5. The Cultivation Principle

Dating relationships need cultivating.  But how do you automatically do that?  First, you can cultivate your dating relationship best when you see each other first as spiritual siblings.  If you apply the Common Ground Principle, you should be interested only in a brother or sister in the Lord.  As such, this person is your spiritual sibling before they are a romantic option.

Also, there is safety in numbers.  Getting to know a person of the opposite sex is done best in groups at first.  Parents, church leaders, and spiritually mature friends should be in the mix (see the Confirmation Principle).  This allows a good view into a person's character and personality.  But there are limits to what you can discover and evaluate in this context.  There is value in time alone, too.

First, let me define "alone."  This does not mean that no one else is around.  You can eat out together, talk at a coffee shop, go to church, and so forth - these situations provide great opportunities to be alone.  In other words, you're interacting only with each other, but you're in a public place.  Spending time together with no one else around is asking for trouble.  The biggest danger in being alone is the temptation to express inappropriate physical affection (see the Chastity Principle) and inappropriate emotional affection.  The place where many get into trouble is in what I call the all-or-nothing category.  What I mean by this is that a romance is started with both knowing little about the other person.  They go from nothing to a lot very fast.  And then if they break up, they go from a lot right back to nothing.  This kind of "all or nothingness" can lay the foundation for future problems and even divorce.  How?  A pattern begins to emerge that if the relationship is not working, the solution is to bail out.

Nothing could be farther from the ideal when it comes to Christians who are pursuing each other.  I am not suggesting that you necessarily have to marry the first person you date.  We need to be reminded that Christians share a relationship that transcends the arena of romance - that of being spiritual siblings to one another.  If you want to cultivate the right relationship you have to understand this. 

Christians are spiritually related to every other believer in the world; they are brothers and sisters.  Just as parents set rules and standards for their children's interaction, God has set rules and standards for His children to follow.  This weighed heavily on the mind of Christ in the final days of His earthly ministry (see John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17).  He wanted us to honor each other as spiritual siblings. 

The phrase "one another" is a favorite in the Bible to describe the familial relationship that believers share in Christ.  There are almost forty commands in the New Testament about believers relating to one another.  Romans 12:10 is the fountainhead for all "one anothers":  "Love one another with brotherly affection."  This is the commitment to do what is best for the other.  If Christian couples apply this kind of selflessness, physical and emotional temptations will be held in check.

6. The Complementarian Principle

John Piper observes,

The tendency today is to stress the equality of men and women by minimizing the unique significance of our maleness and femaleness.  But this depreciation of male and female personhood is a great loss.  It is taking a tremendous toil on generations of young men and women who do not know what it means to be a man or a woman."47

Contemporary evangelicalism is in the throes of a debate about masculinity and femininity.  This is especially evident in the context of preparing for marriage.  God has designed men and women to enjoy different roles in marriage.  People who disagree with that are called egalitarians.  They believe that men's and women's roles in marriage are equal.  I disagree, and here's why:

- The term complementarity comes from the biblical teaching that men and women have been given different roles so they might complement each other.  The complementarian position recognizes the uniqueness in God's creative order with respect to men and women:

At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man's differing relationships.48

At the heart of true femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationships.49

The biblical data is undeniable for these statements (see Genesis 1-3; Ephesians 5:21-33; Colossians 3:19-19; 1 Timothy 3:4, 12; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Peter 3:1-7).  For men and women to be ready for marriage, they must prepare themselves for these roles.  Men need to learn to lead with grace.  Their leadership is to be as understanding and trustworthy as that of Jesus Himself (see Ephesians 5:22-33).  Following the example of Christ, this leadership is not to be heavy-handed or authoritarian.  It should be tender and understanding (see 1 Peter 3:7).

To prepare themselves for marriage, women need to learn wise submission to men worthy of this privilege.  This is first learned by submitting to their fathers, church leaders, and other authorities in life.  But the Bible does not call a woman to submit to a man in a romantic relationship until she is his wife.  The process of learning to submit herself to a man in this way - and discerning whether that man is worthy of such submission - should take place during the dating period.

I believe God's Word clearly teaches a complementarian design for men's and women's roles that flows out of our understanding of masculinity and femininity.  Understanding and developing these roles is an important part of preparing for marriage.

This means that a man should be the initiator in a relationship.  Because a wife's role is clearly to follow the leadership of her husband, a single woman should allow a man to pursue her only if he is worthy of her submission.

