Chapter OneGod's Antidote
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into
practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain
came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that
house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
CAUTION: The principles of dating are man-centered and
culturally determined; courtship principles are God-centered
and biblically based.
Each of us has a God-given urge to seek out an intimate relationship-physical,
emotional, and spiritual-with the opposite sex.
In biblically based courtship, a couple eventually satisfies that urge
through a process that results in a lifetime commitment. In dating,
however, a couple's immediate goal is not typically to work toward
a selfless, lifelong relationship, but to satisfy a short-term physical
or emotional need. The result is an endless series of temptations
that often results in guilt, disappointment, frustration, and heartbreak.
Too often, dating leads to disaster rather than happily ever
after. Here's a startling illustration that shows just how overrated
dating is by people who use it to "shop around" for the right
spouse. Write your name on a piece of paper, then write the
names of your two closest friends. If all three of you marry, two of
you probably won't stay married to your original partners. You'll
either find another partner or join the ever-growing population of
Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson began one of his
recent Focus on the Family radio broadcasts by quoting researchers
who predict that two out of three couples who marry this year
will not remain together throughout their lifetimes. That means
the majority of today's newlyweds won't be celebrating golden
wedding anniversaries. Instead, they'll spend what should be the
most relaxing, rewarding years of their lives picking up the pieces
of failed marriages and trying to patch up broken homes.
Without seeking and following God's plan, their marriages will
The solution to the dating dilemma is so simple that people
overlook it time after time, through one failed relationship after
another. It reminds me of the little boy who was riding his bicycle
down the street one day and noticed a big crowd up ahead under
a railroad trestle. When he got to the scene he realized a big truck
had tried to ease under the old, narrow trestle and had gotten
stuck. The police were there but they couldn't do anything.
Someone called a tow truck, but the big truck was stuck so tight
the cable broke. Someone else called a construction company to
see if they could raise the trestle with a hydraulic jack, but the
trestle was too long. The fire department was there, along with the
mayor, a man from the trucking company, a railroad supervisor,
and the service manager from the local truck dealership.
While they were all standing around trying to figure out what to
do, the boy rode up on his old Schwinn bicycle with multi-colored
streamers dangling from the handlebars and playing cards fastened
to the fenders so they made a flapping noise on the spokes. The
boy jumped off his bike, walked behind the truck, and tried to
talk to the puzzled men. But no one would listen.
After being ignored for a long time, the boy went home. For
six hours the truck stayed wedged beneath the trestle, and traffic
was detoured to the other side of town. Later, the boy came back
and saw that firemen were preparing to cut the top off the truck.
Worming his way through the circle of men, the boy finally shouted
above the noise of the crowd, "Wait! Why can't you just let the air
out of the tires?"
The simple solutions are sometimes the hardest to see.
After nearly a century of substituting dating for God's principles
of courtship, we may think we're stuck with the disastrous results,
that there's no other way to find a marriage partner. Christian singles
by the millions have wandered down the treacherous streets of
dating and found themselves in destructive relationships that
affect their lives forever. We've been like the crowd of adults
around the stranded truck who could see the problem but overlooked
the obvious solution.
The best answer has been the most elusive: Ditch dating and
return to romance God's way.
Dating vs. Courtship
Although the Bible never mentions the words "dating" or
"courtship," it does give principles and guidelines for one-to-one,
male/female relationships. The Bible says that after God created
goodness all around, He looked at man and said, "It is not good
for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Then He created woman
as a helper suitable for man. At that moment, romance, marriage,
and commitment became the very fabric of society.
But the fabric God wove is unraveling in today's culture.
