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Loving Your Children

September 6, 2012

“Older women…are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”

(Titus 2:3-5 ESV)

Our Titus 2 passage tells older women to train the younger women in several areas.  In the last post, we examined what the passage means when it refers to training young women to “love their husbands”.  Today we will look at what it means for a woman to love her children.  This represents the discussion points of the Ladies Discipleship meeting held on April 14, 2012:

There are some important things to remember from our last session that apply to this session.  In our session about loving our husbands, we considered the significance of the word “train” in Titus 2:4.   As we said last time, training is the process by which a person progresses toward an expected standard by practice and instruction.  We train for things that we haven’t yet mastered.  The fact that Paul had to teach that young women must be trained to love their husbands and children tells us that this was not something they were already doing well.  Loving our husbands and children according to God’s expectations does not come naturally or easily.

The second thing we need to recall from the last session is that the word “love” in this passage is referring to friendly or brotherly affection.  It is a love driven by the will rather than by mere passion or emotion.  It is loyal and virtuous. It is a love that cherishes and enjoys.

Let’s consider for a few moments the cultural context of this passage.  Paul was writing to Titus, whom he had left in the church on Crete.  In the first century AD Crete was under Roman rule and was dominated by a very pagan culture.  The people in the Christian church were surrounded by false gods and false doctrine, as well as all of the associated misguided notions of what manhood and womanhood should ideally be.  There is also historical evidence that tells us of the emergence of behaviours among women that were contrary not only to godliness, but even to what “traditional” (unbelieving) Romans viewed as acceptable (see this article).  Women were prioritizing their own pleasures above everything else, which resulted in promiscuity, adultery, and an abandonment of their domestic responsibilities within their families.   If they were surrounded by such influences, it is easy to see how the believers in Crete would have been tempted to stray from God’s design for wives and mothers.

Sadly, there are many parallels between that culture of two thousand years ago and the one we live in today, so Paul’s words remain very relevant and important for us to understand and live out.

In our world today, what is the prevailing thought of what a woman should aspire to be/do in her life?

I asked this question to our group, and this is what they said:  Today’s woman should aspire to be a success in all she does.  Quite often this success is defined mainly, if not exclusively, in terms of her education and career.  If she does decide to marry and have a family, then she must find a way to manage such that her family responsibilities will not derail her aspirations.  This may mean more hours at work and fewer at home.  It may mean the children are in daycare from 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Today’s woman is independent and should do whatever she has the desire and drive to do.

My next question to the group was this:

What is “the world’s” idea of how a mother should love her children?

The answers around the room can best be summarized in this way:  Mothers are expected to nurture their children, give them what they want, be their friend, and go easy on the discipline.  It would be unloving of a mom to discipline her children or withhold things from them.  She is to help her children build their self-esteem so that they can have the greatest potential possible.

Now, some of you might be thinking, “That’s not accurate at all.”  Others of you might be thinking, “Yes.  So?  What’s wrong with that?”  And still others might be thinking, “Yes – isn’t it awful?!”  I’d like to point out before I continue that I asked these women for their perceptions of the prevailing societal mentality in these areas, and I am in no way suggesting that it is wrong for a woman to have dreams, pursue a career, or show love to her children by giving them something they want.  Not at all!  But I do want to encourage women to be discerning and to examine these things biblically so that we’re not just imbibing what the culture dictates without a second thought.

That being said, let’s now examine how these perceived ideas are contrary to what the Bible teaches, before we get into some practical tips for living out this command to love our children.

 

Disciplining Our Children

In general terms, disciplining our children means laying out expectations, and then using some means of correction if/when the children stray from those expectations.  For Christians, these expectations should be based on biblical values and principles.  I will not go into a lengthy discussion about discipline because it’s already been done many times over and you can find lots of great articles and books on it if you look.  I just want to highlight a few key passages from the Bible that show how parents are responsible to discipline their children, and how this discipline is actually rooted in love and modeled by God:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 ESV)

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof,

for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

(Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV)

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24 ESV)

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,  nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’” (Hebrews 12:5-6 ESV)

Indulging Our Children

Christians are not ogres – or at least we shouldn’t be.  It is a delight for parents to bring joy to their children by providing them with what they need and want.  I don’t believe in giving my children everything they want when they want it, but I do love to see their faces light up when I give them a favourite treat.  It is not always wrong for us to give our children what they want.  But as soon as their wants clash with God’s requirements, we must not give in to the child at God’s expense.  For example, our children might want to play on a soccer team that has its practices during the week and its games on Sunday mornings.  Soccer is a great sport, don’t get me wrong, but here is a situation where we parents have to take a stand.  Sure, our kids might be talented players who could really benefit that soccer team, but what about finding a team that doesn’t play on Sunday?  Let’s be gentle but firm and explain to our kids that the Bible tells us to set this day apart from the other days of the week (Ex 20:9-11), and that it tells us not to forsake the gathering together of God’s people (Heb 10:25), which means that replacing church attendance with soccer games is not in keeping with God’s Word.  If you allow them to participate, what message are you sending to them about the importance of worshiping with God’s people?  Is there a church season and a soccer season?  And what about you?  If they participate in the games, will you be on the sidelines cheering them on instead of sitting under the preaching of the Word?  This example and many others illustrate how easy it can be for our indulgence with our children to not only reinforce unbiblical behaviours in them, but also set an ungodly example and suffer spiritual setbacks ourselves.

Self-Esteem

I want to say something about self-esteem because it has become such a pervasive ideal in our society that I think we sometimes just accept the emphasis placed upon it without really thinking about what it is.  What is self-esteem?  It is one’s sense of self-worth or personal value.  So when we are encouraged to cultivate more self-esteem, we are being encouraged to value ourselves more.  And in order to achieve that, we are often encouraged not to worry about other people – “You need to love yourself first before you can love anyone else”.  Does that sound familiar?  Does it sound biblical?  Does the Bible tell us to value ourselves first and then maybe branch out to serve others if we can reach the point where we have enough self-worth and positive self-image to think outside of ourselves?  Of course not.  The Bible encourages us to be Christ-focused, then others-focused.   Me, myself, and I come last.

                “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

(Philippians 2:3-8 ESV)

“Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.””

(Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

An essential part of every Christian’s embrace of the gospel is the understanding that we are utterly broken before our holy God, and that there is nothing wonderful enough about us to gain God’s favour.   I’m not trying to tell you that it is bad to encourage your children and to foster the sense that they have value as human beings.  But as with everything else in life we always need to do this through the lens of Scripture.  What gives your child value as a human being?  Is it that she is beautiful and has a great personality?  Is it that she can dance and sing, or that she does well in school?  OR is it the fact that she was made in the image of God, and that He can be glorified through her with whatever abilities and talents He has bestowed upon her? As moms, we need to find the right balance here – so that our acts of love do encourage our children, but not in such a way as to stroke their egos and fuel the “I’m all that and more” syndrome that seems to be sweeping through the younger generations.

Working Outside of the Home

This is something we will examine in much greater depth in a later session, but in a nutshell, we can say that while the Bible does not forbid a woman to work outside of the home, it does tell her to prioritize her family and home (after God, that is).   Take, for example, the Proverbs 31 woman:  She is industrious and busy both inside and outside the home in order to serve her family.  The Bible instructs the woman to be a worker at home (Titus 2:5), and even if she must also work at an outside job, her heart is to be more concerned with the matters of her home life than with pursuits that tempt her to serve herself more than she serves her family and her God (consider how one of the negative descriptions of the wily woman of Proverbs 7 is that “her feet do not stay at home”).

I know there are many women out there who are not financially able to stay at home, so they couldn’t even choose to be at home if they wanted to.  But that’s the real question:  in their heart of hearts, do they want to be at home taking care of their house and family, or are they more content to escape their domestic responsibilities by going to work?  To bring it back around to loving our children, let me pose a difficult question:  Whether you’re a mom who is at home all day long, or one who is there for just a few of your children’s waking hours, what would your kids say if someone asked them if you are happy to  be a mother?  Would they sense that you value caring for them and making home a haven for them?  Or would they guess that you’d rather be doing something else with your time and energy?   We can communicate a lot of love to our children just by genuinely wanting and striving to care for them, even if our actual time with them is very limited.

What are some practical ways in which a mother can show the friendly, affectionate love of Titus 2:4 to her children?

It can be an easy pitfall for Christian parents to be so concerned to have their children follow God’s laws, that we sound more like military commanders than loving parents.  I know I struggle with this in my own home and I really have to kick myself sometimes to remind myself that I need to make my affection for my children more evident to them.  So what does that look like?

When I asked some of our younger attendees at the meeting to recall a time when Mom did something or said something that really made them feel loved, it was interesting to hear how many of them pointed out little things.  For one it was her mom sending her text messages during the day to ask how she was doing and to say, “I love you.”  For another it was Mom taking some time to hang out one on one.  We don’t have to be elaborate to communicate our love.

Elizabeth George, in her book “A Woman After God’s Own Heart” addresses several ways in which we can strive for this Titus 2:4 love of our children.  I will paraphrase her list of ideas below, and add some thoughts myself.  She says that we must cultivate a heart that:

1. Prays  Pray for your children and let them know that you do.  This will not only benefit them but will also draw them deeper into your own heart.

2. Provides  As moms we play a critical role in providing/delivering the necessities of life to our children (ie. ensuring that they are well fed, clean, clothed and rested).  Investing ourselves in these very basic things may seem mundane but this is indeed a very important part of loving our children.

3. Is happy In Ps 113 the barren woman becomes a “joyful” mother of children.  Are we joyful?  Or are we constantly bogged down by the work of parenthood and making it known to the point where our kids feel like they are nothing but a burden to us?

