God’s Design for Scriptural Romance – Part 1 (Chapters 1-5)

All Scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible

TABLE OF CONTENTS 

Chapters

1.  Rediscovering the Timeless Truths  
      The Philosophy behind Dating
      The Fruit of Dating
      Evaluating the Relevant Passages
      Significant Relationships to Study
      Significant Concepts & Words to Study
      God’s Four Truth Forms
      Interpreting Culturally Related Scripture
      Biblical Betrothal is Transcultural
      Identifying God’s Principles for Romance
      Taking every thought captive

2.  Dealing with the Dating Dilemma  
      Dating Defined
      Distinguishing Characteristics of Dating and Betrothal
      Dating’s History
      Comparing Dating With Scripture
      Victory over a Dating Spirit
      Spiritually Renewing your Mind
      God’s Commands against Dating
      How to Acquire a Wife
      Discarding the Myths of Dating
      Discerning the Dangers of Dating
      How can Parents Resist?
      How can Young People Resist?
      God’s Solution to the Dating Spirit

3.  Preparing Your Children for Biblical Betrothal
     
Courtship vs. Betrothal
      Your Children’s Example
      Your Children’s Encouragement
      Your Children’s Equipping
      Essential Training Topics

4.  Choosing a Spouse by Faith, not Feelings
     
Quiz on Choosing a Spouse
      What God’s will Means
      Testing God’s Individual Will
      Circumstances do not Guide Us
      Neither Doors nor Fleeces
      Impressions do not Guide Us
      What about Peace?
      How God Guides Us

5.  Talking Biblically about Feelings
     
Sense Perceptions
      Our Emotions
      Beliefs, Attitudes, Thoughts
      Our Desires

6.  How to Marry – The Friendship Stage
     
Worldly Relations vs. Biblical Relations
      Whether to Marry
      Three Factors
      Whom to Marry
      Only in the Lord
      Understanding Friendship
      Applying Piety
      Applying Patriarchy
      Applying Purity
      Applying Preparedness
      Applying Patience

7.  How to Marry – The Courtship Stage
     
Understanding Courtship
      Wisdom Guidance
      Applying Piety
      Applying Patriarchy
      Applying Purity
      God’s Fences of Protection
      Applying Preparedness & Patience

8.  How to Marry — Courtship Questions
     
Questions about Courtship
      Questions during Courtship
      Phase One – The Inquiry

9.  How to Marry — The Betrothal Stage
     
Purposes of Betrothal
      Applying Piety
      Applying Patriarchy
      Applying Purity
      Applying Preparedness
      Applying Patience

10.  How to Marry — The Wedding Stage
      
Biblical Wedding Examples
       Applying Piety
       Applying Preparedness
       The Procession
       The Ceremony
       The Celebration
       Applying Patriarchy
       Applying Purity
       Applying Patience

11.  The Marriage of Jonathan and Zoie–A marriage based on courtship
      
Prelude
       Procession
       Ceremony
       Signing of the Covenant
       Celebration

Chapter 1

Rediscovering the Timeless Truths  

Several years ago a missionary related to our church how three ominous inroads from Western culture are destroying the morality of families in India — even families in Bible-believing churches. These pernicious intrusions are Western television, Western rock music, and Western dating and romance. We were familiar, of course, with the corrupting influences of Western television and rock music. These plagues of post-Christian culture are ruining many families in America too. But dating and romance? What could possibly be harmful in this?

Our missionary, a prominent Bible teacher and counselor in India, explained his startling observation from many years of marriage counseling. He noted that marriages in India which are begun through traditional betrothal (pursuing a relationship for marriage, not recreation) enjoy a near zero divorce rate. By contrast, marriages that are commenced through Western dating have the same divorce rate as America — over fifty percent! All other factors being the same, the dating vs. betrothal issue seems to have a dramatic impact on a marriage’s happiness, stability and longevity.

Such an observation strikes a responsive chord among a growing number of Christian families in America today. Not only homeschoolers but conservative believers of all sorts are rediscovering God’s timeless truths about romance through an assortment of new literature (I count over thirty books and tapes in my own collection). Yet if these virtues are to become uncompromised convictions, they must be personally investigated from their original source, the Bible. This, of course, is the nature of a conviction — it is a belief we are convinced is God-ordered and non-negotiable. Thus, the mission of my writing is not to entertain you (though I think you will find this study stimulating) but to lead you into scriptural truths which are vital for the preservation of your family.

THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND DATING
Before we explore the specific passages in Scripture that deal with romance, let’s begin with the big picture, the issue of one’s life philosophy which will then undergird everything he or she believes and practices in life. The Bible teaches that your life philosophy is either man-centered or Christ-centered, either man-pleasing or Christ-pleasing (1 Th. 2:4cf; Gal. 5:16ff). These are the only two options. And whatever life philosophy you truly embrace will show in your beliefs and in your behaviors.

Notice what the Apostle Paul reveals about this in Colossians 2:6-8.  In verses 6-7, Paul exhorts the Colossians to walk out their Christian life in the same way that they put their faith into Christ, namely, through the instruction of the Word of God, producing an abundantly joyous, thankful life. But is this the typical fruit we encounter in modern dating? Is it possible that we have unwittingly been deceived by our culture and have departed from God’s truth in this matter of romance, dating and finding a spouse?

Keep that possibility in mind as you read Paul’s caution in verse 8: See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Beware; says Paul, here is a very real danger, the threat of being kidnapped away from truth and into the mental, emotional and spiritual bondage of error. By what conspiracy might you and I be captured into error? Through philosophy and empty deception, answers Paul. The Greek word for philosophy means a love of wisdom, and here it refers more specifically to the appeal of worldly wisdom. Further, we are warned that the world’s teachings are empty deception. That is, although they are made to look appealing, in reality they are barren, unfulfilling lies.

Well, how do these barren, unfulfilling lies of the world take us captive? By two means, declares Paul: according to the traditions of men and according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. The traditions of men refer to worldly practices; the elementary principles of the world denote worldly beliefs. So, Paul is sternly warning Christians to beware and to avoid worldly practices and beliefs that would displace the practices and beliefs of Christ through His Word.

What we are hearing in Paul’s admonition is the necessity of Christian separation, Come out from their midst and be separate, commands the Lord in 2 Corinthians 6:17, and do not touch what is unclean. In order to have a joyous, meaningful and effective Christian life, says God, we must be a separated people — separated from the sinful philosophy of the world, which is propagated by the sinful people of the world, stimulated by the sinful pleasures and places of the world, and proliferated through the sinful principles and practices of the world.

THE FRUIT OF DATING
The philosophy of the world is commonly known as humanism; and it views man and his desires as supreme. Some of the practices of this philosophy are clearly wrong, such as abortion, homosexuality and adultery. The world practices these sins because they view man and his desires as supreme, and most Christians recognize these sins as clearly wrong. Yet, other practices of the philosophy of humanism are not clearly wrong but are subtly wrong. They are just as wrong because they are rooted in man and his desires being supreme, but their wrongness is not so obvious. Could it be that one of these subtly wrong practices of humanism is recreational romance (dating)? Jesus declared that you will know a tree (whether it’s good or bad) by its fruit (Luk.6:44.).   As we asked earlier, what is the typical fruit we encounter in modern dating? Several interviews with parents revealed these fruits from their teen dating experience:

1. Self-centeredness
2. Macho pride
3. Improper thoughts
4. Sensual focus
5. Immorality
6. Promiscuity
7. Fear
8. Distrust
9. Covetousness
10. Jealousy
11. Insecurity
12. Heartache
13. Bitterness
14. Revenge
15. Violence
16. Depression
17. Thoughts of suicide
18. Tensions among youth
19. Independent spirit
20. Hindered spiritual growth
21. Strained relationship with parents
22. Feeling of being used

This last fruit of the dating game — a feeling of being used — is more than just a feeling, it’s a fact. When you date, you become used merchandise, used at least emotionally and often physically, from one romantic entanglement to the next. This fact can be graphically illustrated by passing around a piece of unwrapped chewing gum from person to person until it has become very grimy, possibly dropped and trampled on, maybe even chewed. Now, who wants it? Anyone with mature thinking will quickly reject this chewing gum as undesirable, defiled merchandise. Young children, of course, will happily eat this dirty gum because they don’t know any better, which is why God gave them parents. Likewise, God gave your children parents to guide them in this serious area of pre-marital relationships — so they don’t become like used chewing gum or pawed over merchandise on the bargain table.

Yuk, this dating game looks pretty rotten. That’s right, God intends for rotten fruit — the corruption we reap from sowing to the flesh (Gal.6:8) — to drive us back to His Word for divine direction. We are to use Scripture as a mirror, James says, for carefully evaluating what needs to be changed in our life (Jam. 1:23-25). What, then, has God revealed about His philosophy of romance? And how do we unearth His life-changing principles?

EVALUATING THE RELEVANT PASSAGES
The study of any topic in Scripture begins with locating the relevant passages by using such tools as an exhaustive concordance, a topical Bible, a Bible encyclopedia, cross-references and a good thesaurus (the new computer versions of these tools are even more effective). A narrow search of our topic would look up such key words and phrases as betrothal, engagement, wedding, marry, covenant, bride, groom, take a wife, give a daughter, etc. A broader study would include words like dowry, protect, touch, kiss, caress, embrace, defraud, virgin and so on. Once located, these Bible passages must not be merely read but must be deeply probed by asking Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? in a dozen different ways. The answers to these six crucial questions will enable us to define and describe God’s Design for Scriptural Romance.

But we must be sure to frame the questions in light of our topic. For example, Who? might ask about the role of father, mother, son and daughter. What? might inquire about the outcome of the relationship. When? might probe the proper time for romantic emotions or touching. Where? might investigate whether romance should be public or private. Why? might question the reason something is done — is it normative or cultural? How? might explore the way a courtship, betrothal and wedding is carried out.

My own study following the above method uncovered over sixty relevant passages (not counting duplicates and immaterial references). Several of these were extensive, others were sketchy. But even some of the brief ones yielded highly crucial information. In this series of articles, we’ll be making reference to many of these Scriptures, so let me list them for your firsthand study.

SIGNIFICANT RELATIONSHIPS TO STUDY:
Gen. 2:18-25 Adam & Eve
Gen. 6:1-5 Sons of God & Daughters of Men
Gen. 21:21 Ishmael & Wife
Gen. 24:1-67 Isaac & Rebekah
25:20; 26:8
Gen. 26:34-35 Esau & Judith, Basemath
Gen. 28:1-9 Jacob & Leah, Rachel
29:1-30
Gen. 34:1-31 Shechem & Dinah
Gen. 38:6 Er & Tamar
Gen. 41:45 Joseph & Asenath
Exod. 2:16-22 Moses & Zipporah
Josh. 15:16f Othniel & Achsah
Jdg. 14:1-20 Samson & Philistine, Delilah
15:1-6; 16:1-31
Ruth. 2-4 Boaz & Ruth
1 Sam. 18:17-29 David & Merab, Michal
1 Sam. 25:39-42 David & Abigail
2 Sam. 11:1-27 David & Bathsheba
1Ki. 11:1-8 Solomon & Many Wives
1Ki. 11:19 Hadad & Wife
2 Chron. 24:1-3 Joash & Wives
Est. 2:7-17 Ahasuerus & Esther
Pro. 31 King Lemuel & Virtuous Wife
Sol.1:1-3:11 Solomon & Shullamite Woman
Hos. 2:19-20 God & Israel (Wife)
Eze.16:8
Matt. 1:18-25 Joseph & Mary
Luk.1:27;2:5
2 Cor. 11:2-3 Christ & Church (Wife)
Eph.5:22-33
Rev.19:7-9

SIGNIFICANT CONCEPTS & WORDS TO STUDY:
Betrothal, Engagement — Exod. 22:16-17; Deut. 22:23-29; 2 Sam. 3:14; Matt. 1:19f
Covenants — Gen. 21:27-31; 31:48ff; Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21-23; Josh. 9:18-20; Zech. 8:17; Mal. 3:5; Gal. 3:15
Dowry/Bride Price — Gen. 34:11-12; Exod. 22:16-17; 1 Sam. 18:25; 2 Sam. 3:14
Patriarchal Protection — Num. 30:3ff; Deut. 22:21; Ps. 36:7; 2 Cor. 11:2
Father Giving Bride — 1 Cor. 7:36-38; Lk. 20:34-35; Exod. 22:17
Romantic Emotions/Touching — Gen. 20:4,6; 26:8; Exod. 22:16f; Deut. 22:23f; Ruth. 2:9; S. of Sol.1-3; Matt. 5:28; Rom. 13:14; 1 Cor. 7:1; 1Thess. 4:6; 1 Tim. 5:1-2
Wedding — Ps. 45:13ff; S. of Sol. 3:6-11; Mal. 2:14; Matt. 22:2ff; 25:1ff; Jn. 14:2f; Rev. 19:7ff

Why is it that many people — even some Christians — don’t earnestly want to know what the Bible says on certain subjects? It is because such an understanding would require a change in their lifestyle and comfort level. This is decidedly true for the topic we are presently studying, scriptural romance. Since most young people are so intertwined in emotional relationships with the opposite sex, there will be a strong motivation to latch onto one of the popular excuses to avoid submission to God’s truth.

For example, non-Christians avoid God’s truth simply by claiming the Bible is not inspired (cf. 2 Tim.3:16). Since it’s not really God’s revelation to guide His creatures, we need not obey it. Likewise, neo-evangelicals assert the Bible is not inerrant (cf. Matt. 5:18). It is full of mistakes by the faulty men God used to write it, so how do we know for sure what’s true in it? With quite a similar outcome, modern evangelicals argue the Bible is not relevant (cf. Matt. 28:19-20). Many of its truths are culturally bound and therefore not applicable to our present society, they claim.

In his enlightening book The Sufficiency of Scripture, Dr. Noel Weeks puts this last excuse in perspective: Those who charge that the teaching of biblical authors was culturally bound generally make selective use [of it]. They find something in Scripture which challenges [their] contemporary ideas or institutions, and they try to find a way to set aside that element of Scripture (pp. 79-80). The descriptive vs. prescriptive argument is often stretched beyond its intent. God’s unalterable truths are eternal, even though certain applications of them may change culturally. What, then, must we know in order to accurately extract God’s timeless truths about Scriptural romance, and then effectively apply these principles to our lives?

GOD’S FOUR TRUTH FORMS
First, we must recognize the four forms of biblical truth by which God has communicated to us — principle, precept, practice and prudence — in a variety of literary styles (like narrative, poetry, prophecy, wise sayings, epistles). We might parallel these four truth forms to the four food groups in that our spiritual diet is not properly nourishing if we are missing any. Just as our physical health is dependent upon our eating regularly from each of the essential food groups, so also our spiritual health is dependent upon our feeding regularly from each of these four truth forms. To omit any from our spiritual diet will promote malformed and diseased spiritual lives.

Principle is the first truth form and is defined as a fundamental, primary or general truth or reason by which God has ordered His creation. Speaking of the elementary principles of the oracles of God, Hebrews 5:12 suggests that God’s principles stand behind all the precepts, practices and prudence which make up His oracles, or revelation. Our responsibility, of course, is to discover and apply them. That’s relatively easy when the principle is directly stated as the justification for a command or practice and is introduced by such words as for, since or because (e.g., 1 Tim. 5:17-18). Other times, however, the principle is only implied and must be unearthed through biblical research and spiritual reasoning. For example, the requirement in 1 Timothy 5:19 for two or three witnesses implies the underlying principle of impartiality (see verse 21) as taught in Matthew 18:16 (and ultimately Exodus 20:16). Because biblical principles are an expression of the very character of God (who is Truth), all principles are by nature applicable to all cultures. Don’t let that last statement escape you: as an expression of the very character of God, all principles are by nature applicable to all cultures. Sounds like the Bible is very relevant after all!