We don't have to look very far to see a distorted picture of
what was supposed to be a divine lifetime plan: one man and one
woman committed to each other for life. "For this reason a man will
leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will
become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). God's intention for a husband and
wife was monogamy. Together they were to form an inseparable
union with "one flesh" being both a sign and an expression of that
God's solution for man's aloneness is marriage, not dating. Just
as marriage became the first one-on-one, male/female relationship,
the home became the foundational structure for the rest of
society, and a committed relationship became the foundation of
the home. In fact, God instituted the home before He created the
The principles of courtship are God-centered and biblically
based. Courtship is a biblical process of finding and choosing a
mate while glorifying God and honoring and respecting each
other. Dating, on the other hand, is the world's alternative to
courtship. Its principles are man-centered and culturally determined.
The words "Christian" and "dating" don't go together
because their principles are exact opposites. Christian dating is an
The primary distinction between dating and courtship lies in the
intent of the relationship:
When a couple begins a courting relationship, they both
know the purpose of the relationship is to consider marriage.
Conversely, casual dating is a romantic linking of a
couple simply to enjoy each other's company for the present.
In dating, both parties understand that while marriage
may be possible in the future, neither person is seriously
considering it at the moment. As a result, immediate pleasure
is the whole purpose for dating, even for Christians
who draw the line at sexual immorality.
Courting has a long-term end in view. There are no casual
"tryouts" in courtship, and it is reserved only for couples
spiritually and emotionally ready for marriage.
Courtship is not merely a Christian way of dating. When we
date, we often have a window-shopping attitude that has "self" as
the base: How will we look "wearing" our prospective
partner . having him . holding him . owning him? We try on
another person for size and see whether their style suits us. In
contrast, someone in a courtship relationship says, "I believe God
has led me to you above all others and I will honor, cherish, and
marry you." No broken hearts. No painful baggage. No walking
Courtship In The Real World
Camille was a thirty-five-year-old mother who had been married
thirteen years before her divorce. Even though her ex-husband
had remarried and she was eager to be part of a two-parent home
again, dating in midlife wasn't an appealing thought.
When men from her singles Sunday school class asked her for
a date, she would go and then be sorry she went. The problems
inherent in dating only multiplied the daily difficulties she faced as
a new single mom. Eventually, she dated one person for several
months, but the relationship didn't last. Camille's children had
grown attached to the man, so when they broke up it hurt not
only her but the kids as well.
"I started praying for God's protection because I just didn't
want to live like that anymore," Camille said. "I prayed He would
keep away anyone who wasn't the right one."
Camille had seen what prayer had done for a friend of hers
who had recently married after trusting God to bring "the right
one" into her life. She had watched God protect her friend from
the pain of wrong relationships and knew God could help her the
Camille's best friend had also sought God's help and protection.
"She was very intelligent and attractive, but after that prayer
she didn't get asked out very much," Camille said. "It was just
God's protection of her. Eventually, a wonderful Christian man
came into her life and they married."
Camille believed God honored her friend's prayers because she
had a desire for purity above all else and a need to be a pure vessel
in the presence of a holy God. She wanted that purity in her own
Camille prayed her own prayer of protection. Afterward, no
one asked her for a date for three months. That had never happened
before. She was attractive and popular. Men had always
been attentive to her. To her own surprise, Camille wasn't bothered
by the lack of social interaction. Even though she still had a
desire to marry again, Camille was becoming content with being
single and involving herself in church and community activities.
All of a sudden, God opened the floodgates. Three men asked
her out at the same time. She told all three the same thing: "I don't
date. I believe in courtship." Two of the three never stuck around
to find out why. The third was an exception. Wade was familiar
with the courtship concept and responded, "Any guy with his ear
to God's mouth wouldn't be scared by it."
"Wade called a few times, and our friendship grew from
acquaintance to casual friendship through interaction at church
activities," Camille continued. "After our first conversation, I
thought, 'Wow, what a godly man!' He had a desire for God that
was what I wanted in a husband."
Wade understood her attitude toward dating and courtship.
They spent that month praying about whether to enter into a relationship,
particularly since Wade wasn't sure if he would ever
"If he knew he was never going to get married, I didn't even
want to start anything," Camille said.
