“Courtship”, by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)
The influential young Christian apologist Jonathan McLatchie has written an article on courtship for Christians, and I have posted it below. I have two disagreements, which I will post in the comments below.
A Christian Man’s Philosophy of God-Honoring Courtship
Wintery Knight asked me to contribute a guest post expressing my views on God-honoring courtship and relationship philosophy. I should state upfront that I have only ever been in one relationship, and thus I cannot claim to have a lot of experience. I have, however, given these matters significant thought as I determine in my own head the sort of woman I am looking for and what a God-honoring relationship should look like. I thought that these ideas may be of value to others, and so I am articulating them here.
What Sort Of Woman Should You Be Looking For?
When searching for a potential spouse, it is important to prioritize the traits that you desire your wife to possess: What characteristics are essential and non-negotiable, and which are not? The most important trait is that the woman be a Christian. Marrying a non-Christian is a recipe for disaster, and sooner or later there is bound to be a resultant train crash. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” Your life in Christ ought to form such a core component of your identity that it infiltrates the way you live your life at every level – your conversations, the decisions that you make, the people that you hang out with, the activities that you participate in. To not be able to share such a core part of who you are with your spouse is asking for trouble. A non-believing spouse is, moreover, unlikely to have the same values and standards as you do when it comes to maintaining one’s chastity before marriage. Marriage to a non-believer is also likely to lead to conflict further down the road when you are making decisions about how to raise your kids and what values to instil in them. If you marry someone who shares your faith and values, you could be saving yourself a lot of heartache later down the road.
Although sharing your Christian faith is a non-negotiable, it is not enough. Look not simply for a woman who is merely a “Sunday morning Christian”, but one who has demonstrated spiritual maturity and depth. As 1 Peter 3:3-4 says to women,
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
It is one thing for a woman to say that she is a Christian – anybody can do that. But how does it play out in her life in the real world? How does her faith influence the decisions that she makes? Does she live her life in such a way that reflects her Christianity without her having to mention her faith? Is she perpetually going to the Word of God for sustenance? Does she have a proper understanding of basic theological concepts such as the Trinity? What does her prayer life look like? Seek out a woman who is so deeply immersed in Christ that you have to first seek Him in order to find her.
Ask the girl what she feels God’s calling is for her life. Are you in a position to help her grow more to be like Christ and fulfil God’s will for her life? Are you sufficiently mature spiritually that you are able to teach her and lead her spiritually? Are there areas in which you can learn from her? An answer in the affirmative to these questions suggests that she may be someone you could pursue a relationship with.
Integrity is another essential. You want to know that your wife is trustworthy and that you can count on her to be faithful. Ask people who know her well to give you a character assessment of her.
It is important that a girl whom you are seeking to pursue a relationship with value purity and chastity. You don’t want to be in a relationship with a girl who is going to tempt you to compromise on your Christian principles. You also want your wife to be able to give her heart completely to you. If, however, she has already been sexually active outside of wedlock, she has created a strong emotional bond to someone else, and might find it difficult to give all of her heart entirely to her husband. That all said, past mistakes do happen, and I think there is a place for forgiveness – if the girl is sincerely repentant and acknowledges her past sin.
You should also be cautious of women who have been in many past relationships. If a girl has been in several previous relationships, it is not necessarily a make-or-break factor, but you should nonetheless ask them to provide the reasons of why these relationships did not work out. You don’t want to pursue someone who is a relationship hopper, since that raises questions about their ability to remain faithful and committed to you. Related to this, you should also be wary of women who are emotional pendulums when it comes to their commitment to the relationship. If, having entered a relationship, you are unable to predict a girl’s feelings about you from one day to the next, that is a serious red flag.
A girl’s family should also be an important factor in determining marital compatibility. Remember that you are marrying her family as well. You don’t want to marry into a mean family who don’t appreciate the investment you are putting into their daughter’s or sister’s life.
Finally, a further important characteristic in a godly wife is that she be able to look up to and respect you, and be willing to submit to your leading. You don’t want to be in a relationship with a girl who is going to be trying to seize the reins of the relationship. The responsibility for leading relationships falls on the shoulders of the man, not of the woman. Here are a few Bible verses that instruct a woman to submit to her husband:
Ephesians 5:22-24: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
Colossians 3:18: “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”
1 Peter 3:1-2: “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”
If your wife is going to respect you and submit to your leading, be sure that you are a man who is worthy of respect and submission. Be a man who is saturated with Scripture and dedicated to the things of God. Only then will you be able to lead a woman spiritually.