A second truth form is precept, a direct command of God which is rooted in principle, such as pray at all times (Eph. 6:18). To uncover the underlying principle behind a command, simply ask the question Why? Why are you to pray at all times? Because you are in a dependent, loving relationship with God — that is the intrinsic principle. And unless there is clear evidence to the contrary (see below), you should normally assume that a biblical command is applicable to you and your culture. The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God and keep His commandments [precepts], because this applies to every person (Eccl. 12:13).

The third truth form, practice, is a biblically defined implementation or exercise of a principle. Many Christians wrongly assume that the practices in Scripture are generally culturally bound, yet Paul declares just the opposite when he explains, [Timothy] will remind you of my ways [practices] which are in Christ [principles], just as I teach everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:17; cf. Phil. 3:17; 4:9).   Old Testament scholar Dr. Richard Pratt, in his interpretational guide titled He Gave Us Stories, puts it this way: In many cases a sharp distinction between form [practice] and meaning [principle] cannot be justified. The New Testament does not merely insist that believers affirm abstract theological principles; it also requires us to follow forms and structures in the church. In many cases the forms and the principles are largely inseparable. We do not need to contextualize the biblical teaching; we need to teach and explain the requirements of Scripture (p. 373). Thus, we should usually understand that a biblical practice is relevant to all cultures unless there are sound reasons to the contrary.

Prudence is the fourth and final truth form by which God has communicated to us in His Word. It is the wise personal application of a principle. Does this make prudence optional? No, Solomon tells us that to rashly ignore prudence is sin: He who sins against me [Wisdom] injures himself; all those who hate me love death (Prov. 8:36). Once you have concluded that a particular path would be prudent, to do otherwise would be sinful since the motive could only be to please self rather than Christ.

INTERPRETING CULTURALLY RELATED SCRIPTURE
In addition to embracing all four forms of biblical truth, we must next understand how to interpret culturally related truth, if we are to unearth God’s essential elements about scriptural romance. But did you know that ALL Scripture is culturally related because it was written to a specific people and culture? However, that does NOT mean all Scripture is culturally bound. Indeed, some precepts and practices are exclusive to a culture, while others are normative for all time. How do we know which is which? To determine if it is cultural, we must ask whether the precept or practice is …
1.  Chronologically limited? E.g., a mode of transportation, such as donkey power, changes as civilizations progress.
2.  Theologically limited? E.g., Old Testament animal sacrifices were fulfilled by Christ at Calvary (Matt. 5:17).
3.  Culturally limited? E.g., the holy kiss (same gender on the cheek) was a custom of greeting like our handshake.
4.  Historically limited? E.g., urging singleness in view of the present distress (1 Cor. 7:26) is confined to times of adversity.
5.  Personally limited? E.g., Paul making tents rather than accepting financial support for his ministry is described as a personal preference (1 Cor. 9:12).

Likewise, there are some ways to evaluate if a precept or practice is transcultural (i.e., normative for all time). For example, ask if it is …
1.  A departure from cultural practice? E.g., for a woman to learn anything was contrary to first century culture (1 Cor. 14:35).
2.  A Christian tradition? These, such as women’s headcovering, we are instructed to hold firmly to (1 Cor. 11:2).
3.  A creation ordinance? Both Jesus and Paul pointed to God’s original design in creation for normative truths (Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).
4.  An appeal to a timeless principle? E.g., Christians have the wisdom to judge the future world (1 Cor. 6:1-3) How much more, then, matters of this life?
5.  An appeal to a different culture? E.g., Paul appeals to Israelite culture for the Corinthians to follow (1 Cor. 9:9).
6.  Repeated in different cultures? E.g., Betrothal is found in all cultures from Creation to Christ’s marriage to the church (2 Cor. 11:2).

BIBLICAL BETROTHAL IS TRANSCULTURAL
A typical response to biblical betrothal says, Wait, aren’t all the Scriptures about betrothal simply descriptive of Jewish culture and not really applicable to Christians today? No, if you examine them more closely, that is not the case at all. By biblical betrothal we mean an approach to the man-woman relationship which involves a binding commitment to marry and careful oversight by parents (versus the freewheeling, recreational approach of dating). It is instructive that in Scripture there are no positive examples of romantic relationships apart from betrothal, whether Jewish or Gentile. Every scriptural example where the father (or another adult if the father was dead) initiated and oversaw the romantic relationship (such as Adam/Eve, Isaac/Rebecca, Joseph/Mary, etc.), the outcome was blessed by God. On the other hand, every example where the father did NOT initiate and oversee the relationship (such as Esau/wives, Shechem/Dinah, Samson/Delilah, etc.) the outcome was either mixed or disastrous! It is simply the sowing and reaping principle of Paul’s command to the young men to treat the younger women as sisters, in all purity (1 Tim. 5:2).

In Scripture I have observed at least five reasons why Bible-believing Christians ought to consider the betrothal approach to marriage as transcultural, that is, normative for all people in all cultures. See if this makes sense to you.

1.  THE PRE-CULTURE CREATION MODEL — In Matthew 19:4-6, Christ appeals to the pre-culture creation account of Genesis 1-2 as abiding justification for a biblical view of marriage (just as Paul does for male church leadership in 1 Timothy 2:13-14). By pre-culture I mean that cultural creeds and customs had not yet developed. In the Garden of Eden we are dealing with pristine conditions, the commencement of civilization untainted by mankind’s sin or ceremony. Following Christ’s example, Christian scholars throughout church history have likewise based marriage on what they call the creation ordinance. So, what exactly was this original prototype? The Father (God), through wise and loving oversight, brought together the bride (Eve) and the groom (Adam) for the sole purpose of marriage. God didn’t create a dozen men and a dozen women to play the dating game and then marry whomever they wished. Instead, He wanted Adam to be a one-woman man (1 Tim. 3:2) and Eve to be a one-man woman (1 Tim. 5:9). Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were the ideal couple, the norm for marriage throughout time.

2.  THE LAW WRITTEN IN THE HEART — Biblical and historical evidence reveals that the creation model of betrothal became the practice not only for Israel but also for nearly every civilization in history until the twentieth century. Even prior to the origin of Israel and the Mosaic Law, the nations of the world embraced biblical betrothal. And Israel’s contemporaries, while rejecting much of the Mosaic code of conduct, nevertheless adopted biblical betrothal. Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and the many cultures since the time of Christ have likewise practiced betrothal. Why? The Apostle Paul relates in Romans 2:14-15 that when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law … they show the work of the Law written in their hearts. History confirms that betrothal is not a cultural peculiarity but rather an instinctive principle written in the heart of all mankind.

3.  AN AGELESS PRINCIPLE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT — The Apostle Paul explains in Romans 15:4, written primarily to Gentile Christians, that whatever was written in earlier times [the Old Testament] was written for our [New Testament believers] instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Whatever was written? Yes, the entire Old Testament continues to instruct us through its ageless principles including betrothal, a principle of self-denial about which Paul is exhorting in this very context (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11;  2 Tim. 3:16). When everyone around us is yielding to fleshly dating, it is our own perseverance (steadfastness) and the encouragement of the Scriptures (biblical examples of betrothal) that will give us hope, a confident expectation that God will provide for those who are faithful. About this verse, Donald Grey Barnhouse remarked in his inimitable commentary on Romans, that between the lines of the former revelation are great eternal principles.

4.  APPLICATION TO A DIFFERENT CULTURE — Again, the Apostle Paul advises predominantly Gentile Christians — indeed, all who in every place call upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:2) — to follow God’s normative principle of betrothal (i.e., patriarchal responsibility over marriage): But if a man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his groom’s offer of marriage (Jn. 3:36). During betrothal the groom (Christ) is demonstrating His

virgin daughter, if she should be of full age, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry (1 Cor. 7:36ff).  Notice that even to Gentile believers Paul’s marital advice is grounded in the father’s biblical authority to do what he wishes in regard to his daughter, even if she is of full age, i.e., getting beyond marriageable age. Betrothal, then, is a practice which Paul considered to be in Christ and one that he taught everywhere in every church, to both Jewish and Gentile cultures (1 Cor. 4:17).

5.  CHRIST’S MARRIAGE TO THE CHURCH — Perhaps the most compelling reason for recognizing betrothal as transcultural is our Lord’s use of this standard for His relationship with His own multicultural bride, the church. As the spiritual father of the Corinthians, Paul declares: …for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin (2 Cor. 11:2). Why would Christ choose betrothal if it were not God’s own prescription for pre-marital fidelity? Indeed, Paul suggests that its primary purpose is to present you as a pure virgin. Just as Christ doesn’t want us dating around in the spiritual realm because it leads to physical, mental and emotional impurity, so likewise in the natural realm.

How did Christ betroth Himself to His bride? Notice that it perfectly parallels the biblical betrothal model found in our relevant passages above. First, the Heavenly Father and Son together chose the bride (Eph. 1:4; Jn. 15:16). The Son was then sent to seek His bride (Lk. 19:10). During this time He was in continuous communication with and submission to His Father (Jn. 5:30) At the time of betrothal, Christ paid the greatest bride price in history, His own precious blood (1 Pet. 1:18-19). The bride (the church) has the choice to accept or reject the love for us through words, acts and gifts, and we grow to know and love Him more and more each day (Eph. 3:17-19). Christ’s love for His betrothed is a secure, permanent relationship, unlike dating around (Heb. 13:5; Rom. 8:37-39). During betrothal we cannot touch Him, but after He comes for us in marriage, we will (Jn. 14:2-3). After our processional to heaven, our marriage to Christ will be celebrated with a great wedding feast (Rev. 19:7-9).

IDENTIFYING GOD’S PRINCIPLES FOR ROMANCE
From creation to Christ’s second coming and covering a multitude of cultures, the Scriptures consistently present the betrothal model as normative, not cultural. Before sin, before Israel, before the Law, before Christ, before the church., God instituted betrothal. What, then, are the essential, unchanging principles which stand behind this universal practice as an expression of the very character of God? A careful inquiry (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How) of the sixty or so relevant passages reveals five fundamental principles of scriptural romance: piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience. Let’s see from where these timeless truths originate.

PIETY. In a sentence, piety is a general godliness or righteousness in attitudes and conduct which imitates Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church. Piety is the character quality which undergirds and permeates the other four principles of scriptural romance. It is a pure devotion to please Christ rather than self in all our relationships, focusing on inward character rather than outward beauty. Apart from true piety, applying the other principles will be hypocritical at best. Illustrations of this quality abound among the godly couples in Scripture. Isaac, for example, was meditating in the field while he awaited his bride’s arrival (Gen. 24:63). Joseph, in his relationship to Mary, is described as a righteous man (Matt. 1:19). Jesus Christ the righteous weds his bride, the church, after she is clothed in the righteous acts of the saints (Rev. 19:8). Other notable examples of piety in romance would include Jacob and Boaz.

PATRIARCHY. If piety is the undergirding virtue, then patriarchy may be called the overarching principle since the father’s leadership is definitive in scriptural romance. In brief, the father lovingly prepares, protects and provides a spouse with the cooperation of a son or approval of a daughter. Just as God perfectly fashioned Eve for Adam, the bride’s father prepares his daughter to be a suitable helper through training in spiritual maturity, academics, fine arts, and life skills (Gen. 2:18,22). Like the biblical patriarchs, he protects his daughter physically, morally, and emotionally, keeping her under his roof until she marries and never releasing her to an unprotected situation (Ps. 36:7; Deut. 22:21; Num. 30:3ff; cf. Gen. 34:1ff). Indeed, he is jealous for [her] with a godly jealousy to protect her purity so that she is betrothed to only one husband (2 Cor. 11:2). With a relationship of deep trust and respect, the bride’s father provides his daughter with a husband which she approves (Exod. 2:21; Jos. 15:17; 1 Sam. 18:27). The father initiates, investigates, oversees and chooses his daughter’s husband, though she may humbly decline (Gen. 24:58; 1 Sam. 18:20; Jn. 3:36; 1 Cor. 7:36).

Correspondingly, a groom’s father prepares his son to be a godly leader and a generous provider (Gen. 2:15-17; Prov. 1-7). Protecting a son is less stringent than protecting a daughter since he is less vulnerable. But it is still a moral concern, which is why Solomon candidly counseled his son regarding immoral women in Proverbs chapters 2, 5, 6 and 7. Finally, the groom’s father provides a wife (Jer. 29:6), yet with the active participation of his son (Jn. 15:16). Adam’s father brought to the man the woman who was fashioned for his need (Gen. 2:20-24), as did Abraham also and most other Old and New Testament fathers (Gen. 24:3; 38:6; Jdg. 12:8-9; 2 Ki. 14:9; Jn. 6:37). Historically, a Jewish father considered it his responsibility before God to train his son in a trade, to teach him the Law, and to bring him into wedlock. Because he was instructed not to forsake the instruction of his mother and father (Prov. 1:8; 4:1), a godly young man never married a wife without the oversight and blessing of his father. And all unblessed marriages in Scripture resulted in a mixed or disastrous result, such as Esau, Shechem and Samson.

The mother of the bride or groom is to support, not supplant her husband as patriarch, giving wise counsel to her husband and children as King Lemuel’s mother did (Gen. 2:18; Prov. 31). But what if the father is physically absent from the family through death, desertion or divorce? Then the mother assumes his role of initiating and overseeing the betrothal process, just as Hagar got a bride for Ishmael (Gen. 21:21). By analogy, if the father is spiritually absent from the family, the mother may assume his betrothal duties if he does not disallow it (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5; 1 Cor. 7:14).

PURITY. Having summarized the concepts of piety and patriarchy, the third fundamental principle of scriptural romance is purity, which in the Scripture means no physical affection or romantic emotions prior to God’s approval. In the choice of a mate, physical attraction clearly must be secondary to inner character and spiritual maturity. Seek a woman of virtue (Prov. 31:10ff; Ruth. 3:11) and a man of character (Ruth. 2:9,15f). Romantic touching — holding hands, hugging, kissing, etc. — are appropriate ONLY within marriage (Gen. 2:25; 26:8; Prov. 5:18f; 6:29; S. of Sol. 4-8; Matt. 1:24f; 2 Cor. 11:2; Heb. 13:4). It is good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Cor. 7:1; Gen. 20:4,6; 34:3; Ruth 2:9; 2 Sam. 11:1ff; etc.). God never intended any level of limited romantic touching prior to marriage. James describes this principle of the slippery slope in 1:14: But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. By God’s design for procreation, one touch leads to the next. Consequently, in Scripture couples were generally in the company of their families or chaperoned (Gen. 2:22-24; S. of Sol.1-3 — by the daughters of Jerusalem).  And when not chaperoned, moral disasters occurred, such as Shechem with Dinah, Samson with Delilah, and David with Bathsheba. Lead me not into temptation, a plea to the Heavenly Father, should likewise be heard by earthly fathers (Matt. 6:13; 26:41). Make no provision (opportunity) for the flesh in regard to its lusts, warns the Apostle Paul (Rom.13:14). Aloneness is an opportunity for the flesh, even the aloneness of a public place away from one’s family. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12; cf. Prov. 28:26).