4. Is giving A mom must have a heart that gives generously without expecting anything in return.

5. Has Fun  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a mom of grown children say how much she wished she had spent more time just playing with her kids.  As hard as it is, don’t let the work of motherhood crowd out the fun.  It means a lot to our kids when we put the laundry aside and spend a few moments being silly with them.  Not only that, but we need to have our sense of humour with us at all times!

6. Celebrates  Our kids are gifts from God (Ps 127:3) and that makes them worth celebrating.  Make a point of going the extra mile to encourage your children and make them feel special.  This can be as simple as a note in their lunch box or as fancy as a special night out.  Be creative!

7.  Gives preferential treatment  Titus 2:4 tells us that our husbands and children are our priorities, so we need to make sure that we are making this happen.  Our kids come before our friends and before our work.  Elizabeth George gives the example of how we sometimes put great effort into making wonderful homemade meals and desserts to take to church or work or friends, only to serve a very lackluster meal to our own family.  I know I’ve done this.  My daughter will come into the kitchen, eyes wide with appreciation for the wonderful-smelling pan of brownies on the counter, only to find out that the brownies are not for family consumption.   Groaning replaces the happy wide-eyed glow, and she slumps away.  I have tried to improve in this area and make sure that I make special desserts just for our family sometimes, and maybe make a little extra of the dishes I send to someone else.  I want my family to know that they have priority position in my life.

8. Is focused  There is no question that moms need to be multi-taskers, and this makes it difficult to give our undivided attention to our children.  But we need to make an effort to listen to them and to give them a way to politely secure our attention.  It can be as easy as making a point of welcoming them home from school and asking them how their day was, or it can be more elaborate – like planning a special snack time with them at home, or taking them on an outing just so you can spend time together.

9. Is present  This doesn’t mean you have to be home all the time, but it does mean you need to be available to your kids in a way that makes them feel like you are there whenever they need you.

10. Is quiet  As much as we might like to commiserate with other parents about our kids’ behaviour, it is important for us to extend our children the courtesy of not talking negatively about them behind their backs.  It is one thing to seek counsel, and quite another to vent all of your complaints and criticisms. Proverbs 31:26 tells us to open our mouths with wisdom and have the law of kindness on our tongues.

And I would add to that list a heart that:

11. Speaks kindly  Oh how easy it is to speak a harsh word to our children in the heat of the moment,  but such harsh words tend to stir up more anger instead of bringing about peaceful resolution.  Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  The harshness is not just in the words we use but also in our tone of voice.  Innocuous words can become poisonous when delivered with the wrong tone.

12. Looks to their interests, not its own  Being a mom requires selflessness – it requires you to live a life of service to your children.  The world might try to cater to your selfish side by telling you that you need to pamper yourself and look after yourself first, but the Bible tells us to look to the interests of others:  “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

(Philippians 2:3,4 ESV)

13. Shows it is passionate about the Word of God  Perhaps this should have been first on the list, because how are we to live out the Gospel and truly show its wonder to our children if we are not passionate about being in the Word of God?  Where does the ability to truly love come from anyway?  Read the Word, love it, pray it, sing it, and share it.

How can a mother show the Gospel to her children through her interactions with them?

I think one of the greatest ways to do this is by showing grace and mercy just as God showed us grace and mercy through Christ.  We still need to point out our children’s sin in order to train them up in “the way they should go”, but when we do, we need to remember that we are sinners saved by grace.  When our children do something wrong, it is an opportunity to teach them about God’s laws, yes, but also and more importantly it is an opportunity to teach them about His forgiveness.  Roger Ellsworth, in reflecting upon the parable of the prodigal son and the father’s pardoning love writes this:

“That picture of pardoning love must be riveted in the hearts of Christian parents.  Our children may do to us very much like this prodigal son did to his father.  But we must always remember that we ourselves are nothing but rebels forgiven by our Father.  And we must never hold the faults and failings of our children against them.” (p.83)

Not only that, but when it goes the other way – when we do something unloving to our children – it is an opportunity to repent before them, ask for their forgiveness and give them that living example of how their mom needs Jesus just as much as they do

So, are you treasuring your children?  Do you cherish and enjoy them?  Are your interactions with them infused with the wonder of your own salvation?  If not, pray to God that He will do this work within you.  As a mom of young kids, I know this can be a fierce internal struggle.  I feel like I’m in survival mode much of the time, where getting the next meal on the table in the midst of the mess and the noise while maintaining some degree of sanity just seems to deflate my joy.  But I know it doesn’t need to be this way, because the One who models parenthood for me and commands me to love my children with great affection is the same One who will graciously enable me to do just that.

References

ESV Study Bible

http://www.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_119_3_James.pdf   Review Article by Sharon James

Ellsworth, Roger  What the Bible Teaches About Christian Parenting , 2007

George, Elizabeth   A Woman After God’s Own Heart, 2006

Loving Your Husband

August 2, 2012

    Older women … are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
(Titus 2:3-5 ESV)

Our Titus 2 passage tells older women to train the younger women in several areas.  It is interesting to note that the list starts and ends with how one is to behave toward her husband.  In verse 4, the older woman is told to train the younger woman to love her husband, and in verse 5, she is told to train the younger woman to be submissive to her husband.  We will get to that very controversial topic of submission in future sessions.   The following summarizes the discussion our Ladies’ Discipleship group had in February about what it means biblically for a wife to love her husband:

For starters, let’s take a moment to break Titus 2:4 down a bit.  It says that the older woman is to “train” the younger woman to love her husband.  Have you ever thought about what this tells us?  Training is the process of bringing a person to an expected standard of proficiency by practice and instruction.  The Greek word translated as “train” means to “make of sound mind” (via correction).  We don’t need training for something that we’ve already mastered, so we can conclude from this passage that loving one’s husband according to God’s expectations does not come naturally!  What does come naturally, because of our sinful nature, is the desire to always have our own way and our own authority, with little to no regard for anyone else.  To love in the way in which we are called to love, is to be willing to work diligently against our natural sinful tendencies with the help of the Holy Spirit. This love requires work and fine-tuning over the course of a marriage.

So, then – what does this love look like?  Does it look like the burning passion portrayed to us by Hollywood?  Well, I would never suggest that we leave physical intimacy out of the equation because that is an important part of the package, but it is not what the Bible is talking about when it says that a woman must be trained to love her husband.  It is talking about having a friendly, brotherly kind of affection towards him.  It is talking about a familial love that “likes” as much as it loves!  It is a cherishing kind of love.

In our session, we looked at one important means of loving in this way.  Without this one thing, a wife’s love for her husband will surely fall short of God’s glory and design.

Ephesians 5:22-33 is probably the most well-known passage about husbands and wives in the Bible.  Often the focus is on the first part of the passage (the wives submitting and the husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the church), but for now we will only look at the final verse in the passage – verse 33:

However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

This is a verse that contains much to consider.  Dr. Emerson Eggerichs has written a book based on Ephesians 5:33 called “Love and Respect”, and in it he talks about a woman’s need for love from her husband, and a husband’s need for respect from his wife.  The fact that this verse in Ephesians even exists speaks to the fact that the husbands and wives to whom Paul was writing were not meeting these needs for each other.  The husbands of the day were not loving their wives well, and the wives of the day were not showing respect for their husbands (this is not at all surprising given the cultural backdrop in Crete at the time of Paul’s letter to Titus – but more on that next time).

Eggerichs suggests that many of our marriage problems today can be blamed on a failure of the husband and wife to abide by these commands to love and respect.  I believe there is often more to it than that, and that unloving and disrespectful behaviours are manifestations of root sins like selfishness and pride, but I think the framework he uses can be a helpful starting place for considering whether or not we are truly living out this verse in our lives.  He talks about couples getting caught in “The Crazy Cycle” :

This can start small and quickly snowball out of control.  You’ve probably experienced it – at least on a small scale.  Maybe your husband leaves his dirty clothes on the floor right beside the hamper and it drives you crazy.  “Can’t you just carry them ten more inches?!  Honestly, how hard is that?!?!”   It exasperates you that he would not be willing to do this one little thing that would save you a little bit of work, and your tone communicates this loud and clear.  To you, it seems unloving.  But is it really?  Did he get up this morning and say to himself, “My mission today is to be unloving to my wife…hmmmm….how can I accomplish this?  I know!  I can start by dropping my dirty clothes on the floor!  And after that, I’ll find even MORE ways to be unloving!”   No, for him, it might just be a simple case of absent-mindedness.  Acknowledging this doesn’t mean he gets a free pass to leave his clothes strewn across the house.  But was he really TRYING to be unloving?  Not likely.  Did you perceive it as unloving?  Yes, and you reacted by speaking to him disrespectfully.  How do you think he’s likely to respond to that?  Has your condescending approach motivated him to be more loving toward you?  Or will he call you a nag and walk off?  You can see where this is going.  You react without respect, he reacts without love.

1 Peter 3:1-2 also acknowledges the importance of a wife respecting her husband:

“… wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”

If you read this passage carefully, you will see a hard truth about respect.  It tells us that even in the case of wives whose husbands are not obedient to the word (perhaps not believers at all), they are to conduct themselves in a respectful way.  That means a wife must behave respectfully towards her husband even when he doesn’t deserve it!  And yes, that may seem impossible to do, but God never mandates something without also facilitating it.  He is willing and able to equip you to carry out this command, and to remind you that you do so first and foremost in submission to the One who loved you while you were yet lost in your own sin.

So how does a wife communicate this respect to her husband?  I think much of it comes down to appreciating him in his roles as man, husband, and father.  It was a creation mandate for man to work, protect, and lead.  But in a society where so much emphasis is placed on female independence and prowess, it can be easy for husbands to feel like they are not needed or valued for their ability to provide for the family.  In fact, a society like ours succeeds in enabling men to shed their responsibilities as leaders, providers and protectors of their families.  Whether you are a wife who works outside of the home or not, let your husband know that his work is important and that you appreciate the effort he makes for the family.  This may be an especially sensitive area for families where the wife is earning a higher income than the husband, or where the wife is employed and the husband is not.  Be careful even in the way you use humour – it may seem like nothing to make a joke about the wife “wearing the pants in the family”, but it undermines his God-given role and is a sign of disrespect whether or not it is intended as such.

