8.  Commitment Principle

One of the most generic phrases in the English language is "I love you."  Love is said to be a feeling unlike anything you have ever felt before.  Others say love is like a hole in the ground - you fall into it.

If you want to experience biblical love, you need to have the faithfulness and responsibility to love as God loves.  The New Testament term for this kind of love is agape.  It simply means an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person.  Ephesians 5:22-33 describes this as the kind of love a married couple should have.  It is not based on emotion, selfish gain, or even attraction.  (Note:  I am not saying that you should not be attracted to the person you marry!)

But what is the nature of such love?  God didn't leave us to our own thinking and hormones to decide.  Agape love is the kind of love God has (see John 3:16), and we have been given a very detailed descriptoin of it:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogrant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Love is a commitment.  It is a decision to be made and a promise to be kept.  It is the way Christians care for one another.  And it is the way a husband and wife reflect the glory of Jesus Christ.  Real, genuine, sincere, biblical love endures all things and stays committed to an imperfect person.  I am not suggesting that you can never break off a dating relationship - even if you have told someone you love him or her.  Rather, in a romantic context, those words should be reserved for communicating a permanent relational commitment.

9.  The Communication Principle

At the core of every problem in marriage and premarital relationships is prideful selfishness.  And nothing solves this problem more than communication.  If you want to be successful relationally, learning to communicate biblically is nonnegotiable.

Ephesians 4:25-29 teaches that appropriate, godly communication has at least four elements.  Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to communicate verbally (see verse 25), honestly (see verse 25), regularly (see verse 26), and purposefully (see verse 29).  Any relationship, romantic or otherwise, would profit from these principles. 

One of the most important skills to evaluate and work on in a dating relationship is communication.  Jesus said that a person's heart is revealed by what he or she says (see Luke 6:45).  God-honoring communication is the bridge that will take you to relational enjoyment and get you over the inevitable conflicts of relationships.

Men and women communicate differently.  Learning to clearly say what you mean and to hear what is really being said is more of an art than a science.  But there is a key:  humility.  If you really want to be a better communicator and listener, put the focus of your communication on the other person.  Use wisdom in talking about yourself.  Beware of the person who likes to talk only about himself or herself.  And especially pay attention to how much that person speaks based on a foundation of Christ's gospel.

It's simple.  We talk about what is important to us.  So let Jesus flavor what you say and how you say it.  And listen carefully for the sounds of the Savior when you listen to that person you are interested in.

10. The Chastity Principle

One question I am regularly asked by people in romantic relationships is, "How far can we go physically?"  The problem is that this question is fundamentally wrong.  Another way of phrasing it is, "How close can we get to sin without getting into trouble?"  The Chastity Principle involves asking another question altogether:  "How holy can we be?"

Physical affection is a privilege of the marriage commitment.  Said another way, sex is God's wedding gift, and He doesn't want the present touched until after the wedding!  So what does that mean?  What about holding hands, hugging, kissing and so on?  Two important texts need our attention:

Flee from sexual immorality.  Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)

For this is the will of God, your sanctification:  that you abstain from sexual immorality. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

From these passages, God's counsel about physical affection can be discerned.  Sexual sin is prohibited, uniquely offensive to God, damaging, against God's will, a violation of the Holy Spirit's presence, and a sinful use of your body that was bought by the blood of Jesus.

These passages raise another rissue that must be tackled:  What does it mean to defraud a person in a relationship?  First Thessalonians 4:3-7 is a warning against sexual sin.  Paul says that immorality is against God's will (see verse 3), a lack of self-control (see verse 4), characteristic of an undredeemed life (see verse 5), sin against a brother (see verse 6), and a lightning rod for God's personal vengeance (see verse 6).

Verse 6 says that to commit to sexual sin is to "transgress and wrong his brother in this matter."  Some translations use the word defraud for the word wrong (KJV, NASB).  The word translated defraud (pleonektein), means "to take advantage of," "to claim more," or "to have more than one's due."51  Note that the object of the verb is "his brother."

Some people use this verse to encourage singles not to defraud each other by sexual sin.  Sexual sin is certainly taking advantage of another.  However, the verse is better understood as referring to a future spouse who would be violated by a couple's sin.  Leon Morris explains, "Promiscuity before marriage refers to 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."52

These verses are also used to prohibit emotional defraud of a person being dated.  Care should certainly be given to avoid violating a person in a relationship (see Romans 12:10), but the point of this pasage is to show love and respect to a future spouse.  In other words, you should treat a person you are dating as if they are going to be someone else's spouse.  How?  By being physically pure (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3).  It is far better to hurt the feelings of the person you are dating because of a lack of physcial affection than to defraud a future spouse.