But physical morality isn’t all that is included under the purity principle. God also requires emotional purity in our relationships. Unrestrained romantic emotions lead to mental impurity, adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28). Consequently, romantic emotions (conveyed through romantic looks, acts, language and gifts) are appropriate ONLY after the betrothal covenant has been made (S. of Sol. 1-3). Otherwise, emotional fraud will likely occur (1 Thess. 4:6). Yet even during the betrothal period, all anticipation of marital affection is to remain pure and undiscussed between the couple (S. of Sol. 1:2; 2:6; 3:1), romantic language is to be moral and modest (1:10,15,16), and strict patience and self-control is to be a mutual commitment (2:7,15; 3:5).

PREPAREDNESS. Preparedness, the fourth fundamental principle of scriptural romance, is a readiness for marriage both spiritually and vocationally. For example, before he was married, Adam was prepared both spiritually (he knew God’s law) and vocationally (he knew horticulture) (Gen. 2:15-17). Likewise, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses — in fact, every godly father — first gave his son adequate training both spiritually and vocationally (to avoid slavery and debt) before he brought him into wedlock. In the scriptural examples, if a young man was not leading spiritually before marriage, there was little hope that he would lead spiritually after marriage. Similarly, a young man who had not saved up a bride price (three years’ wages) was considered unprepared to support a wife and family. The bride price was a primary evidence of financial preparedness. Solomon enjoins, Make it ready for yourself in the field (vocational preparation); afterwards, then, build your house (family) (Prov. 24:27). The Hebrew concept of house building here refers to marriage and a family (cf. Prov. 14:1), a matter that must wait its turn until afterwards, i.e., after vocational preparation. What is needed is not merely a job (which can easily be lost) but a well-trained, marketable skill.

A young woman before marriage should be spiritually prepared according to the pattern of Sarah, Mary and the Proverbs 31 woman (cf. also Tit. 2:3-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:10). Vocationally, a young woman must develop her domestic skills to care for a home and children (Tit. 2:5). But this is only HALF the preparation. She is to be her husband’s helper not only in fruitfulness but also in dominion (Gen. 1:28). So, the second half of her vocational preparation is to develop her God-given talents to the level of their endowment in anticipation of the husband for whom God has fashioned her (Gen. 2:18,22). Talent development in daughters is sometimes downplayed out of fear of encouraging an attitude of careerism. Yet with proper heart instruction, it cultivates not careerism but a biblical dominion helper, i.e., a wife who will truly strengthen her husband in his chosen life work. And it is best developed in the context of a family business where a daughter can train under her father as she will later serve under her husband.

PATIENCE. The fifth fundamental principle of spiritual romance is patience, an attitude of trusting our sovereign God to accomplish His perfect plan in His perfect time through imperfect fathers. Isaac, you recall, remained under his father’s authority and roof serving God and family until age forty when Abraham got him a wife (Gen. 24). And Paul’s reference to a daughter of full age suggests no haste on the part of her father (1 Cor. 7:36f). On the other hand, a man is to rejoice in the wife of [his] youth (Prov. 5:18), not his old age. Thus, a father must be diligent in preparing his sons and daughters for marriage, then be equally diligent in providing a suitable, godly spouse. This requires careful praying, searching and investigating as a priority so that your sons and daughters will not lose confidence in their father. The rule of thumb is: patience without procrastination.

A son or daughter should focus on actively serving God while maintaining a deep sleep emotionally until their father presents them with a potential spouse (Gen. 2:21f). They must not arouse or awaken love prematurely through their impatience (S. of Sol. 2:7). All Christians are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Some young people lower their standards because they get desperate, afraid they’ll be spinsters for life. Yet your faith must be in a sovereign God who, since the fall of man, has used imperfect fathers (and mothers) to accomplish His perfect plan for mankind. He can use your father to bring you a spouse at just the right time — trust Him!

TAKING EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE
As I asked before, let me ask again: Is it possible that we have unwittingly been deceived by our culture and have departed from God’s truth in this matter of romance, dating and finding a spouse? After carefully examining God’s Word, I hope we are well on the way to understanding our cultural conflict. Paul warned believers not to be taken captive…according to the elementary principles of the world (Col. 2:8), but rather to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). In the warfare of Christian living, it’s either take captive or be taken captive. There is no neutral ground this side of heaven. The battle we wage is a clash of ideas, but they are ideas with very practical ramifications. In our next article on this subject, we will begin exploring how to put off cultural dating and put on the five fundamental principles of biblical betrothal, explaining not only the WHY but also the HOW. These timeless truths will positively transform the relationships within your family, though the process may challenging. But take heart, for the battle has already been won, and the booty is yours to claim!

Chapter 2

Dealing With the Dating Dilemma  

 Much credit for this article goes to other godly men who have preceded me in their writings on this subject, such as Paul Jehle, Jim West, Reb Bradley, Jonathan Lindvall and Dr. S. M. Davis, to name a few. It is with sincere appreciation and recognition that I build upon their abiding contributions.

A marriage begun through dating is like a house built of cards, it is structurally weak and vulnerable to the winds of adversity. More than half such marriages collapse in divorce; those remaining are riddled with stress fractures. So in our first chapter on this subject, we pointed out the solid foundation of dating’s scriptural alternative, biblical betrothal. Four cornerstones were carefully laid:
1.  The underlying life philosophy (to please Christ vs. self),
2.  The relevant passages (significant relationships and concepts),
3.  A transcultural interpretation (normative for all time), and
4.  The five fundamental principles (piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience).
Now it’s time to erect the superstructure of application, exploring how to put off cultural dating in order to put on biblical betrothal (cf. Eph. 4:22-24).

But why scrap dating? Though we already noted the negative fruit of dating (remember the used chewing gum?), this may still be a recurring question, especially among teens exposed to the world. It’s difficult to dismiss what’s familiar. Even some parents may wonder, is dating really that bad?

Each of us has faced hazardous activities in our lives at one point or another. Some have served our country on the battlefield. Others have encountered perils on the job. Still others of us have endured danger due to our own foolish choices. I’ll never forget the risky stunt I chanced as a youth trying to water ski on my back being pulled by my feet and nearly drowning when I couldn’t release myself from the tow rope. Or my absurd attempt to navigate a treacherous inlet to the ocean in a tiny rowboat. Or, as a student pilot at age 18, when I stupidly flew a plane in stormy weather and had to dive the plane through an opening in the clouds at a speed far exceeding its design. Yet the most dangerous, misguided and ruinous activity that I ever undertook in my life was DATING!

It is amazing to me how blind we Christians have been regarding the dangers of dating. Dating is a threat to our physical purity. Dating is a menace to our emotional happiness. Dating is a liability to our spiritual growth. Yet society continues to glorify dating on television, in movies, in classrooms, in romance novels, in magazines and on billboards. And Christians have thoughtlessly followed the Pied Pipers of our culture.

DATING DEFINED
More recently many godly Christians — especially in the homeschooling movement — have begun to wake up to the dangers of dating and wisely ask, Is dating consistent with the principles of scriptural romance? To answer that question, let’s first agree on what we mean by dating. One writer has called dating simply a social activity between a man and a woman. That sounds pretty tame. What could possibly be wrong or dangerous about a social activity between a man and a woman? But that definition is not precise enough in that it would include, say, a picnic between a girl and her brother. To be more accurate we must define a date as a temporary romantic relationship focused on current enjoyment. So a date is temporary rather than permanent, it is romantic (often only slightly at first) rather than platonic, and it is focused on current enjoyment rather than future matrimony.

A definition, however, sets forth only the bare essentials. More helpful, perhaps, is the following chart showing dating’s distinguishing characteristics in contrast to biblical courtship and betrothal. By this fuller description some Christians may realize that they are actually involved in dating (or a dating/courtship hybrid) but calling it courtship. A rose by any other name smells the same — and grows the same painful thorns!

DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS OF DATING AND BETROTHAL

Characteristics of Dating:
1. Typically started at an age too young to marry. 
2. Meet one another on their own in classroom, workplace, etc. 
3. Purpose is personal pleasure, fun, and recreation. No strings attached. 
4. Date is usually planned by the youths themselves. 
5. Oversight by parents is resented as an intrusion. 
6. Complete privacy is permitted by parents and expected by the youths. 
7. Physical affection is allowed and expected. 
8. Romantic emotions for multiple partners causes fragmented heart. 
9. Dating is rooted in a selfish, feeling-oriented love: “falling in love.” 
10. Loss of romantic feelings or presence of disagreement produces breaking up. 
11. Heart is wounded by emotional scars, bitterness, and insecurity. 
12. Conscience is generally defiled and seared by impurity. 
13. Future marriage is troubled by past emotional bonds, unrealistic standards of comparison, and appetite for variety and change.

Characteristics of Betrothal:
1. Entered into ONLY after full preparation for marriage: spiritually, financially, etc. 
2. Meet one another through family gatherings and through father’s investigation/approval. 
3. Purpose is to lead to marriage.  Betrothal is a binding commitment to marry. 
4. Courtship/betrothal is planned by parents with cooperation/consent of son/daughter. 
5. Oversight by parents is required and welcomed for moral protection. 
6. Complete privacy is disallowed and avoided. Chaperoned time together, usually at the family home. 
7. Physical affection is reserved entirely for marriage. 
8. Romantic emotions (whole heart) saved entirely for future spouse. 
9. Betrothal is rooted in a selfless, commitment-oriented love: “growing in love.”
10. Feelings/disagreements worked out through biblical problem solving, not divorce. 
11. Heart is protected by one romance for life. 
12. Conscience is kept blameless through a pure relationship. 
13. Future marriage is free from any past baggage from dating.

DATING’S HISTORY
Understanding dating’s distinguishing characteristics, you may wonder how such a destructive activity ever developed. And worse, how Christians became so duped by it. Let’s take a moment, then, to briefly review dating’s history.

In Scripture, dating was an exception and a violation of God’s design for man-woman relationships. Samson is a sad example of a man with a dating spirit, reaping its disastrous consequences (Judg. 14-16). Dating became the norm in Western culture only in the twentieth century, particularly during the roaring 20s. Secular historian Ellen Rothman in Hand and Hearts — A History of Courtship has noted, “A first-class revolt against the accepted American order took place among American youth in the 1920s. This was not a sudden eruption, but rather a series of seismic tremors that occurred with increasing intensity and frequency through the 1910s and 1920s. By 1930, the terrain through which young Americans passed en route to marriage would be almost unrecognizable to their parents” (p. 289).

In his penetrating book Christian Courtship vs. The Dating Game, Pastor Jim West concurs, “The phenomenon of dating is a relatively new institution in the United States. Prior to 1920, courtship laws included rigid supervision of the female. Courtship was not entered upon unless parents were first consulted and their approval secured” (p. 4). Interesting, isn’t it, that what’s cultural is not betrothal but dating!

But how did this new cultural practice take root? The attitudes that undergird modern dating arose out of the eighteenth century philosophical movement called Romanticism which emphasized making decisions based on emotions rather than on reason and commitment. This movement influenced not only literature, music, and art but ultimately relationships as well. In contrast to the biblical mandate to love the one you marry (Eph. 5:25), the Romantics taught the reverse — to marry the one you love. Thus they concluded, couples must cultivate love-feelings for one who was not yet their spouse.

With this flawed philosophical base, several innovations of twentieth-century culture contributed to dating’s moral carnage:
(1) The rise of feminism encouraged young women to leave the loving protection of their father and, for the first time in history, enter the work force where they would meet young men.
(2) The Industrial Revolution and World War I drew young men away from the restraining oversight of parents, church, and community.
(3) Increasing urbanization crowded more people into closer living situations with inadequate parental supervision.
(4) Co-ed universities permitted young women to live on campuses with young men, a major historical shift.
(5) The accessibility of the automobile to young people gave uninhibited freedom from the watchful eye of parents.
(6) The movie theater gave opportunity for Hollywood’s romantic expression of love to influence millions of young viewers.
(7) New dances were no longer group oriented but couple oriented, and couples romantically danced cheek-to-cheek.
(8) New dress styles were immodest, encouraging lustful dating rather than loving betrothals.
(9) Most significantly, fathers abdicated their God-ordained responsibility to teach the biblical practice of betrothal and to safeguard their children in male-female relationships. With their primary focus on a job outside the home, they were blindsided by the subtle encroachments of cultural change. And they failed to ask the question that every father must now address, Does dating fit the principles of scriptural romance?

COMPARING DATING WITH SCRIPTURE
Think it through as a Berean (Acts 17:11). Compare dating with the five fundamental principles of scriptural romance: piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience. Ask yourself, Does dating foster general piety, godliness and righteousness in both attitudes and conduct, imitating Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church? Or does dating encourage wrong goals, wrong motives, and wrong behavior in male-female relationships?

In regard to patriarchy, Does dating fit with a father’s physical, moral, and emotional protection of his child? Or does dating promote the release of a young person to an unprotected situation? Does dating enable a father to provide his son or daughter with a godly spouse? Or do dating partners meet on their own, plan their dates for personal pleasure, and generally avoid parental oversight?

With respect to purity, Does dating nurture physical morality, treating the younger women as sisters, in all purity? Or does dating tempt one toward physical affection through unchaperoned meetings, often at night? Does dating cultivate emotional purity, preserving all of one’s romantic emotions for his/her spouse (for I betrothed you to one husband — 2 Cor. 11:2)? Or does dating result in emotional promiscuity, fragmenting the heart with each dating partner, leaving hurts, bitterness, and insecurity — and preparing young people for unfaithfulness and divorce?

Concerning preparation, Does dating facilitate a young person’s preparation for marriage, both spiritually and vocationally? Or does dating actually distract a young person from commitment to God and completion of his or her vocational training, creating emotional attachments that interrupt God’s plan for his or her life? One pastor has observed, most young people in the dating culture are nowhere near ready to get married. Mentally, they haven’t completed an adequate education. Spiritually, they haven’t developed deep convictions necessary for a successful marriage. Financially, they haven’t become sufficiently stable to support a new household. Physically and emotionally, they haven’t matured in self-discipline to remain one hundred percent pure.

Finally, pertaining to patience, Does dating promote a patient attitude of walking by faith and not by sight, trusting in our sovereign God to work through imperfect fathers to accomplish His perfect plan? Or does dating awaken prematurely a young person’s emotional affections, resulting in hasty, ill-advised marriages? The answer to each of these questions is obvious and indisputable to any honest, God-fearing parent or teen.

As I said at the outset, dating is a dangerous threat to our young people’s physical purity, emotional stability, and spiritual growth. This is true because dating opposes every fundamental principle that God has given us for scriptural romance. It is a game of Russian Roulette, a pistol to the head with five of the six cylinders loaded. And knowing that God allows us to reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7), five out of every six young people are going to be seriously injured by it. But what if a young person is having a tough time resisting the desire to date? How might he gain victory over the dating spirit?

VICTORY OVER A DATING SPIRIT
A dating spirit is a desire or yearning to enjoy the romantic appeal, glamour, and allurement of dating, even though you know in your conscience that it dishonors God’s principles and distracts you from a single-minded devotion to Christ (1 Cor. 7:32,35). A dating spirit, therefore, may be found in a young man or a young woman who is committed not to date, but who still allows his or her heart to become attached emotionally to someone prior to betrothal. A dating spirit is like lusting rather than committing adultery — it’s not as bad, but it’s still very wrong and dangerous.

