Here’s the deal: I really want a relationship. I really, really, really want a relationship. I had one for a month and it was awesome. I had someone to spend time with, someone to talk to, someone to encourage, and someone to show God’s love to. By Wednesday, November 20, 2013, I’ll have been single since the relationship as long as I was in it. It’s slightly depressing, especially when friends that I had while in the relationship and since being out of it are now entering relationships of their own, it makes it hard for me to spend time with them.
When I came to school, the second book I read was Holding Hands; Holding Hearts by Richard and Sharon Phillips. The final chapter of it opens with the words, “We wrote this book as a biblical how-to book for dating. But one of the most important issues is the very opposite: how to not be dating” (163). In my singleness there are several things I need to be doing. First, I need to be content in my single state. Second, I need to be preparing myself for the relationship that I want one day. Third, I need to know how I’m going to go about a relationship when I am able to enter one.
Contentment is one of the hardest virtues to come by. Paul would agree. In Philippians 4:12, he wrote, “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret ⌊of being content⌋—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need” (emphasis added). If the apostle Paul wasn’t hardwired for contentment but had to learn it, then who am I to expect contentment to come easily? Paul went so far as to say: “More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). I need this verse to be true of me before I consider entering another relationship. I need to find all my worth, all my peace, and all my joy in Christ.
When I come out of a relationship, I seem to feel like I’m not important. However, this is not true. I’m a child of God (Romans 8:15-17), and God sees me as perfect (Romans 8:1)—despite the way I feel after a relationship. For this reason, before entering a new relationship, I need to be finding all my worth and value in Christ, because in the end, His is the only opinion that really matters. If I’m ever going to learn contentment, I need to find worth and value in Christ. God said in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.” He did not say, “I will make him someone to give his life purpose,” but rather, “I will make someone to complement him, someone who will fill in where he is lacking.” God is the only source of worth, and man can live apart from a woman; I’ve done it for almost 22 years now. Until I find worth in God, I don’t belong in a relationship.
Breakups snatch the peace right out of my life. More literally though, the peace is gone before the breakup happens; the breakup just confirms the fears that were already there. Again, the book of Philippians plays a role here. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” I need to find peace in my holy God and not look for it in a relationship with a fellow sinner. This peace is found in praying about everything, giving thanks for what I do have, and not dwelling on what I don’t have. Until I am finding peace in God alone, and not looking to external circumstances for my peace, I do not belong in a relationship.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit; happiness is not. As a Christian, I am always going to have joy that I can access, even if I am not happy at all. This joy comes from the Spirit and through knowing God. Breakups are great at suppressing my joy. I know it’s there, but oftentimes I can’t be joyful because I am thinking about my circumstances. It’s why Paul wrote, “Rejoice always,” in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. He knew it wasn’t automatic for us to always rejoice. Therefore he commanded the church—and me today—to rejoice in any circumstance. Until I am able to do this, I shouldn’t be thinking about being in a relationship.
While I’m working on being content, which is mainly work on my relationship with God during singleness, I must also strive to become the man I’m called by God to be in order to even contemplate leading a woman in a marriage relationship (one day). Pastor Andy Stanley asked, in one of his messages on dating, “Are you who the person you’re looking for is looking for?” It doesn’t necessarily have a Biblical background to it, but it is an excellent question. I need to become the person that the person I’m looking for is looking for in a spouse. This includes, but is not limited to, my personal purity, my spiritual fitness, my engagement in church ministry, my physical fitness, and working to earn a living. If I’m not actively pursuing these things, than I am lazy and have no business even contemplating being in a relationship.
Personal purity is extremely important and I must be living purely if I am to enter a new relationship. I need to be able to tell my future wife that, while I may have struggled with certain things in the past, I’m now walking in victory, and have been since before we started dating. I firmly believe that I will struggle with lustful thoughts every day, but this is called temptation, and temptation is not sin (James 1:14). My primary focus for being free from lust must be for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), but the sake of my future wife is a good reason too. I used to only want to be pure for her sake; then I decided that was idolatry, so I switched to the other extreme. It must be, it has to be, it can be nothing less than both for God and for her. My essays “The Pursuit of Personal Purity” and “Requests for Righteous Residing” delve a little deeper into this specific issue.