So what constitutes sexual sin?  Jesus said even the fantasy of extramarital or premarital sexual intimacy is sin (see Matthew 5:27-30).  Paul went so far as to say that we should not even allow ourselves to be in a situation where lust can be fueled (see Romans 13:14).  So how much physicial intimacy should an unmarried couple experience?  Slim to none.  I can hear what you are saying as you read this:  "Come on, Rick, be realistic.  Nobody can be that puritanical."  But listen to the logic of that kind of thinking.  Are we really willing to say that the power of our fleshly lust is greater than the power of the Holy Spirit?  Purity is possible where there is a desire and willingness to be pure.

Ask yourself if being physical is necessary.  And by the way, if the person you are dating is putting pressure on you to do more or go farther, you might want to reevaluate if you're with the right person. 

First Corinthians 7 contains the most concentrated instruction in the New Testament regarding being single and being married.  There are several critical verses in this chapter that need comment:  "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote:  'It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.'  But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (verses 1-2).

There is considerable scholarly evidence that the sentence "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" is a quotation from a letter the Corinthians had sent Paul.53  They were asking if he thought it was a good idea for a married couple to abstain from sex. The following verse contains Paul's answer:  If sex is withheld in marriage, immorality could result from temptation.  Though many use this verse to teach that "it is good for a man not touch a woman" (KJV, NASB) before marriage, the context of the phrase does not allow such interpretation.  I do, however, think that the principle of abstinence is taught other places in Scripture (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). 

This principle is explained later in the chapter (see verses 25-40) - namely that singleness has considerable advantages over marriage.  However, if sexual desire is a struggle, then marriage is the God-given way to satisfy these God-given desires.  Paul taught that both singleness and marriage are good.

The apostle, did not, however, teach that a single person does not have to be self-controlled (see Galatians 5:22-23), nor did he teach that sex is the main reason to get married.  He simply urged people to make sure the decision about whether or not to marry is made with godly wisdom.  Because 1 Corinthians is an answer to questions the Corinthians sent Paul (see 7:1), he was dealing with specifics unknown to us.  But through his answers, the Holy Spirit has provided critical instruction for the church.

So Now What?

We live in a world stained by sin.  No relationship system can undo the personal and cultural consequences of our depravity.  The only hope for us is in the death of Jesus Christ and the gift of His righteousness.

This guided approach to relationships will be practiced by sinful men and women.  Thus, it is easy to be extreme on some points and thereby fall into legalism or to be too relaxed on other points, which results in lawlessness.  Because my view is less structured than some of the others, a great degree of maturity is required on the part of the couple.  Perhaps the biggest danger in this approach is the possibility of making relationships into a simple checklist or a series of hoops to jump through.  However, if the Confirmation Principle is used with the right people, most of those mistakes can be avoided.

Two questions I am asked repeatedly as a pastor are, "Does God have a specific will for a believer's life with regard to a mate?" and "Is there a 'right one' I am supposed to find?"

Yes.  But you can't be absolutely sure until you are married!  The simple principle is that you choose whom to love and then you love whom you chose.  And more important than finding the right person is being the right person.

Conclusion

I believe that honoring these biblical principles is more important than whether you date or court.  In fact, they ought to be followed regardless of the system a Christian couple uses.  It is possible to have a God-honoring dating relationship if these standards are kept.  And anyone who is committed to courtship should not disregard them.  Even a betrothal model should include them within its strict guidelines.  Again, if we are the men and women God calls us to be and God's Word is honored in these ten ways, the process we use is secondary.

The time to begin to apply these principles is not when you find yourself attracted to someone.  The time is now!  Let me say it one more time:  God is more concerned that you are the right kind of person than whether you are using the "right" system.  Be who He has called you to be and trust that He will honor your passion for Him as well as your desire for a relationship.

No dating system is perfect.  But we should still strive to honor God in how we find a spouse.  I find it interesting that when I read Christian biographies, how Christian couples got together is rarely emphasized.  Their examples teach us that personal godliness - not dating, courtship, or betrothal - is what made their marriages what they were.

The same is true of us.  How we respond to the gospel is the primary factor in making us who we are and in guiding how we navigate the road to marriage.  The importance of having a biblical plan for relationships cannot be overstated.  My prayer is that this book will cause you to evaluate your thinking and become more Christlike as a result.  May God grant you His wisdom in your relationships and the satisfaction found only in salvation through Jesus Christ.


51D. Edmond Hiebert, "1 & 2 Thessalonians" (Chicago:  Moody, 1992), 184.
52Leon Morris, cited in Hiebert, 186.
53Anthony C. Thiselton, "The New International Greek Testament Commentary:  The First Epistle to the Corinthians" (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2000), 498-501.


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.