Is dating a swear word?
If you are reading this then I am assuming that you have dated, you are dating, you are thinking about dating.
You may have children exposed to the world of dating whom you are trying to disciple, or perhaps you have kissed dating goodbye.
Whichever category you find yourself in, the waters are murky and confusing.
As parents it is often just easier to say, ‘No dating.’ A plausible option but perhaps not the wisest.
(Been there, done that.)
To answer the question, ‘Is dating a swear word?’ I think the answer will depend on how we define dating.
Whether you argue that culturally and historically dating did not exist, or that dating is a Hollywood construct and so by default evil, the fact is that dating is practiced in our society. In our churches it is a buzz word. I think that we can generally agree that the evolution of dating practices in the world is scary and leaves much to be desired.
So how do we address this issue in the Church?
A 'head in the sand' approach will not achieve anything worthwhile and will be unwise. Unfortunately what we tend to do in trying to be Biblical on an issue that Scripture is not specific on, is to make rules. We love rules. We look at negative examples of dating and presume that is the norm. Therefore dating in any shape or form is bad.
We think lists of dos and don’ts will be the answer. We treat a dynamic issue that involves people and hearts with a robotic approach. Let’s make a new box, a dating box, and everyone must conform. We rename dating and call it courting and prescribe a courtship model for relationships to follow in the church. We give time frames, boxes to tick and age specifics etc. That, we think, will then ensure successful marriages. We are operating out of fear and we are inconsistent.
We remove a sovereign God from the picture and set ourselves up in His place. We love the slogan, ‘God is writing your love story’ and then we decide
to be the ghost writers and co-writers of that story.
How can we apply Romans 12:2 to relationships in the church so that we don’t become conformed to the pattern of this world?
How can we be counter-cultural? How can we take a cultural practice and so transform it that the Gospel is displayed and God is glorified?
God has created us for relationships and for the marriage relationship to be a picture to the world of Christ’s love for the Church. How do we prepare for that?
I don’t think there has been a time in Church history when dating, relationships, marriage and singleness has got as much press. Two out of three blog posts or Facebook articles focus on these topics. Books abound on the topic. That is not necessarily a bad thing. These are hot topics. But as you wade through the plethora of articles, some prescriptive, some cautionary and some well-intentioned, you may feel as if you have fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole into a strange new world of confusion with many voices and opinions calling out to you to go this way or that way.
However, in reading all the articles penned, especially from conservative Christians and Pastors, one realises that dating, courting or whatever term you choose to give it, is a secondary issue in the Church which allows for Christian freedom. The biblical principles, when applied, will look different in each unique situation. We must be careful that we don’t make the principles prescriptive. The application of the principles will not look the same in each unique scenario.
If God wanted wisdom principles to be prescriptive,
He would have penned them as imperatives or commands.
He didn’t, so we shouldn’t.
Paul Maxwell, in his article ‘A Biblical Approach to Dating’ on The Gospel Coalition, defines dating as follows:
‘Dating is merely our culture’s disposable (yet legitimate) mode of expressing interest (to any degree) in entering into the marriage covenant with a particular person.
Thus, dating is not more or less biblical than the courtship rituals of the Ancient Near Eastern culture in which the Old Testament was written, or the courtship customs of the Jewish/Greco-Roman culture in which the New Testament was written.
Dating does not carry special divine sanction like marriage. Dating is merely the way our culture manages the transition from singleness to marriage without the ancient (secular) courtship structures. It is a this-world cultural mode of manifesting a legitimate transition that God endorses and delights in.’
He then goes on to explain that when it comes to dating, theology must inform our conduct, intentions, boundaries, relationships and the way we go about expressing them. God has provided helpful biblical truths and principles for our encouragement, practice and faithfulness.
This immediately eliminates the worldly practice of recreational dating and precludes many other scenarios.
‘Biblical dating has as its goal to be emotionally and physically intimate with only one member of the opposite sex ... your spouse. Biblical dating is more about "being" the right person to serve my future spouse's needs and be a God-glorifying husband or wife. In modern dating, intimacy precedes commitment. In biblical dating, commitment precedes intimacy’ [Scott Croft, Capitol Hill Baptist Church]
This is counter-cultural.
I think we cause much discouragement and frustration when we operate by putting up straw men and succumbing to the slippery slope logical fallacy. We cause much discouragement and frustration with our unspoken expectations that basically the guy needs to be Jesus for any relationship to begin with a girl.
We cannot take the approach that because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention dating, we can do what we like and yet on the other side, we cannot take the approach that because the Bible doesn’t speak specifically to dating, it therefore forbids dating. This will lead either to license on the one side or legalism on the other side. We need to walk on the narrow road of Christian liberty and check our hearts and consciences before God.
