Maybe some of you young women are eagerly waiting for the moment when a young man looks you in the eyes and affectionately pledges his love for you. Maybe some of you young men look forward to making this pledge and hearing the response whispered in your ear, “I love you, too.” It feels good to be told, “I love you.” Some of you may have experienced this already in a dating relationship.
But what do these words mean? When I have asked young people, engaged couples, and even some married couples what this means, many have struggled to answer. Some have even said love is unexplainable, but someday they will understand it better. They plan to grow in understanding what these words mean. There is some truth to this. We are all growing in our understanding of love. But if a couple does not understand what true, biblical love is when dating, they will not magically have an epiphany of understanding love because they are married. In fact, they may have to learn what true love is in a miserable marriage because they ignored understanding love when they were dating. Love must be understood before dating and marriage. What if a young man whispers his love for a young woman in the car parked in the driveway of the young woman’s home, and what he really means is “I lust for you”? Then the relationship will be focused on the physical.
What if a young woman looks into the eyes of a young man and says, “I am falling in love with you,” but all she means is that this relationship feels good because the young man has been so romantic and kind? What happens when the young man is not so romantic and kind? You have a “love” based on feelings that can change directions like the wind. Such relationships fall apart because there was no true understanding of love. Before young people date and marry they must have a basic understanding of biblical, God-glorifying love. A biblical definition and understanding of love is vital in a dating relationship that has as its one goal the glory of God with an eye on marriage.
In the Greek language we can identify three words for love. The first word is “eros,” from which we derive our English word “erotic.” I begin with this word because one way the world defines love is sexual lust. Sometimes, when a man tells a woman he loves her, what he really means is, “I lust for you.” Succumbing to his raging hormones, he has one thing on his mind. This kind of “love” is described in I Thessalonians 4:5 as the “lust of concupiscence,” which characterizes those who do not know God. In our sex-crazed culture, so many define love by this lust for physical closeness. Within marriage, physical closeness is a way a husband and wife show love to each other, but this is not the beginning or chief idea of love.
The second word in the Greek language we need to identify is “phileo,” which means “brotherly love.” This word identifies the feelings and emotions that are part of love. In the world of our day, feelings rule. Feelings of love are the powerful emotions that one has for another person, feelings that are like the swift, raging current of the Colorado River in the springtime, rapidly carrying white-water rafters. Such can be the feelings of a young woman for a young man who opens the door for her, listens to her, and buys nice things for her.
The third word for love we must understand is “agape.” This is the strongest word for love in Scripture (often translated as “charity” in the KJV) and the only word used for God’s love.
Before we define true, biblical love as revealed on the pages of Scripture, understand why I presented these words in the order I did. This is not the order of Scripture. This is the order of the world. Love in dating and marriage is first of all seen as lust and attraction based on how “hot” he or she is. In the world, dating is seen as a way for a young man and young woman to hook up sexually. If this works out, the feelings they have for each other will grow. The last step is a more intimate relationship that might lead to marriage.
Satan twists a good desire we all have, the desire for sex, to be the most important thing. This is the mindset of the world in which we live. The backward, foolish thinking of this world must be exposed so that we do not think of love in this way. The way of a young man and woman is not that they have a physical attraction, act on this by dating to see if they have feelings for each other, which, in turn, leads to marriage. This is not how the church should view dating. The worst thing a couple can do is put these real lusts they have first. Be committed to no sex in your dating relationships!
Biblical love turns this view of dating on its head. What is love? Before reading on, take some time to read, , , and and formulate a biblical definition of love. Defining love is not as hard as we think, because the Bible does it for us.
Love is an activity of self-sacrifice that seeks the good of another although the person being loved does not deserve it. This love is a decision, commitment, and activity.
Only those who know God can love in this way. This love originates in God for God is love (). This love is part of God’s Being. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love each other with this love. Within God’s Being, love is an intimate, living bond of perfectness ( ). The three Persons of the Holy Trinity live in a union more intimate and closer than that of a husband and a wife. Stretching from all eternity and to all eternity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love each other without disagreement, fighting, or conflict. They love each other perfectly!