When it comes to leadership, I think we have arrived at an interesting place in time.  Women who are exploring what godly womanhood looks like are realizing that part of that package is being willing to submit to the leadership of a godly man.  And then she runs into a problem – she can’t find a man who understands that he is to be the spiritual leader in the relationship, much less find one who knows how to lead.  Why is that?  Well, I think that at least in part what we are seeing is the result of the negative aspects of feminism infiltrating the church.  For years now there has been such a push for women to adopt the roles of men (in the name of equality), that the men have moved over and signed out.  If we want our men to serve and lead, we need to let them serve and lead!  That doesn’t mean that the woman loses her will or her voice – it just means she doesn’t steal his!

In more general terms, I think that a big part of a woman loving and respecting her husband lies in her commitment to being a good and faithful companion who is passionately devoted to living out Philippians 2:3-8:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

In practice, that means not reacting disrespectfully.  It means holding your tongue when you feel like lashing out or belittling.  It means not talking behind his back, or making him look bad in front of others (including your children).  It means supporting him in his roles as husband and father, even in the tough times.  It means cherishing your marriage and guarding your heart when you’re around other men.  It means being in prayer for him.  It means being available to him in every way – physically, sexually, emotionally and spiritually.  It means seeking his forgiveness when you’ve done him wrong.  It means pleading with God to grant you the humility you need to be a servant after Christ’s own heart.

We must fix our eyes upon the Lord.  We can’t possibly function well as godly women in a marriage relationship if we are not putting our relationship with God first.  When we love God above all, He will extend to us His grace, and He will enable us to overcome our sinful tendencies so that we can love and respect our husbands as we ought.

__________________________

References:

Eggerichs, Emerson;  Love and Respect:  The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs, 2006

ESV Study Bible

Honour Your Mother

March 14, 2012

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves too much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”

(Titus 2:3-5 ESV)

When we read this passage in Titus 2, we can see that the emphasis is on how older women are to mentor younger women in godly living.  The responsibility of the older woman is to model and teach the principles of godly womanhood to those who come after her.  While her influence will certainly extend beyond her own family, the older woman has the greatest opportunity and potential to teach and train her own daughter(s). For this reason, it is important to examine the mother-daughter relationship and consider the factors that may help or hinder the mentoring aspect of that relationship.

Since we will devote more time and attention to parenting/mothering in future sessions, we focused our January session more on the daughter’s relationship with her mother…and lest you start thinking this only applies to the younger ladies in our midst, let’s remember that we’re all daughters, no matter how old we are!  This study was meant to apply to anyone who has a mother (or mother figure) present in her life.

What does God’s word say about how we should treat our parents?

The Scriptures are very clear about this.  Most of us are familiar with the fifth commandment: Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”(Exodus 20:12)  In Ephesians 6:1-3, Paul tells children to obey their parents and he quotes the fifth commandment, emphasizing that it is the first commandment with a promise (ie. there is blessing tied to obeying).  Again in Colossians 3:20, children are told to obey their parents because “this pleases the Lord”.  Note the motivation here – children are not told to obey because it will please their parents and make them look good, they are told to obey because God says it is the right thing to do, and such obedience pleases Him.

In Proverbs we are told to “listen to our father’s instructions and forsake not our mother’s teachings”(Pr 1:8-9), and the gravity of disrespecting parents is evident in verses that talk about the harm that comes to the one who shows dishonour (Pr 20:20, 30:17).  A word to parents:  Notice that the assumption is made in Proverbs 1:8-9 that the parents are instructing and teaching their children.  We can breed dishonour and disrespect in our own children by failing to carry out these duties.  We are called to teach, train and discipline our children, which includes modeling respect to them, and lovingly rebuking them when they show disrespect.  The bigger problem when your teenager rolls her eyes and says, “Whatever!” under her breath when you tell her she needs to do her homework before she goes out, is not that the homework isn’t going to get done, but that she is willing to respond to you with such contempt.  But we see this kind of behavior all around us, don’t we?  It’s in the media, it’s in your kids’ friends’ homes – it might even be in your mirror.  Don’t let it go because it’s “just the way things are today”.  As Christians, we are to uphold the commandment that deems this behavior unacceptable.

That handful of verses doesn’t cover the topic exhaustively, but it does tell us what we need to know:  We are to honour our parents, and it is considered a grave sin if we don’t.

What is meant by the word, “honour”?

To treat someone with honour, is to treat them with the proper respect that is due that person in their role.  When the fifth commandment says to “honour” your parents it means that you should humbly submit to them and treat them with respect.  But that’s not all.  It is also talking about provision and care for parents in their old age.  The expectation in Bible times was that children would bear the responsibility of looking after their parents in their senior years.

Jesus himself refers to this commandment and confirms this responsibility to provide for parents when He rebukes the Pharisees for creating laws and traditions that excused people from this responsibility (Mark 7:9-13).  In 1 Timothy 5:8 Paul says that the one who does not provide for his own relatives “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”.  Any who want to dismiss the responsibility they have for the well-being of their parents by suggesting that it only applied in Old Testament times will have to contend with these New Testament Scriptures.

Is this really that big a deal?

Yes, it is.  Any commandment of God must be taken seriously. In the Old Testament, mistreatment of parents was punishable by death (Ex 21:15&17, Lev 20:9).  Obviously, we do not live in those days now (if we did, people would be dropping like flies!), but if we are tempted to think that this was no longer considered a serious sin in New Testament times, we should note that Paul lists “disobedience to parents” among several other grievous sins (like murder, fornication, and hatred of God) in his writings (Romans 1:28-32, 2Timothy 3:1-5).  I know I’m repeating myself, but I’ll say it anyway:  We live in a society where it is considered normal and acceptable behavior to disobey, disrespect, and disregard one’s parents, but God’s word speaks plainly against this.

For Discussion:

To all the daughters out there:  How do we apply this?

Start by considering this question:  How are you showing honour to your mother and how are you not?   

Give some serious time to thinking about this.  And if you find you’re having trouble answering that general question, try asking yourself these more specific questions (and others like them):  What is the tone of your conversations with your mom?  Do you listen respectfully or do you roll your eyes and tune her out?  Do you start answering text messages from your friends while she is trying to have a conversation with you, or do you honour her by giving her your undivided attention?  If you are still at home, do you do what she asks/tells you to do?  If so, do you do it promptly?  Do you consult with her for her advice?  Do you help her when you know she needs help, even if she doesn’t ask for it?  Do you speak well of her when she is not present?  Are you willing to provide for her care if/when her health declines?  Are you willing to help her financially if she needs it?

Those are just some questions that can help to stimulate our thinking.  Think on these things, and ask God to illuminate and change any areas needing improvement.

How does “honouring” change from childhood to adulthood?

For children who are still within the home and under the authority of their parents, the Bible emphasizes the requirement of obedience (Eph 6:1, Col 3:20).  Children are expected to do as they are told, when they are told, with an attitude of respect.  When they grow up and become teenagers, they will often start to assert their independence and challenge the authority of their parents in one way or another, but as long as they are still dependent on their parents, they should still be expected to willingly and respectfully abide by their parents’ rules.

When a child has grown up and moved out and is no longer dependent on her parents, then the dynamic changes.  She does not need to keep all of her parents’ rules in her own home (ie.  Mom does not have the jurisdiction to come over to her daughter’s home and order her to clean her room – she could certainly suggest it, but the daughter would not have to feel bound to act on it).  However, the daughter MUST continue to honour and respect her parents with her speech and her conduct, regardless of the circumstances.  The commandment is not conditional – it does not say, “Honour your father and your mother only when they deserve it”, or “only when they reciprocate”, or “only if it feels right”.  No, it just says that we must honour them.

What about in-laws?

Even though your mother-in-law is not the one who gave birth to you or raised you, she is older than you are (usually), and she is your husband’s mother, and as such she should be treated with honour and respect  (see 1 Tim 5:1-2 and Leviticus 19:32).  This can be particularly challenging when strong personalities and opinions colour the dynamics of the relationship, but nevertheless, honour and respect are due.  Consider the inspiring example of Ruth as she saw to the needs of her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 1-4).

What if my mother is not a believer?

The command to honour still applies, but only insofar as it does not cause you to sin against God.  Your allegiance to Christ trumps your allegiance to your parents (Mt 10:37).  If you find yourself in a situation where obeying your mom will cause you to go against God’s Word (for example, if she asks you to lie for her: “If my boss calls, please tell him I’m sick.  I need a day off to run errands so I called in and told him I have the flu.”), then you must respectfully decline.  This may be difficult to do, and it may indeed cause conflict in your relationship, but just as honouring your mom is part of your testimony before her, so is your willingness to stand up for Christ when it’s hard to do.  Your conduct towards your mother may be the very instrument God uses to draw her to Himself by His grace.  Be in prayer that He would use you in this way.

There is much food for thought here, and because we are all sinners, I’m sure most anyone who meditates on these passages will see that to some degree they have fallen short of obeying the fifth commandment. This could and should cause us to despair, but that despair has a wonderful purpose:  it is meant to point us to Christ.  In Galatians 3:23-26, Paul says it this way:  “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Does that mean we don’t have to worry about keeping the commandments anymore if we have faith in Christ?  Of course not.  The law still instructs us about God’s standards of holiness, and as followers of Him we are expected to uphold those standards.  The great thing is that when we are credited (by faith) with the righteousness of the only One who ever successfully lived by those standards, we are motivated out of love and gratitude to obey.  Obedience no longer feels like a burden, but like a most fitting tribute to the Giver of life, grace, and salvation.

