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.
Full disclosure: I really don’t like writing about controversial topics.
I’m sure part of it is my own sinful cowardice. Part of it is knowing I’m never the most articulate or knowledgeable on any given “hot topic”. Finally, I’m convinced that most “hot” topics, aren’t that “hot” and usually fizzle out after a few days.
Yet, when I read The Nashville Statement I felt differently.
Don’t get me wrong, I still felt a sense of cowardice creep up because I saw how hostile our culture has become to things I believe. I still don’t think I’m even close to the most articulate or knowledgeable on the topic (this article is the best I’ve seen explaining the heart behind the statement). What was different, however, was that I don’t believe this topic will fizzle out in a few days. In my short time working in ministry, issues related to sexuality are the most consistent, most confusing, and most urgently needing clarity.
So, as a rookie pastor reading this document, I was grateful. And I don’t say that lightly. I have friends who experience same-sex attraction. I’m not under the impression that reading this document was easy for them – even if they agreed with it. The Nashville Statement addresses topics that are tender, intimate, and for many, packed with pain.
When I read The Nashville Statement, my heart swirled with both gratitude and gravity. I see it as a gift to hold and a burden to bear.
The Gift: A Shaping Force, Not a Counseling Script
When I read The Nashville Statement I didn’t see myself reading a script for counseling situations. I plan to reference it in the future for its precise language and helpful summaries of what I believe Scripture teaches, but I didn’t see it as something to be memorized and quoted to friends who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. Yes, the truth is objective, static; but the people I minister to are dynamic and complicated. They need wise application of objective truth to their situation. I don’t envision myself sitting down with friends experiencing same sex attraction and reading them The Nashville Statement verbatim. It’s not a script to read for every pastoral situation, and I don’t think the writers of the document intended it to be one. Instead, I envision it as a foundation I can stand on that provides the nuances that match the complexities of some of the most difficult problems people face. I’m grateful for the clarity it provides on issues surrounded by confusion for many Christians.
The Burden: Compelled by Constraints
The deeper effect the statement had on me was how it drove me toward my friends who experience the sins it describes. Most critiques I have read say The Nashville Statement is a constraining document. It will lead to even more isolation from Christians toward those in their communities who experience these sexual sins. I would argue the opposite. If the truths of The Nashville Statement do not compel me toward loving relationships with my LGBTQ neighbor, I obviously don’t believe what the statement says. My signature on The Nashville Statement is worthless if it results in me merely signing off on a document. If I believe that people flourish most when they embrace God’s good design for marriage and sexuality, wouldn’t that compel me into relationships with my LGBTQ neighbor? I feel the burden of this because I’m often better at articulating the truths of God’s good design and transforming grace, but often struggle to embody them by pursuing relationships with those different from me.
I believe that Jesus gives the most abundant life (John 10:10). I believe that when people delight in and obey God’s Word they flourish like fruitful trees (Psalm 1). I believe that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself and that it is perfect truth, and when that truth is grasped even by the weakest faith it gives joy, peace, hope, and freedom (Romans 15:13; John 8:32).
I’m grateful and burdened by The Nashville Statement – that’s why I signed it. I would encourage Christians to read it. My prayer is that as the cultural conversation moves on to the next “hot topic”, my heart will not. My prayer is that I’ll stay close to the truth of God’s life-giving word, and close to those who need it most – starting with myself.
- 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?
Some books on my shelf function like journals. I can remember who recommended it, where I read certain sections of it, and how it changed specific aspects of my life. The best books I have read are books that read me. They inform my thoughts, change my feelings, and adjust my actions. God has used many authors and many books in my life, but these are the ones that have had the “journal-effect” from middle-school onward.
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis. I believe I was in 8th grade when I read this book for the first time, and reread every year I was in high school. This was the book God used to help me begin to “own” my faith, and grow in my confidence that the Christian faith isn’t just good, but also true – which is what makes it the most beautiful news any person can hear. This book also is what inspired me to begin writing. Lewis’ clarity, beauty, and depth are remarkable and inspired me to want to give my life to sharing this faith that Lewis communicated so beautifully.
Don’t Waste Your Life – John Piper. This book had an explosive impact on my life my freshman year of high school. Piper gave me an all-encompassing vision of the Christian life and an all-satisfying vision of Jesus Christ that changed me forever. Like many, his chapter “Boasting Only In the Cross” wrecked me in the best way – I can still quote sentences from it.
Jesus Among Other Gods – Ravi Zacharias. I was first introduced to Ravi Zacharias through his preaching ministry, and was deeply struck by his ability to communicate the truth of Christ with conviction and compassion. He knew when to be sharp, and knew when to be gentle. This book contained that same flavor that first attracted me to him, and informed the way I did evangelism in my relationships.
The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis. This is a strange book, which is what made it so memorable and compelling for me. It opened my eyes to the reality that spiritual warfare is not primarily a reality of hobgoblins and goosebumps, but rather a war for our thoughts, desires, and loyalties that happen when we gossip with friends, indulge in anger, and immerse ourselves in worldliness. This book will make you vigilant over your soul and sensitive to the serpents schemes.
Future Grace – John Piper. When I was in college, I almost walked away from the Christian faith as a result of severe depression and doubt. God used this book to anchor me to his Word, refine me, and give me a deeper trust in his promises. This book changed and shaped the way I view the process of sanctification in the Christian life, and daily influences the way I fight sin and strive for holiness.
