With a heart to honour God, many Christians start dating with a list of do’s and don’ts in mind. Must it be so complicated? HANNAH LEUNG shares the lessons she learnt in dating.
Ah, dating. The strange phase between being single and being married. Whether you’re single or married, there are explicit principles and encouragements you can turn to in the Bible. The Bible, though, doesn’t discuss dating. Dating only became commonplace way after biblical times. Almost all the characters in the Bible were brought together via family arrangements!
Yet, there seems to be an endless stream of rules surrounding dating for Christians. Since there are no guidelines in the Bible, many well-meaning church leaders try to help us prepare for dating by setting rules that are grounded in biblical principles.
I remember the once-a-year service in youth church when leaders would share about boy-girl relationships (BGR) — what to do; what not to do; what to expect; what to flee from … must dating be so complicated?
After hearing all these guidelines, I felt anxious about entering a relationship, though having rules made sense to me. I knew that as humans, we tend to act on our emotions and conveniences. I hoped that the guy I ended up dating would want to tread wisely and carefully as well.
Just before I turned 19, a close friend from church, Abhi, told me that he really liked me. But in that conversation, he also confessed to the physical intimacy he shared with his previous girlfriends. He wanted me to know before I made any decision about going out with him.
Oh …. What do I do now? I wasn’t sure what to do when the “rules” were broken before the relationship even started. As we ventured into dating, I learned some lessons about how dating guidelines could help our relationship.
Lesson 1: Guidelines are not just about what’s right or wrong (although there are certainly rights and wrongs!)
After hearing many stories about how guys are easily led to think lustfully, coupled with the fact that Abhi had already broken some dating guidelines, I felt this heavy responsibility to make sure he didn’t have ‘funny’ thoughts. We started dating for about a year, and throughout that year, I didn’t let him hold my hand. I could tell that he really wanted to, but I was afraid of what it might lead to!
Was it right for me not to let him hold my hand? When it comes to physical boundaries, I don’t think that there is a right or wrong to most actions per se. It might be more helpful to think about whether an action is wise or unwise. What was clear to us was that having sex outside of marriage is something spoken against strongly in the Bible (e.g., Gen 2:24; Lev 20:10; Prov 5:15–21; 1 Cor 7:2). We wanted to honour God in our relationship by not engaging in sexual relations before marriage. Therefore, to help ourselves stay far from temptation, what was wise for us at that time was to keep to this boundary, though it may have appeared extreme to others!
Looking back, I think it was a helpful decision not to hold hands, because it made it clear that I didn’t want to engage in any behaviour that may arouse us. Well, holding hands may seem safe now, but the guidelines we put in place helped us to stay as far away as we could from any sexual temptation!
I WASN’T SURE WHAT TO DO WHEN THE “RULES” WERE BROKEN BEFORE THE RELATIONSHIP EVEN STARTED.
Lesson 2: Guidelines can change
As we continued in the relationship and there was greater certainty of our feelings for each other, we felt that we could look at our physical boundaries again. We wanted to find new rules that would allow us to express and enjoy each other’s affections without compromising on our commitment to honour God. We took some time to think about it, and one day, he shared openly that he felt that kissing would cause us to venture into sexual territory. Thus, we decided that that was the line we wouldn’t cross, and we wouldn’t share a kiss until we got married. I don’t think it’s a commandment to be followed by everyone, but it was what we decided was beneficial for us. Withholding some of our physical desires at the dating stage is a way to love our partners, since it helps them to honour and love God. I wouldn’t want to lead Abhi into doing what he thinks is wrong!
WHEN IT COMES TO PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES, I DON’T THINK THAT THERE IS A RIGHT OR WRONG TO MOST ACTIONS PER SE.
Different guidelines are helpful to different couples, and guidelines can be revisited as your relationship progresses. For us, discussing our physical boundaries while dating made things unambiguous, while allowing us to grow into new expressions of affection comfortably. At every point when we wanted to do something new, for example, when we started holding hands, or hugging, we would check with each other if we were OK with it. While our emotions led us to desire more physical intimacy with each other, our desire to honour God helped us to say no to some behaviours that we felt could lead us into sexual temptation.
Lesson 3: Guidelines help us to honour God
Guidelines are not there to steal our joy. They should liberate us to enjoying a God-honouring relationship that produces joy! Imagine if there were no rules in soccer. Someone decides to use his hand to block the ball, or there could be ten goalkeepers completely blocking the goal …. It wouldn’t really be a proper soccer game, would it? It would be frustrating, confusing, and potentially cause lots of injuries! Likewise, guidelines in our relationships help us to enjoy them more. When we don’t have to constantly guess what is right to do in a relationship, we have the freedom to enjoy it fully within the boundaries we have set.
THAT DESIRE TO HONOUR GOD AND OUR PARTNER IS WHAT MOTIVATES US TO SET UP THESE RULES.
Lesson 4: Christ-led dating sets you up for a Christ-led marriage
At the end of the day, dating concludes with the question of marriage. What do you want in your marriage? With dating, you are already building a relationship with a person, and that relationship can’t change overnight on your wedding day. The final lesson I would like to share is this: if you want your marriage to be one where God is first and foremost, it needs to start at the dating stage.
I’ve talked a lot about physical intimacy because it seems to be the biggest issue in Christian dating, and thus, an area with a lot of guidelines and rules. But it is far from the only aspect of a dating relationship that needs discussion. Have you given any thought to areas in your dating life that might draw you away from God?
Choosing to prioritise honouring God in your dating relationship may feel difficult at times, because it could mean that you are putting to death something of your earthly (as opposed to godly) nature. We read about this in Colossians 3. In putting to death our sinful nature, we can take on Christ’s nature (Col 3:5–10, 12–13). Verse 14 says, “And over all these virtues put on love” — such true love is also what we desire and hope for in our romantic relationships. Christian dating can feel complicated, but really, it doesn’t need to be. At the heart of it all, that desire to honour God and our partner is what motivates us to set up these rules, as a way of setting us up for a love that matures and deepens with time.
Whenever you feel discouraged or a little rebellious, remember the way that Christ loves us with wisdom and patience. Those are the characteristics we hope for in who we marry, and the characteristics we hope to develop in ourselves. As such, persevere in having guidelines in your relationship, and take heart that it will most certainly be worth it.