Dating, even Christian dating, generally results in a series of emotional attachments or bonds with different dating partners. To express this in the language of romance, a young woman gives a piece of her heart to a young man when she becomes emotionally involved with him. By the time she meets the man she will marry, she will have only a fragment of her heart left to give. Even without going out on a date, a young woman can give pieces of her heart to several young men during her youth, so that by the time she marries, she is no longer a one-man woman (1 Tim. 5:9). Yet Paul’s analogy of Christ and the church in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 explains that a pure maiden saves her love for one man only, not just physically but emotionally too. The goal is not just physical purity but emotional purity — only one romance for life! Every emotional attachment that a young person saves for his or her spouse is like another weld in the marriage that bonds them tightly and securely together.

Do you have a dating spirit, a desire for romance before betrothal? See how you fare in our Quiz for a Dating Spirit. Answer YES or NO to the following questions (be honest with yourself):
1) Do you desire a relationship for fun and recreation rather than one that leads to marriage?
2) Do you excitedly look forward to meeting the opposite sex at recreational events, in the classroom, or at your workplace?
3) Do you desire romantic emotions before you are both ready to marry?
4) Do you desire physical affection in a pre-marital relationship?
5) Do you resent the thought of your father initiating, investigating, choosing, and overseeing your romantic relationship? Instead, do you want control, freedom, and privacy in your relationship?

If you answer yes to any of these five questions, then you probably have a dating spirit, that is, a desire for the appeal, glamour, and allurement of dating. What can you do about it? How might you keep a blameless conscience before God? How can you preserve your whole heart for your future spouse? You must renew your mind (Eph. 4:23) in the way you think about dating, both spiritually and practically.

SPIRITUALLY RENEWING YOUR MIND
But how exactly do you renew your mind? From a multitude of Bible references we understand that the terms mind, will, soul, spirit, conscience, and heart all refer to the inner man in contrast to the outer man (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16). In brief, your mind/heart is the focus of your mental, emotional, and spiritual activity. Outward behavior is simply the overflow of what’s in the heart. Watch over your heart, warns Solomon, for from it flow the springs (lit. ‘the outgoings’) of life (Prov. 4:23). That’s why the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2 grounded not being conformed to this world (your outward behavior) upon the renewing of your mind (your inward beliefs and desires).

The writer of Hebrews gives us even greater insight into the mind/heart when he explains, For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword,… able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). Our thoughts, of course, are our beliefs. Our intentions are spoken of elsewhere in Scripture as our desires, motives, lusts, cravings, passions, and yearnings. Although there are many ways our desires manifest themselves (laziness, sensuality, materialism, approval, control, pride, etc.), there are actually only two fundamental motives that underlie all of our attitudes, emotions, words, and deeds. Either we will be controlled by a desire to please Jesus Christ, or we will be controlled by a desire to please self. Christ vs. self — these are the two conflicting roots which, Paul declares in Galatians 5, will produce either the fruit of the Spirit (growing out of love for Christ) or the deeds of the flesh (growing out of love for self).

It is equally enlightening from Romans 1:24-26 that uncurbed desires will cause us to embrace lies so that we may rationalize those desires — they (homosexuals) exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Satan, who is the Tempter of our lusts and the Deceiver of our minds, knows this well and uses this weakness to gain a foothold in our lives. Consequently many Christian young people will strive to find some justification to satisfy their hunger for dating. They are driven by an appetite for romance that is constantly being fed by Hollywood’s movies, television, videos, advertisements, magazines, music, and romance novels.

Parents, shouldn’t we be sheltering our children from the lies and lusts of the Evil One? Are we at least partly responsible for their failure to love Christ more than self? Make knowing, loving, and obeying Christ the trademark of your home, and your children will find victory over the dating spirit.

But Hebrews 4:12 mentions the thoughts (beliefs), in addition to the intentions of the heart, as needing renewal. What renewed beliefs about dating will enable us to prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2)? In our first article we learned about the five fundamental principles of scriptural romance: piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience. But did you know that there is a direct, New Testament command against dating?

GOD’S COMMAND AGAINST DATING
Since God’s truth, not man’s opinion, is our standard for belief and behavior, please read my comments with your Bible open so that God can speak directly to your heart what He says about dating. His clearest and most instructive word on this subject is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians reflects the moral climate of that seaport city of mostly pagan Greeks. He wrote not only to encourage these new converts in the face of persecution but also to exhort them concerning several temptations within their culture, one of which was moral laxity (much like our day).

In verse 1 Paul writes that he regards his forthcoming exhortations as simply the outworking of a loving desire to please God. Since desires will influence beliefs (Rom. 1:24ff), this is Paul’s starting point — and ours as well — for child training. But lest his remarks somehow be viewed as optional, he calls them by a first century military term, commandments … by the authority of the Lord Jesus (v.2). God’s will, Paul continues, is that His people be holy, set apart from sin unto God in all our daily experiences, and particularly from any and every form of sexual immorality (v.3). But how are we to maintain purity in our relationship to the opposite sex?

Paul’s answer is found in verses 4-6 where God gives to man the know how for properly acquiring his own vessel (wife), something of an expansion of Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians: “because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife” (1 Cor. 7:2).  Although commentators throughout the centuries have differed over the meaning of vessel (body vs. wife), the word meanings, grammar, context, Septuagint usage (Greek version of the Old Testament), and rabbinical literature give greater evidence for this being God’s instruction on getting a wife. Indeed, Paul uses the word this way in 1 Peter 3:7 where the wife is spoken of as the weaker vessel. Thus, many commentators both old (Augustine, Zwingli) and new (Alford, Ellicott, Hendriksen, Lange, Lenski, Moffatt, Nicoll, Robertson, Vine) favor this view as interpreted in many Bible translations.

HOW TO ACQUIRE A WIFE
So in what way should a man acquire a wife? Paul explains that he should pursue courtship in holiness before God and in honor before men (v.4), not in lustful passion (v.5) which shows neither restraint of sin nor respect of persons. Indeed, this is the debased practice of the Gentiles (unbelievers) who don’t know God, a theme more fully developed in Romans 1. Lustful passion describes the ultimate outcome of today’s dating culture, whether it’s intended or not. If personal pleasure is dating’s purpose, if romantic emotions and physical affection are promoted, if complete privacy is permitted and oversight by parents is resented, then you may be sure that, sooner or later, lustful passion will defile and dishonor the relationship. God’s principles simply cannot be compromised without consequence. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Gal. 6:7).

Pursuing a wife in sanctification and honor (courtship/betrothal rather than dating) states Paul’s exhortation positively. Verse 6 states the case negatively: that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter. The term transgress literally means to go beyond what is proper, to exceed the proper limits. To this Paul adds a metaphor taken from the world of commerce: defraud, meaning to cheat, steal, have more than one’s due, selfishly attempt to gain more while disregarding others and their rights. In the context of acquiring a wife, these two terms refer to exceeding the proper limits of a male-female relationship and thereby stealing the physical and emotional affection that belongs to a brother. But who is this brother that is being defrauded? It can only be the woman’s future spouse! Noted commentator Leon Morris in the New International Commentary on the New Testament concurs: Promiscuity before marriage represents the robbing of the other of that virginity which ought to be brought to a marriage. The future partner of such a one has been defrauded…. It reminds us that all sexual looseness represents an act of injustice to someone other than the two parties concerned (p. 126).

This theft of affection that typically occurs in dating may never be known by the future spouse. Will justice be denied for stolen kisses? Not according to verse 6, which solemnly warns us that the Lord is the avenger in all these things. God will punish those who refuse the path of purity in acquiring a wife. No man can reckon on escaping the consequences. Again we are reminded that God is not mocked; whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. You may be tempted to spurn these words as just one man’s opinion. But this very passage concludes with a caution against such flippancy: he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you (v. 8). Defrauding a brother is not a failure to keep some man-made rule but is sin against the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier. This should motivate us spiritually to resist the dating spirit.

DISCARDING THE MYTHS OF DATING
There are also some very practical reasons that can motivate us to resist a dating spirit. We can categorize these reasons under two topics: the myths of dating (untrue) and the dangers of dating (true). In Proverbs, chapters 2, 5, 6 and 7, God cautions young men not to be ignorant about their relationship with young women (cf. Prov. 7:6-10). Young men who fall into immoral relationships are lacking good sense because they have believed several worldly myths about dating. These myths, gleaned from Paul Jehle’s book Dating Vs. Courtship, must be biblically exposed in order to understand the faulty foundation of modern dating.

MYTH #1: I need a boyfriend/girlfriend to overcome my loneliness and fulfill my social needs. This myth is a contradiction of 1 John 1:6-7, If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…. God has designed fellowship with Himself and within the church to fulfill our loneliness and social needs. Adam was alone, meaning he needed a helper to fulfill the dominion mandate to be fruitful and rule the earth. But Adam was never said to be lonely because he enjoyed perfect fellowship with God. Only repentance from the sin of self-pity will overcome loneliness. The real social need of individuals is to learn to fellowship with Christ and His church. Having a boyfriend or girlfriend actually works against true fellowship because it creates a relationship that focuses on one and excludes others.

MYTH #2: A necessary part of maturing is having someone with whom you can share your affections and trust (True). Dating fulfills this need (False). Here is a myth that denies Romans 12:9-10, Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor. The dating game is the worst atmosphere to honestly share your affections since love in dating is hypocrisy, a sensual love disguised as true love. What we need is brotherly and sisterly affection from true friends who will not abuse our trust for selfish romance.

MYTH #3: Physical affection in dating is normal, natural, and okay, just keep it under control. But what does 1 Corinthians 7:1 say? It is good for a man NOT to touch a woman. And Ecclesiastes 3:1,5 reminds us, To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven… a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…. With Solomon we must ask, Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned? (Prov. 6:27). By God’s design for procreation, one touch leads to the next. God intended physical affection ONLY within marriage, and not before.

MYTH #4: Dating was the way we adults found our spouses, and it hasn’t hurt us any. So it must be okay for our kids. Yet this myth compromises 1 Peter 1:15, Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior. There are two serious errors in this myth. First, most adults who don’t think they have been harmed by dating are not comparing their dating or their present marriages to God’s standard. Our standard as parents must be the very holiness of Christ. The second error is that of making our own experience with dating, rather than God’s revealed principles about romance, the standard for our children.

MYTH #5: One of the purposes of the church is to help our young people find their mates through the youth group. But Scripture teaches us in 1 Corinthians 14:26, What is the outcome, then, brethren? When you assemble… let all things be done for edification. God does have a purpose for the church in preparing young people for marriage, but it is NOT to set up a dating forum through the church youth group so that the same sinful patterns can be practiced on believers instead of unbelievers. Instead, our purpose in coming together is to learn the principles of God’s Word for righteous living, including righteously finding a spouse. And these principles are best learned in a family setting, not in a youth group.

MYTH #6: If you don’t date, you will lose out to others who are dating and marrying the best ones. Don’t we believe Psalm 84:11, No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly? The issue here is, Can I trust God with the provision of my marriage partner, or must I see this as a competitive market? To put it another way, Am I going to get a wife by faith or by fear? Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4).

DISCERNING THE DANGERS OF DATING

The above myths of dating are all untrue. Seeing them biblically exposed will help young people to combat the false arguments of the dating culture. But there are other practical reasons to oppose dating. In Dating: Is It Worth the Risk?, Pastor Reb Bradley discusses the following dangers of dating; and they are all true beyond dispute.

LUST:  Dating promotes lust (inappropriate desires). God commands us to flee youthful lusts (2 Tim. 2:22), to make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Rom. 13:14) and to acquire a wife not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thess. 4:5). Yet, dating promotes the sin of lust which clouds one’s ability to think clearly, even to the point of murder for King David (with Bathsheba’s husband). Likewise, Samson should have seen right through Delilah’s deceptions, but because of lust he lost his eyes, his freedom, and his life. Solomon, too, was blinded by lust when he forsook the living God and worshipped the idols of his foreign wives. Because of lust, the powerful become weak and the wise become fools!

As parents we must ask ourselves, If these three godly leaders were no match for lust, should we suppose that our children will not be its victims? Do we think that we can send young men and women off by themselves and they not fall prey to romantic desires? They will then enter marriage robbed of purity, robbed of self-discipline, robbed of spiritual strength. No wonder so many marriages start off in trouble! If a man lacks self-restraint before marriage, he will lack self-restraint after marriage and be very prone to self-centeredness and unfaithfulness.

SELF-CENTERED, FEELING LOVE:  Dating develops a self-centered, feeling concept of love. Dating is based on the idea that two people should kindle an emotional attraction for one another before the commitment of betrothal. But it turns out to be a self-centered love that likes how the other person makes them feel. Anyone in a healthy marriage will testify that selflessness, not feelings, is the key to a great marriage.

PERMANENT, EMOTIONAL BONDS:  Dating creates a permanent, emotional bond between two people who will not necessarily marry one another. Dating; with its emphasis on emotional intimacy, knits the hearts of two people together forever. Now, the bond may fade somewhat over time; but most married people will testify to its permanence. Ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends may be gone, but the emotional heart ties, along with the scars and calluses, remain. In fact, it is said that nothing can be sweeter than first love. Even Revelation 2:4f exhorts us to return to our first love, who is Christ. Because of this principle, marriage partners who have not been one-woman men and one-man women often fantasize about their first love. Young people, you will only have ONE first love — don’t ruin it by dating!

UNREALISTIC STANDARDS OF COMPARISON:  It’s not uncommon, after the newness of marriage wears off, that marriage partners find themselves discontent with each other. Often, then, they will mentally compare their spouse to someone they knew in the past. Men sometimes think thoughts like this: She doesn’t cook like so and so; she doesn’t kiss as good as so and so; she isn’t as pretty as so and so. And women are tempted to think thoughts like: He isn’t as sensitive as so and so was; he just doesn’t listen to me the way so and so did; maybe I should have married so and so — he made me feel so cherished. If we had never been intimate with so many so and so’s, we wouldn’t have such extensive standards for finding fault with our mate but would find greater contentment in marriage.

SCARS OF REJECTION:  Dating generally results in breaking up; causing scars of rejection, callused hearts, emotional insecurity, fear of commitment, failure to trust others, and less ability to give of our love. God designed us to become emotionally attached to just one person til death do us part. Therefore, the pain of breaking up is, in seed form, the same as divorce. It is harder to give love the second time around. God’s grace can certainly help us with these scars, but they are the consequences of violating the way He made us. The human heart was not designed for multiple joinings and tearings!

PREPARATION FOR DIVORCE:  Dating literally trains young people to break off difficult relationships rather than to work through their problems, conditioning them more for divorce than for marriage. They learn that when the going gets tough they don’t have to hang in there but can bail out of relationships. Not only do they not learn the selfless, unconditional love needed for a strong marriage, they learn instead intolerance and lack of commitment.

APPETITE FOR VARIETY:  Dating develops an appetite for variety and change, creating dissatisfaction in marriage. The stimulation of multiple dating adventures often causes one to become bored when married to just one person. After having multiple relationships with no strings attached, marriage can give the feeling of being tied down to just one person. The courtship/betrothal process protects young people from this wrong attitude.

DESTROYS FELLOWSHIP:  Dating destroys fellowship, leaving Christians alienated in their relationships with each other. Christ places a high premium on unity among his people. But dating and breaking up promote alienation, hurt, and bitterness among believers, just like divorce does. Youth groups are full of such divorced couples whose ministry together is hampered.

