Singles Q&A: Evaluating Spiritual Maturity Before Dating
- 2006 1 May
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on how a person can evaluate the spiritual maturity of another before they even consider a date? I know it takes the dreaded 'T' word – time – and that we may never truly know the spiritual maturity of another, but I'd like to get your opinion on how best to search for and discover the spiritual depth, direction and intensity of another.
ANSWER: What a great question! I am sure many readers will be encouraged to know this is a priority for someone else in our extreme makeover culture.
I have always been struck by something Boaz said to Ruth in their first conversation:
"All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before” (Ruth 2:11).
Ruth’s character was revealed in the way she served others and in the way she put her trust in the God of Israel by aligning with His people, and this was remarkable enough for Boaz to hear about and recall to her when they first met.
We can make the same observations today by watching how someone serves others in the church. I believe this is best done in the context of friendship because once the possibility of romance rears its head, it’s hard to remain objective. When your emotions become entangled, there’s more at stake when you see red flags and it becomes a greater temptation to dismiss the concerns. You want to know what someone’s track record is before you both are tempted to do things simply for the sake of pleasing another or earning his or her approval. So yes, that’s where time invested in a season of friendship can be so valuable in cultivating discernment.
I say this because one of the biggest impediments to discernment, in my opinion, is a form of dating narcissism. This is that giddy time early in a relationship when you don't really know too much about the other person, but there is the tantalizing possibility of someone else finding you irresistibly attractive. Dating narcissism is the self-love that agrees with the potential of someone else's high opinion of you! You are an incredible gift to the opposite sex, so it's a good thing someone else has finally seen this and is willing to treat you like the Special One that you are. Unfortunately, this high opinion of yourself often clouds your judgment of another's behavior and character.
Now, I am saying this partly tongue-in-cheek, but there is a grain of truth here. That rush of pent-up emotion in the beginning of a relationship ("a date – at last!") is a powerful tide. It can carry us a long way before we start to soberly notice the foundational issues of character in the other person's life. So I hope the following list of qualities may prove to be helpful and fruitful in your future relationships. While there are some specific and different things Scripture requires of men and women, there are many qualities we are all called to demonstrate:
1. Discipleship, as evidenced in consistent personal devotions grounded in the Bible and prayer, a growing knowledge of God's Word, and a willingness to make Scripture the plumb line for one's thoughts, deeds, and behavior (Psalms 1, 19, and 119).
2. Humility, as evidenced in a willingness to listen more than we talk and to restrain our defensiveness and anger (James 1:19-20).
3. Accountability, as evidenced by a clear understanding of the doctrine of indwelling sin and a willingness to confess sin and seek observations and input from others (James 5:16, 19-20; Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20).
4. Servanthood, as evidenced by our efforts to reach out to others without partiality and to emulate our Lord and Savior by joyfully taking on the lowly tasks and burdens of others (James 2:1-9; John 13:1-17).
5. Commitment, as evidenced by keeping our promises and appointments and by investing our time, talent, and treasure in our local churches (Proverbs 20:6; Proverbs 28:20; Luke 12:1-48).
6. Thankfulness and joy, as evidenced by our worship of God, peacefulness with others, and restraint of gossip, slander and backbiting (James 3:13-18; James 4:11-12; Philippians 4:4-8).
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a start. For men, I would encourage you to consider the feminine qualities listed in Proverbs 31, Titus 2 and 1 Peter 3 when you are interested in a woman. These are specific virtues that godly women are to cultivate over the course of their lives, virtues that last far longer than outward appeal. For women, I would encourage us to consider the leadership and benevolent qualities of godly men listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-10 and Isaiah 32:1-8. (For a fuller explanation of why I recommend those passages, please read a previous column titled “What Is the Measure of a Man?”)
Finally, I would encourage everyone to seek counsel of more mature Christians when considering a potential future spouse. The first question to ask is about ourselves – are we growing in maturity in order to be a blessing as a spouse? Where are the areas on which we should concentrate for change? Are there any areas in which we are blind to our own sin as we relate to others? After examining the planks in our own eyes, we are ready to consider the maturity of others and whether we are seeing them clearly. This is where prayerful, supportive counsel of those God has put in our lives (family, friends, pastors) is invaluable.
In all of this evaluation, however, we must not lose sight of the grace extended to us to change that has also been extended to others. We will never be perfect this side of heaven and neither will anyone we date/court or marry. We are not to look for perfection, but for the trajectory of a life lived for the glory of God. Hopefully we will be used by the Lord in marriage to spur one another on as the Holy Spirit conforms us degree by degree to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Carolyn McCulley handles church and ministry relations for Sovereign Grace Ministries and is a member of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.
She is the author of "Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred." (Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers). Carolyn welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit her website or blog.
Your questions answered! Carolyn will periodically answer Crosswalk.com reader questions in her Singles Q&A columns. While we can't guarantee that each question will be answered, we do hope to hear from you! Please send your questions regarding singleness and related topics to Carolyn at email@example.com.