So then, let us dust off this fifth commandment.  Know that when you honour your mother, you are honouring God and paving the way for your own enrichment.  This ability to honour and respect will set you up well to be willingly mentored in godliness by an older “Titus 2 Woman” (whether she is your mother or not).

Mothers, foster this honour and respect in your daughters.  Don’t be tempted to think it’s a lost cause because it’s too late, or because it’s no use fighting against the besetting influence of the surrounding culture.  Part of our job as moms is to teach respect, model respect, and expect respect.  If this has been missing from your parenting, today is as good a day as any to start making a change.

Finally, if you have been mulling these things over in your heart and you’re feeling convicted that you have not been honouring your mother, let me encourage you to confess it to God first, and then to her.  An apology can go a long way towards healing a relationship and giving it a fresh start.  And even if it doesn’t do that, you can be content knowing that you have confessed your sin before a merciful God who forgives all who put their trust in Him.

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Reference:

ESV Study Bible

Singleness Is Not a Disease

February 23, 2012

In today’s society we are dealing with very different circumstances than those experienced by Old Testament (and even New Testament) society.  The Creation mandate was for man and woman to unite and multiply, and this is just what most people in Old Testament times did.  The girls would get married when they were twelve or thirteen years old, and the boys/young men when they were fifteen or sixteen.   The idea of an extended adolescence without a spouse or family was essentially nonexistent.  With very few exceptions, marriage was the norm and it happened very early in life.  On the contrary, extended adolescence and singleness well into the adult years has become very common in our culture today, with many who marry much later in life, or not at all.  Remaining unmarried is a choice for some, but for many, it is not, and the lack of a life companion can be a source of anxiety, sadness and despair.

As Christians, it is important for us to have a balanced biblical understanding of singleness, and of how to support those who are single.  This was the subject of the Ladies’ Discipleship meeting in December (sorry for the delay in posting the summary).

A Biblical Overview

Kostenberger and Jones’ book, God, Marriage, and Family was a useful resource for me as I tried to understand singleness from a biblical perspective.  The book’s summary of the Bible’s view of singleness from the time of Creation through to Eternity is particularly helpful for providing valuable insight on this important issue.  In a nutshell, it goes something like this:  At Creation, man was single only for a short time, and God said it was “not good for man to be alone”, so He created the woman, and marriage was instituted.  Throughout Old Testament times, marriage remained the norm and it was considered unfavourable to be single, particularly since God’s blessing was understood to be passed on through the bloodline.  In the New Testament, Jesus (and Paul) identified singleness as a gift/calling that provided unique advantages for service in Christ’s kingdom (see below), and since it was now abundantly clear that God’s adoption and blessings would extend beyond Abraham’s blood relatives, the importance of preserving family lines for the purpose of blessing was no longer an issue.  And finally on this time spectrum, it is important to note that in Eternity, singleness will be universal (see Christ’s teaching in Matthew 22:30). (1)

So here we are in between the “already” and the “not yet” of life before Christ’s return, and it is our job to adopt a right attitude towards singleness.  There is still a tendency in the church to treat singleness as some sort of disease (“Thirty-five and still single?  Hmm, wonder what’s wrong with her…”), or to swing to the opposite extreme where singleness and celibacy are pursued as an ultimate form of self-denial for God, which can show a genuine devotion to God, but perhaps more often proves to be nothing more than a form of works-righteousness.

Okay then, let’s get our thinking straight…

“Marriage is not the ultimate prize”

As Carolyn McCulley rightly points out on her blog, we need to stop thinking that earthly marriage is “the ultimate prize”, because even though it is wonderful, it is not the final destination.   Jesus himself tells us that in the resurrection, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but will be “like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).  Both Jesus and Paul “affirmed the legitimacy of marriage as divinely instituted AND commended remaining unmarried for the sake of God’s kingdom on the part of those who were divinely gifted and called to do so.  Ultimately, for the unmarried, the primary need is to trust in the providence of a good and sovereign God and understand that both marriage and singleness are worthy and high callings used by God in building his church and in advancing his kingdom.” (1) (Mt 19:10-12; 1 Cor 7:6-8, 32-35).  This understanding – that both marriage and singleness are affirmed by God – is an essential means of battling the stigma that we still find attached to singleness in our churches and even sometimes in society at large.

If you are single, you likely fall into one of these three categories :  single by choice, single again (after divorce or after being widowed), or single and waiting on the Lord for a suitable spouse (and as you can likely tell, movement and overlap between categories will likely happen over one’s lifetime).  Does everyone in those categories have what the Bible calls, “the gift of singleness”?

The Gift of Singleness ( Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:6-9, 32-35)

If you are single by choice (particularly if you’re single and you have no current desire to be otherwise – ie. you do not have the desire to be married, or the sexual desire that can only be satisfied in a God-honouring way by getting married)(1 Cor 7:6-9), this means that you are one of those who have the “gift of singleness”.   It is very important to understand this, because it means that not everyone who IS single has the gift of singleness!  Many have misunderstood this and have inadvertently contributed to the despair of their friends who are single but desire to be otherwise.  “You’re single – that’s a gift from God – be happy!”  Beware – a statement like that can hurt.  While it is true that we are all called to be content under any given life circumstances, it isn’t right for us to make a single person feel that they are sinning by wishing to be married.

Whatever the category of singleness one may belong to, it is important for singles to find their sufficiency in Christ and in serving Him, but unless they feel content with their singleness, it is good to continue to pray that God will provide a spouse, with the understanding that marriage is a divinely instituted pattern of human relationship (1).

How is singleness more advantageous than being married when it comes to Kingdom service?

If you are a single person, then you are in position to more fully devote yourself to  Kingdom service (1 Cor 7:32-35).  You will have more available time to read God’s word, pray for others, and serve in various roles that may not be as feasible  for those who are married (eg – missionary work, participating in church ministries and administration, event-planning, visitation, etc…).  I am a married mom of three small children, and I can assure you that even though I desire to do more acts of service, my obligations at home consume most of my waking hours, as is the case for most moms with kids at home.  This is not to suggest that singles aren’t busy people, it is just to state the fact that they will not have the time-consuming responsibilities of managing a family to juggle along with everything else in their lives.

So you’re single…how then ought you to live? 

Christian single women, whether single by choice or not, should model what is considered proper for any woman who professes godliness.  Passages like 1 Timothy 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:3-4, Titus 2, and 1 Timothy 6:6-7, give us a good framework to start with, and what these verses say should sound pretty familiar, since we’ve covered a lot of this in previous sessions.  Just by way of brief reminder then, these passages tell us this:  The woman of God conducts herself with reverence, modesty, self-control, sexual purity, devotion to good works (she strives to bless others instead of just waiting to be blessed herself), and contentment in her circumstances.

Also important to remember is that a woman’s “helper design” doesn’t have to be (nor should it be) reserved for marriage.  Whether married or single, God made women to be supportive, nurturing and responsive to others, so consider how you might exercise these gifts in the various spheres of your life.  It doesn’t take much looking to find someone who can benefit from your care and concern.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:6-7,   ” But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world [including a spouse].”   So as difficult as it may be at times, it is important that singles remain content, lest they communicate to a watching world that Jesus is not “enough” (1).  Even if a believer never marries in this present age, she is rewarded with new family in the body of Christ, and with an eternal family in the kingdom of heaven, which should be a source of great comfort and rejoicing.

As John Piper said, “Marriage and singleness both present us with unique trials and unique opportunities for our sanctification.  There will be unique rewards for each, and which is greater will not depend on whether you were married or single, but on how you responded to each.”  (from Carolyn McCulley’s post on the Girltalk blog)

As I said to the ladies who attended this session, I could have gone into a great deal more depth to address the issues related to singleness, so I realize this post does little more than scratch the surface of a subject that deserves more attention. That said, I would encourage further reading on this matter, starting with the resources listed under “References”.  I know there are many more titles and blogs out there that are worth reading, and it would be time well spent to seek those out.

But even though that concludes what I have to say to the “singles” crowd, I think it would be an oversight to conclude without addressing those who are already married.  This is an important, yet often neglected, part of the discussion when the subject of singleness comes up, and ministry opportunities can be overlooked or lost as a result.

How can those of us who are married practically minister to those who are single?  Here is a short list of things to consider, based in large part on a blog post by Carolyn McCulley:

  1. Be intentional about getting to know the singles in your midst, and show them hospitality.  Remember that not all singles are alike – there’s no certain set of assumptions you can make just because they have the “Single” label.  Some are young, some middle-aged and never married, some middle-aged and divorced, some old and never married, or old and widowed…we need to get to know them as individuals, so that we can care for them in meaningful ways.
  2. Be sensitive about the circumstances of their singleness (without being nosy) and act accordingly.  Don’t assume that all of your single friends want you to play matchmaker for them!  Some might appreciate your help with finding someone, and others won’t…and might not even be looking.  Be particularly sensitive when dealing with those who have already loved and lost – either through divorce or death.
  3. Provide discipleship and accountability.  Keeping in mind the extended period of adolescence that we see in our culture today, and the sometimes-extended periods of singleness in adulthood, this becomes especially important since individuals might be on their own for a long time (away from the oversight of their family).  Discipleship and involvement with godly friends and church groups will help to keep a woman focused on godliness.  These connections can also keep a woman accountable and provide her with wise and objective counsel should she enter into a relationship with a potential spouse.
  4. Don’t treat them like workhorses.  There is a tendency to assume that because someone is single, they must have all the time in the world.  We need to guard against assigning them too many duties just because they don’t have a spouse and children to take care of, AND we need to help them to guard against doing this to themselves!  If you can see that your single friends are overextending themselves, encourage them to be in prayer about how they can reorganize their priorities and commitments to prevent emotional, physical, and spiritual burnout.
  5. Don’t act like marriage is the ultimate goal of earthly existence.  The church is rightly concerned about society’s devaluation and dismissal of marriage and family today, and the efforts to address this issue are warranted, but we must be careful that we are not inadvertently sending the message that singleness is always inferior to being married.  We can and should rejoice with those who embrace the gift of singleness.
  6. Don’t be afraid to challenge bitterness.  Carolyn McCulley, a single woman herself, acknowledges that extended singleness can be a real form of suffering, particularly for women who know that their biological clocks are winding down and there is no hope of bearing children.  We need to be careful not to disregard the hurt that must accompany these dashed hopes.  However, if we see that a woman is allowing a root of bitterness to spring up and block her prayers to God and her fellowship and service to others, then she should be gently challenged to address this bitterness and redirect her heart towards thankfulness for the gift of salvation.
  7. Pray!  And tell them that you’re praying for them.  After making the effort to get to know your single friends, pray knowledgeably for them, and let them know you are lifting them up before the throne of grace.  When this is done tactfully, it can be a real source of encouragement.
  8. Help in practical ways.  While there are lots of things that are easier to do as a single person, there are some things that are much more challenging.  Think about what these might be, and try to serve in these areas.  Some examples:  cooking a meal for them, offering to pick up a prescription and some groceries for them when they’re sick, doing odd jobs, etc… (Remember, when you become incapacitated in some way, you usually have your husband or children right there to call upon for help, but your single friends don’t.)

That is by no means an exhaustive list, so please think creatively and be in prayer about  how you can best serve the singles in your midst.

In closing, I just want to bring us back around to Titus 2 for a moment:

    For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
(Titus 2:11-14 ESV)

I think this is such a great passage for reminding all of us, single or married, about what needs to drive our thoughts and actions.  We have been given God’s grace and salvation, which enables us to live for him – to overcome our love of the things and ideas of the world and to live godly lives in the present age while we anticipate our blessed hope – His return, and a life with Him in Eternity.

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References:

1. Kostenberger & Jones, God, Marriage and Family (Second Edition):  Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, 2010, Chapter on Singleness; pp. 182, 183, 196

2. http://solofemininity.blogs.com/posts/2011/11/how-to-serve-the-singles-ministry-to-unmarried-adults-in-your-local-church.html

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Extra Reading:

Richard and Sharon Philips, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts:  A Balanced Approach to Christian Dating

Internet articles:

Carolyn McCulley’s blog posts on singles and the church

Another Carolyn McCulley article on The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood website

And another 🙂

Back to it

September 12, 2011

After  taking a break over the summer, our Ladies’ Discipleship got back into the swing of things this past Saturday.  We kicked off with our women reporting on some of the great reading they had done over the summer, covering many important and heart-probing topics such as how we can take a biblical approach to dating and other relationships, fear of man, judging others, godly beauty, pursuing heart and body purity, and doing our best (even when it’s difficult or counter-cultural) to ensure that God is being glorified to the best of our abilities in everything we do as women.  Next month, we hope to hear from a few who were unable to attend this month, and then we will resume looking at the topics on the study outline.

We will continue to meet on the 2nd Saturday of the month unless otherwise stated, so please mark those Saturdays off on your calendar and join us if you can.

Dating, Part 2: Defining who we should be, and what we should do

August 12, 2011

In May, we started to look at dating and courtship.  We defined what those terms mean in our society, and we examined the pitfalls of embracing our culture’s dating practices without measuring them up against biblical principles.

In June’s session, we started to look at how these principles apply practically when an unmarried man and an unmarried woman prepare for, and pursue, a dating/courting relationship together.  We did a cursory examination of how the Scriptures should define who we are, and what we do.

DEFINING WHO WE ARE/WHO WE SHOULD BE

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (1 Corinthians 5:17)

When we are Christians, we inherit Christ’s triumph over sin, and we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to resist the temptation to be self-focused instead of God-focused.  The Bible teaches us that we need to love God first, and then love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).   We discussed in our last session how this is in such stark contrast to what we see in today’s dating culture.  We are encouraged (and commanded) in the Bible to be servant-hearted – to put the needs and interests of others first (Philippians 2:3,4).  But the world tells us that we should be oriented towards finding the person who will meet all of OUR needs and desires.

‘Loving God first’ means that we should be trying to glorify God with all that we are and all that we do.  When it comes to dating, this specifically means knowing who God wants us to be as women, and how He wants us to relate to men.

There is so much to learn from the Scriptures about what God wants us to be as women that we couldn’t possibly cover it in one session, so the aim here is not to be comprehensive, but to start a discussion and foster a habit of combing the Scriptures and seeking to determine how they inform our practices in everyday life.

When we gathered at our meeting, our discussion about WHO WE ARE (or WHO WE SHOULD BE) was based on several questions:

1. Why did God create the first woman?

If we look in Genesis 1:26-27, we see that God made man and woman in His own image and gave them dominion over the earth and its creatures.  In Genesis 2:18, we read that God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone, so He created the woman as a suitable helper.  So the simple answer to our question is that God created Woman to reflect His image and to be a helpful companion.  As I often say about many things, this by itself is a huge topic, and I’ll save getting into its magnitude for another time, but even a “surface-scratching” glance at this text can inform how we think and act as women.  Many women today are so incensed at the perceived negative subtext of this role assignment that they dismiss the fact that the existence and designation of women arose out of God’s goodness.  So we can choose to rage against this role because we erroneously think that God has put Woman in the inferior position by making  her a helper, OR, we can accept and embrace God’s purpose for women as being different but no less valuable than His purpose for men, and allow it to inform how we think and behave.  If we do the latter, then we need to work towards having a heart that is oriented towards glorifying God and helping others.

How does this look when we’re dating/courting?  In short, it looks like a woman who is more concerned to help and encourage the man in her life (in God-glorifying ways) than she is about meeting her own needs and desires.  This doesn’t mean she doesn’t take care of herself – it means she is at least as “others-focused” as she is self-focused.

(**Please remember that we are considering womanhood right now in the context of relationships with men, but this does not mean that a woman has no godly value outside of a relationship with the opposite sex.  A woman can certainly beam with God’s likeness and exercise her God-given gift of helpfulness without being married.  We will consider what godly womanhood for the single person looks like in future sessions)

2. What are some qualities of women that are valued and praised in the Bible?

Again I’ll say there’s no way we could cover what the Bible says about godly womanhood in one little paragraph or post, but we can at least whet our appetites.  The Bible mentions many attributes of the godly woman:  She is gracious (Pr 11:16), of noble character (Pr 12:4), industrious (works hard with a positive attitude), diligent, devoted, and not idle or lazy (Pr 31).  She enables the productiveness of others by serving them, and is engaged in activity/business that will benefit the family (Pr 31).  She is concerned for the poor, is always prepared, appreciates things of beauty, contributes to her husband’s success, is trustworthy, and does not fear the future (Pr 31).  She is kindhearted, strong, and dignified (Pr 31).  She fears the Lord (Pr 31).  She adorns herself respectably with modesty and self-control (which, among other things, helps her to love her brother in Christ by not causing him to stumble into sexual immorality), and with good works (1 Tim 2:9; 1 Pe 3).  She is reverent, kind and pure (Titus 2).  She has a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Pe 3) (ie. she handles herself with grace and composure; she does not act in self-assertion or self-interest, but in reliance on God to provide)(1).  Etc.

Wow!  Who can live up to that?!?!  Well, by God’s grace we are enabled to become that woman, but it does not happen magically overnight, and it cannot be done unless we surrender to the claim that God has on our lives as Christians.  If we believe that God is the God of every area of our lives, then it is our job to know who He wants us to be, and to strive to become what we are in Christ.  So I encourage you (and myself), to search the Scriptures for what God says is of value in a woman, and then pray that He will enable you to change in areas where you may be falling short.

3. The Bible further helps us to define godly womanhood by giving us pictures of ungodly womanhood.  What are the undesirable characteristics we should be avoiding or rooting out of our lives if we are striving to be godly women?  

 The ungodly woman has abandoned a godly way of being (Pr 2:17).  She is given to flirting/manipulating/ flattering/smooth-talking to get her way (Pr 2:16; 5; 6:24, 25;7).  She is a provocative dresser, and she uses her beauty as a weapon instead of a gift (Pr 6:25; 7)(1).  She is wily of heart, loud, wayward, seductive, and lacking in discretion (Pr 7).  A woman of poor character brings shame on her husband (Pr 12:4).  She nags and quarrels (she is argumentative, critical and bitter) (Pr 21:9; 25:24; 27:15,16).  She emphasizes her external appearance more than godly character (1 Tim 2:9; 1 Pe 3:3).  Proverbs reminds the wise man that external beauty is skin deep and vain (Pr 11:22; Pr 31:30).  If you are relying primarily on your charm and your beauty to attract a man, understand that you are setting out to be the kind of woman whom Proverbs specifically advises the godly man to avoid.

As we discussed in our last session, a biblical view of dating/courting will dictate that the main purpose of entering a relationship with a man is to determine whether or not you should marry him.  With that in mind, if you are someone who has this season of life ahead of you, let me encourage you to explore what God’s Word has to say about how wives should relate to their husbands so that you can cultivate appropriate habits and attitudes.  Several of the passages already mentioned do refer to wives, but the Bible has much more to say about how wives and husbands should relate to one another:

4. What are the New Testament passages that help to define the relationship between husband and wife, and how should that inform your dating relationships?

