Where do you go for wisdom when you have questions about romantic relationships?
God knows every facet of human nature and the complexities and intricacies of romance. God is love. He is the author of marriage and romance. Although the Bible never describes the modern concept of dating, the Bible perfectly understands the people who participate in it (Psalm 33:15). The Bible uses different categories to address the issues couples encounter in romance.
The biblical goal of dating and engagement is to pursue marriage in a way that loves God first and loves others second.
This can be deduced by the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). The Bible adequately tells all believers how to be equipped for every good work (Hebrews 13:21, 2 Timothy 3:17). The Bible speaks to everything related to “life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3)
The Bible tells us that we must bring glory to God in all things and this must include romantic relationships such as dating (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 1:18). The Bible tells us that we must be holy as God is holy and this includes holiness in dating (1 Peter 1:15-16). The Holy Spirit can produce the fruit of the Spirit in every believer during any season of life (Galatians 5:22-23). In light of these passages, the Bible explains how to walk before God and as a couple in the season of dating.
The burden of a Christian couple is to view every problem through a comprehensive biblical worldview and discern how in “whatever” they do it brings glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him. This is the secret to human flourishing. Both glorifying God and enjoying him can be fully accomplished in dating and engagement by obeying the Scriptures.
But how does this look in every day life? What does this mean for your relationship?
On Monday, October 2nd, Spencer and I will be discussing how to apply the Bible to the issues couples face in dating and engagement. We will be speaking at the Crafting a Covenant conference in Jacksonville, FL. The content will be intentionally different from our books which release tomorrow. We would love for you to join us either in person or via live stream. The main sessions will be streamed at no cost and the full schedule is here.
How do people fall in love? Why are certain people attracted to each other? How can someone become desirable?
A recent article from Psychology Today called “The Laws of Attraction” by Wendy Paris touches on these topics. The article’s subheading reads
Who we desire is driven by powerful evolutionary forces, but while most of us are drawn to looks first (whether or not we admit it), human attraction is far more complex than it appears at first sight.
I’m the first to admit that the Bible never uses the word dating. It talks about romance in different categories than our modern culture has created. However, the Bible is the most important source of information about how and why people fall in love.
After reading the article, I was struck with how superior the law of God is compared to the psychological insights Psychology Today provided. I say this not to insult the author of this article but rather to highlight the helpfulness and relevance of the Bible. The plan for romance described in the pages of Scripture is not only sufficient for a healthy life, it is able to produce a beautiful life. Which makes it superior to any other resource.
Consider the following summary of the main sections of the “Laws of Attraction” article:
1) According to the article, the driving force of attraction in dating comes from evolutionary compulsions. Behind attraction is Darwinian evolution based upon natural selection and survival of the fittest. The people who are the most physically appealing are the most sought after because of reproductive qualities, but there can be other factors that contribute.
…it’s more important to be well matched with your partner than to catch the most beautiful person in your circle. Couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, tend to fall within similar ranges of size, education, religious beliefs, values, and socioeconomic status.
2) The article attributes dating preferences to chemicals in the brain that compel people to be attracted to specific types of personalities. Chemistry is not a mere metaphor, but a driving factor in why people fall in love.
3) It concludes by giving tips and ways to improve your own attractiveness. It claims you can increase your level of attractiveness by improving how you handle your most compelling features. A person can make themselves more attractive by being confident and comfortable and by broadening social networks.
The problems of the article is not the observations from the psychologists. The psychologists have observed common occurrences and trends in romantic relationships. There is nothing wrong with pointing out the fact that attraction can develop by couples having intimate conversations or that there are a variety of chemicals in each person. The observations made by these psychologists are not wrong in and of themselves.
The areas mentioned in the article fall short primarily because they do not adequately understand how and why human beings function in romantic relationships. The psychologists have the wrong foundation (Darwinian evolution) instead of the biblical foundation which establishes humanity as created in the image of God. But it isn’t merely their foundation that is faulty. The conclusions and summaries from the psychologists fail to be beautiful. They miss the most central compelling realities of romance and blunt all the beauty behind it.
