In my experience as a youth minister, the topics of sexual purity and “how far can I go?” have received more attention than dating itself. But it needs deep consideration, because careless dating can amplify sexual temptations and cause great damage to Christian relationships.
The first often-overlooked question is: when should a Christian start dating?
To answer, let’s start somewhere possibly unexpected but very important: church. The word ‘church’ refers to God’s people gathered around Christ. Your local church is critical; it’s where you meet with your brothers and sisters in Christ every week. Therefore we have to consider what a romantic and exclusive dating relationship between two single people will do to church relationships. The answer must be “only things that build up the church”.
The purpose of dating is to find a marriage partner, but it comes with dangers. Starting a romantic relationship increases sexual temptations and impacts on other relationships. It also has a high likelihood of heartbreak. Breakups often affect multiple people and damage relationships throughout the church. So dating is not something to be taken lightly or to be seen as ‘cute’. Dating can be a good thing—alongside seriousness and wisdom.
Since dating comes with dangers, it would be wise to leave it until being married is possible, and then only date someone we genuinely think we could marry. If a person is not ready to get married (e.g. too young) then dating will almost always be destructive, both for the people in the relationship and the church. It’s worth heeding Solomon’s words that we “not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song 2:7). Even if you’re attracted to or in love with someone, if you’re not ready to get married then it’s likely wise to hold off starting that relationship.
So how practically can we date only when we are ready to get married? Make lots of Christian friends; you’re never too young for friends! Later, when you think you are ready to be a husband or a wife, then start having a think about your Christian friends of the opposite sex. Consider whether they seem ready to be a good Christian husband or wife and then, if you think so, get to know them a little better. Remember, you can get to know someone pretty well without being in a romantic relationship with them; you don’t need to skip to dating without first being fairly sure that you could marry this person.
The second question (which is very important and receives a lot more attention than our first) is: who should a Christian date?
The Bible makes it clear that a Christian should only marry another Christian. Paul tells the Corinthians that they shouldn’t be ‘mismated’ with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14, BDAG). In the first century, when the gospel went out into the world, it was common for one person in the marriage to become a Christian and not the other. In that situation God says to stay married to that person (1 Cor 7:12-13). But if you are an unmarried Christian then the one you choose to marry must also belong to the Lord (1 Cor 7:39).
God gives us four reasons why we shouldn’t marry an unbeliever:
Wise dating requires input from the whole church. From the children to the seniors, the members of a church need to have godly and astute opinions about dating. Pastors, parents and youth leaders need to model wise decision-making. The church must take responsibility and teach its children, teenagers, young adults and everyone else about God’s purpose and desires for marriage. The boys and men in the church have a special obligation to take the lead in this. If males stop flirting, think carefully about dating and look for godly wives, then the females in the church will feel far more secure, and many temptations that both sides face will be avoided.
In the end, a culture of wise and godly dating will not only glorify God but will benefit every one of his people—the church.