What do you think?  Are you an egalitarian or a complementarian?  How do you think this affects your dating relationships?

But let's press the issue a bit by looking at our third scenario. 

Denise just turned thirty.  She is a business professional working in a metropolitan area across the country from her parents.  She is active in her local church and busy with friends and activities but has not had any real experience with romantic relationships.  She feels her biological clock ticking and wants to get married and have children.  What should she do? 

Ideally, Denise would not have a job away from the care and protection of her parents, especially because she's a single woman.  If for some reason she cannot move back to their area, she should first express her desires to God in prayer.  Consideration should be given to whether being a wife and mother is becoming an idol in her heart.  And if she wants to be found by the right kind of guy, she should focus her time on serving the body of Christ.

First Corinthians 7 gives wonderful hope for Denise to use her singleness with undivided devotion to Christ (see verse 35) and unhindered ministry for His purpose (see verse 32).  Should she move to another church with more single men or even seek to be matched up on a Christian Internet dating service?  These questions should be considered with great care and counsel.  Speaking with her parents and pastor(s) may provide specific direction.  She would be unwise to make such serious decisions without parental and pastoral oversight.

If a single woman such as Denise is attracted to a godly man, but he has not pursued her, it is not her place to be the initiator.  She should lay her desires before the Lord and allow Him to direct the man's heart.  But if Christian men would learn how to be Christian men, I think situations like Denise's would decrease.

7. The Companionship Principle  

God invented marriage because man was alone, not because he was lonely.  From the very beginning, God has intended relationships to be about glorifying Him by purposeful companionship.  So the purpose of marriage is simple:  to serve, represent, and glorify God as a two-in-one team.  Dating serves as an arena for testing a relationship to see if it glorifies God enough to warrant marriage.  This is the Companionship Principle.

One can use dating as the testing ground for marriage only if one understands marriage.  That being true, let's go back to the purpose of marriage.  The question that must be asked, then, is this:  Does the relationship move you to serve, represent, and glorify God better or worse than you could alone?

The best way to find this out is through time - a lot of time.  Usually, it's important to go slow.  Take as much time as you need to really get to know a person before you decide that he or she is "the one."  On the other hand, going too slow can make sexual temptation unbearable.  Seek the Lord fervently during this time as you're figuring out whether you should marry this person. 

Observe your beau in as many contexts as possible.  A man should not judge a woman solely on how she looks without makeup; in the same way a woman should not consider only whether or not a man has good hygiene.  Instead, both should determine if the other has a true heart for the things of God.

Though the ability to serve and glorify God together is of utmost importance, it is also legitimate to ask the question, What about physical attraction?  Does it play any part in the decision process?  The Song of Solomon clearly - and graphically - illustrates that physical attraction is a part of God's design in marital romance (see 4:1-7, 6:4-7:10).  This is a divine gift.  Notice that Solomon and his bride were physically attracted to each other before they married (see 1:10, 15-16; 2:13-14).

Physical attraction should play a part of premarital attraction, but only a part.  When Solomon taught his sons about marital satisfaction, he said,

Let your fountain be blessed,
And rejoice in the wife of your youth,
A lovely dear, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
Be intoxicated always in her love. (Proverbs 5:18-19, emphasis added)

In other words, physical desire should be satisfied in marriage, but the satisfaction of companionship is more important.  And it's amazing how attractive people of godly character can be.

In order to accurately assess a relationship, a thorough understanding of God's design for marriage is crucial.  As you consider marriage, it might be a good idea to read more books about marriage than about dating and courting (except this one, of course!)50


47John Piper, "A Vision of Complementarity" in "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood," eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 33.
48Piper, 35.
49Piper, 36
50A helpful resource for learning about marriage is Wayne Mack's "Preparing for Marriage God's Way" (Tulsa, OK: Virgil Hensley Publishing, 1986).

Taken from "5 Paths to the Love of Your Life" by Lauren Winner, Jeramy Clark and Jerusha Clark, Douglas Wilson, Rick Holland and Jonathan Lindvall.  General editor:  Alex Chediak.  This content is used by permission of NavPress, and the book is available at your local bookstore or at www.navpress.com.

Dr. Rick Holland is the pastor of College and Student Ministries at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and an instructor at The Master's College and Seminary.  Rick is a regular conference speaker, both nationally and internationally, and preaches weekly to a ministry of over one thousand collegians.  Rick and his wife, Kim, have three sons.