- You had many years to live as a single person. Why would you get married so young?
- How did you know you were ready to get married?
- Does the Bible allow for young people to get married early?
- What are some of the indicators that you are ready for marriage?
- How much money do you need in the bank before marriage?
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.
It’s a prerequisite for Christian leadership. It’s championed in Christian literature. It’s absence is a red light in romantic relationships. It’s heralded in thousands of churches every Sunday. It motivates accountability groups, is commended by Christians around the world, and is summarized in one word:
But godliness is dangerous. Not because you may be persecuted if you pursue it – although you may. Not because Satan will oppose you at every turn of your striving towards it – although he will. Not because your sinful flesh will roar in resistance as you reach for it – although it will. No, godliness is dangerous for a much more subtle reason.
Godliness is dangerous because we use the word so much. And where words are used often, assumption follows closely behind. As we continually use this word without defining it from God’s Word, vague definitions take root. As a result, people who should be pricked are comforted, people who should be freed are burdened, and at worst a culture of shallow holiness implants itself in our Christian communities.
When something is precious and being threatened, you guard it from multiple sides. The same is true with godliness. We not only need to know what godliness is, but also what it isn’t.
WHAT GODLINESS ISN’T
Godliness is not gifting. God gives his church gifts, but we should not equate them with godliness. The Corinthians excelled in spiritual gifts, but at the same time were rebuked for heinous sin (1 Corinthians 5; 11:17-22). Preaching, teaching, counseling, music, writing, leadership, persuasiveness, hospitality – all of these things can be included in godliness, but are not godliness in and of themselves.
Godliness is not personality. Godliness is not politeness, an easy going attitude, or diplomacy. Jesus was not perceived as polite by the money-changers when he turned over their tables and called them robbers. He wasn’t perceived as diplomatic when he called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs. He wasn’t perceived as easy-going when he rebuked his disciples. Paul rebukes Peter for not eating with Gentiles. James rebukes the rich. All of these men were godly, and one of these men was God himself.
Godliness is not knowledge. A robust knowledge of theology, a nuanced understanding of the human heart, and sharp apologetical skills does not make us godly. Knowing things makes us accountable for them. The Pharisees were men of astute knowledge, but Jesus tells them they are blind to spiritual reality (John 9:40).
Godliness is not a leadership position. The greatest cause of trembling for me as a young pastor is that I would begin equating godliness with my position rather than my character. Just because we lead a discussion group or Sunday school does not make us the godliest person in the room. Being a pastor does not automatically mean you become the holiest person in the church. No, the Bible assumes this principle: the higher the leadership, the deeper the character (1 Timothy 3:1-7). And the higher you get without deeper character the more likely you are to fall.
Obvious gifting, a dynamic personality, rigorous knowledge, and lofty leadership are wonderful. They should be affirmed in the local church lifted up as worthy of pursuit. But these qualities are not what the Bible defines as godliness. Knowing this for myself is challenging and clarifying as I aspire towards greater Christ-likeness in daily life.
CHARACTERISTICS OF GODLINESS
Godliness believes the truth. The fountainhead of godliness is knowing and believing the truth. Trees need seeds, houses need foundations, cars need gasoline, and godliness stands on truth. The man who follows a false map walks in the wrong direction. False teaching in the New Testament warrants swift rebuke because it leads people to sin and death. The apostle Paul calls the gospel itself the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16). The apostle Peter says godliness comes through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3). This is why every saint is called to speak the truth in love to one another. (Ephesians 4:15)
Godliness is dignified. In 1 Timothy 2-3, dignity is a marker of the Christian community from the laity to the leadership. We should pray for leaders so we can live dignified lives (2:2), pastors should lead their families with all dignity (3:4), and deacons are to be dignified (3:8, 11).
Dignity is the outward reputation of a godly heart. Dignity doesn’t flow from trying to look dignified, but it’s the result of a heart that loves Christ and others. The Bible calls this living worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) or conducting yourself with fear (1 Peter 1:17). It’s a life that appreciates that gravity of their salvation in Christ, and lives a life dripping with that gravitas.
Godliness is marked by good works. The person who spends all their time in a prayer closet but never loves their next door neighbor isn’t a godly person in the Bible. Godliness is not just private piety, but public goodness. Godliness is a light that is meant to be seen (Matthew 5:16). Good works signify a godly person, and the nature of good works are to not remain hidden (1 Timothy 5:25).
Godliness is a fight and race. Godly people are marked by fighting and fleeing, racing and pushing, practice and persistence. Paul tells young Timothy to train himself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). Training involves intentionality and vigilance that monitors the areas of life that propel you towards or away from your goal. This means that godliness doesn’t come automatically to us, we must intentionally grow in it, practice it, and discipline ourselves for it.
