Godly dating is a weird thing.
Ask anyone how to do it, and they’ll almost always start with Paul’s words on marriage — you know, how Christ loved the church and all — and go from there to extrapolate ideas about the man always pursuing the woman, and the man’s duty to “lead” the relationship.
Then, there are always those extremely well-meaning — but sometimes misguided — people who devise simple rules and formulas they’re sure will prevent heartbreak and sin.
“Don’t say I love you before you’re engaged.”
“Don’t do anything but hold hands, and even then, you should probably save that for when you’re seriously dating.”
“Holding hands leads to sex!” (You laugh, but I’ve heard this more than once.)
And, of course, the infamous “guard your heart.”
Most of these rules are just softer, less obvious ways of saying what many Christians believe about dating: that the only way to avoid heartbreak and sin altogether is just to lock yourself down — emotionally and physically — until the sudden and magical moment God tells you it’s OK to crack open the door for your future husband, who’s risked life and limb to share his feelings for you.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s virtue in singleness — Jesus and Paul never married — but I think there are more practical, healthy and even biblical ways to engage with the opposite sex, especially in dating relationships.
People often ask Andrew and I for advice on godly dating, and — after we stop laughing at ourselves and realize they’re actually kind of serious — we never quite know what to say. We know people want to hear that One Golden Rule we follow, or that story about him “stepping up” and being a “real man,” but the truth is, after two years, we still don’t have it figured out.
We both grew up with the idea that we had dating down pat. We knew all the rules and boundaries that would make our parents and youth pastors proud.
But, as we grew older, we realized even “biblical” dating can leave you heartbroken.
Even doing everything right can still leave room for the temptation to sin.
So here’s the thing: The Bible says nothing — nothing — about dating.
It says a little bit about marriage, but even Paul admits his words in Ephesians 5 are a “great mystery.”
So how do we figure out godly dating when it appears “biblical” dating may be a lost cause?
The good news is while the Bible may be silent on the rules of the dating game, it does say quite a bit about relationships.
Run a search for “one another” through Bible Gateway and you’ll get around 200 ideas of the ways people interacted with one another in the Bible — 200 examples of relationships, dating or otherwise.
So how exactly does the Bible say we should treat “one another”?
Peter tells us to serve one another. (1 Peter 4:10)
James instructs us to pray for one another. (James 5:16)
Jesus commands us to love one another. (John 13:34-35)
And then James points us to God as the ultimate source of wisdom. (James 1:5)
So, in trying to date in a godly way, Andrew and I have learned to serve one another. Sometimes he’ll get the car for us in bad weather, or I’ll buy him food when he forgets his wallet. Just last week, he walked 10 minutes in the rain to get me lunch at my favorite restaurant on campus when I was at home sick.
We pray for one another. Oh, man, this one is so important. You will accomplish more for your significant other through plain old-fashioned prayer than through striving to adhere to a certain set of rules. James 5:16 also mentions confessing your sins to one another, which simply means we admit when we’re wrong, and we apologize.
And, engaged or not, we love each other — which may be the hardest one of all. It’s difficult to consistently be patient and kind, to resist insisting on our own ways, to bear and endure all things, and to rejoice in truth rather than in wrongdoing. But these traits should be the foundation of any relationship, not just a dating one.
But in everything, we always keep in mind that we should turn to God for wisdom. When we don’t know what to do, we don’t try to figure out what John Piper would say, or remember what we read in that book that one time, or assimilate into what would be most acceptable in our Christian culture.
Instead, we turn to God, who “gives to all generously and ungrudgingly,” and seek his wisdom through prayer and Scripture.
So, if you came here looking for a one-sentence guide to godly dating, here’s the only one I’ve got: You will never have it all figured out.
But that’s OK.
They key to godly dating — or even godly living — isn’t following the rules until you have it all together.
It’s acknowledging you’ll never have it all together, and you need Jesus’ loving guidance every single day, even when you’re old and married and people really think you have it figured out.
Want to date in a godly way?
Focus on living in a godly way.
Don’t get caught up in who’s pursuing who — pursue the Lord, and let Him take care of the rest.
“Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?”