LACKS PROTECTION:  Dating lacks the protection afforded by parental involvement. Under the guise of freedom and responsibility, the modern church claims it is wrong for parents to direct the romantic affairs of their adult children. But this line of reasoning criticizes the biblical principles, precepts, and practices which have produced consistently good fruit. And according to Christ, a tree is known by its fruit.

WARPS REALITY:  Advocates of dating claim that betrothal doesn’t prepare young people for life’s realities, like rejection, temptation, and abuse. In truth, however, dating itself creates these difficulties by warping the reality that God wonderfully created for a warm, stable marriage through courtship and betrothal.

HOW CAN PARENTS RESIST?
Dr. S. M. Davis, a devoted pastor, suggests several crucial things that parents can do to combat the dating spirit. First, capture the heart of your teen. Make this the highest goal of your parenting. Malachi 4:6 foretold that He (Christ) will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…. Godly fathers, then, will plead the words of Solomon, My son, give me your heart… (Prov. 23:26). This is where a young person’s heart is to be focused prior to marriage, committed to Christ and his family. And parents are commanded to keep their children’s hearts safely protected from the deceptions and temptations of the Evil One!

Next, pray daily with your children for their future spouses. Pray for their spouses’ growth in godliness, character, wisdom, purity, and skillfulness. Then when your son or daughter is ready for marriage, search diligently to find that suitable spouse so your children won’t loose heart.

Always be teaching your children self-discipline which is necessary for control over their emotions and desires. They must learn to do what is right regardless of their feelings. Believe it or not, this begins at the dinner table by training them to eat what they don’t like. You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it, has been a common saying in our home.

Teach the truths of betrothal regularly and diligently to your children when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up (Deut. 6:7). The world’s philosophy of dating is constantly bombarding them and requires your continual correction.

Keep your protection level high. You cannot overprotect a young person from ungodliness. Be alert to the dating spirit coming into your home through ungodly friendships, television, magazines, romance novels, movies, music, etc. Remember that the media is aggressively opposed to biblical fatherhood. Even the movie The Sound of Music portrayed Captain von Trapp as rude and intrusive upon his 17 year old daughter’s affections for a young man who turned out later to be a Nazi. Parents, you must be alert to what is influencing your children.

Beware when you let your sons (and certainly not your daughters) take jobs in the secular work force where many Christians have been swept off their feet by the flirtations of worldly co-workers. Even worse is the college campus! Far better to develop a family business and to pursue college at home (see College at Home for the Glory of God  http://www.patriarch.com/college@home.html).

Finally, don’t yield to fear. Many parents fear conflict with their children. They fear their kids won’t like them. Or, they fear their children will run away from home if life is too strict. But if we are to expect God’s blessing in our home, we must rear our children out of faith, not fear.

HOW CAN YOUNG PEOPLE RESIST?
Young people must likewise fight the dating spirit in practical ways. First, give your heart fully to your parents. Young people, parents don’t have to be perfect for God to use them in finding your spouse. He’s been using imperfect parents since the fall of Adam with amazing success! Start thinking of you and your parents as a team that works AGAINST the devil’s dating scheme and FOR God’s betrothal plan.

Next, look to future blessings, not present pleasures. Anticipate how exciting it will be to give your whole heart to your future spouse, where you haven’t torn away pieces of your heart throughout your youth and given it to others — not even in your imagination. Think how incredibly strong the bond will be with the man or woman God has chosen for your mate.

Be careful about defrauding other young people. Defrauding means cheating someone by offering something you can’t righteously fulfill. Girls, even attracting others through your eyes, walk, or dress is defrauding! Boys, treat every young lady the way you want other men presently to be treating the woman you will one day marry.

When you are tempted to flirt, even in your imagination, pray for your future spouse, that God will keep them pure in heart just as He is helping you to resist temptation. Think of your future spouse rather than the person your heart is currently being drawn to.

Get a bigger vision than just your own life. The decision you make regarding a mate will affect not merely you, but your children and your grandchildren, and so on for many generations (Isa. 58:12) — either for good or for bad. Commit your life to a multigenerational vision.

Delight in God’s protection through your parents just as you would a large, strong umbrella during a torrential downpour. Be glad you have parents who keep the umbrella of protection over you and won’t allow boy after boy, or girl after girl, to toy with your emotions.

Be willing to be laughed at by your relatives and others who don’t understand God’s truth. Every great person in the Bible who took a stand for God was ridiculed. Be ready to give them a godly answer.

Maintain a 1 Corinthians 7 focus of undistracted devotion to Christ (1 Cor. 7:32-35). Dating people are acting like married people by focusing on one another. But Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 7 that single people are to focus on their devotion to Christ, how you may please and serve Christ during this special period of your life.

Finally, young people, go to sleep emotionally, and wait for God to awaken you through the provision of a spouse by your parents. You must not arouse love prematurely through impatience (Sol. 2:7). Instead, you are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) — faith in a sovereign God to work through imperfect parents to accomplish His perfect will for you. Until then, follow the advice of attention toward all, intentions toward none.

GOD’S SOLUTION TO THE DATING SPIRIT
Earlier I asserted that dating is dangerous — even reckless — like playing Russian Roulette with five of the six cylinders loaded. Perhaps in your home you would be more comfortable with only two or three of the cylinders loaded. But do you really want to gamble with your children’s future marriages at all? A recent study revealed that 43 percent of evangelical Christians who date fall into moral disaster! If you knew that an airline would loose 43 percent of its passengers in plane crashes, would you put your child on one of their planes? Of course not! Then why risk them morally to dating?

What is God’s solution? Repentance of the dating spirit! Repent means to change your mind (both desires and beliefs) with a resultant change in behavior. It means to please Christ more than self and to acquire a wife in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion. In short, it means not to eat dessert first, just like your mother always told you. Christ has a banquet in store for you, but dessert before the meal ruins the appetite. Will you be hungry for His feast when He brings it to you?

Chapter 3

Preparing Your Children for Biblical Betrothal

The story is told of a famous traveling juggler who retired from his career and invested his entire life savings in a huge diamond. On the ship back to his homeland, where he intended to live out his remaining days, several fellow passengers recognized the well-known performer as he strolled on the upper deck and urged him to give one final, dazzling show. Enticed by the praise of men, the juggler removed two balls from one pocket and his immense diamond from the other. Beginning to juggle them together in the most spectacular fashion, he tossed the objects higher and higher into the air as the crowd roared with acclaim. Suddenly, the great ship heaved to one side, the juggler lost his balance, and the precious, sparkling diamond fell into the deep, black sea where it was lost forever.

Like that priceless diamond, our children are our own irreplaceable treasures. Yet many parents today are carelessly juggling them for the praise of men, yielding to the enticing counsel of friends and relatives to lighten up in their child training. But when the ship of life lurches, as it always does, these parents will lose their precious children forever in the dark sea of depravity. You think it can’t happen in your family, but Dads and Moms, you must keep a firm grasp if you are to preserve your children from the temptations of the world. And probably the greatest snare will be the attraction of romance, where passion rather than principle reigns supreme!

In our two prior articles on this subject, we sought first to establish the abiding Scriptural principles for betrothal, then to evaluate whether dating was consistent with those principles. Effectively dealing with the dating dilemma, however, is only half the equation, the put off of Ephesians 4:22-24. The other half, the put on, is the substance of our remaining questions. If not dating, then how do we prepare our children for biblical betrothal? And, when the time comes, how do we practice betrothal step-by-step?

COURTSHIP vs. BETROTHAL
Preparing our children for biblical betrothal begins with an accurate understanding of what it is. Until our present century, children knew what betrothal was because they grew up in homes and churches that practiced it. They found security in the process of betrothal and eagerly looked forward to it as a great blessing. But today, regrettably, it is an enigma that requires explanation, illustration and sometimes even persuasion with our children. Let’s explore together what betrothal is, and what it is not.

In our past two articles, we have used the terms courtship and betrothal almost synonymously to refer to the biblical process of pursuing a man-woman relationship under the careful and caring oversight of parents and for the sole purpose of marriage, not recreation. But in addition to this general use, the words courtship and betrothal also have specific, technical meanings that distinguish them from each other. Indeed they are two separate and sequential stages in the fourfold process that leads to marriage, a process comprised of friendship, courtship, betrothal and wedding. Friendship (a cordial relationship of mutual esteem) and wedding (the ceremony joining a man and woman in marriage) are well understood by all. But what is the distinction between courtship and betrothal? We’ll be devoting entire, detailed articles to each of these topics in upcoming chapters, so please bear with me as we look at them only superficially now.

Like the word trinity, the term courtship is not found in the Bible, but the idea surely is. In brief, courtship is the process of investigating (i.e., getting to know) a person with marriage in mind. It is the time period, after spiritual and vocational preparation for marriage has been completed, for evaluating a suitor’s inward character, values, interests, beliefs, practices and life purpose to ensure that a godly match occurs. The term courtship is derived from the words court and ship. Court means a trial of law for evaluating evidence; and ship refers to boundaries (such as in the word township, meaning boundaries of a town). So, the term courtship may be used to speak of the boundaries, or proper approach, for evaluating evidence of a person’s true character, just as in a court of law. We see this investigative process in several scriptural marriages (Isaac and Rebekah – Gen. 24) as well as in various scriptural principles, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:21: Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.

Betrothal, on the other hand, refers to the stage that comes after a positively concluded courtship investigation. Betrothal may be defined as a binding commitment to marry, sought by a young man, agreed to by a young woman, approved and supervised by the fathers of both, and attested by a bridal provision (bride price/dowry) and by witnesses and/or a document. In Scripture, the terms betrothal, engagement and espousal come from the same Hebrew and Greek words meaning, basically, a promise to marry. But this is a far more secure promise than our modern engagement such that in Bible days it required a decree of divorcement to annul it. So strong was the betrothal commitment that in Scripture the couple is already referred to as husband and wife, the parents are called in-laws, and a woman whose betrothed spouse dies is designated a widow!

As demonstrated in our first article of this series, betrothal was God’s pattern throughout Scripture and was the norm for all cultures before the twentieth century. Perversions of God’s standard have included dating (such as Samson with Delilah), polygamy, and divorce, but these were always exceptions to the rule both in Scripture and history. Even modern Western culture practiced betrothal until the 1920s, and it was in some measure embraced by Christian churches until the 1950s. For example, according to Jonathan Lindvall, in 1959 the Family Life Committee of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod reported that almost half of the Missouri Synod families responding [to a survey] accepted betrothal as equal to marriage in the sight of God. They further reported that sixty-nine percent of the clergymen of the Missouri Synod regarded betrothal as binding as marriage.

For three generations now, children have had virtually no knowledge or understanding of biblical courtship and betrothal. In times past, boys and girls observed godly romance in their home, church and community. It was the common experience of their brothers, sisters, cousins, friends and neighbors. They learned it practically by osmosis. But all that has changed. Now to offset the strong allurement of worldly dating, our children need deliberate and thorough training for courtship and betrothal. What are the necessary steps for such preparation? There are three: (1) example, (2) encouragement and (3) equipping.

YOUR CHILDREN’S EXAMPLE
First, your own marriage is your children’s example, or model, for how they will understand the five fundamental principles of scriptural romance: piety, patriarchy, purity, preparedness and patience [see Page 13]. As they observe your marriage, how will your children envision their own future relationship with a spouse? Ask yourself these questions:

Parents, does piety in your marriage-imitating Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church-give your children a healthy appetite for a godly marriage? Or does sinfulness between you and your spouse suppress their natural hunger for a life companion?

Fathers, through your vigilant care for your wife, are you giving your children a thirst for patriarchy-a husband who spiritually leads, morally protects and sacrificially provides for his bride? And wives, through your respectful submission to your husband, do your children eagerly look to their father for oversight? Or do your children witness self-centeredness by the husband and disrespect by the wife which tear down patriarchy?

Dads and Moms, through your faithfulness (purity) toward your mate, have you given your children a single eye of devotion to one spouse for a lifetime? Has your marriage given them a vision for loyalty and affection toward one partner for life? Or, do your children observe a cold heart within the home and a wandering eye outside it, an attitude of sensuality?

Fathers, are you exemplifying spiritual leadership in worship, prayer, teaching, witness and decision making in your family? Are you educating your sons to be well-trained vocationally and to avoid the slavery of debt? And is your daughter being prepared to be a helper in her husband’s life work through the development of her God-given talents? Or is slothfulness in your own life begetting slothfulness in your children-the sins of the fathers being passed on to their children?

Finally, Dads and Moms, is your marriage one of confident patience mixed with diligence, walking by faith, and not by sight? Or are you often fretful, anxious and intolerant toward one another and toward your circumstances? In short, is your example teaching your children to be persistent or perfidious?

Be assured, parents, how you practice these Five Fundamental Principles in your own romance will significantly influence your children’s attitude toward biblical betrothal. But in addition to your marriage being their example or model, there is another way that your children are prepared for biblical betrothal.

YOUR CHILDREN’S ENCOURAGEMENT
Your relationship to your children is their encouragement, or motivation, to embrace biblical betrothal. Thankfully the Lord is turning the hearts of fathers back to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Mal. 4:6; Lk. 1:17) for the most essential ingredient in child training is a mutual love between father and child. Why is this so? It is because a child who sincerely loves his father will be motivated to please him, obey him, and honor him. Jesus explained the motivating power of love when He declared, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15). So, a child who truly loves his father will want to obey and honor his father in the principle of betrothal. A daughter will entrust her heart to her father, and so will a son. Moreover, a father who truly loves his children will want to prepare, protect, and provide a spouse for his children because his heart has been turned to them in righteousness.

Some fathers have chosen to formalize and symbolize the loving trust and commitment that exists between them and their children in regard to betrothal. They may do this through a verbal or written covenant expressing one another’s promise before God to follow biblical principles of courtship and betrothal and to avoid worldly dating and romance.

A signed covenant, framed and hung somewhere in the home, can serve as a regular reminder of the solemn promises that were made. Yet some fathers have rightly observed in Scripture that a covenant was always ratified with a sign or symbol, such as the rainbow which affirmed God’s covenant with Noah never to flood the earth again. At the time of signing the covenant, they have given some sort of token to symbolize their agreement. The Courtship Connection (www.CourtshipConnection.com. Phone: 734-847-5210) offers a Heart Necklace with Key designed for this very purpose. This is a meaningful symbol of a daughter giving her dad the key to her heart until he gives it to her future spouse at the time of betrothal. The inscription on the heart is He who holds the key can unlock my heart.

With our own three daughters (who happen to prefer rings over necklaces) we chose three matching rings since in Scripture the ring was a sign of authority and protection (see Esther 8:2). And we termed them covenant rings to symbolize our mutual agreement that their hearts are under the authority and protection of their father until he betroths them to a young man. My wife and I made this a very special occasion by taking our daughters to a famous New England Inn for dinner, a real dress-up affair, though they were not told the reason. Since we seldom order dessert when we eat out (expensive, you know), they were perplexed when I told them that this event called for special feasting. When the waitress brought their desserts, each plate came with a small, gift-wrapped box (my pre-arrangement with the waitress, of course). We had taught the girls about betrothal for several years before. Now was the time to bring their training to its proper conclusion of a commitment.

We have said that to successfully prepare your children for betrothal, your marriage is their example and your relationship (to them) is their encouragement. But preparation will fail with only modeling and motivating, as important as these two components are. There is an essential third element which deals with the necessary method for implanting truth so it sticks.