GODLINESS HAPPENS TO US
Two parallel truths meet when we talk about godliness. The first truth is obvious from everything written above: godliness can’t be assumed. It must be understood, pursued, and intentionally fought for. Godliness doesn’t just happen to us. Yet, there is a second truth that undergirds the first truth: godliness does happen to us.
The human heart does not thirst for godliness out of the formation of new habits, but from the transformation brought about by the new birth. God’s Spirit transforms the human heart by cleansing it from sin and giving it a new nature that desires to grow in godliness (John 3:1-8). The human soul becomes tender as the seed of the gospel breaks through cement-soil hearts. May we grow in this grace that he might reap a fruitful harvest.
We have some exciting news.
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
- First Date
- 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?
- Handling Conflict
- 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 Marriage that 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.
Sean and Spencer
Dating is a complicated dance. Especially when you are trying to avoid sin.
For Christians, dating pulls you in two opposite directions. First, you experience the tug of your affection for your significant other. You spend more time together, and your heart swells with warmth and care. You rejoice in the presence of your significant other, and, naturally, you want to express that joy. In addition, because God created you as an embodied person you usually expresses your emotions physically: You hug the people you love, you cry over losses, you eat the food you want, and sometimes you even jump with joy. You have a body. You were made for this.
Enter the second (and opposite) tug.
Although your heart swells with love and you desire to show your love physically, you also feel the tug of biblical truth. Even though God gave you a body, he wants you to control it (1 Thessalonians 4:4), he didn’t make it for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13), he wants you to flee immorality at all costs (1 Corinthians 6:18), and he wants you to keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). Although you feel the pull of the desire to express your affection physically, you are pulled in the opposite direction by God’s word.
Many single Christians live within the tension of these seemingly opposing desires. To add to the confusion, when Christians talk about affection during dating, we typically talk about it in negative terms. “Don’t be alone in the car”, “Don’t kiss each other”, “Don’t touch her there” Although these specific prohibitions are important , they are not the full story.
Outside of knowing what not to do, is there a way forward? How do you kindle appropriate affection in your relationship while honoring God with your body?
Transform How You Think About Boundaries
The temptation of the serpent in the Garden succeeded by blurring the purpose of boundaries. Why are you not allowed to eat of the tree in the Garden? Because God doesn’t want you to grow in your knowledge, and he’s holding things back from you (Genesis 3:5). The first couple were convinced by the serpent that their God given boundaries were not given to them for life (Genesis 2:17) and so they broke them. This insidious lie took root in their hearts, and the curse pulsated through the world.
How do God’s righteous boundaries sit in your heart? Are they a pointless burden meant to keep you in line? Or are they lamps that light the path to life? But even more specifically, how are you thinking about the boundaries of your relationship? Do you think of them as a burdensome prerequisite class of purity before the elective of marital intimacy? This is that ancient lie of the serpent that plunged our race into the dark waters of the curse.
The best way to combat the lie of the serpent, is to renew your mind with God’s good purposes for your relationship. When you discuss your boundaries with your significant other, talk about them as a means to store up pleasure, rather than a temporary misery that must be endured. Not: “We can’t do this together because the Bible says we can’t”; but: “We choose to save this to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage”
To be sure, the call to purity will be difficult. However, comfort and joy are found when we view our difficulties through the lens of God’s good purposes and promises for us as his children. This starts in your heart. Meditate on the goodness of God’s purpose behind your boundaries. You’re storing up pleasure for later. Very soon, you will experience God’s good gifts in God’s good time under God’s good smile. Transform your thinking.
Patterns Become Permanent
Although intimacy is a vital part of marriage, it is a relatively small part when compared to the various aspects of your relationship with your spouse. So much of marriage happens outside of the marriage bed. So during this time, when this fruit of marriage is forbidden, explore the other trees in the garden. The memories you make now, the habits you are cultivating, the relationships you pursue – all of them are patterns that will affect the fragrance of your marriage.
Some couples miss the wonderful “yes’s” of their current season because they are so focused on the “no’s” of their relationship. When we are convinced that the only way to show affection is through physical intimacy we never see the potential for love in the other areas of life: Long walks, road trips, serving saints in your church, eating with friends, adventuring through your city, asking questions. These habits of pursuing one another outside the marriage bed will become patterns in your relationship. Furthermore, they will serve to bind your hearts together through shared experiences and memories. Make patterns now while you wait for intimacy.
Trust The Divine Sequence
In fact, the patterns you create while waiting for intimacy will actually improve your marital intimacy. The joy of the bride and groom in the Song of Solomon is a symphony of emotional, physical, and relational delight. They experience the security of belonging (Song 6:3), the joy of friendship (Song 5:16), and the intensity of physical intimacy (Song 4). The poem is composed of all these elements. This is the divine sequence.