Consider now the following passages of Scripture in contrast to the three areas from the Psychology Today article I highlighted above:
1) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NIV)
There are many things that could be said about the driving forces behind attraction, but fundamentally the article has “boxed-in” love. It relegates attraction to be a result of reproductive inclinations and calculations. People are attracted to the person they (knowingly or unknowingly) believe will best suite them for reproduction and survival. (I also find this perplexing because the article includes same-sex couples in its analysis and does not address the reality that same-sex relationships cannot biologically produce offspring)
When this Darwinian box is forced upon attraction, love is forced out. Real love is lost when driven by biological calculations. If the “Laws of Attraction” article is true, there really is no such thing as love – only sexual desires. The beauty of romance is removed from the box.
On the other hand, the Bible provides a flourishing framework that accounts for both sexual appeal and an authentic moral category of love. The “Laws of Attraction” assessment allows for one law – the law of self-pleasure, self-preservation, and self-gratification. Only the law of God can demonstrate the greatest and most fulfilling pleasure available to man is through self-sacrifice. Attraction is not merely a result of physiological instincts and urges. It can be a result of genuine care and self-less love.
2) “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.” (1 Peter 1:3-5a, NIV)
The person who feels “ugly” reading the Psychology Today article should despair if they take it to heart. If they believe the article, they are truly hopeless because all the action is confined to physical or social sexual appeal. The person who feels “gorgeous” should also despair after reading the article. If they believe Psychology Today, they will be fooled into thinking that attractiveness is merely outward.
The Bible provides an accurate framework that does not dismiss outward beauty (Genesis 29:17), but places the emphasis on inner beauty. The Scriptures underscore the eternal value and attractiveness of holiness. In God’s economy, godliness is the goal.
Consider the example of Fisher and his date in the article, only the body exists in this Darwinian system. Physical chemistry has replaced the conscience, the soul, and morality. This runs contrary to the better and more beautiful picture presented in 1 Peter which discusses the adornment of the heart. The Bible isn’t as simplistic as this article in Psychology Today.
3) Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30, NIV)
The practical advice on how to become more attractive misses the target because it is aiming the wrong way. The goal is backwards compared to the biblical framework of attraction. The article assumes the goal is to become more physically/socially appealing and then proceeds to give tips on how to cultivate appeal with whatever body type or skills a person possesses.
Instead, the biblical goal is to glorify God by enjoying him and serving others. When a person seeks to serve others and bring honor to Jesus, they will naturally grow in faith and confidence of their standing before God. They will become bold and brave for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As they grow in Christian love and hospitality, this might increase their social standing and reputation. This confidence and growth in warmth might then increase their appeal to others who might be romantically interested in them. But this would be a by-product of faith and obedience. This would be a result of living in Christian community and could never have been the focus.
It could also be that confidence is boosted, social skills are enhanced, networks are broadened, and attractiveness is at it’s highest possible peak, but no one ever bites. No dates take place because no one becomes romantically interested. What then?
Only the Christian who sought the Lord with their whole heart can be radiant. The Christian is secure because their goal was never to maximize their attractiveness for the sole purpose of finding a mate. The Christian knows that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a person who fears the Lord is to be praised. It is only the Christian, because of the Bible, who can obtain true and lasting beauty. The blessed (happy) person is the one who walks in the Law of the Lord and meditates on his Law day and night (Psalm 1:1-6). He will be like a tree planted by streams of water that produces fruit in due season.
In summary, if you are looking for a proper understanding into the mysteries of romance, you don’t need to read the latest in Psychology Today. Instead, you can mine the depths of the Scriptures to behold beautiful treasures. Romance is not merely about sexual attraction that is so easy to observe. Romance is about something much greater that only can be understood in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”(Ephesians 5:32, ESV)
Perhaps you are in a romantic relationship and things are getting serious. You are excited about your relationship, but you or your partner have a sexual past. How should you think about this topic as a couple?
Here are some questions that are discussed in this podcast:
What if I am not a virgin? What if my boyfriend or girlfriend is not a virgin? Should I tell them?
When is a good time to talk about sexual history?
Is your relationship ready for this conversation?
How should you approach this conversation?
How does the gospel of Jesus Christ impact this discussion?
What practical advice should I know before discussing this?
I (Sean) sat down one night in the Harmon home to have an informal conversation about dating, courtship, and the Bible. We recorded several podcasts in Spencer’s upstairs loft. This conversation was impromptu and unscripted.
This 10 minute podcast includes questions such as:
What does the Bible have to do with dating?
Are you against courtship?
Should couples feel pressure when dating?
What should a first date look like?
Where did you and Taylor go on your first date?
