Have you ever stopped to consider the purpose of Christian dating?
If you have, and you’d say, “to get married,” I would wholeheartedly agree. Dating for fun is only fun for so long, especially if you’re fighting hard to preserve sexual purity.
However, this answer doesn’t explain everything about our dating lives as Christians. When we examine the purpose of dating in light of our ultimate goal in life, we see there’s more to dating than meets the eye.
The Primary Purpose of Dating
According to Merriam Webster, a purpose is “something set up as an object or end to be attained.” A purpose describes the end goal, the destination, or the intended result of an action.
This definition simplifies the conversation considerably. Every dating relationship ends in one of two ways: you get married, or you break up. Since no one dates someone hoping they will break up someday, the primary (and practical) purpose of Christian dating must be to determine whether the two of you should marry.
Marshall Segal says it best:
“While the great prize in marriage is Christ-centered intimacy, the great prize in dating is Christ-centered clarity. Intimacy is safest in the context of marriage, and marriage is safest in the context of clarity. If we want to have and enjoy Christ-centered intimacy (with someone), we need to get married. And if we want to get married, we need to pursue clarity about whom to marry.”
Segal hits on an important point. As Christians, we must recognize that marriage means more than a mutually signed certificate. We also need to acknowledge that there’s a level of intimacy between a man and a woman – whether that’s physical, emotional or spiritual intimacy — that God has reserved for marriage.
If we want to enjoy all of the benefits of being a couple, we can’t date forever. In dating, our sights must be set on marriage, or we risk losing focus and wandering into sin.
What Makes Dating Worthwhile
If clarity about marriage is the primary purpose of dating, why should we date at all?
After all, you won’t find dating anywhere in the Bible. Even the famous love story of Ruth and Boaz was orchestrated by Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, and approved by the local elders.
There’s also a lot of wisdom in trusting the advice of mentors, friends, and family who know us well. If we reflect honestly on our middle school crushes, we know we’re not always the best matchmakers for ourselves.
However, I don’t think we need to give up dating and return to arranged marriages. First of all, that’s just not how Western culture works. Parents are much more removed from their adult children’s lives than in cultures where arranged marriage is still practiced among Christians, and there is something to be said about the role of attraction in marriage.
Besides the practical difficulties of arranged marriage in a modern era, there are Biblical reasons that make dating worthwhile. Marriage might be the purpose of Christian dating, but it’s not our supreme goal in life.
Our ultimate purpose is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” and every part of our lives is eligible for striving toward this end (Colossians 3:17).
Since “dating” as a principle is neither right nor wrong, we can choose to use dating as a way to magnify God’s glory or as a way to reject His commands. Dating may be a messier, longer path to marriage, but like every portion of our journey through life, it’s spread with a myriad of opportunities to honor our Creator and King.
3 Secondary Purposes of Christian Dating
Pursuing marriage is the primary purpose of dating, but it’s not the only way we can glorify Christ with our love lives.
We must be careful not to use these secondary reasons as an excuse to date recklessly. If we do, our dating will lead us and others into confusion and heartbreak.
But when we pair these reasons with a Christ-centered view of dating and marriage — one that honors the primary purpose of dating as well as the ultimate purpose of life — God can actually use our love lives to deepen our delight in Him.
1. Grow in holiness.
Humans are created for relationship (Genesis 2:18), and it’s in this context of connecting and clashing with other sinners that God frequently makes us aware of our sin.
This process can hurt, but it’s for our good and God’s glory in the long run. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Here are just a few of the ways you might grow in obedience to the Lord while dating:
- Foster self-discipline by setting and keeping boundaries
- Show compassion and forgiveness toward each other
- Endure seasons of separation with perseverance
- Practice patience while waiting for your boyfriend to propose
- Display the gospel to others through your relationship
2. Learn to love.
This love is different from the kind you’re referring to when you say “I love you” for the first time. Rather, it’s the selfless, sacrificial love we are commanded to show to everyone as believers (Mark 12:30-31).
The longer you date someone, the more you’ll know how to love him really well. You learn that speeches make him stressed and hugs make him happy, so you go out of your way to give him a quick embrace before he steps on stage.
At some point, you’ll know him better than most people — and that makes you uniquely positioned to care for him as your brother in Christ. Your encouragement will be a priceless asset in His pursuit of the Lord while you’re dating, far more valuable than ill-timed erotic love.
3. Have fun! 🙂
Dating without purpose brings nothing but confusion and heartbreak. And yet, if you’re constantly thinking about whether you should get married, you’ll miss the precious beauty of falling in love, and you might misjudge someone who would have made a wonderful spouse.
Pastor and counselor Josh Squires observes that overly-intentional dating is actually more common among Christians than aimless romance.
“People can become so fixated on analysis and progress that they don’t take the time to take in the excitement and wonder of this unique moment in a relationship,” he says.
Now that we’re married, my husband and I reflect on our early dating memories with joy. We smile remembering each other’s sweetness and laugh at our foolishness. Those seemingly insignificant moments have built our bond into what it is today and what it is becoming.
If you’re not careful, a heightened focus on marriage can also lead you to jump to early conclusions about a relationship. You might cast off a guy too quickly because he doesn’t fit your husband checklist, or you might emotionally and verbally commit to someone before you really know him.
“Remember who is really in control,” Squires writes, pointing us to God. “You both can be fooled — thought this was your future spouse and were wrong — and surprised — didn’t think it had a chance and it turns out to be your soul mate — even if you are being as discerning as possible.”
Consider Writing a Statement of Purpose
If clarity about marriage is the goal of Christian dating, it makes sense to begin with clarity about dating. One way you can articulate your views and desires for a relationship is by writing a statement of purpose.
You can do this individually or together, but either way, it helps to discuss your thoughts with each other at some point. Use this sample statement of purpose and the purposes listed above as a guide, but feel free to explore other goals that fall within the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.
What are your hopes and goals for your relationship?