Then Wade went away for a three-day weekend to pray and
ask if Camille was God's choice for him. When he returned, their
"I saw he was very interested in me and that I meant more to
him than having to go through the obstacles," Camille said.
Obstacles? "Safeguards" may be a better word.
One of the most important safeguards was an accountability
couple. Both sets of parents lived too far away to provide direction
and guidance for the relationship, so Wade and Camille asked a
godly couple from their church to serve in the major role of an
"We went to their home one evening, and Wade talked to the
husband almost like he would have talked to my father," Camille
said. Together they discussed the need for setting some boundaries
to keep the relationship from moving too fast at the beginning and
to allow both Camille and Wade to think clearly and hear God's
"Our friends sent us to separate rooms in the house and told
us to pray about how much time we should spend together at the
beginning," Camille said. "After praying, I didn't have a sense of
what our time together should be, but Wade came out saying we
should see each other once a week for three hours and spend one
hour a week on the phone. So with the blessings of our accountability
couple, we began our courtship."
During those early days of the relationship, Wade wrote to
Camille and she began to know his heart more through his letters
than their conversations. "When we started spending more time
together, I dragged him around to all my older married friends
and he did the same to me. We did this because we knew our
friends would detect red flags that might not be obvious to us,"
she said. "We even went to pre-engagement counseling with my
pastor, who likes to talk to couples before they get engaged." Their
relationship had developed from an acquaintance and now was
heading into an intimate friendship.
The two of them became involved with other couples in group
activities and began attending a home cell group. In time, Wade
also began joining in activities with her children. As their time
alone became more limited by circumstances (work responsibilities
and a long drive between houses), they no longer needed artificial
limitations on their time. After a ten-week engagement, they were
How much time did the courtship process take? The time it
took to develop a friendship, one month of prayer, one month of
hardly seeing each other, two months of leading each other all
over the city to visit friends, and a ten-week engagement. But it
took a lifetime of learning to seek God's counsel.
"More and more I see how Wade is just the perfect person for
me," Camille said. "The children were very excited and supportive.
If they had not been, I would have considered that as my
counsel against the marriage.
"It's so important not to try to pick someone and make it happen
but just to let God work in the situation. God is in control and
desires what is best for us."
Courtship can be defined by eight basic assumptions a courting
couple makes that embrace a lifestyle, values, and priorities completely
different from dating:
We view the marriage relationship not as a contract
between two people but as a covenant between a couple
and God. His divine intention is an inseparable, monogamous
union. Becoming "one flesh" is both a sign and
expression of that union.
We decide not to date or "shop around" but to save ourselves
physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the
one person God would have us marry. To exchange dating
for courtship is to demonstrate faith in God's will and in
His power to bring that will to pass in our lives. We wait on
God's timing and God's revelation, believing that He will
show us what to do and whom to marry.
While we wait for God to reveal His choice of a mate,
we concentrate on being the right person instead of
finding the right person. We do this by involving ourselves
in ministry, fellowship, and friendships that help us
focus on our value and identity in Christ instead of our
value to someone else. We learn to treat our friends in
Christ as if they were brothers and sisters and to distinguish
biblically appropriate behavior from behavior that compromises
our physical and emotional integrity.
Once we have developed an intimate friendship with
another person and believe they may be our intended
partner, we enter a courtship with the understanding
that marriage is the expected end result. Unlike dating,
we aren't casually "trying out" another person until we find
a steady dating partner.
Because we enter a courtship relationship with a view
toward marriage, we may have to delay considering
courtship until we are in a position to marry and have
laid a responsible foundation. God expects us to spend
our season of singleness preparing ourselves and laying the
foundation for His blessing. For younger singles, this may
mean no courtship during the high school years and perhaps
not until after college.
We begin a courtship with the full knowledge and
approval of both sets of parents or, if parental involvement
is not possible, a spiritual accountability couple.
Accountability in the relationship is desired and created
through the involvement of parents, another godly couple,
or both. Courtship includes time spent with the entire family
and allows an accountability couple to provide protection,
correction, and direction.