YOUR CHILDREN’S EQUIPPING
Your ultimate equipping of them comes through training. What Christian parent is not thoroughly familiar with the classic child training passage: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6)? But what exactly is training? It certainly hinges upon modeling (through your marriage) and motivating (through a trusting relationship with your child), but training includes at least two further steps for embedding truth in our children’s hearts.

Based on the Old Testament word for train (Hebrew: chanak) in Proverbs 22:6, we understand that training involves starting or beginning our children early with right thinking and desires rather than allowing them to develop wrong ideas and passions. This Hebrew word was used for starting a building with a level foundation so that its walls would not later be crooked. In the home it spoke of beginning a toddler on nourishing foods in order to give him an appetite for what is healthy. So training our children for betrothal means teaching them young and giving them an appetite only for what is godly.

The world lies in the lap of the Wicked One who uses its attractions to tempt our flesh (and our children’s flesh) to sin. From many of the world’s ungodly influences, we can and should shelter our children. Whatever would tear down our training in betrothal must be avoided, such as friends or activities that encourage a dating spirit, and television, movies, videos, magazines, music, and novels that glorify Hollywood romance.

But what do you do about the influences you can’t control, such as billboards, romantic couples on the street, remarks by relatives, advertisements in stores, etc.? When your children see these examples of Hollywood romance, they will be influenced by them unless you interpret them through the grid of Scripture, helping your children to always be evaluating their environment through a biblical world view. So if you notice your children observing these influences, don’t simply ignore it but expose the error by bringing it into the light of God’s Word (Eph. 5:11-13).

In addition to the Old Testament word for train, signifying the early development of a godly appetite, there is a New Testament word which adds the final component for inoculating truth in our children’s hearts. It is the Greek term gymnazo from which we get our English words gymnastics and gymnasium and is normally translated as train, discipline and exercise. So to equip our children for betrothal means first to whet their appetite through early instruction and then to gymnazo them. But how do we do that?

Simply put, gymnazo refers to daily sustained exercise of mind and body-years of hard practice like a gymnast or other athlete. The writer of Hebrews explains: But solid food is for the mature who, because of practice, have their senses trained (gymnazo) to discern between good and evil. (Heb. 5:13f). Do you want your son or daughter to discern rightly between good and evil in the area of romance? Then you must exercise them in godly thinking about betrothal, which will then produce godly living. Study and discuss with them the principles and practices of betrothal until personal convictions are formed in both you and your children. A belief becomes a conviction when you are convinced from God’s Word-not from somebody else’s teaching, but from your own study of Scripture-that a particular practice is required of you, and that to do otherwise would be sin.

But training occurs at all times, either for good or for bad. If our children are not being trained in godliness, then they are being trained in ungodliness. In 2 Pet. 2:14, Peter speaks about persons whose hearts were trained (gymnazo) in greed because they were allowed to practice greed. Are we inadvertently training our children in worldly romance by allowing them to practice it in thought (movies, magazines, music, romance novels) or action (dating)? Instead, parents, we must exercise daily, sustained effort over years of hard practice, teaching them to say yes to God and no to self as they discipline (again, gymnazo) themselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7; cf. Lk. 9:23).

ESSENTIAL TRAINING TOPICS
As we have already implied, training our children in betrothal begins with their thorough understanding of it from Scripture to the point of personal conviction. But there are several other, corollary topics which must also be studied and discussed if betrothal is to take root in our children’s hearts. Here is a list of some that we have found to be vital (and that we hope to write about in the future):

1.  The sufficiency and authority of Scripture for the entire Christian life.
2.  The sovereignty, goodness, and wisdom of God as a trustworthy Father.
3.  Pleasing Christ, not self, as our motivation in all we do.
4.  Self-disciplined, not desire-driven, choices and actions.
5.  Knowing the will of God based on Scripture, not feelings.
6.  Biblical love (selflessness) vs. Hollywood love (lust).
7.  The purposes, procedures (roles), and permanence of marriage.
8.  Parent shadowing, not peer grouping.
9.  A multi-generational vision, not “It’s my life.”
10.  Scriptural and practical qualifications for a godly husband or wife.

Does all this sound a bit overwhelming? Then let us recognize two fundamental facts that affect not only the topic of betrothal but really all of the Christian life. First, the bad news. With every new truth, most of us start off behind the proverbial 8 ball. That is, we have been doing it wrong all our life until we learn from God’s Word what is right. So we have unbiblical thinking and ungodly habits from our past which must be discarded. To use the vernacular, we come into this with a lot of baggage. And the older our children are, the more we have given them a lot of baggage to discard as well.

But God has some wonderfully good news for us too. God not only commands but also blesses our prompt obedience whenever we understand new truth. God’s truth is like an umbrella of protection from serious harm. When we are standing out from under it, we are prone to be struck by lightning, baseball-size hail, meteor showers and whatever else the devil throws at us (through temptations, error, etc.) until we take cover under God’s protective umbrella of truth. So no matter where we are in the path toward marriage, God wants us immediately to rush underneath His protective umbrella of truth, repent of unbiblical thinking and ungodly behavior, and begin practicing the principles of betrothal with our children. God sternly warns us, To him who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin (Jas. 4:17). Yet God also lovingly beckons us, those who honor Me, I will honor (1 Sam. 2:30). Repentance is the path of protection, honor and rich blessing-both for us and for our children.

  

Chapter 4

Choosing a Spouse by Faith, not Feelings

Much of the content of this article has come to me from two esteemed mentors: Dr. Garry Friesen, my fellow student at Dallas Seminary, and Dr. Jay Adams, my professor at Westminster Seminary. Others who have written supportively of this view include J.I.Packer, John Frame, Sinclair Ferguson, James Boice and John MacArthur. It is with deep appreciation and recognition of their biblical understanding that I pass on these insights to you.

Three fathers, in teamwork with their sons or daughters, may approach the life-transforming choice of a spouse in one of three contrasting ways. Pat Pragmatic, the first father, believes that the Scriptures don’t really address the issue of choosing a spouse, at least not adequately. So Pat thinks about this matter rather practically, figuring his son or daughter will meet many potential mates in the classroom or the youth group or the work place, will date around to find one who is compatible, and then will marry. Yes, Pat admits that his children will likely sustain some spiritual and emotional injuries in the process, but he thinks that the betrothal approach to marriage just isn’t sensible for today’s culture – it’s unrealistically ideal. After all, you can’t buck the whole world, can you?

At the other end of the spectrum is Mark Mystic. Mark says he believes that the Bible is the completed revelation of God to man. Yet he doesn’t always act like it. In personal issues like this, Mark claims that God will give him direct, supernatural guidance through inner impressions. So as he applies the courtship and betrothal principles, he looks at the matter almost mystically, presuming that God will provide him (or perhaps his son or daughter) a special inward prompting when the right spouse comes along. How Mark will distinguish that supernatural feeling from a strong desire to marry, he’s not really sure. But he certainly hopes that special feeling comes before the kids reach age forty!

In the middle of this spectrum is Sam Scripture. Sam is convinced of the sufficiency of Scripture for everything pertaining to life and godliness, as Peter so hopefully declares in 2 Peter 1:3-4. And, with the Apostle Paul, he is certain that the Scriptures make a man of God adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17), including the good work of choosing a spouse. So Sam has explored the Scriptural pattern of getting spouses for his children; and he is carefully applying the principles of betrothal with faith in a sovereign God, confident that God will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly (Ps. 84:11). Whereas Pat Pragmatism holds to something LESS than the sufficiency of Scripture, and Mark Mystic believes in something MORE than the sufficiency of Scripture, Sam rests assuredly on the completed revelation of God’s Word alone – Sola Scriptura as the great Reformers called it.

Now the pragmatic view of choosing a spouse will most naturally lead to the modern dating scene as Pat discovered above. This approach to marriage we have already shown to be fraught with grave error and danger in Chapter 2 of this series: Dealing With the Dating Dilemma (see page 16). It is Mark’s mystical view of choosing a spouse that we hope to remedy in this present article. For it is this feeling orientation to the doctrine of guidance which underlies much deception and desire-driven living among evangelical Christians today, particularly in the area of romance.

To test your own view of choosing a spouse, try taking the following quiz.

QUIZ ON CHOOSING A SPOUSE

(True or False)
T/F 1. In all the world, there is either NO person or only ONE person who is eligible to be my spouse.
T/F 2. If God wants me to remain single and I marry anyone at all, then I am outside God’s will.
T/F 3. If God has a particular spouse chosen and I marry someone else, then I am outside God’s will.
T/F 4. If the spouse God has selected for me marries someone else, then I cannot enjoy God’s perfect will no matter what I do.
T/F 5. If either a man or a woman marries outside of God’s will, there is nothing they can do to reverse the decision and return to the center of His will. They are permanently stranded in the barren terrain of God’s second best.

Did you answer True to most of the quiz questions? Actually, the correct answer for all five questions is False. Surprised? Then read on!

Christians today, more than at any other time in church history, have embraced a fallacy that extensively shapes and directs our lives. It is an error in the doctrine of guidance, or how to know the will of God. We all want to make right decisions, because those decisions will then turn around and make us, either for good or for ill. So, the central question before us is, How does God guide us? How do we know His will for us?

WHAT GOD’S WILL MEANS
But first, what does God’s will mean? In Christian conversation we use the phrase in three different ways. For example, in talking to a grieving friend who has lost a close relative in a tragic accident, we might say, The Bible says everything that happens is part of God’s will, and though we may not understand why these things occur, we can be comforted in knowing that a wise and loving God is in control. Here we are referring to God’s sovereign will.

In another situation, we might be speaking to a Christian friend considering marriage to an unbeliever whom we would warn, If you marry her, you will be disobeying God’s will. Now we are speaking about God’s moral will.

Finally, to an acquaintance considering several job offers, we might ask, Have you discovered God’s will about which job He wants you to accept? Here we are talking about God’s individual will. What do we mean in each of these three instances?

By God’s sovereign will (called providence by the Reformers), we mean His secret plan which determines everything that happens in the universe (Eph. 1:11). In eternity past God formulated a perfect plan for all of history. The world was created by His will, kings rule by His will, and our salvation is the result of God working all things after the counsel of His sovereign will. He even determines each toss of the dice in a Monopoly game (Prov. 16:33). No one or no thing can resist or frustrate His sovereign will which will surely come to pass. And yet, though God determines all things, He does so without being the author of sin, without violating the will of man, and without destroying the reality of decision making. Each one of us is held responsible for every decision we make.

Our second usage, God’s moral will, refers to His moral precepts, principles, and practices revealed in the Bible that teach how men ought to believe and live (Deut. 29:29). The Bible reveals 100 percent of God’s moral will. It is for this reason the Apostle Paul states in Romans 2:18 that even the unbelieving Jews knew God’s will (right from wrong) because they had the Scriptures. The fact remains, however, that there are many things which the moral will of God does not declare – specific situations where you must make choices. You have to decide where you will live, what church to join, which person to marry, what job to take, and a host of smaller decisions every day. How are these specific decisions to be made?

Many Christians today claim that these specific decisions are to be guided by God’s individual will – God’s ideal, detailed life-plan uniquely designed for each person (Prov. 16:9). It is popularly taught that God’s individual will encompasses every decision we make and is progressively revealed by the indwelling Holy Spirit to the heart of the individual believer through various means such as circumstances, personal desires, and inner feelings. This individualized aspect of God’s will is variously called God’s perfect will, God’s specific will, God’s ideal will or the center of God’s will. And to abide within God’s moral will but miss God’s perfect will results in what some authors have called God’s second best. In marriage, this means choosing the right partner or else living with God’s second best. You can change cars, houses, schools or churches if you discover you’ve missed God’s will, but the choice of a spouse is irreversible for a committed Christian.

TESTING GOD’S INDIVIDUAL WILL
With one’s entire future at stake, a wise Christian parent or young person will surely want to test this doctrine of guidance, apply what is true and avoid what is not (1 Thess. 5:21). Like the noble-minded Bereans, we ought to examine the Scriptures daily to see whether these things are so (Acts 17:11). Is it really true (biblical) that God leads Christians through circumstances and feelings into His individual will for them, something more specific and detailed than the Word of God itself?

Four arguments have been offered in support of the concept that God has an individual will for each person: reason, experience, biblical example and biblical teaching. First, it is claimed that because God is a God of order (1 Cor. 14:40) and because God knows the future perfectly (Matt. 11:21f), then it is only reasonable that God would use these abilities to formulate and reveal an individual life plan for each of us. What great king has no design for his people? What wise shepherd has no path for his sheep? What loving father has no specific direction for his sons and daughters? It’s only reasonable to say that God has an individual plan for each of His precious children.

But is that actually the case? Does an effective king seek to legislate every activity of his people? No, he establishes basic laws to promote righteousness and determines penalties for noncompliance. He doesn’t desire a nation of slaves or robots, but a people who act responsibly within the limits of the law. Likewise, the wise shepherd sets boundaries for his sheep, but allows freedom of movement within those boundaries. He establishes limits for the safety of the sheep, but doesn’t use his staff to point out every tuft of grass for each animal to eat. And does the loving father guide every detail of his child’s life? The truly caring father teaches his child the basic principles of life, right from wrong, wise from foolish. He then seeks to train the child to make wise decisions on the basis of principles learned in his youth. Yes, God does guide His people like a King, a Shepherd, and a Father. But reason supports that God guides us through His moral will given in the Bible, teaching His children to wisely use their freedom in the application of His principles to the decisions of life.

Wait a minute, you think. What about the experiences of dedicated believers throughout church history, men like Martin Luther, John Wesley, David Livingstone, and Hudson Taylor. Those men attributed their spiritual successes to knowing God’s individual will for their lives and doing it. But is that the correct explanation? Are there any other factors that might account for their successes? It seems equally possible that those great men and women of God were successful because of their obedience to God’s moral will in the Bible. In fact, spiritual success is actually promised by God to the one who obeys what God has revealed in His Word: …be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go… be careful to do according to all that is written in it, for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success (Josh. 1:7-8). Blessing, God says, comes as the result of knowing and obeying the moral will of God revealed in the Bible (cf. John 13:17; 2 Tim. 3:16f).

If God’s individual will can’t be proved from reason or experience, surely we can argue it from the many biblical examples. After all, didn’t the Apostle Paul claim that God guided him specifically in his Macedonian vision of Acts 16? And in other instances, the Lord led Ananias to Paul in Acts 9 and Peter to Cornelius in Acts 10. In fact, God’s individual will is evident in the lives of Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Josiah, Ruth, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and many others.

But examples in Scripture must be handled with great care. Many events are recorded in the Bible primarily because they were unique occurrences in the outworking of God’s salvation history. So what must be determined in each case is whether the example was intended to illustrate normative Christian behavior. Should one expect a light and a voice from heaven to accompany a call to a particular vocation, as Paul experienced in Acts 9? Was this normative? God spoke to Balaam through a donkey in Numbers 22. Should each believer keep one in his back yard just in case? Yes, the Bible has many examples of men and women who received supernatural guidance from God through visions, angelic messengers, physical miracles, and even an audible voice from God. But, in fact, this was not even the norm for believers in Bible times. Even for the Apostle Paul, most of his decisions were based solely on God’s precepts and principles. And the average believer in Bible times who did not hold a unique office such as apostle, prophet, judge or king NEVER received any supernatural revelation.

