26 July 2011

Dating: when words and choices clash

by Dan Phillips

Note: Recently, I linked to this nearly four-year-old post in the body of another. Many had not seen it first time 'round, though it kicked off some waves in other bloggy locations at the time. The subject remains current, and I need to dip into the well once and maybe twice this week here. So here 'tis once again, lightly edited.

[This is yet another one of my occasional serieses. In this, I write for our readers who are yoots, for their own benefit; or for parents, to share with their yoots. It'll also work for pastors, especially yoot pastors. Previous examples include A word to Christian yoots, and Why God gave you parents, etc.]

Coarse but pointed joke-that-you've-all-heard-anyway alert in 3... 2... 1....
So this iconic guy's talking with an iconic girl, and asks whether she'd be willing to engage in carnal acts for $1 million.

She considers, shrugs, says, "For a million dollars? I guess."

"Would you do it for $5?" he follows up.

She is shocked, and deeply offended. "What do you think I am?" she rages.

His classic retort: "Oh, we've already established what you are. Now we're just haggling over price."
And now, a moment's pause while Pyro readers wonder where this could possibly be going. Play the overture from Handel's Messiah in your head. Daaaa.... da-daaaa....

Now, why is that joke funny to most folks? It's funny because of the surprising clash. In the punch-line, the woman is deeply offended, because she wants to say that her virtue is precious, and he's cheapening it with his $5 suggestion. But the man counters that he already knows her virtue not to be beyond price to her. She can be bought. What she says now is one thing; what she has already said, another.

So you, unmarried Christian reader, start dating an unbeliever. What are you saying?

"What?!" you splutter. "We haven't had sex!"

This isn't about sex. I'm asking what you're saying, what message your choice is communicating.

To whatever degree you're concerned at all about this person's soul, you're trying to tell her/him about Christ, right? You're trying to tell this person that Christ is the One in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17), the source and reason for all the universe (Colossians 1:16), the most important celebrity anywhere, ever (Philippians 2:9-11). You want to persuade him that Christ is Lord of all. And you want him/her to believe that Jesus is all these things, and that He is all these things to you.

But you've already told him that Christ isn't all that. You're just haggling over price.

(Or am I assuming too much? Are there some who are not even concerned whether the people they date are or are not saved? In such cases, the kindest I can say is that such are clueless, loveless, and faithless, and they really need to reconsider the big question, for themselves.)

Let me approach the issue another way.

Would you date a child molestor? Oh, of course not. Instant deal-breaker. Thief, murderer? No and no. Rapist? Never. Those are really bad things.

But not as bad as being an enemy of God (Proverbs 15:9; Ephesians 2:3)? I think we have some seriously skewed priorities.

See, if you are in a dating relationship with someone who doesn't love Christ, you've already said the Christ-issue isn't the issue to you. Her looks, his job, the way she treats you, his sense of humor — whatever; these things matter more to you than Christ does.

You want this person to believe that he is a sinner, under God's wrath, and deserving His judgment. You want him to know that his righteous deeds are as filthy rags, that everything he can produce is not enough for God.

But you've already communicated, by your choice, that what he has is enough for you. That you and he share enough values, goals, aspirations, and affections to create (or even consider) an exclusive and intimate relationship.

See? You've already dealt a death-blow to your own credibility. You really might as well stop talking. Your priorities, your choices, have drowned out your words (cf. the principle of Titus 1:16).

I would think this would be clear-cut to any Biblically-instructed Christian, and am constantly surprised to find that it apparently isn't. But let's extend it a bit.

If someone can credibly check the "Christian"-box, are you all-done? All that remains is attractiveness and basic compatibility, then go buy the dress and rent the tux, chapel, preacherguy?

Well, yes and no. As far as a moral issue, yes. Since the Bible doesn't teach a third "will" of God, by which we (for instance) must discern mystically and ookily what one girl/guy in all the world is The Chosen One for us, basically we may morally marry any (A) available and (B) willing (C) Christian (D) of the opposite sex (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:39). (Sad I have to add all those qualifiers, but here we are.)