The resounding command to wives in the New Testament is to be submissive to their husbands.  Ephesian  5:22 says, Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.  Colossians 3:18 says, Wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord.  In 1 Peter 3:1,2, we read, Wives be subject to your own husbands so that even if some do not obey the word they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.  1 Corinthians  7 talks about how the wife’s body belongs to her husband, and his body belongs to her, which tells us that even in the realm of sexual intimacy, the wife is to be concerned more about the needs and desires of her husband than she is about her own.

How does all of that inform the dating relationship or the courtship?  Does a woman have to submit to the man whom she is dating?  No.  She is not his wife, and therefore is not bound by that command.  However, I would say that if the relationship is leading towards marriage, and she does not feel that she could submit to, and respect, his leadership, then marriage either needs to be put on the back burner until she feels she can comfortably exist under his headship, or the relationship needs to end.

The four questions and answers laid out above are by no means fully representative of God’s vision for womanhood (or wifehood), but hopefully you can at least see that the Bible does have a lot to say about who we should be as women of God.  And as we strive to become godly women, we are doing two things:  1. Glorifying God, and 2. Becoming the kind of women who will be properly considered desirable by godly men.

Knowing what characterizes a godly man is also important for any woman who wants to marry.  Searching the Scriptures to discover God’s design for men will be necessary to equip a woman to discern whether or not a particular man will be a suitable partner for a God-glorifying union.  As you prepare your heart for a relationship, familiarize yourself with how God’s Word defines a wise, God-fearing man, and how husbands are to treat their wives.

Not sure where to go for that?  The book of Proverbs is a good starting place.  Proverbs describes many qualities and attitudes of the wise man.  For example, it says that the one who listens to and heeds God’s Word is blessed (Pr. 2, 3), which, in the context of dating/courtship, means that it is of primary importance that your man be a Christian who positions his prayer life, his Bible reading, and his worship of God at the top of his priority list.  If that is in place, then these other godly qualities should follow:  diligence (he is hard-working, not a sluggard…so if the one who catches your eye is 25 years old and thinks it’s fine to live rent-free in his parents’ basement playing video games all day instead of trying to make it on his own, think twice!)(Pr.6, 10, 24), integrity (he is honest and ethical in his personal and business relationships)(Pr. 2, ,6, 10, 11), self-control (he is slow to anger; he is actively engaged in guarding sexual purity)(Pr. 14:29; Pr. 4-7), kindness/gentleness (Pr. 15:1,4), humility (Pr. 8, 11), etc…

If a guy has the makings of a godly husband, then he must be a man who demonstrates the potential to love you as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5).  He will love you and not be harsh with you (Col 3:19).  He will be able to show you understanding (1 Pet 3:7).  He will show initiative and leadership in your relationship.    

No, you won’t find that kind of guy standing on every street corner!  This a rare breed for sure, but rarity often goes hand in hand with value, so have the patience to wait for a guy who shows some evidence of godliness as the Bible describes it.   But also remember this:  when you find your diamond, he might still be in the rough.  Whenever you’re tempted to be overly critical of a guy who doesn’t seem to have “the whole package”, don’t forget that you’re not so perfect yourself!  You are both redeemed sinners experiencing ongoing transformation by the Holy Spirit.  If you both have a genuine desire to pursue holiness in the light of God’s grace, then you have something to work with.

SO THEN, WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY DO WHEN IT COMES TIME TO DATE/COURT?

  1. Know when you’re ready for dating/courtship At the very least, you should be at a place in your life where marriage would be a feasible and desirable outcome of a relationship.
  2. If you are ready, carefully consider how you can place yourself in situations conducive to meeting godly men (church, Christian retreats, conferences, etc…).  This does not mean it is advisable to “church-hop”.  You can’t make assumptions about a guy just because he goes to “a” church.  It takes time to understand whether a church is good and sound, and your main criterion for a suitable church should NOT be the number of eligible bachelors in attendance!  If we believe in the sovereignty of God in all things, then this is an area we can practice what we believe.
  3. Observe gender roles as God has defined them (2).  If you are interested in someone, pray for wisdom, guidance and patience, make yourself available/accessible (ie. ensure, in a nonaggressive way, that your paths will actually cross from time to time)…and then let him initiate. (True, this is very difficult in today’s world full of passive guys and assertive women, but God is sovereign and faithful, and if you are meant to marry a certain guy, and he possesses the godly qualities he should have as a potential husband, then he will step up). 
  4. If you enter a relationship – cultivate friendship, fellowship and romance in ways that will not encourage intimacy (emotional or physical) before commitment (2).  Do your best to spend minimal time alone together, especially at night in a room with a couch or a bed.  I believe it was Wayne Mack who said, “The best marriages are friendships caught on fire”.  Spend due time in the friendship phase; learn how to communicate.  Listen more than you talk.  It is much easier to gather information objectively before you get all starry-eyed and physically involved.  Premature physical involvement can cloud judgment, create emotional bonds that are not easily or painlessly broken (a problem if the relationship ends), and push you down the slippery slope to sinful behaviours.
  5. As much as possible, conduct all phases of the relationship with your parents and/or other spiritual mentors as overseers (2).  This gives you access to wisdom, insight, and objectivity that you may not have on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask for your parents’ or your pastor’s (or his wife’s) advice.  Countless many have made choices they wish they hadn’t made, and might not have made if they had sought and heeded wise counsel from godly parents and mentors.  You may not like what you hear, but if it aligns with the Scriptures, you would do well to listen
  6. Have a mutually agreed upon plan for pursuing sexual purity (2).  Commit to having the self-discipline necessary to guard the marriage bed, and expect the man to show leadership in this area.  It may be an uncomfortable exercise, but it is wise to make a point of mutually “drawing your line” before anything happens.  And don’t make the foolish mistake of giving more of yourself physically in order to secure a commitment from him.
  7. Evaluate as you go.  If you know he’s not “the one”, end the relationship as soon as possible (2). If things are going well, continue, but pace yourself to avoid becoming overly emotionally invested too soon.  Don’t act married when you’re not. Guard yourself emotionally by being careful not to engage in emotionally weighty conversations prematurely – in particular, avoid talking presumptively about your future together as a couple, about your future intimacy, or about anything you would wish you hadn’t shared if that person ended up dropping out of your life (2).
  8. Let the man initiate the “define the relationship” conversation.  If he is showing healthy, godly leadership, he will take the initiative to discuss the commitment level of the relationship (1).
  9. Remember who you are.  It is easy as a relationship progresses to get lost in the wonder of it all, and become so absorbed with the other person that your tendency is to (inadvertently) shift your focus from glorifying God to glorifying your relationship.  If all of your confidence, faith, joy, comfort, love and honour is resting in your relationship with a man instead of your relationship with God, it is time to recognize the idolatry in your life, and return God to the number one place in your heart.  This doesn’t mean that you need to break off the relationship – it means you need to keep your heart in check at all times, and do what you need to do to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and put no other gods before Him (Ex. 20:3).

Think you might be ready for engagement?  There are many things that should be considered as you contemplate this step, but that won’t be addressed here.  Lord-willing, we will look into that more in the fall.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO AS PARENTS OF DATING/COURTING DAUGHTERS (OR SONS)?

  1. Set a good example As parents, we should strive to be the kind of person we would encourage our child to be, or have, as a spouse.  Continue to date your spouse in marriage and model the kind of servant love in your marriage relationship that defines Christian relationships.
  2. Do family worship  Be in the Word consistently as a family, and be deliberate about pointing out what the Scriptures say about God’s design for men, women, marriage and family.  Wise counsel about relationships, as well as proper sex education, is found all over the Scriptures, particularly in the book of Proverbs.
  3. Don’t be unreasonable  Nobody is 100% sanctified, so we shouldn’t assume a relationship is irredeemable  just because it, and the people involved, fall short of perfection.
  4. Don’t force marriage  Don’t let your preferences dominate to the extent that you force an unhappy union.  Don’t force a bad union in an attempt to prevent or minimize fornication.
  5. Pray unceasingly!

(Above points borrowed from an online sermon)

There is much more that could be said on this topic, but this is where we left off in our meeting, and so it will also be where I’ll conclude this post.  There are some good books out there if you’re interested in learning more about a biblical perspective on dating/courtship, and I would highly recommend Richard and Sharon Phillips’ book, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating as a current, balanced, gospel-rich treatment of  this subject.

Finally, if you are someone who reads a post like this, sighs (or groans), and thinks, “That’s all well and good for the people who haven’t already blown it, but I’ve dated dozens of guys and I’ve crossed the intimacy line more times than I’d care to count.  So what about me?”  This is what I would say to you:  We serve an amazing God of grace who is willing to forgive us of our past, and to remove our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12).  His grace is sufficient for you.  His mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:23).  Embrace the Truth of the gospel, and don’t let the guilt of past transgressions rob you of future joys. (A helpful read on this can be found in Joshua Harris’ book, Boy Meets Girl:  Chapter 10:  “WHEN YOUR PAST COMES KNOCKING:  How You Can Face Past Sexual Sin and Experience God’s Forgiveness”).

As complicated and as challenging as this whole relationship thing can be, I think it is worth closing with a reminder that the guiding principle with dating/courtship, as with all of life, can be summed up in one very simple statement:  “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31).  When we apply this to its fullest extent, the right path will become clear to us.  Not necessarily easy, but clear.

References:

  1. Richard & Sharon Phillips, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating, 2006; (pp. 102, 100, 130)
  2. Joshua Harris, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, 2005; (chapters 5, 7, 8, 9, 10)
  3. ESV Study Bible

On Dating…

May 26, 2011

As Christians, what should a relationship between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman look like?  Should we date?  Should we court?  Is dating wrong and courting right (or vice versa)?  What is the purpose of male-female relationships before marriage?

Whatever labels or methods we use, as Christians we must test our relationships in the same way we are called to test everything else in life:  Does my conduct glorify God, and, am I striving to align everything I think, say, and do with the principles laid out for me in His Word?