We plan on releasing several more of these conversations in the months ahead. You can subscribe to the new “Unspokenblog” podcast on iTunes or listen via SoundCloud. As always, if you have any questions you want us to discuss, we would love to hear them.
We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.
The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:
Marriage vs. Singleness
Should We Be in a Relationship?
Do We Have a Bad Relationship?
What if I am not a Virgin?
Should I Guard My Heart?
The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:
The Length of Engagement
Till Death Do Us Part
Loving Your New Parents
Should We Elope?
On Birth Control
The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice. Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.
Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world. We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.
We are not relational gurus. Quite the opposite. We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost. We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives. We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.
In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriagethat discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.
As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.
Perhaps you are reading through an Advent devotional this Christmas season or focusing on the Gospel accounts of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke. The Bible never ceases to amaze and there are always new insights to discover in old stories.
This year I was struck by a small unexpected sentence in Matthew 1:24-25. It reads:
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Mat 1:24-25 ESV)
This text teaches that Joseph obeyed God by marrying Mary (even though the child within her was not his offspring) but he did not have sex with her until after she gave birth to Jesus. The ESV uses the language of “but knew her not” as a euphemism for sex. There are other translations that read:
NAS Matthew 1:25 and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NAS)
NLT Matthew 1:25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Mat 1:25 NLT)
There are several things to point out from these couple of verses.
First, this is a unique situation in redemptive history. The main point of this verse is not to communicate that you should avoid sex after your wedding. There are several factors that make this situation unique – not the least of which is that the Holy Spirit conceived a baby in the womb of a virgin. There are also other Scriptures that command regular sexual activity for married couples. (1 Corinthians 7:5)
Second, the Bible (and Joseph) wanted it to be crystal clear that Jesus was not the offspring of an earthly father. Jesus is God in the flesh. His birth was miraculous. Joseph and Mary had a wedding but did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was not conceived by human relations. This was a divine act.
Third, this verse also teaches that Joseph and Mary had sex after Jesus was born. Mary was not a perpetual virgin. Joseph didn’t have sex with her until after she gave birth. There are also verses in the book of Matthew that talk about Jesus’ brothers and sisters. (See also Mark 6:3)
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mat 13:55-56 ESV)
These are all important things to point out from these verses, yet these were not the things that struck me this Christmas. What caught my attention was the self-control of Joseph.
Think about it. Joseph was a righteous man who followed the law (Matthew 1:19). He was presumably chaste and had no blemish on his record. He had waited his entire life to have sex until the proper context. He had been self-controlled because he wanted to obey God and follow the Old Testament law.
Then it comes out that Mary is pregnant with a baby that does not belong to him. He is told in a dream by an angel of the Lord that he should remain committed to Mary and take her as his wife. Joseph marries Mary… but still remains self-controlled.
He could have had sex with her and we have no indication that it would have been sinful. Yet, he chose to wait until after the birth of Jesus in order that it would be crystal clear that Jesus was not of earthly descent. Since he had a character of a righteous man and knew this was a unique divine circumstance, I conclude that he wanted to answer any possible claim that he was the earthly father of Jesus.
Joseph lived with Mary. He loved her. He saw her naked. He took care of her. He traveled with her to Bethlehem. And yet, he waited to have intercourse with her until after he helped her give birth to a child that was not his own.
Would you have been as self-controlled as Joseph? Would you have complained? Would you have grumbled? Would you have been bitter?
I don’t want to read more into the text than need be. Nor amy I trying to advocate for anything bizarre. I’m not advocating using Joseph as an example to refrain from intercourse within marriage. If you have followed my other blogs, you know I believe married couples should enjoy sex on a very regular basis.
I am saying that Joseph exerted a lot of self-control and truly loved well in a difficult and unprecedented situation.
Perhaps you need the grace of Jesus this Christmas to grow in the area of self-control. Are you single and struggling with pornography? Are you dating or engaged and struggling with purity? Are you married and having difficulty remaining sexually committed to your spouse? Use this Advent to ask God for the gift of control. Only the Holy Spirit who conceived Jesus can give us this spiritual fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:1 ESV)
The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the womb of Mary. The Holy Spirit did a miracle in the heart of Joseph. And I am more than confident that the Holy Spirit can do a miracle in our lives and enable us to replace any sinful desires with steadfast love.
Sean is the Chief of Staff at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and the author of Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017)