But what of wisdom? I heard somewhere it was the principal thing (Proverbs 4:7, CSB).

Here is where churches often depress me. I know of a ladies' group that considered studying The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace. The idea was rejected, because they didn't want single women to "feel excluded."

My wife and I both thought, "Huh? They're exactly who should be studying this!" The single man/woman is exactly the person who should be looking long and hard at all that marriage entails, before making that next-to-unconditional commitment.

Consider this illustration:

What would you think of a man who spends his free time going from car dealer to car dealer, checking out luxury cars that he will never buy?

He takes them out on a long "test" drive. He floors the accelerator, he jams down the brakes. He swerves around sharp turns, cranks the stereo, kicks the tires, slams the doors, asks question after question about the engine, the wiring, the electronics. He talks to the mechanic. He makes the salesman invest much of his day, and then goes through the whole process of credit checks and dickering about price and bargaining...

...then airily says "Wow, that was fun! Thanks!"

And leaves.

Next day: rinse, and repeat. Another dealer, another car. Another hapless sales staff.

What would you think of a guy like that? Selfish lout, right? Cruel? Jerk? Immature, thoughtless, loveless, graceless, without compassion? World revolves around him? Other people are his toys?

I totally agree.

So what of the person who's dating someone (s)he knows (s)he has no business considering as a spouse?

Brother, you know Ephesians 5:25-33, 1 Peter 3:7, all that? You know that God will call you to love, cherish, serve, protect, and lead your wife. You know you will need to provide for her, honor her exclusively from your heart, and with your body. You will be obliged to lead her in holiness, guard her, lay down your very life for her. You know that a bad choice will have very rough consequences (Proverbs 12:4b; 21:9; 25:24; 27:15-16).

But what if the girl you're dating is vastly more mature than you, or vastly less? What if she is disrespectful, rebellious, and sees no need of a leader? What if she particularly does not respect you, is constantly correcting and bossing you? What if you absolutely dread the very thought of having to cross her will, to any degree? What if disagreements invariably become arguments, and go on and on? How could you put on her a yoke she so obviously is not ready to take? How could you subject your future children to such a household?

What, you never thought of that? Then what have you been thinking about?

Sister, stop nodding for a second. What of you? You know Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Peter 3:1-7, and all that? You know, do you, that God calls you to respect your husband from your very heart, in the way you think and act? You know that, under God, your husband will be the human authority in your life? That you will be obliged before God to love him, respect him, subordinate yourself to him? That you will be his helper, called to aid him in fulfilling what God has called him to?

So what if the man you're dating does not have what it takes to lead you? What if you find yourself constantly telling him what to do? What if he knows God less well than you, because he knows the Bible less than you? What if he is not prepared to lead you on, because he hasn't even caught up with you yet? What if your spirit is independent, and the thought of subordinating yourself to this man is either unthinkable (because he is so unready), or barely tolerable (because he is so passive and pliable)?

In either case, how can you be so cruel as to lead this woman or man on, letting him or her give this portion of his life to you in exclusion to others, when you know you have no business considering a future with him or her?

Is that loving (Matthew 7:12)?

"But he's started reading his Bible now!" "She's started going to Bible Study!" Great. But know this: what is most telling about another person is what he or she is before taking any interest in you. That indicates her or his heart.

If deathbed conversions are "iffy," dating conversions are doubly so.

This long post could be even longer, but I'll (almost) close with a few summary questions.

Would you consider marrying someone who never, ever washed his body? Yuck! No way, right? What if (s)he never, ever had his heart and conscience washed (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22)? Evidently yes? Hmm.

Would you consider marrying someone who never listened to a word you said? No way. What if (s)he never listened to a word God said (Proverbs 28:4, 9; Romans 10:17)? Evidently yes? Hmm.