In our study of pre-marital relationships, we will first explore some definitions, then some problems, and finally we will look at how we can practically apply biblical principles to these relationships.  These are important principles to understand for young and old(er) alike!  If you are starting into your teen years, you can think of this as early heart preparation for relationships down the road.  If you are currently in a relationship, this will hopefully serve as a helpful guide.  If you are recovering from a failed relationship (or several), this may clarify your understanding of why your relationship(s) didn’t work, and how you can move forward in wisdom.  If you are a mom, this can help you to help your children when they face the challenges and blessings of relating to the opposite sex before marriage.

Definitions:

To make this a little easier, I’ve defined the three terms that will be most pertinent to this discussion by addressing the five W’s.  Who is involved and who initiates the relationship?  What is involved?  Where is this relationship taking place?  When in life does it happen?  And, finally – why is it done?  Keep in mind as you look at the comparisons that with the exception of the “Marriage” definition, these are descriptions of what is going on out there, not prescriptions.  We will delve more into what is considered advisable (by biblical standards), and what is not, a little later on.

  “Modern Dating” Courtship Marriage
Who *single man and woman (although in our culture it could also be two women getting together, or two men); either one may initiate *single man and woman, and their families; the man initiates the relationship by asking the woman’s father for permission to “court” her *one man and one woman; the man leads by proposing marriage and then acting as the head of his wife and family, so that he might fulfill his call to love as Christ loved the church
What *a method of introduction and of getting to know one another romantically by means of going out together as a couple; often involves some degree of sexual (and emotional) involvement in the absence of any lasting commitment; may or may not be considered an “exclusive” relationship *a “suitor” woos/courts a woman he considers to be a potential wife by first seeking the father’s permission and then getting to know her within a controlled environment (ie- with some degree of supervision and guidance, ideally from parents, but also from other spiritual mentors) *the two covenant (promise) to be forever joined together in a union reflective of the oneness of the Holy Trinity, and of Christ’s relationship with His church; the relationship is consummated and sealed when the two unite together as one flesh in sexual intimacy
Where *usually outside of the family’s home and oversight; may or may not be in the company of others *often in the family and/or church setting; minimal “alone time” *the wedding takes place in the presence of God, the church, family and friends
When *whenever the two parties want to – it is not considered necessary to be anywhere close to contemplating marriage, therefore it is not unusual for dating to start in the early teens *when the two parties involved are ready to consider marriage [for the man this means that he is in a position where he can support (or can accurately forecast when he will be able to support) a wife and family] *when the couple is ready and able (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, monetarily) to “leave and cleave”
Why *may be for the purpose of finding a spouse, or may be purely “recreational” *for the purpose of pursuing marriage under the counsel of the leadership provided by family and/or church *to serve one another in honour and obedience to the Lord who ordained marriage as a good and necessary institution for any who are inclined towards it (ie. Those who desire a relationship with the opposite sex)

(1)

There you have a bare-bones comparison of dating and courtship as those terms are generally understood in today’s culture.  What is also important to understand is that “dating” is actually a relatively recent convention.  The concept of dating as we know it didn’t really gain momentum until the 20th century.  There seem to be differing opinions regarding when this system was adopted, but several sources talk about dating being introduced in the last decade of the 1800’s. According to one historian, the word “date” was likely originally used as a lower-class slang word for making an appointment with a prostitute, but then the idea of a young man and woman dating gained wider acceptance in the early 1900’s as more and more lower class singles coupled up in the public sphere (a culturally and monetarily driven departure from the practice of courting in the family parlor) (2).

Dating saw a steady increase in popularity against the backdrop of many significant political and cultural changes, including: the increased value placed on romantic love (a product of the Victorian era), the increase in circulation and influence of women’s magazines, the common use of the telephone, the common use of the automobile (which took dating farther from home and afforded the opportunity for back seat sexual exploration), the rise of feminism and the sexual revolution, the proliferation of the first mass-market pornographic magazines, the advent of birth control (which diminished the pressure to marry as a means of satisfying sexual urges) and legalized abortion (which allowed a woman to get rid of those unexpected, out-of-wedlock pregnancies), and laws providing for no-fault divorce (which allowed for the dissolution of marriage without requiring any evidence of a breach of the marital vows) (2, 3).

There were certainly other factors and events that had a hand in making dating what is today, but the ones mentioned above have unquestionably played a major role in reshaping gender roles, sexuality, and marriage in our culture.  We now live in a society where it is commonplace to enjoy the benefits of marriage without being married.  The moral consciousness of the general public has gone from acknowledging marriage as the only proper context for sexual intimacy, to openly endorsing the practice of “hooking up and shacking up” to enjoy pleasure in the absence of binding commitment, and the consequences are grave.

We will examine the problems of this modern dating system in a moment, but first, a brief note about courtship and marriage.  Courtship (from which dating evolved) has been revisited with great enthusiasm in recent years by Christians who have come to the realization that modern dating philosophy is at odds with biblical principles in a number of ways.  In some circles, courtship is heralded as the only biblical route from singlehood to marriage.   While I would tend to agree that many aspects of the courtship model do uphold biblical principles, I think it is dangerous to become dogmatic about it being the only right way.  While courtship may provide some with the most godly means of moving towards engagement and marriage, it is unlikely to work well for everyone.  For example, what does the courtship model have to say to the person with unbelieving parents, or parents who are deceased?  Although ideally marriage would happen earlier in life, in a culture where people are marrying later, how does the courtship model work for the single who has been out living on his or her own (away from family) for many years?  As much as we might like to have a step-by-step process that fits everyone perfectly when it comes to this subject, there isn’t one.  Of primary importance is understanding the purpose of the process, and using biblical principles to navigate the way.

That brings us to the question:  what is the purpose of the process?  Enter the marriage definition.  Some folks might have been wondering why I chose to include a definition of marriage when we’re talking about dating.  I hope the reason is obvious.  We need to understand the biblical definition of marriage because when we’re talking about Christian male-female relationships, this must be the ultimate goal.  Why?  Because marriage is the only biblically sanctioned male-female intimate relationship.  If you’re not looking for marriage, but you are looking for a date, I’d encourage you to carefully examine your reasons for doing so.

So, what does the Bible say about dating and courting?  Nothing, and everything (4).  You will not find either of those terms in the Bible.  In the time of the Old and New Testaments, marriages were arranged by the families of the two parties involved.  Does this mean that the only right way to get a mate is through arranged marriage?  No.  It isn’t sin to go against what Abraham did – it is sin to go against God’s law (5).  God’s law doesn’t specifically define the pre-marital relationship between a man and a woman, nor does it provide detailed instructions that are guaranteed to lead two unacquainted singles to the doorstep of a happy marriage.  In that sense, this is an area of liberty, but it is NOT liberty to sin! (5)  It is our job to determine how to conduct ourselves in a way that complies with biblical principles, and these principles are spelled out for us in God’s Word, as we will see.

Let’s start by identifying what modern dating philosophy tells us about male-female relationships, and how that message does or does not fall in line with biblical principles:

1. The purpose of modern dating is to find the right person for me – someone who will meet all of my needs and desires. (1)

It’s all about “me”!  This is a very self-centered approach – an approach which essentially makes the relationship all about nourishing each other’s idols (the things we love and worship more than we love and worship God)(4); one person wants sex (fornication is all about self-satisfaction apart from marriage; it is not loving – rather it robs a woman of her virginity [and a man of his], it robs a man of a virgin bride, and it disregards God’s ideal)(6), another person wants to be loved, another craves the attention of someone with status.  It can be about materialism, or control, or  not wanting to be alone, or any number of other things – but the goal is to find someone who will meet all of the needs and desires on “the checklist”.  The goal is to find compatibility, which in worldly terms is nothing more than finding a person who worships the same idols as you do, or at least someone whose idols don’t conflict with yours (4).  By contrast, a biblical approach is not about finding the right person, it’s about being the right person to serve my future spouse’s needs, and being a God-glorifying husband or wife.  Love is about ministry and service to others (1).  

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat 22:36-40)

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3,4)

2. In modern dating, intimacy (emotional and physical) precedes commitment (1).

Modern dating assumes that you need to get to know a person more deeply than anyone else in the world to figure out whether or not you should be together (1).  It assumes a high level of emotional involvement and some level of physical involvement (1).  In Biblical dating, both emotional and sexual intimacy come only after a commitment is in place.   Sexual intimacy is meant to be enjoyed only within the security of the covenant relationship of marriage.  As Josh Harris puts it, “The joy of intimacy is the reward of commitment” (7).  We have explored at length in our sessions on purity why God has ordained for this intimacy to remain within the confines of marriage.  We are wired to become attached to one another the more intimate we become, and to become intimately involved with  several partners is to face the inevitable pain that comes when the bond is broken, and to carry that pain with you to subsequent relationships.  (For a sampling of Scripture verses that address sexual immorality, click on these:  I Cor 6, 7I Thess 4, Eph 5).

3. The modern dating approach tells us that the way to figure out whether or not I want to marry someone is to act like we are married, and if we don’t like it, we move on (1)

Modern dating tells us we should “try before we buy”.  My husband had a friend who insisted that it was a mistake for him not to live with his girlfriend before committing to marriage, because the last thing you’d want to do is lock into a relationship with someone who isn’t easy to live with, or worse, isn’t good in bed!  This friend’s advice was very reflective of prevailing attitudes, and I am thankful for a man who did not buy into this ungodly way of thinking.

I’m sure it’s no shock to you that cohabitation has been on the rise in recent  years.  I heard some sobering statistics quoted in a sermon I heard recently, one of which indicated that in America, 40% of kids are at some point living in a home where the adults are cohabitating (3).  In other words, almost half of the kids in America have parents who either got divorced and then lived common-law with someone else, or were never married at all.  And one of the supposed goals of this practice of cohabitation is to become as certain as possible that marriage is the right move and that it will last.  But the interesting and sad reality is this:  statistics are showing that instead of increasing their chances of having a better marriage, those who live common-law before they marry are actually more likely to divorce (3).