God actively shows this pure love to His people in Jesus Christ. Remember that love is a decision, commitment, and activity. From all eternity, God decided to love a people unworthy of His love. He is committed to His people, promising to them that His love will never fade or change (). Imagine! God never falls out of love with us. The action of God’s love is saving us from our sins in Jesus Christ. He gave His only begotten Son to save us from our sins. This giving is the supreme activity of love by which God seeks our good by blessing us with all the blessings of salvation in Jesus Christ. No wonder we sing of the amazing love of God! How wonderful and amazing is God’s love! A love beyond measure! You cannot measure God’s love in inches, feet, or miles; in pints, quarts, or gallons; in ounces, pounds, or tons. You get the point.
We are called to put this love in action in marriage. Within marriage, it is foundational that husband and wife love God first. A marriage will not be blessed unless both husband and wife love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength. This teaches us that love is a matter of worship. The Christian husband and wife love God by obeying His commandments. Specifically, they love God by loving the spouse God gives them with this sacrificial, unconditional love. Love in marriage is not first of all about sex. It is not first of all a feeling, although a husband and wife must have feelings of love for each other. Love is a decision, commitment, and action although the other person does not deserve it. In marriage, love is a decision, a conscious, deliberate decision to love the spouse God has given. In marriage, love is a life-long commitment in which a husband and wife promise before God, family, and friends to love each other. This love must be put into action, which seeks the good of the other person although the person does not deserve it. A wife lives for her husband. A husband lays down his life for his wife. We will have more to say about this in the next article.
What we are interested in is what this means for dating. When a Christian young man and young woman know God’s love for them, God will be first in their hearts. Because we are saved by God’s love in Jesus Christ, we are followers of Christ who obey His Word. This means that desires for sex, romance, and fulfillment in a relationship will not rule my life.
Doing Christ’s will by living in obedience to Him has wide-ranging implications for dating. Christian young men and women are not interested in dating unbelievers no matter how kind, generous, and good looking they may be. Being committed to loving and honoring Jesus Christ in all of life, they will not seek friendships with those who do not love or honor Him.
Because we know the comfort and fullness of God’s love in Jesus Christ that delivers us from all our sins and brings us into a relationship of love and friendship with God forever, we will not date for self. We will not date to feel better about ourselves. We will not date to feel complete or to overcome insecurities or fears of being alone. When we do this, we are seeking fulfillment in a person instead of God.
Because we know the love of God, we will not date for romance or attraction or lust. If we date for these reasons, we are not dating for God’s glory but for our own.
Because we know the love of God, we will seek what is best for the person we are dating. We will not push to cross the sexual boundaries God has established. True love is controlled by the mind (). A young woman will not dress seductively to entice a young man and a young man will not put pressure on a young woman, ignoring the boundaries God sets. Instead, both will desire to learn to serve while getting to know the other person.
A dating relationship that is shaped by God’s love will be a relationship in which a young man and young woman are trying to get to know the other to determine if this is the person God wants me to love for the rest of my life within the bond of marriage. In this kind of relationship, the young man and young woman are concerned with learning what it means to sacrifice and serve for the good of each other. Dating should not be making ourselves look like something we are not. This is what a car salesman might do with an old jalopy. He washes and waxes it, trying to cover up all the defects to sell it. This is not what dating is about. Rather, it is about letting the other person know what I am truly like to find out if they can continue to love me in marriage.
And now, let us return to what it means to say “I love you.” What do you think about the place of this in a dating relationship? Does it take on new meaning and seriousness now? To say this is a commitment. Are you ready for this commitment?
Think about it from this perspective. You are dating someone you do not know as yet if you will marry. Maybe you break up one day, and date someone else that you marry. The one you formerly dated also dates someone else and marries. Maybe those marriages bring you into the same church. How would you feel about sitting down the aisle from another man or woman to whom you said, “I love you”? As you say, “Awkward!” Yes, it is. True love is beautiful and God-glorifying. May this love of God mold our dating so that we glorify God as we search for the spouse we will one day marry, according to God’s will.