In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, I am commanded to “have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (emphasis added). This means that I must do spiritual exercise. The words translated “train yourself” come from the Greek word gumnazw (gumnazo). This word has its root in the word gumnoς (gumnos) which means “naked.” According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, this word means: “1) properly, to exercise naked…2) to exercise vigorously.” I only bring up the Greek because it helps explain what is meant by this passage. I must train myself spiritually, naked, meaning that I have thrown off everything entangling me (Hebrews 12:2). I need to run the Christian race with God in my sight and nothing else to distract—no anger, lust, discontent. Even when it gets tough I must remember that growing spiritually stronger sometimes means going through pain. Physical exercise hurts, but it makes me stronger. Spiritual exercise is no different, and it is extremely good for me. I can never give it up.
Before I meet the woman who I will marry one day, I must be involved in some form of ministry. This includes being plugged into a local church in addition to any other mentoring I am doing. I am currently starving for spiritual nourishment in Bolivar, Missouri. It’s not that I’m not reading my Bible and praying more regularly than ever before, but that I don’t have anyone to pour gospel truth into me. I can give a lot—currently mentoring three freshmen guys—but I need input for my own walk as well. I’m even caught up on sermons from my home church, but listening from 1600 miles away is not the same as fellowshipping with the saints. Starting next semester I must plug into a church out here and find a way to minister while there. Hebrews 10:24-25 reads, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our ⌊worship⌋ meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” I need people to be concerned about my spiritual well-being, but, when I’m 1600 miles away from the pastors and saints who truly care, and I am not plugged into a church where I am currently residing, this cannot happen. I must plug into a church and start serving, before I consider any other relationships.
Not only must these spiritual realities be true, but I must also be physically exercising before I think about entering a relationship. The apostle Paul would agree with me here, when he writes, “The training of the body has a limited benefit” (1 Timothy 4:8). In context he is speaking of growing in godliness. Physical exercise can help me grow more godly in a limited way. One, working out helps release energy that will make sleep come easier and therefore waking up early come easier too; this gives me more time to be productive throughout the day, and it also helps my mind not wander to lustful thoughts while lying in bed trying to fall asleep. Godliness results from both of these (cf. Proverbs 6:10-11, 7:9-10). Not only that, but if I expect my future wife to be fit and good-looking, who am I to sacrifice my own personal appearance for extra sleep or “me-time”?
Finally, if I don’t have a job, I have ZERO reason to be looking for my future wife. Second Thessalonians 3:10 says, “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.” I shouldn’t be relying on others for what I want. I’m planning on being a bi-vocational pastor, so I should get in the habit of working. Plus, I need to be able to support a wife; my wife shouldn’t be financially supporting me. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:33: “A married man is concerned about the things of the world—how he may please his wife.” In context, Paul is trying to win people to his singleness model, but it’s true. As a husband one day, I will have to please my wife, part of which involves bringing home the bacon. I need to be doing this even while dating her to set the standard for the future of the relationship. Richard and Sharon Phillips write that, “[T]he patterns we establish in dating continue into marriage. Therefore, the foundations for a healthy and godly marriage begin while we are dating” (13). To make it simple, I need a job before I set my eyes on any specific girl. At the very least, I need to be looking for a job, so I’m not just being lazy. Laziness never makes for good relationships.
After I am content in my singleness (or as content as possible without choosing celibacy), and after I am spiritually and physically prepared to be in a relationship, I need a plan for my future relationship. Again the Phillipses say, “Dating is one of the most important things we will ever do, and much rides on how we do it” (15). This includes the answers to the following four questions. First, why do I want to be in a relationship? Second, who am I looking for in a relationship? Third, how should I go about starting the relationship? Fourth, what are my guidelines for being in a relationship? When these are answered, I can know that I will be well on my way to being in a highly successful, loving relationship with a woman, all because of God’s grace.
I want to be in a relationship for two reasons. First, I have been so loved by God, that all I want to do is love someone (specifically someone, not multiple people) in the same way I’ve been loved by God. Second, my desire to be married is Biblical. Paul speaks to it in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 8-9:
Now in response to the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have relations with a woman.’ But because sexual immorality is so common, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.…I say to the unmarried and to widows: It is good for them if they remain as I am. But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with desire.