That brings me to a point I have run into more than once in my readings which I think is so true:  modern dating is better training for divorce than it is for marriage (8).  Why?  Because when you date someone and things don’t go as you had hoped, you just get out and find someone new.  Relationships have become like cars.  You buy one that strikes your fancy and you enjoy the ride, but when it starts showing signs of trouble and requires you to invest too much time, effort and money, you trade it in for a new one.   If this is how we train for marriage, is it any wonder that 50% of marriages end in divorce, or that there are so many instances of adultery?

We’ve already explored how God feels about sexual immorality and promiscuity.  And I want to remind you here that He has also made His feelings clear about divorce:  God’s ideal is for marriage to be lasting.   Jesus says in Matthew 19:8, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  Malachi 2:16  says, “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”  The context of this passage concerns the men of Israel who were disobeying God by divorcing their wives in favour of pursuing foreign women.  It is true that divorce is sanctioned under very narrowly defined circumstances – we can see that in Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament – but “falling out of love” isn’t one of them.  While dating is not a covenant relationship and therefore is not bound by the same laws and promises, it does encourage a habit of falling in and out of love, or at least a more casual attitude about starting and ending relationships than we would want to foster as we look towards marriage.

4.  Modern dating philosophy assumes there will be several intimate romantic relationships in a person’s life before marriage (1)

This is true isn’t it?  We see it on the sitcoms, in the movies, everywhere.  If you’re a teen, you probably even hear it in the hallways at school – something is wrong with you if you haven’t had several sexual partners by the time you reach your late teens.  And if you don’t have a boyfriend, or aren’t “hooking up” regularly, people assume it’s because you CAN’T attract anyone, because it would just be too crazy for a person to actually WANT it that way!  But the biblical way – as we’ve examined time and time again – is to have the goal of being intimate with only one person – your spouse.  And if you haven’t arrived at the stage of life where you’re ready to consider marriage, then you also haven’t arrived at the stage of life where you should be entering into any kind of romantic relationship.

5.  Modern dating tends to be egalitarian (no differences between men and women in spiritual or emotional “wiring” or God-given roles) (1)

This could be an entire session all on its own, but we will just discuss it briefly so that we understand how this differs from the biblical viewpoint.  Modern dating tells us we are all equal.  Male and female roles are interchangeable.  We live in a society where a woman can initiate the relationship, call all the shots, open her own car door, order the meals, pay for the dates, be the sexual aggressor, keep her own last name in marriage, have her own bank account, and go out to work while her husband stays at home to take care of the children.  I’m not here to tell you that all of those things are absolutely wrong, or that feminism hasn’t had any positive effects on womens’ rights and their place in society, but I am going to tell you that there is A LOT of very unbiblical thought and practice that has arisen in the wake of feminism.  This has cropped up peripherally in a number of the resources I’ve read, and I’ve been shocked at just how much of the feminist line I had adopted for myself without even thinking it through biblically.

Here’s the reality in a nutshell:  God made man and woman in His image – BOTH in His image.  He said it was very good!  Adam came first and Eve came second as a necessary helper.  This is the God-ordained order of things (see Gen 2:18).  God gave men and women different roles and there’s nothing wrong with that.  He made the husband the head of his wife and his family, but that doesn’t mean He made the wife inferior, it just means she was given a different role to play.  If we want to join the masses who shudder every time the word “submission” is mentioned, then we might as well be sneering at our Saviour who made himself a perfect model of submission when He laid down His life for sinners like you and me, according to His Father’s will.  If He had decided to adopt today’s prevalent attitude about submission, there would be no salvation.

Still thinking of this as archaic and unprogressive?  Practically speaking, let me ask you this:  Are you more likely to have a smooth drive from point A to point B in a car where there are two people in the driver’s seat, or in a car where there is one person in the driver’s seat and one in the passenger’s seat?  They may both have the ability to drive, but it will not go well if both of them try to do it at the same time.  If one sticks to the role of driver, and one to the role of passenger, it is much more likely that you’ll reach your destination unscathed.

Ever since the Fall, men and women have been cursed with a power struggle for leadership. In Genesis 3:16b God says to Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  What He’s saying is this:  Eve will now want to assert herself over her husband, and her husband will have a distorted desire to rule over his wife (versus the caring leadership he was called to pre-Fall) (4).  That struggle has remained strong through the ages, and seems even more amplified now.  But let’s remember, it is the result of sin, and as Christians, we are no longer slaves to the sinful nature.

So, biblically speaking – it is the man’s job to lead in a relationship.  It is his job to initiate – although since women are called to be helpers, it would not be wrong to “help him notice you”, as long as you go about it the right way.  If the woman does all of the initiating and leading in a relationship, then she shouldn’t be surprised or upset when the man doesn’t step up to the plate.  So many women are full of complaints about men who won’t initiate, make decisions, or provide general leadership for their families, and yet this is the very result we are enabling if we are always seeking to have the power in the relationship.  It is good for the man to provide for his family, so don’t be afraid to let him exercise his providing skills by picking up the tab at the restaurant!  (No, that doesn’t mean you can never pay).  Let him show you he can make wise decisions, and can stand behind them.  Allowing the man to lead does not make you less of a woman, or less of a person – it is God’s natural ordering of things for our good.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “That’s all well and good, but where can I find one of these leadership-minded men?  None of the men I know are like that!”  I agree.  I think it has become harder than ever to find a guy who has embraced the call to biblical manhood, and the spiritual leadership required, but they do exist!  I know because I am blessed to be married to one.  If you can find a man who is trusting in Jesus Christ and wholeheartedly believes that “every word of God proves true” , then there is hope that he will answer his call to lead in a godly manner.

6.  Modern dating tends to assume that your relationship will grow by spending a great deal of time together – mostly alone – with no need of outside counsel or accountability (1).

Firstly – what are you more likely to do when you’re alone with a guy rather than being with him in a group?  I think we’ve visited the sexual temptation and immorality issue enough in past sessions (and earlier in this one) that we don’t need to flesh it out again.  Suffice it to say, if we are pursuing holiness, and we understand how strong sexual temptation can be in the heat of the moment, it is unwise to think that spending a lot of time alone together won’t lead us to a place we shouldn’t go.   

Secondly – this model disregards the role of the parents or other spiritual mentors in helping to determine whether or not a relationship is worth pursuing.  In Bible times it was the job of the father to protect his daughter and ensure the preservation of her virginity until she was given in marriage to a man chosen and approved by him.  We don’t live in Old Testament times, but parents are still responsible for their children while they are at home.  Many passages of Scripture, particularly in Proverbs, warn children of the folly of disregarding godly instruction (“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” Pr 1:8) Eph 6:2,3 says “Honor your father and mother… that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” .  Those who are older are generally to be considered wiser and able to provide counsel to those who are younger, so today’s model of dating that leaves all of the decisions in the hands of the lovestruck girl and guy is a relinquishment of the role of parents and their wisdom in relation to one of the most important decisions their child will ever make.

There is a lot more that could be said about the areas of concern with today’s dating practices, but what has been discussed here ought to be enough to communicate the idea that Christians need to tread very carefully when it comes to dating.

Many would argue that they know people who have gone through the whole dating process, maybe even with a number of different guys, and have ended up in a fabulous godly marriage, seemingly unscarred by previous relationships.  And that may be true.  But that doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action.

Let me put it to you this way:   Let’s say you’re trying to go somewhere by plane.  There are two planes going to your destination –  one that arrives with a crash landing, and one that will land safely.  On which plane would you rather be?

The answer is obvious in that scenario, right?  Of course you’d choose the safer way – the way that will ensure the preservation of your life.  People survive plane crashes, but that is the exception, not the rule.  In the same way, recreational dating can lead to happy and God-honouring marriages in the end, but it is far more probable that the world’s way of dating will be more destructive than it is edifying (8).

Given what we’ve studied in this session, what is a good working definition of “Biblical Dating” (for lack of a better term)?  Biblical dating is the process by which a Christian woman and a Christian man, both of whom are at a stage of life in which they are free to marry, get to know one another in ways that promote purity of heart and of body, with the intent of determining whether or not they would be well-suited to serving God and one another in the covenant of marriage.   This determination is made under the guidance of wisdom and counsel given to them by their parents and/or other spiritual mentors.

There is only one essential ingredient for every Christian relationship, and from it, every other principle springs forth:  obedience to God’s word.  Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”  (John 14:15).  Without this kind of obedience from both parties, the kind of relationship that would be pleasing to God cannot be expected, nor is it possible.  If you are reading this and you are grieving over your failures in this area, take heart!  The good news of the Gospel is free to those who believe. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Final Thought

Before you can be one half of a couple aspiring to obey God’s Word, you must first be an individual aspiring to obey God’s Word.  Before you can be an individual aspiring to obey God’s Word, you must first be familiar with God’s Word.  In order to be familiar with God’s Word, you must first read God’s word, and hear it preached.

(At our June meeting, we will be looking at how the biblical principles mentioned here work themselves out in actual practice.    You can check back in mid-June for the summary post of that meeting).

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References:

1. Scott Croft, Biblical Dating – An Introduction, 2006   http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001401.cfm

2. Beth Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat, 1989

3. Mark Driscoll,  Dating (sermon), Oct 9, 2009

4. Richard & Sharon Phillips, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts, 2006

5. Michael Philips, [Sermon on Dating], 2000

6. Brian Watts, Dating vs. Courtship, The King’s Community Church 1996

7. Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, 2003

8. Steve Wilson, The Dating Dilemma (sermon), 2004

ESV Study Bible