As followers of Jesus, how should we view dating in general and dating non-Christians?
Disclaimer: I am an expert when it comes to dating in the sense that I dated a lot. I am not an expert when it comes to dating in the sense that there was a lot that I did wrong, and in the sense that it has been a long time since I dated (I'm a happily married man). Years removed, I am able to see things more clearly than when I was in the midst of it all. I hope you find these insights helpful.
The question asked is a great question. And not a simple one to answer for the very reason that dating isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. Instead, the term betrothal is used. Anyone you know been betrothed lately? Didn’t think so. Dating is a newer cultural construct whereas betrothal was essentially an arranged, long-term engagement.
WHERE SCRIPTURE IS CLEAR, FOLLOW
That said, there is much that the Bible says that shapes the way disciples of Jesus should approach dating (as well as singleness and marriage, of course).
Dating a Non-Believer - In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 the Apostle Paul writes, "do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers". There is no deeper bond between two people than marriage. And therefore marrying someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus is off the table.
For Christians, dating is about exploring and pursuing marriage with a person. And since the Bible is clear about not marrying a non-believer, dating them is a dangerous and ill-advised endeavour.
The 2 Corinthians passage goes on to say, "what fellowship has light with darkness?" (6:14). That’s at the heart of the matter. While marriage is the deepest human bond on the planet, our relationship with Jesus is our most significant relationship of all. Our faith in Jesus becomes the very core of who we are. Discipleship bleeds into everything we are and everything we do. Marrying someone who doesn’t agree with the very essence of who you are isn’t a wise road to travel. Marriage is hard enough as it is! Disagreeing about the most important issue is not a good or obedient footing to start on.
Sex Context - From time to time I am asked about sex before marriage (fornication) and where (if anywhere) Scripture prohibits it. There is a word in the original Greek, porneia (where we get the word pornography from), that is translated into English as sexual immorality. This word is a catch-all Greek New Testament term for all sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman. Jesus uses it numerous times (incl. Matthew 5:32; 15:19; 19:9) and it shows up in the New Testament as a whole around 25 times (1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5; et al).
There is much more that could be said but I’ll try to summarize it succinctly here: the context for which God created sexual intimacy (where it flourishes and is most enjoyed and how we are obedient to God’s Word) is in a committed, covenant marriage between one woman and one man. Therefore, even exclusive dating relationships and engaged couples are not to involve sexual intimacy. Rather, we are to intertwine our lives with another in marriage before intertwining our bodies in sexual intimacy.
THE ROMANCE MOVIE/NOVEL PRESUPPOSITION
What’s the line from Jerry McGuire? "Show me the money!" No not that one, the other one. "You complete me." Let me ask you a question: Are you incomplete until you find the one? The only someone who completes you is Jesus.
When it comes to someone completing you, giving you fulfillment or being your identity, that spot is reserved for Jesus.
When it comes to dating, look for someone who loves Jesus at least as much as you do, that you respect, enjoy, and could see a future with. Because when it comes to marriage, staying faithful to your covenant commitment to love and serve the other person actually requires a lot of hard work. You complete me gives people the impression that if it’s the one everything will be easy. Marriage is an incredible gift from God. But easy would not be an adjective I would use to describe it!
PURSUE THEIR GOOD
So much of the dating landscape today seems to be selfishly motivated and me-centred. The goal of Christian marriage is precisely the opposite (Ephesians 5:21-33). Therefore, aim to pursue the good of the person you date.
Our relationships are meant to spur one another on in the faith. Whether it’s a friend, someone you're dating, or a spouse, aiming to help them grow in their relationship with Jesus should be a priority. Ask the question, "how do I honour him/her?".
A WORD ABOUT SINGLENESS
What does it mean to be single in a culture that craves love stories? Not only that, church culture seems to put more pressure on singles than anyone else, subtly implying that they’re lesser than or incomplete until they find a spouse. This is not only inappropriate and unloving, but it is also unbiblical.
In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul expressed that he wished more believers were like him: single. He argues that those who are married have split concerns — for family and the Lord — while the single person can live with undivided devotion to the Lord (7:35).
Some individuals are called to singleness and some simply are single though they desire marriage. Here is my encouragement, use your singleness to glorify God, use your dating relationship to glorify God, use your marriage to glorify God. If God is sovereign (and the Bible exclaims that He is) then you are in the position you are on purpose and for a purpose.
As followers of Jesus, may we display what singleness, dating, and marriage ought to look like to the watching world while honouring and serving those in our lives to the glory of God.
All of the following are links to free PDF documents by the late Elizabeth Elliot:
Whatever Happened to Courtship
Sex Is A Lot More Than Fun
Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control