor. 6:14). However, finding a confessing Christian to date is really only the beginning. Ensuring that Christ will be the center of your future marriage relationship requires that you engage in certain activities and have a certain attitude while you date—an attitude toward marrying in the Lord.
If Christ is going to be the center of your marriage, it is probably a good idea to make him the center of your dating relationship. Yes, I know that sounds very serious! But think about it. If, through dating, you build a relationship with a girl, and that relationship is not centered on Christ, do you really think that when you decide to get married that you will easily be able to change the center of your relationship to one rooted in Christ? No, probably not. Develop the Christ-centered relationship now, before it is too late!
Let’s discuss some of the practical activities that you should be doing that will help develop this attitude. Prayer and searching the scriptures really have to form the basis of your “attitude towards marriage” activities. You’re right—that shouldn’t be a big surprise. Start with prayer and scripture reading by yourself. You need wisdom to make the right decisions about your behavior while you are dating, about whether the girl you are dating is the right kind of girl for you, and ultimately about whether a marriage between you and your girlfriend is right. Pray for wisdom pertaining to these things (James 1:5), pray for it with the understanding that this wisdom is not going to come like a flash of inspiration in your mind. You need to pray that you will appropriately apply the wisdom contained in God’s word with respect to these things. Proverbs is full of wisdom for the time in your life when you are dating. So is Ephesians. Read these books and meditate on God’s word found there. Think about the girl you are dating and your conduct while you are with her, and apply the words and ideas found in Proverbs. Also pray for yourself that you will be able to be a strong spiritual leader in your relationship. You know this is the role that you will have in marriage, so start praying about it now. Search out the wisdom contained in Scripture for how to be this type of person. If you think that you are mature enough to date a girl, you had better be mature enough to be the spiritual leader in the relationship. No, right now you don’t have to have the spiritual maturity and leadership qualities that a veteran of marriage has, but you definitely need to realize what your role is and take the initiative to begin developing that role.
But, don’t just keep these spiritual exercises to yourself. Pray with your girlfriend. Pray that Christ will be the center of your relationship. Pray that your relationship at this point in your dating life is glorifying to God in all aspects. Read scripture with your girlfriend. Discuss and mediate on Scripture with your girlfriend. And don’t just pack these activities into the few minutes at the end of the date. Engage in conversations about your faith while you are with each other. Talk about points in sermons that you particularly enjoyed or that you didn’t understand. Discuss religious books or articles that you have read. In this way you will build the strong foundations that are so critical for a godly, happy marriage. If you aren’t engaging in these spiritual activities, that is good evidence that you are not currently interested in marrying in the Lord. As we said before, marrying in the Lord doesn’t start at some point in the future while you are in premarital counselling right before your wedding; it starts right now while you are dating. Listen to this too: if you are not engaging in these spiritual activities with your girlfriend, and your girlfriend does not seem at all concerned about your lack of spiritual activities, that is a good sign that she does not have the proper concern for marrying in the Lord either. You need to be a leader in this respect, and if she is simply not aware of these things that we are discussing, you need patiently and prayerfully to lead her into an understanding of their critical importance.
There is one more thing that I, from my perspective as a father, recommend that you do. Get to know her parents, and get to know them at a level that is deeper than casual pleasant conversation. Don’t be afraid to have real, meaningful conversations with them. Discuss religion and your faith with them as opportunities present themselves. I can promise you that any parents who are truly concerned for their daughter’s spiritual wellbeing will be thrilled to have these conversations with you.
Son, I’m thrilled that you are dating, and that things seem to be going well. There is really nothing in this life that can compare to developing Christ-centered relationships and marrying in the Lord.