Would you let someone drive who didn't care much for traffic laws or signs? Not likely. But you'd consider marrying a man who has no Christian walk, or had none before he got interested in you? Or a woman who hasn't yet taken to heart what God says about her and her role? Evidently yes? Hmm.

And in neither case, if you'd not consider marrying, why date? Just a harmless test-drive?

REAL-LIVE FINAL THOUGHT: I know exactly what some readers will think. They will think, "Well, my (friend/relative) married an unbeliever, and later the Lord saved him, and that worked out great! So I'm just trusting God to save/mature/sanctify my unsaved/immature/rebellious little dew-drop!"

To that, two responses:

First, so if someone sins or does something stupid, and it works out all right, you should do the same? Dude. Seriously. Grow up.

Second, as long as we're trading stories, I've heard stories about people who've pointed real, live, actual, loaded guns straight at other people and pulled the trigger, and the gun jammed. Neat, huh? So if God wants someone to live, He can jam a gun, right?

And if you loaded a pistol and went out to see who God wants to live, and who He wants to die... would that be a good thing?

Or stupid, bad, reckless, insane, and sinful?

Kid, life's not a game. Hasty decisions cast long shadows.

For every reason in this world and the next, wise up.

Dan Phillips's signature


Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Great post Dan.

My wife and I have said many times that it would have been wiser to wait before we got married (4 years ago), because I was very much the immature boy when we married and caused my wife lots of grief. I don't want my daughters marrying a man like I was (and by God's grace He's grown me up into a more mature leader of my home, but like you said, that's the exception, not the rule) because I know that kind of man is not prepared to take on the responsibility of being the priest, protector, and provider of his home.

Rob said...

I think you're right on with the comment of "...if you'd not consider marrying, why date? Just a harmless test-drive?" Having just finished Voddie Baucham's "What He must Be To Marry My Daughter...", he addresses this very issue in terms of viewing dating - or more specifically courtship - not as a harmless recreation but rather as a specific goal of finding a Christ-dedicated husband who will spiritually shepherd both you and your children.

Anonymous said...

Nice, thoughtful post, but I'm confused about something: I thought Christians had no business dating anyone--not even another Christian--in the first place. I mean, Josh Harris said it, and so that settles it--whether I believe it or not, right? What happened? Did someone read I Gave Dating a Chance?

DJP said...

I wondered how soon that'd come up.


Susan said...

Bro, I needed this post today. You have no idea how much. Thanks, Dan. :)

Scot said...

But Dan think of the good that $1 million will do for the Lord's work? The overseas churches and pastors it could support? I have yet to see that argument pulled out.

I think my favorite part of this post is that it's actually grounded in reality. I've read several different sources of the "wait on the Lord for your Uber-Perfect, Just Made For You Spouse" yet none of them addressed the actual reality of indwelling sin. While not the entire point of the post, it is made mention of.

I gave the last article 5 stars, and I'll give this one the same.

You know you will need to provide for her, honor her exclusively from your heart,
That should be enough to give any man pause. It does to me and I'm getting married in a month!

DJP said...

Lot more about this in the upcoming Proverbs book.

Just sayin'.

R.C. said...

Great piece Dan. But if you really want to start a fire, substitute "attending a liberal church" for "dating an unbeliever, or if you want a real conflagration, substitute "sending my child to the government's schools" for "dating an unbeliever." The arguments match up quite nicely. In each instance the message we send whatever our words might be is this- the denial of the Lordship of Christ is not worth leaving over.

Charlene said...

Dan, this is a most excellent post--you didn't pull any punches! Much food for thought here. Wish I had been given such wise advice when I was single!

Doug Hibbard said...

Not really on topic, but the story about the guy asking a lady to sleep with him is attributed to a real interaction between Winston Churchill and Bessie Braddock. Hard to nail down for certain, but it's in one of my speech books (A Speaker's Sourcebook vol. II)

Chris H said...