Beginning the Relationship
A relationship consists of several phases, which culminate in the final stage: marriage. The first stage is friendship. I am extremely unlikely to pursue someone for a relationship unless we have been friends for a reasonable period of time first – at least a few weeks or so, depending on how much time you are spending with them. During this time, observe them and evaluate their character, personality, and doctrinal compatibility. Take your time with this. Don’t blindly rush into a relationship with someone without taking the time to carefully evaluate them first. That way, you avoid playing with peoples’ hearts and prevent inevitable hurt as a consequence. Before letting the girl know that you are interested, weigh up the pros and cons; and determine (from your limited interaction) whether there are any significant concerns or obvious reasons why the relationship could fail. If you don’t feel that you could see yourself marrying the girl, do not enter a relationship with them.
There is a limit to how much information you can gather by this means, however, and there will come a time when it becomes necessary to move to phase 2. At this stage, you should let the girl know that you are interested in her. Ideally, you should be prepared to articulate the reasons you have for being interested in her – this shows that your motivation for pursuing her is not simply a desire to be in any generic relationship, but that you have already put significant thought into why this girl in particular is a worthy contender. If she rejects you, respect that and move on. If she expresses an interest, tell her that you would like to spend a few weeks getting to know her better in view of determining whether the relationship should proceed beyond friendship. This allows you to both gauge each other’s suitability without the emotional connection that comes along with being in a relationship (again, minimizing the risk of hurting her). It also allows you to evaluate her at a deeper level than you could in the previous phase. During this stage of the relationship, you should ask each other about your theological views, your past relationships, past sins that need to be confessed, what you both wish to get out of a relationship, how you would like to raise children (e.g. public vs. private vs. home schooling), and so on. Be completely transparent and honest with each other. Be sure that you have all your bases covered, and that there are going to be no unpleasant surprises later down the road after you have already developed an emotional connection.
It is very important that during this time there is a centrality of prayer about the future direction of the relationship. Seek the Lord’s will diligently. Deciding about relationships takes a lot of wisdom, and God has promised us in Scripture that “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
After a few weeks, discuss with your prospective girlfriend what the way forward should be for your relationship and whether there is a mutual desire to proceed and what you feel God is calling you to.
Guarding Your Hearts and Upholding Chastity
If you have followed the above procedure and have gotten as far as the relationship stage, I would suggest that there should be an increasingly greater level of commitment as the relationship continues to progress. In my case, I would not terminate a relationship without a very good reason once I have agreed to commit myself to the relationship. Do not take this commitment lightly.
It is important, however, that both parties take care to guard their (and each other’s) hearts, especially during the early days of the relationship, in case the relationship for whatever reason does not work out. This practice ensures that you will both be able to give your heart more completely to your future spouse. If you end up not being the husband of a girl whom you have dated, you want to be able to look that girl’s future husband in the eye and tell him with a clear conscience that you took good care to guard her heart for him.
I would suggest limiting physical contact to holding hands and the occasional hug during the early days of the relationship. Kissing should be reserved for significantly downstream in the relationship, until you have been together for a considerable period of time.
You should also avoid, whenever possible, being left alone together for long periods of time – where temptation may strike you and cause you to fall into sin. Meet together in public places or involve family and friends.
Making Christ the Cornerstone of Your Relationship
There is no other cornerstone for a God-honoring relationship besides that of Christ. Meditation upon Scripture and time spent together in prayer should form the bedrock of any relationship. I suggest working through a book of the Bible together, expositing the Scriptures verse by verse. This will inevitably lead to mutual edification and also offers some accountability for regular study of Scripture. I would also recommend working together through some classic Christian writings such as those of the puritans. There is a goldmine of nuggets to be found among such literature.
I trust that some will find the above perspectives of value as they look for a spouse and develop relationships which eventually will lead into marriage. These are only a few short thoughts, and there is much more that could be written on this subject. There will of course be other considerations that are specific to the interests and personality of the individual. For example, I very much enjoy intellectual conversation topics, particularly those relating to science, theology and apologetics. And so I look for someone who is similarly interested in discussing those areas and who can relate to me at an intellectual level.
Filed under: Mentoring, Advice, Bible, Chastity, Chivalry, Christian, Christianity, Courtship, Dating, Love, Marriage, Prayer, Relationships, Romance