Sexuality is wrong outside of a marriage relationship. The solution, Paul writes, is to marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with passion. As a single guy, self-control in this area is extremely hard, especially since being addicted to...since age twelve and struggling with being free from those things for the last three years. Albert Mohler Jr., in a sermon about finding God’s will for life, said, “You will know that you have that gift, the gift of celibacy, if, in the quietest moments of your life, you know, ‘I could live for the rest of my life without sex’” (53:10). I can’t. I’ll be completely honest. So for me, as the Phillipses wrote, “[Singleness] is a particularly intense trial and challenges [my] spiritual and emotional well-being” (164); it is not a gift.
God said in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.” My future wife will complete me (in a physical sense); God has completed me in total reality (the spiritual sense). The Phillipses write, “It is not good for a man to grow older without the sanctifying influences of a wife and children. It is not good for a man to battle with sexual frustrations….What is good is for a man to seek a relationship that will blossom into marriage—the sooner in adult life, the better” (21). I shouldn’t spend too much time—once I’m content—in preparing myself for a relationship; I should be doing it concurrently, and maybe only spend a little while longer working on the purity and the discipline of everything else. The sooner I meet my future wife, and we get married, the better.
I am looking for someone who is one of a kind. I wrote about her in my essay “Praying for You,” by going through Proverbs 31 and Titus 2:4-5; there is much there, but I think Proverbs 31:30 and Titus 2:4 perfectly sum up the basics. Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD will be praised.” My first thing to look for in a relationship is a godly woman. If she’s drop dead gorgeous, but isn’t even more blatantly godly, I am not going to waste my time. I need to fall in love with her love for God, so that even when she’s no longer the super cutie (physically) that she was, I will still think the world of her because of her faith in Christ. However, I should be physically attracted to her; this is still important, just not as important as being spiritually attracted to her.
Titus 2:4 says that older women should “encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children.” First of all, this woman should have older women in her life who are pouring spiritual truth into her life. She shouldn’t be a boy-crazy, “psychotic,” kindergarten-Christian (spiritual maturity level), and the best thing to help this become a reality is for her to have godly women in her life. The phrase “love their husbands” is important to me, after coming out of a relationship. This is one word in the Greek. The Greek word is filandroς (philandros) which is a compound word from the words filoς (philos) and aner (aner); “philos” means “friendly” (Thayer’s Lexicon) and “aner” means “husband” (Thayer’s Lexicon). Literally, “philandros” means “friendly (to) her husband.” I make a big deal about this because in my recent relationship I was the one planning everything and attempting all communication (which is why it ended). The woman I will one day marry will be friendly to me: enjoying my company, wanting to talk to me, wanting to spend time with me. Friends build each other up, so some level of appreciation for me and what I do for her should be present in our relationship as well (there was none in my recent one).
I will go about being in a relationship (married) in the following way. First, I will pray about my future wife daily: mutual guidance, protection, and preparation; I have no business looking for a woman when I have not given this request to God (Philippians 4:6-7). Second, if there’s a specific girl I’m interested in, I need to be praying that God would guide me towards her if it’s His will (Proverbs 16:9); God needs to be in the relationship even before it starts. Third, if she is in my future, we must know each other for at least three months before we start “officially dating,” because otherwise I have no solid concept of what she’s truly like (even with 3 months, I might not know her well enough, but I’ll definitely have more than I would after three weeks of knowing her). Fourth, I should be the one who first shows romantic interest; this can happen before the three months are over, but the key is that I should be the one taking the risks, not her. Fifth, I should not try to save myself the risk by talking to people she knows to find out her thoughts; I should be brave and risky and leader-like myself. With God’s grace, it will work out perfectly, whether or not this general outline is stuck to perfectly (after step 2), but I will strive to stick as close to this as possible.
Once I’m in the relationship, there need to be guidelines. In fact, in the same vein of asking her to be my girlfriend, I must show her the following list and commit to stick to them.