Total Truth – Nancy Pearcey. If I am asked what is the best book on apologetics, I say this book instantly. Pearcey argues for the Christian worldview as a comprehensive one that gives reasonable and compelling answers to all the objections the world brings its way. She demonstrates a confidence in God’s Word that I want to mark my ministry and life.
The Things of Earth – Joe Rigney. Ever since I read Don’t Waste Your Life, I struggled to find the balance of living a radical life for Christ and resisting worldliness, while still enjoying things like ice cream, laughing with friends, and going on vacation. Joe Rigney calls them “the things of earth” This book expanded my view of what it means to live faithfully toward God while also enjoying his gifts. If you read Don’t Waste Your Life, read this book right after it.
Do More Better – Tim Challies. I love thinking about and practicing the best productivity methods. I read Matt Perman’s “What’s Best Next?” and loved it, but found it difficult to recommend to busy Mom’s, men with full-time jobs, and even college students. Challies’ “Do More Better” explains basic productivity methods from a God-centered lens – and he does it in under 100 pages! I’d recommend this to any student beginning college or to a man at the beginning of marriage.
The Reason for God – Tim Keller. I have been hearing about this book for years, and finally picked up an old copy and am reading a few pages before bed every night. I’m about halfway through and have found this book compelling, creative, and winsome. Keller is clear and profound and, in my opinion, very convincing. I would give this book to any skeptic I know to begin conversations about spiritual things. Keller speaks the language of our culture.
A Pastor’s Sketches – Icabod Spencer. I’m finding that this book has not been widely read by many pastor’s today, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Icabod Spencer was a pastor in Brooklyn in the 1800s and has recorded two volumes of his conversations with people inquiring about the Christian faith. Spencer’s sensitivity to people, commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture, and pastoral concern for others is imitable.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965. I’m almost finished listening to the second volume of William Manchester’s magisterial portrait of Churchill. All the leaders I respect have been influenced in some way by Churchill. Obviously, Churchill is a very flawed man, but his influence in WWII and his vision, foresight, and courage in the face of evil is remarkable and inspiring.
I’m no war-torn pastor. There are many trenches to come, trials to endure, taunts from the enemy. Every faithful shepherd I know walks with a limp from years of wrestling with Sunday’s text, Monday’s discouragements, Tuesday’s fatigue. Despite this, your triumphant grace soaks their stories as they tell of your sustaining staff through the darkest valley. They tell me that in every cross they carried, resurrection life bloomed.
Lord, these stories are grave and glad. Trembling and hope gather in my soul like Joshua crossing Jordan on the brink of the Promised Land. And so, Lord, I pray to you.
Although I need your endurance for the suffering to come. Although I need insight to explain your word. Although I need wisdom to give your people vision. Although I need compassion for the needs I will see. Although I need love for my enemies. Although I need zeal to lead your people. Although I need these things from you, I do not pray for those now.
My prayer is this:
Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
I have been in your fields for only 8 months now and the stories reverberate in my soul: shepherds leaving their gates open to wolves with false teaching; shepherds leading their sheep over the cliffs of their own selfish ambitions; shepherds so busy tending to the sheep of the field they forget the flock at home.
So, Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
All of these shepherds started just like me: watchful, sensitive, vigilant. I don’t presume to know the path that took them from here to there. I only note it’s existence and plead with you to keep me far from it. I do not ask that you would keep me from stumbling. I know I still fight my flesh and that you tend to teach through my weakness. But I pray that as Satan roars at me during your discipline, your fatherly voice would lead me to repentance. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Lord, give me grace when frost forms around my marriage. Prevent me from growing content in giving my wife the leftovers of my time, presuming our love would be unblighted. I have already seen once thriving marriages rotting like old fruit from a famine of time and affection. Give me grace to answer my wife’s honesty with humility, her needs with nourishment, her cares with concern. Lord, take my ministry if I ever begin to lose my marriage, for the former is void without the latter. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Lord, give me grace when my chest swells with pride. Guard me from the perils of “success.” If full pews mean a vain heart, bloated with self-sufficiency, deflate me with my weakness and confront me with my limits. If I begin depending on my tools and abilities to reap a harvest, drain me of my fruitfulness until I am desperate again for the rain of your Spirit. Give me grace to receive the wounds of friends with humility when I’m blinded by arrogance. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Lord, give me grace to keep the windows of my soul open through regular confession. Provide brothers who don’t fear me, mentors who see through me, partners who listen to me. I’m finding that hypocrisy disguises itself as “privacy”, and I fear everyone will assume I’m always fine. Keep me from valuing my reputation more than my soul. When I begin to live heedlessly, assuming confession needs no place in my life, show me the danger of isolation without giving me over to its full effects. Let your Spirit prevail in my life through the normal means of grace you have given me. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Lord, give me grace to not neglect a loving and warm relationship with you. When I begin to see your Word as a commodity of my profession rather than bread to my soul, a set of facts rather than a feast – draw me back into warm fellowship with you. Wield the sword of your Word to cut through my excuses and make me tender to your shepherding voice. Graciously bless me with a soul stirring vision of your Son in your Word when I grow dull and numb. Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
Father, lift these these hands when they droop in weakness, strengthen these knees when they buckle under burdens, loosen my tongue with stammers with sin, open my eyes afresh to the glory of your character. I tremble when I consider my own strengths, abilities, and gifts. But I find comfort in your grace, your earnestness, your mercy, and your zeal for your own name. I take confidence in you, and shepherd your people as you shepherd me.
And as I carry this staff, still green and not well worn, I pray this prayer acknowledging your power and my great weakness: Lord, give me grace when I stumble.
- 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?