Your second suggested substitution regarding schooling is wrongheaded, and I hope you'll reconsider it before you alienate the Bible-believing Christian who cannot afford to do anything except use the public school system.

Now, if you're offering to pay tuition for private Christian schooling, or offering to pay the difference between what my bills are and what my income is so that I can homeschool, I'll send you my address and look forward to your much appreciated support.

Back ON topic, however, I liked this post then, and like it now. I made the error of dating a non-Christian in high school and can see the ways in which that relationship fed many of the sins that I struggle with even today. The concept of being unequally yoked is never so clear as when you can see yourself being dragged backwards instead of pulling together. Thanks, DJP.

R.C. said...


I'd be more than happy to consider your living arrangements and what could be done to alleviate what I'm certain is a very difficult circumstance. That said, and you certainly don't need to do so in this venue, or anywhere for that matter, but your circumstances do not change my point, nor Dan's. Not my desire to alienate anyone, including those who will ask me to provide for them a good church, because the mainline church they are a part of is the best they can do, nor including those who only get asked out by unbelievers. My desire was only to point out the common realities between these circumstances.

Jacob said...

Great post.

Aaron said...


I think the problem you run into is that the analogy between dating and education or dating and church attendance are not perfect. It's like trying to put a oval peg into a round hole. Yeah, they look kinda similar but when you get down to it, they're just not.

R.C. said...

Perhaps so Aaron. Not that any one has provided a principial difference. But as I said, no one is obligated to do so.

Brian Davis said...

Very good post Dan. My pastor is currently covering this very topic on Wednesday nights. RC, you brought up some very valid points. The local church is and should be the supporting body for those single parents, or otherwise unable to homeschool parents. I praise God that I belong to a church that not only believes that but practices it as well.

Jennifer Peacock said...

Don't. Marry. An Unbeliever.

Even if the Lord does save your spouse, He does not necessarily save you from the pain your rebellion causes you. The problems don't end upon conversion, either.

Protect your Christian witness for the children you hope to have.

Aaron said...


The principal difference is that one is not require to date, court, or otherwise engage in any romantic relationship of any kind including marriage. Every Christian must belong to a local church body and every parent must educate their children. So whereas abstinence is a valid option in the former, it is not in the latter.

Another pretty big difference is that you are comparing leaving a church body to entering a dating relationship. If you were comparing leaving a church to leaving a marriage you'd have to take a different theological approach, as is evidenced by Turk's post on the former.

HSAT, I do agree that many Christians communicate that we aren't willing to put God first when the rubber meets the road. And I dare say, that is not limited to just education, church attendance, and dating.

R.C. said...

Thanks Sir Aaron. While I might have some quibbles yours was a most gracious and helpful response. God bless.

JD said...

How about a few words for those who may have been convicted by this posting and need some practical advice on how to get out of their situation in a way that a) gets the job done and b) does not bring reproach on God and c) does not discredit any witnessing attempts they may have made to the unbeliever during the course of their relationship?

DJP said...

That's a great question, JD. Thanks.

My serious, non-copping-out first answer would be to talk to your pastor. Really. Regular readers (particularly if they email me counseling-type questions) know that this is my regular answer. Because, you know, if you're a Christian you need to be in a church and have a pastor who's watching over your soul, and I'm not him.

It's still a good question, and I'm going to ponder a followup.

Thank you!

JD said...

I can do that... I hadn't really thought that far ahead when I posted my comment.

Either way, very convicting post.

Pastor Howard Brown said...

What a great post, Dan. It will be read at a youth group. Might even give you credit.

Soulll said...

Whoa...this roundhouse kicked me in the face. Convicting and thought provoking. thanks for reposting.

DJP said...

Glad you came by; don't be a stranger! (c:

A related one that similarly raised some hackles is this post, over at my blog.

Michael Coughlin said...