1. I will strive to lead you in a God-honoring, Christ exalting way (1 Cor. 10:31)
2. I will strive to love you in a selfless, sacrificial, nurturing way (Ephesians 5:25)
3. I will strive to put your interests and desires ahead of my own (1 John 3:16)
4. I will strive to be open about the relationship and willing and earnest to hear your thoughts on it (Proverbs 27:5-6)
5. I will strive to guard your heart from my selfishness and the allure of the world (Proverbs 4:23)
6. I will strive to build you up as my sister in Christ (Proverbs 31:30)
7. I will strive to hold your purity as the most valuable thing you have in this world (Ephesians 5:2-5)
8. I will strive to be available for you and trustworthy when you need someone to talk to (Hebrews 3:13)
9. I will strive, if we realize that the relationship is not going to end in marriage, to end it as respectfully and considerately as possible, and promise to continue to pray for you and your future husband since I will still be your brother in Christ (1 Peter 3:8-9)
I will strive to lead her in a God-honoring, Christ exalting way. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory.” The Bible has nothing, and everything, to say about dating (Phillipses, 12). This verse is huge in that respect; it says nothing specifically about dating, but it says I should do everything for God’s glory. Everything includes being in a relationship with a woman. This is the first promise I make to my future girlfriend, because God’s glory should be the motivating factor for everything I do as a believer.
I will strive to love her in a selfless, sacrificial, nurturing way. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.” This is the gospel, and since marriage is to be a picture of the gospel, relationships should be too. Men, love your girlfriends; a perfect way to reword it. The Greek word for “love” in this passage is ajgapavw (agapao), which expresses the idea of being “full of good will towards [someone]” (Thayer’s). By giving the example of how we are to love, it defines the word. I will be sacrificial and selfless towards her; I make that promise before God today. This is the second promise, because between us—on an earthly level—this should be the first thing people see when they see us interacting together. Love is not a feeling, but rather it is an action, and thus it is very important.
I will strive to put her interests and desires ahead of my own. First John 3:16 says, “This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.” This is a more thorough explanation of the previous, but it is my third promise because it is possible (in a way) to be selfless in love, but still selfish in the relationship. I don’t want to be selfish. I want to be interested in what she’s interested in, and spend time doing those things. I will lay down my interests for hers. In the dating relationship this includes her hobbies and interests, because if I can’t put these smaller interests ahead of my own, how will I ever put larger interests of hers ahead of mine in a marriage? I commit to this.
I will strive to be open about the relationship and willing and earnest to hear her thoughts on it. Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “Better an open reprimand than concealed love. The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.” This promise follows next, because if I’m promising to be selfless and to put her interests above my own, this will include even being in the relationship in the first place. I need to keep her thoughts and interests, as far as the relationship is concerned, ahead of mine. The passage that goes along with this is perfect; verse 5 speaks of entering the relationship, and verse 6 speaks of holding the relationship. When I take the risk of stating the fact that I am interested in a woman, it is better to be reprimanded and know for sure that there is no mutual attraction, than for me to never say anything and have “true love” concealed and miss a wonderful opportunity. When I’m in the relationship, I want to hear her thoughts, so that I can put her interests ahead of mine. I’d rather be hurt by the truth than led to believe a lie. I promise to be open myself about the relationship, and willing and eager to hear her thoughts as well.
I will strive to guard her heart from my selfishness and the allure of the world. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” The Phillipses based their book on this verse; they write, “If you are dating you are not just holding hands, you are holding hearts. What you do with your own heart, and what you do with another’s, is a matter of great importance” (15). Since I’m promising to place her interests above my own, and to be open to her thoughts on our relationship, this naturally follows. I can easily make those promises, but still be selfish in a way. I can try, despite her being open, to twist things for my good, when in reality my good comes after hers. It’s a tightrope, that will be hard to walk, but I must strive to be selfless in everything, even in things that may seem at first glance to be selfless of me. Basically, I promise to do the right things for the right reasons—as much as possible. I will fall short here, but I will try my best. Not only that, but I will do what I can to guard her from the world while she is around me. (This is different from promise #7.) Activities we participate in, even with other people, could be perfectly pure—in a strictly sexual sense—but still very worldly. Music we listen to is one example; it either must be completely clean (including ideas and concepts), or it must be blatantly God-glorifying. Movies we watch are another example; it’s hard in this society, but it is still possible to find appropriate things to watch.
I will strive to build you up as my sister in Christ. Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD will be praised” (emphasis added). As a believer who fears the Lord, she will deserve praise. I promise to build her up. This also could be done for selfish reasons, but I will strive to be selfless in this as well. This doesn’t just include compliments and warm wishes, but it also involves a spiritual building-up. I promise to pray for (and with) her to spiritually build her up, and also to encourage her through the Word: be it a texted reference, a statement of truth, or a mini-devo occasionally. This sort of thing will definitely help the following promise become a reality.
