My husband and I didn’t come together in a way that most people do. Most people now a days go through a process that they call dating. They date around until they find the person they feel is best suited for them. I tried that and it just led me to hurt and heartbreak over and over for either me or the other person. When I gave my heart to God I gave him my whole life. I said I wanted to do things differently. This is Pastor Brendan Witton from Church Without Limits describing the process Matt and I used to follow God’s plan into marriage.
Check out more at his blog at http://pastorbrendan.wordpress.com
So now that we have covered the heart, let’s discuss the practicalities of what it actually looks like:
Courtship is a principled relationship in which marriage is a prayerful consideration that is committed to scriptural purity, real accountability, submission to God and spiritual authority and functions according to clear God-given standards (P.A.S.S.)
- Some would ask why we used the word ‘courtship’ instead of ‘dating’? When the word ‘dating’ in used, in our North American culture we have pre-determined picture of what that is. By using a different word we are making a break from ‘relationships as usual’ and reinforcing that we are basing our relationship on the Word of God rather than the cultural norms.
- It is important to note that what you actually call your relationship does not matter as long as you adopt Godly principles. If a couple wants to say they are ‘dating’ rather than ‘courting’ that is fine.
II. Principled Relationship
- If you were to ask an average dating couple what principles they were basing their relationship on they would probably give you a blank look – in our culture relationships are often based on feelings and not on sound principles.
- As believers we need to base our relationships on the principles of the Word of God and not how we feel. For example: we may feel very strongly like have sex before we are married but we do not because of the teachings of the scriptures. We put principles above our feelings.
- A commitment to courtship is a commitment to base every area of your relationship on the Word of God and when you feel like doing something else you stick to the principles.
III. Where Marriage is a Prayerful Consideration
- God’s ultimate design for our capacity to fall in love was that it would lead us into a committed relationship of marriage.
- In our culture, dating is often completely separated from any consideration of marriage but this was never God’s intent. If we are dating someone with no intention of exploring a long term commitment then why are we doing it?
- This question is very important to consider because we will often realize that we are doing it to fulfill our lusts, medicate a need that we should be looking to God to meet, or simply because it is what we have been told we are supposed to be doing.
- If you are not in a season of your life where marriage is a possibility (even if it is several years down the road) then why open yourself up to the potential temptation, sin, heartbreak, and distraction of a relationship?
- It is important to counter-balance this point with a caution that you do not need to rush toward marriage or feel that because you are courting you must get married. The heart of courtship is that this person is someone that you could see yourself potentially marrying and you are developing a deeper relationship with to prayerfully explore that possibility.
- We must remember that every successful courtship does not end in marriage. If a couple begins courting but then realizes that they are not to be together then they have succeeded in finding God’s will. The point of courtship is that they will be able to step away with minimal damage of sexual sin, guilt and shame.
IV. P = Purity
- A commitment to courtship is a commitment to sexual purity – both in thought and in action.
- Song of Solomon 3:5 – We see here a Biblical charge that we are not to stir up or awaken love until it pleases (or until the proper time).
- God created sex and designed it to be enjoyed in the context of marriage but our culture glorifies sexual activity outside of marriage.
- Sex and sexual activity can be compared to a fire – in the context of a fireplace it is great, but in the middle of the living room it is not. Sex in marriage is an amazing thing but outside of marriage it is very destructive.
- Some couples feel that sexual interaction is ‘ok’ as long as they don’t actually have intercourse. This perspective completely misses the heart of God and of the courtship process.
- Our heart while courting should not be to see ‘how far can we go’ but ‘how can we honor and protect each other’ while waiting for marriage.
- “How far is too far?” is a common question. In his teaching on relationships and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 the Apostle Paul said that ‘it is a good for a man not to touch a woman’ (7:1). The Greek word for touch is the word ‘hapto’ which means to light afire.
- In this context the scriptures are very clear that any interaction (verbal or physical) between a man and a woman who are not married that stirs a deep sexual desire needs to be reserved for marriage.
- It is not possible to give an exact list of what to you can and cannot do – it may be different for each couple (within reason of course). The key is for couples to embrace this principle and commit to refraining from physical interaction which awakens deep sexual desire (obviously, strong sexual desire will be there but in this I’m referring to when we “fool around and things get hot”)
- We must embrace purity in our physical interaction, but also in our thought life, and our communication with each other.
