Previous article in this series: February 15, 2014, p. 234.

Since I wrote the first article on the above mentioned subject, my wife and I have read again through the book of Ezra for our family devotions. We were impressed especially by chapters 9 and 10, in which Ezra speaks of the serious crisis that occurred among the returned exiles when it was reported that many of God’s covenant people had committed the sin of giving their covenant sons and daughters in marriage to the heathen. Ezra grieves concerning this, saying: “For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of the lands, yea, the hand of the princes and the rulers hath been chief in this trespass. And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied” (Ezra 9:2, 3. See also verse 12 of the same chapter). When this was reported, there was mourning and weeping among the people. “Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children, for the people wept sore” (Ezra 10:1). What a reaction to something of such grave concern in Israel!

In nominally Christian America there would not be very many that would marry those who were heathen as in Ezra’s day. There are, however, in America, many who live like practical atheists (as though there is no God at all and no law of God to guide their lives), even though they profess to be Christians. These could hardly make good covenant partners for our sons and daughters. In my last article I stated that parents have the covenantal obligation to supervise carefully the dating and courting of their young people. Our covenant young people are greatly in need of guidance, wisdom, and encouragement from their parents in this area of their lives. Our covenant young people should be thankful for such godly concern and should not consider this concern to be a wrongful invasion of their private lives. They must not imagine that already in their youth they are so mature, so independent, that they are not in need of good and wise counsel from their godly parents.

As Reformed believers we know the biblical requirement for all of Christian life is that we must always put God first. Everything in our life should be guided by the principles of the Word of God. The Bible gives clear and strong principles for Christian marriage. Our young people must be warned not to make boyfriends and girlfriends idols in their lives who might draw their hearts away from the Lord and lead them to violate very important godly principles of life.

As God’s covenant people we experience the great blessing of having God among us, knowing His truth, and enjoying the great blessing of communion and fellowship with God. We enjoy this blessing only in the way of separation from this ungodly world. For us as parents and for our covenant children, there is hardly a more important area concerning which to heed the call to separation than that of determining whom we fellowship with in marriage. Marriage is the most intimate of all human relationships. Two become one flesh. There can be no real Christian unity in our marriage without unity in the truth.

Our young people must not allow their hearts to be drawn away by members of the opposite sex because they see a strikingly beautiful girl in the world or a strong and handsome young man, or a man who could provide a life of worldly success and pleasure and glory. Worldly people can have exciting and interesting personalities. They can be very nice and very friendly. Maybe they even seem to be more friendly than fellow young people in church. But as long as they are of the world, they tempt us to make friends with the world. The friendship of the world is enmity against God.

Romantic attraction stirs up deep feelings of great excitement, which feelings are mysterious and powerful. These can serve for the good to lead a Christian young man and woman together and for finally establishing a happy Christian home. Strong feelings toward the opposite sex come from an aspect of our makeup that God created in us. But these feelings can also lead someone to being strongly attracted to the wrong person, to a partner who does not have the spiritual qualifications for living with a spouse in a godly marriage in God’s covenant of friendship.

Covenant parents should be strong enough at times to tell their young people that they ought not to be dating certain persons because it is obviously friendship and fellowship with the world. The warnings concerning this must be given by parents to their covenant young people very early. These warnings must not be turned away by the argument so often heard from young people, “Don’t worry, we are just friends, this is nothing serious, there is really nothing between us.”

In the discussion under consideration in this article, the question often comes up whether our Protestant Reformed young people should be dating persons outside of our churches. I realize there is an area of Christian liberty regarding the rules we set for our children for their life in the world. We certainly should teach our children that differences with members from other churches are long standing and run very deep. These differences are often much more serious than young people at their age might imagine. Romantic attractions can easily cloud one’s thinking, so that he justifies his actions and attachments. Differences in what churches teach and maintain or do not teach and maintain will inevitably seriously affect how we live in marriage. Not only are there often serious doctrinal differences, but there also are many very important differences in practical Christian living. Ignoring the reality and seriousness of these when earnestly seeking to find a partner with whom we can live in marriage could in later life have serious consequences. This neglect could become the occasion later in marriage of great strife and anguish when one who is now our partner for life refuses to walk in the same godly ways we have been taught in our covenant homes.

Our young people should be strongly encouraged to seek dating partners from the young people in our own churches and through fellowship and friendships promoted with them. Why do our young people still have to look in other places, even when they live in areas of several of our churches, and in the midst of many young people of like-minded faith? Even when this is not the case, there are, for most of our young people, many opportunities for fellowship with young people from our other churches.

God has created men and women with strong and mysterious desires to find a life partner. When properly directed, these feelings are beautiful ones that God Himself created in us and that can lead us to the great joy and blessing of marriage to a person whom God has brought to us in our lives.

Some of the things that I say in this article are obvious. They are well known. Yet they can easily be ignored if our young people are not careful. One of these things is that mere outward beauty and attractiveness do not in themselves translate into the potential of a dating partner making a good husband and wife or person one will be able to live together with in a real and blessed covenant home. Parents need to urge young people to be sober minded and self-controlled through the grace of God in their hearts, in this important matter in their lives, in the hope and prayer that by such godly behavior they will find the right life partner and not be led astray.

Who would deny that the modern-day world in which we live is becoming more and more liberal regarding sexual activity among its young people? This is the development of the ungodly culture of the world foretold so many times in Scripture. The media of this world constantly portray life between men and women in such a way that the most exciting event that is expected to take place between two people of the opposite sex is the passionate embrace of sexual love. Very soon after the two have met and come to know each other, even in the most casual way, this should happen. The media glories in this great wickedness and tempts our covenant young people to go along with all the excitement without regard to where it will all lead.

God’s Word clearly teaches that sexual love, as God ordained it, is to be reserved for the holy bond of marriage. Sexual love is a joy and blessing for marriage. It is a beautiful expression of the intimacy of love between husband and wife. What is intended by God to be the intimacy of love in marriage is corrupted and perverted by wicked men when it is used outside of marriage. Because of the power of this sin even for those who are Christians, we all need to be on guard against its powerful temptations. We all still have a sinful nature, with which there is great potential for corrupting that which God has made beautiful. Covenant young people should not underestimate the power of this sin, or overestimate their own power to be able to resist these temptations, and thus spoil a beautiful, godly relationship between a young man and a young woman. Premarital relationships have great psychological and spiritual consequences for the relationship between a man and woman. They change the character of the whole relationship. They often lead them into patterns of life that grow more and more sinful. Furthermore, when such sinful activity is engaged in before marriage, this often makes it even more difficult to be faithful to one’s own God-given spouse through the years of married life together.

Daily instruction has to be given. Our own marriage is closely observed and experienced by our covenant children. Our marriage must be a great example and pattern for our children to follow in preparing them for strong and lasting Christian marriages in their own lives.

In conclusion, there are many subjects that we can and must discuss with our young people in the years when they are dating. This ought not to be considered a violation of the privacy of our children. This belongs to what, in our modern culture and times, is part of giving our sons and daughters in marriage and guiding them in very important areas of the truth in their lives, and the future of Christian marriage in the church.

What a great joy it is when our covenant young people marry in the Lord and are truly one in the faith! What a blessing this will be, not only for themselves but also for the unity of the broader covenant family in years to come.