I will strive to hold her purity as the most valuable thing she has in this world. Ephesians 5:2-5 says,
And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Coarse and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God.
As two believers walking in a dating relationship with each other, there should be no hints (in word or deed) of sexual activity between us. The question people often ask is, “How far is too far?” I think the real question should be, “How holy is too holy?” Obviously, the answer is, “There’s no such thing as too holy.” Thus, I should stay as far from sexual temptation as possible. Christians will never be the witnesses God has called us to be in this sex-crazed culture until we are different ourselves in this regard. For my future relationship, this involves abstaining even from kissing at least until engagement, because once kissing comes in, temptations are greatly increased. The Phillipses again write, “God calls you to abstain from sex, not to toy with it. In doing so, you cultivate a healthy relationship that is pleasing to God, and you give honor to yourself and your partner” (146). Her purity is the most valuable thing she possesses in this world, and I need to build her up as my sister in Christ and not tear her down by using her for my selfish sinful sexual desires (sinful if acted on before marriage; the desires themselves are not sinful). I’m not guaranteed to be married to her either (see promise #9), so I need to treat her and her purity with the ultimate respect. Would I want the guy dating my future wife to be using and abusing her for his selfish desires? Neither should I use and abuse my fellow brother’s future wife.
I will strive to be available for her and trustworthy when she needs someone to talk to. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.” I promise to be available to talk about anything that is on her mind, because I want her to know that I am available. It goes back to the selfless thing above. However, it comes after the purity promise because I must say that the phrase “anything that is on her mind,” is not entirely accurate; I can’t be told about sexual struggles or the like; the older women in her life are there to counsel in this area. Other than this specification though, I am here for her, and I promise to be available if she needs an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or a voice to encourage. If her thoughts have to be pent-up inside of her, it could harden her as Hebrews 3:13 says. This is why I promise to be here for her; it goes back to the building her up as my sister in Christ concept as well.
I will strive, if we realize that the relationship is not going to end in marriage, to end it as respectfully and considerately as possible, and promise to continue to pray for her and her future husband since I will still be her brother in Christ. First Peter 3:8-9 says, “Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing.” This is the hardest promise to make, but it is possible to keep. I was convicted on this point, in reference to my last relationship, when I stumbled on 1 Peter 3:8-9 while outlining this essay. This passage comes immediately after a section speaking about the marriage relationship, and it talks here about loving believers, so it fits perfectly with exes in the Christian community. If the relationship ends, I must continue to give a blessing, and not pay back evil for “evil” by slandering, being rude, or lying about what happened. I must continue to be sympathetic, loving, and humble. If promise #7 is kept properly, there shouldn’t be a huge amount of physical intimacy to get over, but emotionally it can still be tough. I promise to do my best in still treating her like the Christian sister she is to me.
Well, there it is. I must learn contentment before I enter a new relationship. I must discipline myself spiritually and physically before I enter a new relationship. I must know why I am going to begin a new relationship, who I’m going to enter a relationship with, and how I’m going to go about starting it. Finally, when I am in that relationship, I must follow the guidelines I set up above. If I can, with God’s grace, then it will be a beautiful thing, even if it does not end up leading to marriage, though I hope and pray that my next relationship does end there.
Prayer: God, thank You for Your sovereignty. I pray that You help the things I’ve written in this essay become realities. It will not be easy, but with You all things are possible (Luke 1:37). Help me to never trust myself for any of this, but always cling to You in everything. You are my God, and You are the One who deserves praise. I can’t do anything for my own glory; keep me from that sin. Help me stay pure, God, for Your glory and for the sake of my future wife. I pray for my future wife, whoever and wherever she is. Thank You for her. I can’t wait to meet her. Keep her safe, and please bring her to know You if she doesn’t already. Thank You for running my life; if it was up to me, I’d screw it up really badly. Prepare me for my future wife—above and beyond the content of this essay—and prepare her for me. Please save the children that come from our future union for Your glory and the fame of Your Name. Use them mightily. Keep my future wife out of my head, and don’t let me dream about what could be, because that leads to sin—lust and discontent—and doesn’t bring You glory. I love You, Lord. Be with me everyday, and guide me in Your truth. Help me trust You wholeheartedly and flee from sin (Proverbs 3:5-8). Thanks for Your salvation; I’m indebted to You; let my life evidence this truth.
Sunday, December 08, 2013