V. A = Accountability
- A commitment to courtship is a commitment to having a godly individual or couple that you are accountable to regarding your relationship.
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 – “but woe to the one who is alone when he falls”. Every couple will face temptation and it is vital that we have someone who will ‘lift them up’
- As believers we are called to a life of discipleship – this includes our courting relationship. We need to have someone who knows us, with whom we are radically open about our relationship with who can ask us the hard questions about how we are doing.
- When we have this it guards us from ‘falling’ further into sin. If we do not then it is very easy to get ourselves back into the same problems.
- You accountability partner(s) can pray for/with you, help you see things from an outside perspective and help you develop strategies to standing strong in obedience and purity.
- You will only be as accountable as you want to be. True accountability is 100% honest and open. If you hold certain things back then you are not really being accountable.
- Real accountability is hard – especially when you have fallen into sin but it is vital.
VI. S = Submission to God and Spiritual Authority
- A commitment to courtship is a commitment to submission to God and spiritual authority.
- For many, the words submission and spiritual authority have a negative connotation because of a lack of proper teaching or bad experiences but we need to understand that they are Biblical and healthy.
- James 4:7 (NKJV) – Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
- When you have submitted your courtship to God you have spent time seeking Him whether this relationship is something that he has for you. Once in the relationship you are constantly seeking to conduct yourselves in a way that is pleasing to Him.
- It is also important to submit the relationship to spiritual authority in your lives. Ideally this is your parents. You are not looking for their permission as much as for their prayer and the giving of their blessing to the relationship.
- If your parents are not in a place where they would understand what you are trying to do, or not involved in your life then look to a ‘spiritual parent’ in your life: your pastors or mature Christian leader (Remember: the heart of God is that we would do everything possible to honor our father and mother so always do whatever you can to honor your parents)
- When we submit our relationship to God and spiritual authority there is a spiritual blessing and protection that is released over our relationship. If we do not then we are open to heightened attacks of the enemy.
VII. S = Standards
- A commitment to courtship is a commitment to establishing godly standards for your relationship – what you will and will not do.
- When entering a courtship the couple need to earnestly pray and seek God (submission) regarding how he wants this relationship to look – particularly in the aspects of boundaries and standards.
- There is no cookie-cutter solution for boundaries and standards – what works for one couple may not work for another (Note: this is within reason – there are many things that are Scripturally out of bounds).
- These boundaries and standards can include physical interaction, where you will and will not spend time together (i.e. no bedrooms), curfews and so forth.
- Once a couple establishes the boundaries/standards that God gives them they need to pray together over them and commit them to the Lord, and share them with their accountability partners.
- This will give the accountability partners some clear direction regarding what they are holding them accountable for.
- As the relationship grows and changes then the standards may evolve as well and that is completely fine – as long as it is submitted to the Lord and your accountability partners are updated.
Practical Application: Walking it Out
Every relationship looks a little different (some look a lot different) so there is no way that we can give an all-encompassing example of how courtship would look from start to finish but here is an example of how it could look:
I. Two individuals discover that they have a mutual interest in one another.
II. Both take time for prayer and seeking God regarding his will for this interest. They consult spiritual authority in their lives to see what they think. They consider whether this is the right season in their life for a relationship and closely consider their heart motives.
III. If they do not have the release from the LORD then they do not enter the relationship. If those in spiritual authority cautions them then they take more time to pray.
IV. If they do get a sense that this is God then they meet with those in spiritual authority in their lives and share what God is showing them. They receive prayer and counsel.
V. The couple agrees upon accountability partners and sets up a meeting with them.
VI. The couple prayerfully establishes principles/guidelines that they believe God has for them and shares them with their accountability partners
VII. They begin to walk out the relationship.
VIII. If the couple breaks the guidelines that the LORD gave them (Example: going to far physically) then they immediately pray together and repent, and speak with their accountability partners. They tell them what happened and get them to pray with them.
IX. As they grow in confidence and receive confirmation from the LORD when the time is right the couple will get engaged and move towards marriage.