Well, if the biblical examples do not prove God’s individual will for Christians, then what about the specific Scripture passages where believers are instructed to know and do God’s will for their lives? Apart from the non-normative biblical examples just discussed, there are only about a dozen Scriptures that even hint at an individual will of God for Christians to follow. And with each of these Scripture passages, the problem is poor interpretation that does not take into account either the context or the word meanings. In every case, it can be shown that the biblical writer is referring not to an individual will but rather to the moral will of God. For example, Isaiah 30:20-21 (…your ears will hear a word behind you) is often quoted to describe the inward work of the Holy Spirit giving specific guidance of God’s individual will. Yet if the additions and capitalizations (which are not in the original Hebrew) are left out, it becomes clear from the context that the voice behind them was not an inner voice of the Holy Spirit but rather the voice of a prophet coming out of hiding (vv. 8-11) to teach repentant Israel (v. 19) the way of God’s law.

After testing the arguments for God’s individual will – reason, experience, biblical example and biblical teaching – this third use of God’s will is found to have no valid support from Scripture, even though it is commonly (and confusingly) taught in modern churches. Though seldom believed before this present century, it has become so accepted today that most Christians don’t know how to think outside the box. This is particularly crucial for such a life-transforming decision as choosing a spouse. So let’s do some final testing of the trappings associated with God’s individual will.

The individual will of God has been compared to a personalized road map that shows the one, specific, detailed route you should take through life, including all the decisions you will ever make. It is taught that God does not show us our whole journey all at once but gives us road signs along the way as we need them, four of which are circumstances, results, inner impressions, and personal desires. Yet in actuality Scripture reveals that these are four ways God does NOT guide us. Let’s evaluate them one by one.

CIRCUMSTANCES DO NOT GUIDE US
First, as believers in the sovereignty of God, we know that no circumstance develops by chance because God is the Sovereign Ruler over all things, including the circumstances that surround the decisions we make. It is reasoned, therefore, that just as we read our Bible because God wrote it, so also we should read our circumstances because God providentially controls them to reveal His individual will to us. Open and closed doors are said to be two of the most obvious circumstances through which God reveals His individual will. Paul was directed to stay in Ephesus by an open door (1 Cor. 16:8-9). And he regularly prayed that God would open other doors for him (Col. 4:3).

Putting out a fleece is yet another circumstantial sign. This is the practice of asking God to speak directly through a providential sign agreed upon beforehand. It comes from the story of Gideon in Judges 6:36-40 where Gideon asked God to answer yes or no concerning his battle against the Midianites through the use of a fleece of wool or sheepskin. This same method of discerning God’s individual will was used by Abraham’s servant who asked God to use a circumstantial sign to reveal the right bride for Isaac. Even before he finished praying, Rebekah appeared and immediately fulfilled the sign by providing water not only for the servant but for his caravan of camels as well (Gen. 24).

But are these examples normative for believers today – or even for believers in Bible days? Does God, in fact, reveal His specific, individual will in advance to us for everyday decisions through circumstances, such as open or closed doors and fleeces? And how can we be sure we are interpreting the circumstances correctly, since Scripture gives no guidelines for this? Contrary to popular belief, the Bible actually does not support the road sign of circumstances. The Bible teaches that God’s sovereign will is purposely hidden from man, and that His moral will is already revealed in its entirety in the Bible: The secret things [His sovereign will] belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed [His moral will] belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law (Deut. 29:29). Circumstances, then, are not designed to give hints about God’s future sovereign will or about His moral will either.

In fact, Solomon made it clear in Ecclesiastes 1 that trying to interpret our circumstances makes life seem futile: Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, he declared. It often appears that God favors the wicked and resists the righteous, says Asaph in Psalm 73. Apart from the Bible’s teaching that God is at work in history, the raw data of circumstances is often mysterious and conflicting. It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, to read in John 9:2-3 that those who attempted to interpret circumstances failed in their efforts. Similarly, the Lord had to correct a wrong interpretation of the circumstances in Luke 13:1-3 when He explained that a group of Galileans killed by Pilate were not greater sinners than others (cf. also vv. 4-5). Such events were determined by the sovereign will of God; they were not circumstantial signs to be interpreted for daily guidance.

God has His wise and sovereign reasons for each event in history, but He does not regularly give man a running commentary of His reasons, just as Solomon observed in Ecclesiastes 11:5-6, Just as you do not know the path of the wind… so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good. We just do not know the activity of God because we cannot and should not interpret the divinely controlled circumstances around us. It’s like the farm boy who ran to tell his father that he had to leave the farm because he’d just been called to the ministry. The clouds had floated by in the shape of a P and a C, which he interpreted to mean preach Christ. His dad, however, deciphered the sign differently, and told him to get back to work since God was telling him to plant corn, pick cotton, punch cows, and pluck chickens.

Probably the classic interpreters of circumstances were Job’s comforters – Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. After sitting silently with the afflicted Job for seven days, they thought they were wise enough to interpret his circumstances for the next nine chapters. You know what? They were wrong nine chapters out of nine! Only God really knew what was going on. And when did God finally reveal to Job the divine interpretation of his troubles? He never did! God just wanted Job to trust Him for the present as well as the future. And that is how God wants us to live too – by faith, not by interpreting circumstances.

NEITHER DOORS NOR FLEECES
But doesn’t Scripture speak of open and closed doors? If these are not circumstantial road signs from the Lord, then what are they? How does one distinguish between an open door and one that’s only ajar? And who opened the door anyway – God, or Satan, or neither of them? How do you differentiate between a closed door and a test of faith?

The phrase open door in Scripture is a figure of speech for access to something or an opportunity to do something. For instance, in Acts 14:27, Paul and Barnabas reported how God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles, meaning that the Gentiles had been given an opportunity to hear the gospel and believe. But the question is, does an open door constitute individual direction from God that must be obeyed, or is an open door simply an opportunity that may be taken or bypassed depending upon the judgment of the believer?

Paul seems to answer that question by his remark in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9. Verse 9 reveals two very important reasons for Paul to stay in Ephesus awhile longer. On the positive side, a wide door for effective service had opened for him; on the negative side, there were many adversaries trying to close that door. In short, Paul decided to remain in Ephesus to utilize the opportunity and to neutralize the opposition. He didn’t look upon this door as a road sign commanding him to stay in Ephesus but rather as an opportunity to spread God’s message and combat God’s enemies.

Again in Colossians 4:3, Paul wasn’t praying for a circumstantial sign, but rather for an opportunity to preach the gospel, a door for the word. Lest there be any question that an open door in Scripture is not a road sign to be obeyed but rather an opportunity to be evaluated, look at 2 Corinthians 2:12-13. Here is an open door from which the Apostle Paul walked away! When Titus did not meet him in Troas as planned, Paul became so concerned that he left Troas, open door and all, and went looking for him in Macedonia. Now if an open door constitutes a road sign from God to be obeyed, then Paul’s action would be unexplainable. But if an open door is an opportunity to be considered and weighed (and possibly bypassed) in light of other factors, then Paul’s action was clearly understandable.

What does Scripture say about closed doors? Not a word! Yes, the concept of a closed door is found in Scripture, but it simply means the absence of an open door of opportunity. For example, in Acts 16:7 when the Spirit did not permit Paul and Silas and Timothy to go into Bithynia, God sovereignly accomplished this by not giving them an open door of opportunity. And whenever Paul was sovereignly prevented from pursuing a godly plan, he didn’t interpret it as a no answer from God but simply waited and tried again later (cf. Rom. 1:10-13).

What about this issue of putting out a fleece as a circumstantial sign of God’s individual will? Is Gideon’s practice a model for believers today? Let’s notice several differences between Gideon’s fleece in Judges 6 and today’s practice of putting out a fleece. In the first place, Gideon’s fleece was not simply a circumstantial sign, it was a miraculous display of supernatural power. Gideon had already been visited by the angel of the Lord, his offering had been consumed by fire from the rock, and God Himself had spoken aloud to Gideon. Now he was asking God for another genuine miracle of the fleece being wet with dew while the surrounding ground remained dry, something far different than, say, someone inquiring about your house before you advertise it for sale!

Second, Gideon wasn’t using the fleece to gain guidance, but to gain confirmation of guidance that had already been given, guidance that had come through supernatural means. So Gideon was not seeking the right decision but enough faith to believe that God would deliver Israel through him.

Third, rather than being an example of a proper approach to receiving guidance, Gideon’s demand for further signs was really an expression of doubt and fear which God graciously tolerated, certainly not a model for us to follow.

In summary, then, Gideon was not seeking a circumstantial sign but a miraculous one; he didn’t use a fleece to obtain guidance, but to confirm guidance already given; and his motivation wasn’t a desire to do God’s will but a reluctance to do God’s will.

The other primary example of putting out a fleece is Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, getting a bride for Isaac in Genesis 24. Does this passage teach that Christians are to seek detailed guidance beyond the moral will of God in the Bible? Is this the way we are to discover the specific person we’re supposed to marry? No, the experience of Abraham’s servant is an example of God’s special, supernatural guidance which was not even the norm for believers in Bible times. Here was a unique incident in the salvation history of the Old Testament where God had promised Abraham in Genesis 15 that he would have innumerable descendants. But that promise first required the birth of a son, and that son had to have a wife. For this reason, the servant based his request on God’s covenant-keeping character as one who is faithful to his promise – the literal meaning of lovingkindness in Genesis 24:14. Therefore, this example does not depict the normal father using the normal method to pick a normal wife for his normal son. Rather, this was the fulfillment of a special covenant with Abraham, using angelic assistance and a supernatural fleece to bring about success.

Having seen, then, that God does not communicate His will through circumstances, what about the second road sign of results or blessings? Actually, this is often viewed as a way of confirming God’s will more than determining God’s will, since God’s will is said to bring good results or blessings to the believer. A good result is like the sign at your destination that reads, Welcome, you made it. You were pretty sure you had followed the directions accurately, but that final sign assures you that you stayed on course.

But is this what the Bible teaches? It seems that if positive results and blessing are proof of God’s will, then Jeremiah was never in God’s will! In fact, many of God’s servants throughout the Bible and church history have been faithful in their ministries yet have encountered nothing but difficulties and obstacles in life. Are they to be labeled as failures? Was their lack of results due to being out of God’s will? The Bible teaches that results must always be viewed within the framework of God’s sovereignty. And God’s sovereign plan for His universe presently includes both good and evil. It permits Gabriel and Lucifer, Jesus and Judas to exist side by side. A day is coming when God will judge all evil and reward all good. But until then, we cannot interpret results or blessings as a sign or confirmation of God’s will.

IMPRESSIONS DO NOT GUIDE US
The third road sign which is said to direct us to God’s individual will is the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit. Since the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit dwells within each one who puts his trust in Jesus Christ. And one of the Spirit’s many wonderful ministries is the leading and guiding of believers: But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13). For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God (Rom. 8:14). This inward guidance is sometimes called the inner voice because it comes from within our heart, not outside our body. It is described as the still small voice in contrast to physically audible sounds. Inner impression, inward burden, inner witness, and checks in the spirit are other expressions used to distinguish the nature of this guidance. Possibly the most common designation for this road sign is the peace of God which is said to come when we are in the center of God’s will (Col. 3:15).

But herein is the dilemma of subjectivism. Christians who base their decisions on feeling led or sensing God’s will can have widely different, even contradictory convictions. One father told me he had three different young men claim it was God’s will for them to marry his daughter. Hmmm! How do you argue against the inner impression of a Christian who claims that God told him this or God told him that? You can’t, because there is no objective standard (the Bible) by which his claims can be evaluated. This view of God’s will can make Christians susceptible to all sorts of doctrinal error and deception. After all, how can one tell whether these impressions are from God or some other source? We know that inner impressions can come from any number of causes: God, Satan, an angel, a demon, human emotions, hormonal imbalance, sleep loss, medication, sickness or even a Big Mac. Sinful impressions are obviously not from God. But what about non-moral impressions, like whether to buy one car or another? Scripture gives absolutely no guidelines for distinguishing the source of your inner impressions. Tremendous frustration has been experienced by sincere Christians who have earnestly but fruitlessly sought to interpret the meaning of their inner impressions. Yes, impressions are real in that we do experience them. But they do not reveal God’s will. Two examples, I think, will illustrate this.

First, if you read very many Bible commentaries, you will soon begin to notice that no scholar writing his interpretation of the verses will appeal to inner impressions as his guide to the Scripture. If an inner prompting is a good guide to God’s will, then why do all the hard work of serious Bible study, learning the original languages and the principles of biblical interpretation? Why not just say, God, tell me the correct interpretation through your inner voice? Would you trust a Bible scholar who came to his conclusions that way?

A second example of the problem with subjective impressions would be the typical decision made by a church’s leadership or by a whole congregation. When two, or ten, or two hundred people must all have the same inward leading on an issue, the process becomes very complicated. Should a church require a unanimous leading before proceeding with a decision? What if the decision can’t be postponed, but everybody has a different leading? What if equally godly men line up on opposite sides of the issue? How can you resolve an issue when some Christians think the Holy Spirit is telling them to vote yes, and other Christians think the Holy Spirit is telling them to vote no?

But doesn’t the Bible teach that one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to lead believers? The answer, of course, is yes. The issue, however, is not whether the Holy Spirit leads us but how He leads us. Romans 8:14 is often quoted as proof that the Holy Spirit leads believers through inner impressions into the individual will of God. But look at the context of this verse. First, the context is not dealing with daily decision making in non-moral areas. Second, this verse gives no indication whatever that the means of leading is by inward impressions. And third, there is no hint at all that the goal of the leading is the individual will of God.

What the Apostle Paul is discussing in this passage is righteous living, not which car to buy or which woman to marry. The issue set before us (beginning in 8:1) is the contrast between living according to the Spirit versus living according to the flesh, or put simply in verse 7, obedience versus disobedience to the law of God contained in the Bible. It is Paul’s answer to the problem of slavery to sin raised in chapter seven. In this context, then, being led by the Spirit of God is simply another way of describing living according the Spirit in which the Christian is putting to death the deeds of the body by obeying the moral will of God in the Bible.

But what about the next few verses of Romans 8, especially verse 16: The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit…? Doesn’t this verse teach about an inner witness? Again, the context does not describe daily decision making. In verse 15 our spirit (i.e., our inner person), because it has been regenerated through spiritual adoption, cries out Abba, Father. But why? Verse 16 explains that the Holy Spirit bears witness to us, that is, He illumines our understanding of Scripture that the promises of God are now ours (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14).

Another prominent passage on the leading of the Holy Spirit declares, the Spirit of Truth… will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13). This promise is directed not to all believers but specifically to the Apostles to whom He was speaking. And the truth that Jesus would give them (truth that you cannot bear now and truth about what is to come) was not inner impulses for daily decision making but direct revelation from the Holy Spirit for writing the New Testament, truths related to Christ’s death, resurrection and second coming.

WHAT ABOUT PEACE?
Perhaps the most common allusion to inner impressions is having the peace of Christ when we are in the center of God’s will (Col. 3:15). Yet in this passage, Paul is writing not about God’s provision for our decision making but about maintaining love and unity in the body of Christ. The word peace can mean one of two things in Scripture – either the absence of anxiety within a person or the absence of hostility between persons. The whole appeal of Colossians 3:5-17 is for believers to manifest Christ-like attitudes and virtues that will result in experiential unity among believers. So which definition of peace fits this context? Surely Paul is talking about the absence of hostility between believers, not a warm, fuzzy feeling. He’s calling us to peace with one another, not inner peace within our soul. The whole subject of inner guidance is entirely foreign to the context.