If we have been given all we need for life and godliness as 2 Peter 1:3 promises, then God's Word is authoritative and does give guidance for us in how we might best glorify God in this area of our lives.
Let’s briefly consider some descriptions of relationships in the Bible:
The beautiful love story of Isaac and Rebekah’s arranged marriage, not necessarily a recipe for marital bliss.
Jacob’s attraction to Rachel and his 7 year wait for her. (I wonder how that 7 year intentional relationship before marriage was navigated.)
Ruth’s proposal to Boaz, many years her senior, under the cloak of night, also seemingly arranged by her mother-in-law, Naomi.
Esther’s marriage to the king after entering a beauty contest and sleeping with him before he chose her as queen.
The bizarre account of David’s bride price for Michal who loved David for his rugged good looks and hero-like status. (You can read the gory details in 1 Samuel 18).
David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba and subsequent marriage to her.
The censored account of Hosea marrying Gomer, a prostitute and enduring her unfaithfulness for God to illustrate His patient and merciful love for His people.
There are many more, but what we see in each of these descriptions and narratives is the variety of ways marriages occurred in the Bible after Genesis 3 and we see that they were all flawed.
Yet we see God’s sovereign, providential and faithful hand in each and His purposes in redeeming them to bring glory to His name.
So what is my point?
If we are saying we want to be Biblical when it comes to relationships and dating with the intent of marriage as the goal, which Biblical model are you going to use?
Let me put it this way: I don’t believe there is a perfect prescribed Biblical model of dating or courtship that will ensure a perfect marriage. I don’t believe we
see a prescribed model outlined in the Old or New Testaments.
I am convinced, however, that if we ask for wisdom and grace in the area of relationships and dating, God’s Word will guide us (James 1:5). God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).
As our hearts desire to glorify God in whatever we do (1 Corinthians 10:31), any relationship will strive to be pure and holy through the help of the Holy Spirit and gentle accountability within the Church. And as Song of Solomon 2:7 advises, love should not be awakened before the right time (before fully committed in marriage).
As couples strive to keep their consciences clear before God, they will apply the principles of abstaining from any appearance of evil and fleeing the lusts of the flesh and pursuing righteousness. (2 Timothy 2:22). They will strive to not defraud their brother or sister in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:6). There will be a practice of sitting under the regular preaching of God’s Word which corrects and convicts hearts.
One command: Do not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever, for what do darkness and light have in common? This would apply to marriage, courting or dating.
There are many Biblical principles, however, that govern that command - principles of pursuing personal holiness and spiritual maturity that will enrich and grow any relationship; principles that will encourage looking to the interests of others; principles that will point the guy in the direction of being a spiritual leader, sacrificial lover, understanding protector and diligent provider and principles that will encourage girls to fear the Lord and be nurturers and honourable and to pursue a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in God sight.
Do we redeem dating by renaming it courtship?
Or do we redeem dating by redefining it biblically?
Matt Chandler beautifully uses the Song of Solomon to biblically redefine attraction, dating, courtship, engagement and marriage in his book, ‘The Mingling of Souls.’
Rick Holland, in his sermon series entitled, ‘Roadmap to Relationships’ highlights the godly pursuit of Biblical manhood and womanhood in striving for self-discipline and godliness as seen in Titus 2:1-8. He then explains that a dating/courtship model is irrelevant in engaging in a relationship. Those principles will guide the relationship and result in God being honoured.
Richard and Sharon Philips’ premise in their book, ‘Holding Hands, Holding Hearts’ is that the Bible says nothing and everything about dating. Everything from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 is of vital relevance to dating as to all of life.
In the introduction to their book, they illustrate this by using Matthew 22:38-39 where Jesus describes the two greatest commandments: To love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbour as you love yourself:
‘We need to apply these words more seriously to every aspect of life. In dating, this requires us to honour God first. Many Christians approach dating merely in terms of pursuing romance and meeting their emotional needs. Far too few think of it as an opportunity to honour God and grow in grace. What about loving our neighbour? This commandment requires us to put our dating partner’s holiness ahead of our happiness. If you are dating someone and the relationship does not grow into marriage, the least you can do as a Christian is to ensure that dating you was a spiritually beneficial experience. The foundations for a healthy and godly marriage begin while we are dating.’
I could say much more regarding the Biblical principles that will safeguard and transform dating relationships, but as I said in the beginning, social media is awash with such helpful articles written by godly and wise men and women. Read them with discernment and test them against the truth of Scripture.
The last resort, if all else fails and if you are really concerned about the world of dating, is to lock your kids in a cupboard under the stairs, Harry Potter style, until they are old enough for you to arrange a suitable marriage partner for them.