It makes more sense to touch each others’ hearts before you touch each others’ bodies. The sweetness of the wedding night – the reason why they call it consummation – is found when it is the rightful climax to a million shared moments, memories, joys, sorrows, conversations, experiences, and adventures. And when you do finally touch each other, you will find that you are participating in a divine sequence – one that compounds your joy and intensifies your pleasure.
In this season of pursuing the heart rather than touching the body you are nurturing deep roots. If God blesses your relationship with marriage you will discover that your friendship and intimacy are weaved together. The cultivation of friendship solidifies the foundation of your marriage. So, don’t lose sight of the beauty of the garden because you are obsessed with the forbidden tree. Explore, cultivate, and adventure in the current stage you are in. Soon you will find that the exploration never ends.
The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.
I love lists. Making them. Reading them. Checking things off of them.
There is something that excites me when I read the title, “6 Ways to Read the Bible” or “10 Ways to Pursue Your Wife in the New Year” or “4 Ways Not to Waste Your Singleness” It awakens some faint hope that if I read this article, I might just find the silver bullet. I might have that great epiphany that changes everything. And I’m not the only one. Take a quick look at your Twitter and Facebook feeds, and you will quickly see that one of your friends has probably shared a list. We want to reach our goals, we want to improve, and we want to change. And we want all of it quickly.
But for all the good that lists can give us, there is a subtle poison I have noticed in my thinking. I have developed a “quick fix” mentality. Best practice replaces conviction; behavior replaces motivation; doing replaces being. But apples don’t grow on trees that don’t have roots, and our behavior won’t change unless our hearts do first.
The barometer of my life is not my resolves for this year, but my reasons for living. Our thinking is warped when our goals and lists don’t have the deep roots of conviction nourishing them and giving them life. Although Jesus calls Christians to specific actions and steps of obedience in this life, he first calls us to believe. Before we act, we abide. Roots before fruits.
Don’t settle for a quick fix. By all means: make the list, and be filled with resolve. But let your resolve be the overflow of a heart that is rooted and grounded in deep love for Christ and faith in his promises. Because, as C.S. Lewis said, “sometimes the longest way around is the shortest way home”
by Spencer Harmon
Today is the day of my wedding. And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.
If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike. My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.
You see, it wasn’t my dream to marry a girl that was complicated. I never dreamed that I would sit on a couch with my future wife in pre-marital counseling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.
This isn’t my dream – it’s better.
Many people wouldn’t put Taylor and I together. In high school, we probably would not have been friends. She probably would have thought that I was a nice, boring, judgmental Christian kid; I probably would have thought that she was a nice, lost, party-scene girl that guys like me are supposed to stay away from. People like us, with our backgrounds and histories are not supposed to meet, fall in love, and covenant their lives to each other.
But everything changes when people meet Jesus. Jesus takes people like rebellious teenage partiers, and goody-two-shoe homeschoolers and puts them together in marriage to put something on display much bigger than their own hand-crafted, perfectly planned love-story.
Right in the middle of the mess of life, Taylor met Jesus, and he planted his flag in her life, and she believed in him and he transformed her. The Taylor who spent her life living from one pleasure to the next died, and a new person was born. A new person with new desires, and a new heart that longed to please God, serve people, and treasured Jesus Christ above all other pleasure.
And this is how I see Taylor. She is completely new, completely transformed, and completely clean. This is not because she became a part of a helpful program, or because she really “pulled herself together.” It’s because God, in his incredible, infinite kindness, took Taylor’s dark, crimson life, and made her as white as a snow. He took all of her sins on placed them on his Son, and then gave her Jesus’ righteousness to wear like a perfect white wedding dress.
In reality, Taylor’s story is my story as well. As Taylor walks towards me today, I will be reminded of how much I do not deserve the precious gift she is to me. I have spent much of my life singing a self-centered siren song. Nothing about my life cries for blessings; it calls for curses forever. Yet, God has dressed me in white, put my sin upon his Son, and given me a heart that loves him.
I love Taylor with all that I am. She is gentle, kind, patient, joyful, beautiful, and loving. I don’t deserve to marry someone like her. I didn’t plan for this, but I’m so glad I am not getting what I planned for.
So, today when she walks down the aisle to me, I will be reminded of the beautiful reality that God exchanges that sin of our past in exchange for the perfect righteousness of his Son. Contrary to popular opinion, our wedding day is not our wedding day; it is the display of the most stunning reality in the universe: that God sent his Son to die to redeem a people for Himself made clean the blood of his Son.
God’s ultimate plan in putting Taylor and I together is that he wants to uniquely put his grace on display so that other people will praise him (Ephesians 1:5-6). That’s his purpose for our marriage, and that’s his purpose in the world at large, and Taylor and I are taking part in that, and hope you will too.
The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released September 29th, 2017 by P&R Publishing. Spencer Harmon is also the co-author of the forthcoming book Letters to a Romantic: On Dating.