But what about the lack of peace – the lack of tranquility – you might have in the process of decision making? How do you explain it? What is the source of this anxiety? Well, it could be your conscience. If you are pursuing a course of action in violation of God’s word, then your conscience will produce a feeling of guilt. But if your decision is not a matter of disobeying God’s revealed will, then like we said before, your feeling may have numerous possible causes: fatigue, illness, stress, timidity, uncertainty, weather, diet and so on. How did you feel the morning you were to be married? Didn’t you feel a little unsettled inside? Yet if all marriages were called off because of nervous grooms, we’d have no weddings! That lack of peace is perfectly normal whenever we face a major new step in life. In summary, then, impressions are just feelings, which can have numerous causes. But they are clearly not road signs for God’s will.

What, then, is the proper place of emotions in the Christian life? Instead of being our method for determining truth, they are our God-given means for responding to truth. The emotional cart is to be pulled by the intellectual horse, and not the reverse. Our feelings are designed by God to express our response to objective truth. For example, if a friend is injured, my God-given emotions respond with sorrow; but if a friend gets saved, my emotions respond with joy. In our relationship with God, our minds learn from the Bible what God says is true. Our wills choose to accept God’s truth and obey it. And our emotions then respond accordingly with love, praise, thanksgiving, fear, hope, trust, rejoicing and so forth, lifting our Christian experience to the highest possible level of enjoyment. The Psalms are an ideal place to explore the proper, biblical expression of our emotions!

One caution: Since our emotions are designed to respond to what we believe to be true, we must walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We must believe what God says is true, regardless of our circumstances. If we believe our circumstances rather than God, then our life will be an emotional roller coaster as our circumstances change. That’s why James exhorts us to consider it joy, my brethren when you encounter various trials (Jas. 1:2f). Why? Because of the truth of God that trials will make you a mature Christian. That is cause for joy! But if your focus is on the trial, then you will be emotionally depressed.

Finally, let’s examine the fourth road sign said to direct us to God’s individual will, namely, our personal desires. At the time of salvation, God gives us a new heart and begins renewing our desires. The more we grow in grace, the more our desires line up with God’s desires. Though initially our experiential righteousness is like filthy rags, God is washing those rags a little more every day as we grow in Christ. But the problem with using personal desires as a road sign is that, this side of heaven, Christians will still have some sinful desires, foolish desires, prideful desires and many other desires that are difficult to identify because the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). Even the Apostle Paul expressed his own inner conflict with desires (Rom. 7:15-25) and taught that Christians in this life will always experience internal warfare as the flesh lusts against the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26). Ultimately, all desires must be judged by God’s moral will, the Bible, because only the Bible explains which desires are which.

HOW GOD GUIDES US
Though it can be emotionally unsettling to probe our fundamental assumptions, we have tested the doctrine that God has an individual will for every person which he or she must discover in order to be within the will of God (1 Thess. 5:21), examining the Scriptures… to see whether these things are so (Acts 17:11). And having seen how each of the four arguments and each of the four road signs are unfounded, we must conclude that this viewpoint is actually an unbiblical teaching that will lead us into confusion, not clarity, about God’s will. It is not that God does not craft every detail of our life – indeed, He does – but He simply has chosen not to reveal those details to us. They are part of His sovereign will (Deut. 29:29), purposely kept secret because He wants us to learn to Trust and Obey as the hymn writer so aptly put it. Trusting is our response to His sovereign will; obeying is our response to His moral will (the Bible). But how do the two work together in our choosing of a spouse?

God’s sovereign will has four primary characteristics, each of which has a crucial application in the choosing of a spouse. First, as mentioned above, God’s sovereign will is secret or hidden until it happens. Would you like to know whom you will marry? Just wait until the day after the wedding! Why, you might wonder, doesn’t God tell us His sovereign will in advance? It is because He wants to build in us a character of trusting Him for our future, walking by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Moreover, He is protecting us from information we are not equipped to handle. Jesus teaches that we are wired to handle only one day’s anxiety at a time – and no more (Matt. 6:34).

Second, God’s sovereign will is exhaustive. As the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15), God is the ultimate determiner of everything that happens, including our choice of a mate. In a word, God works ALL things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Even the sinful acts of men are included in God’s sovereign will as Peter divulged that Jesus was delivered up by the predetermined plan of God (Acts 2:23; cf. Luke 22:22). And yet, as we said before, God accomplishes this without being the author of sin, without violating the will of man, and without destroying the reality and responsibility of decision making. He simply uses man’s nature to bring about His predetermined end.

The third characteristic of God’s sovereign will is that it is certain. Daniel 4:35 declares that God’s sovereign will cannot be frustrated by men, by angels or by anyone else. Thus, it is not blind chance, impersonal fate, human manipulation or Satanic trickery but rather God Himself who brings a man and a woman together in marriage. And nothing – including someone marrying the wrong person – can thwart God’s sovereign will. Did Mr. or Miss Right pass you by and marry someone else? God’s sovereign will makes no mistakes – He knows better who is ideal for us. Perhaps there was some hidden flaw in that person which God was protecting you from. Or maybe God was protecting him from you as God continues to conform your character to Christ. Could be you two just weren’t a good fit for each other.

Fourth and finally, God’s sovereign will is perfect, bringing the highest glory to God and the greatest good to man. God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God (Rom. 8:28). God does not say all things are good, because they’re not. He says all things work together for good to make us conformed to Christ. Even a difficult marriage can work together for good to conform us to Christ’s qualities of endurance, forbearance, and forgiveness as we learn to love a less-than-perfect mate. So in the perfect sovereign will of God, there is no such thing as getting stuck with God’s second best spouse. And whether we become bitter or better in marriage simply depends on how much we are trusting in the sovereign will of God.

But trusting God’s sovereign will is only half the equation for our choosing a spouse. Remember Trust and Obey? The second half is obeying God’s moral will. And the substance of God’s moral will is the Bible, pure and simple (Rom. 2:18). It is our perfect and complete guide for all faith and practice (2 Pet. 1:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:17), encompassing not only WHAT we do, but also WHY we do it and HOW we do it. Speaking of this truth, Jesus told His disciples in John 13:17, If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. So our two responses to God’s moral will are (1) to know it and (2) to do it. The Holy Spirit does not guide us apart from God’s Word, rather He guides us through God’s Word as we diligently study it. Then He blesses us with success as we faithfully obey it (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:1-3).

It is the purpose of this series of articles on God’s Design for Scriptural Romance to diligently search out the principles, precepts, practices, promises, and prudence of God that relate to choosing a spouse. This is a process which relies on faith, not feelings – faith in the sovereign will of God to overshadow our feeble efforts, and faith in the moral will of God to direct our uncertain steps. Though we may crave the multi-sensory experience of miraculous circumstances and mystical impressions, God has given us His completed revelation as our fully sufficient guide. Then when we make our decisions based on the objective truth of Scripture, our emotions can find their God-ordained place in responding to that truth with love, praise, hope, rejoicing and thankfulness!

I was reminded of this truth recently when our family had the opportunity to minister in Europe for several weeks. As we traveled through France, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, there were many road signs that were bewildering to us because we couldn’t interpret them correctly (like the mystical view of God’s will). If we had sought to follow them, we would have wasted many miles and turns, perhaps even ruining our trip. Thankfully, we had brought along a complete touring guide to Europe, all mapped out in plain English. Similarly, God has given us His authoritative and inerrant Guidebook (the Bible) for our Christian journey, written in plain English. He has not intended us to become confused and frustrated trying to read road signs He never designed us to understand. Instead, He wants us to be guided by the principles of Scripture for all of life’s choices. Nothing more is needed; it is adequate to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17), especially the good work of choosing a spouse! In our next article, we’ll begin to outline the exciting four-stage process to a biblical marriage: friendship, courtship, betrothal, and wedding.  

 

Chapter 5

Talking Biblically About Feelings

 For the substance of this article, I am indebted to Dr. David Powlison of the faculty of Westminster Seminary.

We live in a society where the words “I feel” have become the catch phrase of communication. Worse yet, what people feel has become the basis of much of their decision-making. I’m sure you can relate to some of these examples: 

“I’ve lost all feelings of love for my husband, so my marriage is now hopeless.”

“I just don’t feel like reading my Bible (going to church, mowing the lawn, etc.), so I won’t do it today.”

“Tell me what you feel, then we’ll really understand each other.”

“Follow your feelings since feelings are the guide to personal fulfillment.”

“How do you feel about me, darling? Do you feel you could be happy with a husband like me?”

The words “I feel” have become the do-all expression, used for anything and everything people may experience, think, or want. But what do people really mean when they say, I feel this or I feel that? And, more importantly, what does the Bible teach about feelings? To understand the vagueness and even the deceptiveness of our feelings, see if you can decipher this paragraph:

“I feel tense when I feel my husband has wronged me. Then I don’t feel like talking to him. Instead, I feel like leaving because I feel he won’t listen anyway. I don’t feel the Bible applies to our conflicts, so I feel justified in the anger I feel.”

Have you ever heard a person talk this way? Do you sometimes talk this way? How about your children? Let’s take a closer look at the way we use the word “feel” and what the Bible says about it. There are four different ways we use the word “feeling,” but not all of them are biblical.

SENSE PERCEPTIONS
First, we use feeling to refer to sense perceptions. Cut your finger, and you feel pain. You feel an external, physical event. But you can also feel internal events. For example, I feel tense when my muscles knot up and I feel sick when my stomach churns. So in its simplest sense, feeling is a synonym for a physical sensation.

The Bible teaches that God made us to experience both physical pain and physical pleasure. We see this throughout the Psalms (e.g., Ps. 107:1-6). The people of Israel experienced hunger, thirst, fainting, misery and other troubles. God intends such hardships to drive us to Him for help and refuge. Later in this Psalm, we read how Israel experienced satisfied hunger, quenched thirst, safety, and peace. God intends such blessings to stir us unto thankfulness and rejoicing. So God designed us to feel things with our senses, to experience both pain and pleasure. In fact, a promise in Scripture is often an appeal to experience pleasure; and a warning in Scripture is frequently an appeal to avoid pain. Consider the pleasures of food and drink that we are to enjoy with thankfulness, particularly at the marriage supper of the Lamb! And in relation to marriage, Jeremiah 33:11 equates the voice of joy and gladness with the voice of the bridegroom and the bride. So the Bible teaches that sensory experiences are properly called feelings.

OUR EMOTIONS
A second way we use the word feeling is to describe emotions. We say, I feel angry, anxious, lonely, happy, affectionate, fearful, guilty, thankful, excited, ashamed, compassionate, sorrowful, awed, joyful. These are all God-given emotions. They are signals that register what is happening to you and within you, like the red lights on the dashboard of your car tell you what’s happening under the hood. Your children have these red lights on their dashboard as well! They feel angry, sad, fearful, and joyous. In fact, God is Himself full of emotions like sorrow and joy, anger and tenderness. Since He has created us in His image, we have emotions too.

But the Bible teaches that these emotions can be either justified or unjustified, rightly expressed or wrongly expressed; and they are generally linked with thoughts, attitudes, expectations, words, and deeds. So emotions are not automatically legitimate. They simply register, for good or for ill, what is going on in our relationships with God and neighbor. For example, we say, Such and such happened, and I’m worried. That’s a red light that I have forgotten the sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness of God who controls all my circumstances. Or we say, You offended me, so I feel angry. But when my anger is evaluated by the Word of God, I will in all likelihood find in my response some pride, some comparing, and perhaps some envy. If I am not careful to repent right away, then that anger will be expressed in bitterness, hatred, and even murder (cf. Gen. 4:3-8).

So in Scripture our emotions are properly called feelings, but they may be either right or wrong based on whether they are biblically justified and biblically expressed. This is important for you to practice as you live before your children. But it is likewise crucial for you to train your children to deal biblically with their own emotions, evaluating whether their emotions are justified and whether their emotions are properly expressed. This will be vital training for the intense emotions that will come with courtship.

BELIEFS, ATTITUDES, THOUGHTS
A third way we employ the word feeling is to describe our beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts. This use begins to move outside the parameters of Scripture. Notice in the above example how the wife said, I feel that my husband wronged me. I feel he won’t listen. I don’t feel the Bible applies. I feel justified. What is this wife really saying? She is saying she believes her husband has wronged her. She thinks he won’t listen. She doesn’t believe the Bible applies. And so she thinks she is justified. Though this wife expresses both physical sensation and internal emotion elsewhere in her words, she is here expressing her beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and opinions.

Yet the Bible nowhere uses the word feeling in this way. And the problem with allowing ourselves to use feeling to express beliefs is that feelings are impossible to argue with. People either have them or they don’t. When we express beliefs in terms of feelings, our subjective, inner truth replaces the objective truth of the Bible. If I feel it as an inner conviction, then it becomes inherently true and right. You can surely see the dilemma a father will face with his son or daughter during courtship if his child has been allowed to express beliefs and opinions in terms of feelings.

God intends our beliefs and opinions to be carefully evaluated in the light of truth. The Bible has devastating things to say about leaning on our own understanding and being wise in our own eyes. Is what we believe and think true or false, right or wrong, according the Bible? It is certainly proper to subjectively feel devotion, enthusiasm, zeal, even passion regarding these objective beliefs about God and His Word. But to use the word feeling to articulate those beliefs, thoughts, or opinions is both wrong and dangerous. Instead, we should just say, I believe this or I think that. Otherwise, we will find ourselves as parents fighting a losing battle with nondescript feelings that have been substituted for verifiable beliefs. And these so-called feelings will likewise create havoc for our children in their future marriages.

OUR DESIRES
There is a fourth way we use the word feeling, and this one, too, is in error. We often use the word feeling to express our desires. Notice again the wife’s words: I don’t feel like talking to him. I feel like leaving. What is she really saying? She means I don’t desire to talk to him. Instead, I desire to leave. Yet by using the word feel she has given implicit authority to her impulses, inclinations, desires, yearnings, intentions, and plans. And she has obscured her responsibility to submit her desires to the search light of God’s Word. When expressed as feelings, our deceptive desires will often produce sinful choices.

Now, the Bible teaches that our desires may be perfectly valid: Honey, I feel like pizza tonight. Nothing wrong with desiring a pizza for supper, is there? But frequently our desires are of the flesh, which God intends to be overruled by the Spirit. Most of what the world calls felt needs are really idolatrous desires: health and wealth, significance and security, self-esteem and control. God wants them to be exterminated by the Spirit, not indulged by the flesh (cf. Gal. 5:16-18). The Holy Spirit is in the business of changing what you want! Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the heart, or inner man, is composed of thoughts and intents, i.e., beliefs and desires. It isn’t surprising, then, that Satan would confuse our language today with the word feeling for both of these categories of the human heart. We call our false beliefs and fleshly desires feelings simply because we do not want God interfering with the idolatries of our wayward heart.

These last two uses of the word feeling – to mean either our beliefs or our desires – are not biblical uses at all. So use the word feeling to express an outward sensation like a pin prick, or an inward emotion like anger or fear. But using the word feeling to mean belief or desire should be stricken from our vocabulary and our children’s vocabulary, if our beliefs and desires are consistently to be evaluated by God’s Word.

The Bible cuts to the very root of a life lived by feelings. And by His Word, God judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12) so that we can (1) resist pleasing self and pursue pleasing Christ, (2) stop being desire-oriented and start being self-disciplined, (3) replace feeling-centered Hollywood Love with self-sacrificial Holy Love, (4) end the me-generation live for myself vision of life and begin the multi-generational sacrifice for my grandchildren vision of life, and (5) cease deciding by feelings and commence deciding by Scripture.

[END OF PART 1]

 

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