The Covenant of Marriage (2): Courtship Within the Covenant

Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of Kalamazoo Protestant Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Marriage is an honorable state. It was instituted by God at the time of the creation of the woman. The purpose of God in marriage is to give the believing man and his wife an earthly means by which they can experience with each other the great love and friendship that exist between Christ and His church. This is that mystery which only those who are in Christ can discover in their marriage. Marriage is a covenant bond that symbolizes the unbreakable union of Christ and His church.

But if the purpose of God in our marriages is to discover this blessed bond of friendship, then we must be careful whom we choose to be our husband and wife. If we marry an unbeliever, that intimate bond of love will elude us, and our marriage will become a sore burden rather than a life of joy and happiness. This is why it is so important to think about this before we marry! We wrote this at the outset, and we repeat it now: a good marriage does not simply fall from the sky! To have a spiritually strong marriage means we must take seriously our calling to search out a godly spouse! To have joy in marriage means we must find a sincere, God-fearing wife or husband.

That means we ought to have a proper understanding of dating or courtship. This is true of us as parents, first of all. The children God has given us are His children. Our children are the heritage of God to us. Parents, therefore, are obliged to guide their children into a sanctified view of courtship. At the same time, however, young people themselves ought to be busy exerting themselves in the pursuit of proper behavior in this area of life. Both parents and children do well to reexamine this institution that has come to be known as dating.

I approach this subject with some reluctance. Not because I have not dealt with the subject before, but because the conclusions to which I have come do not seem to meet with the accepted norm of dating as it has been practiced among us in the past couple of generations. Because of that, some readers will not give these articles very serious consideration and will continue in the direction that has been set for us by our society. Some young people will snicker and think that the views of these articles are antiquated and irrelevant for today’s modern generation. But maybe a few parents will reconsider what they have been allowing their sons and daughters to do, and direct them in a better path. At the least I hope these articles will challenge all of us, parents and young people alike, to make serious evaluation of our modern practices of Christian courtship! After all, certainly all of us want to establish a spiritually strong marriage and home!

The Goal of Courtship

Long before our children have reached the age of dating, parents must determine the goal behind this function. Why will we allow our son or daughter to “go out with” someone on a date? What must be our and their goal in dating? Is the goal of dating simply to have good times with persons of the opposite sex? Is it the freedom to have no responsibilities, make no commitments, but just “hang loose” with a girl or a guy? Such, of course, is what our modern society has come to make of dating. It is a game—the “dating game.” Men and women of all ages love to play the game, it seems. In fact, it has become the seedbed of all kinds of immorality and irresponsible living. Proof for this is found in the books, magazines, and television programs which are a reflection of and have a major influence upon our society. The wicked, unbelieving world has succeeded well in distorting our thinking as to the true goal of dating.

Before parents allow their children to date, it is important to instill in them a deep understanding of the spiritual goal of such an action. Dating is courtship. The name has been changed to take away the serious implications of this activity in a person’s life, but that does not change the fact: dating is courtship. In other words, the goal of dating is to find someone to marry! Dating is a means which a person uses prayerfully to search for a spouse! It is a means by which a man and woman are able to learn to know each other to ascertain whether God has indeed intended them to spend a lifetime together in marriage. That is the godly goal of dating. It is not an empty game with no meaning. It is a means God has given us to seek and find a godly mate. What this implies we will consider in a future article.

Learning to Love

If the goal of dating or courtship is marriage, then its purpose it to learn to love the one we have chosen to date. Sometimes we find (either immediately or after we have dated for awhile) that the person we are dating is not the one God has meant for us. Then we certainly must terminate the relationship. But neither is this done frivolously and just because it does not “feel” right. Learning to love another person takes time and takes work. Contrary to popular opinion, a man and woman do not just “fall in love.” True love between a man and a woman—the love that will bind them into one flesh in marriage—takes time and effort. A person learns this kind of love.

Again, this is where the unbelieving world has destroyed the proper conception of love. The “love” on which the vast majority of unbelievers build their marriages in our modern society is nothing more than lust. They have a sexual attraction toward each other—one to which they have given full vent before marriage, and one that they think will unite them for a lifetime after marriage. At the time the Bible was written, marriages in the Greek and Roman society were based on this same kind of “love.” The Greeks even had a term for it. They called it eros. In our English language this Greek term is used too. We see it in such terms as “erotic.” This type of love is nothing more than the sensual, sexual lust that arises out of one’s base desires. It is the type of “love” (lust) that gives rise to fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and other gross sins of this nature. The Bible nowhere uses the term eros to describe love or any other type of proper affection of one person toward another.

Especially since the sexual revolution of the 1960s this perverted, twisted idea of love has come to dominate our society. This is why premarital sex is not only excused but lauded as a necessary act if one is to know whether he “loves” the person he is dating. It is little wonder that our society is plagued with divorce and remarriage! People are falling into and out of love all the time! This kind of love does not take time or work! And that is because their love is nothing more than lust! Certainly, it is not this type of love we must learn of one another when dating! In fact, if this is the type of love we seek, if the reason we date is to gain carnal knowledge of another, then our future marriages (even if we finally marry for the right reason) will be threatened! What a threat to the bond of love in marriage if in the back of one’s mind there always lurks the erotic knowledge he had of others when he was dating them! Fornication in dating is condemned out of hand by the Word of God! “Flee fornication!” we are told (I Cor. 6:18). Why? Because the bond of marriage cannot be founded upon the lust that is unleashed in fornication!

A good marriage does not come by chance. A good marriage is firmly grounded on a love discovered and pursued during courtship. That love is not fallen into. It is cultivated and nurtured while dating. And it continues to blossom and grow before and after marriage. What love is that? It is the love that can be found within God’s triune Self. It is the love which binds the three persons of the Trinity together in a bond of perfectness. It is that love which God has shown toward us in Christ—a love that sent Christ to the cross to die for us. It is a love that God has shed abroad in the hearts of His people. It is that love which binds the church, the bride of Jesus Christ, together with her Bridegroom in an everlasting bond. That is the love we must discover and nurture while dating. That is the purpose of courtship within the covenant! We are to discover the same friendship with that person we date that we have with our God! Is that a lust-filled, sensual, fornicating love? What? The very thought of loving God in that way repels us! Then it ought to repel us in the relationship we nurture in our dating life as well!

The love we must seek and cultivate is that love which holds the other in highest esteem as one worthy of our respect and admiration. Such love implies knowledge! It is rooted not in the ever-changing emotions and feelings of our desires but in the stable and well-grounded knowledge and understanding of our reasoning. The purpose of dating is to discover that kind of love! In other words, we must use our dating to get to know each other. A man and woman must discover what is the spiritual makeup and character of the person they are courting. They must discover the flaws and strengths of the other’s character. They must inquire deeply into the spiritual qualities of that person. They must examine and search out what makes that person who she is. Is she the kind of woman who will love me and care for me and my children the way that I believe she should? Will she in my absence guide my home and instruct my children the way I would if I were there? Is this the kind of man that will support me and my children? Will he be the spiritual head that I need to lean on? Will he insist by instruction and discipline that my family will be led in the way of God’s Word?

How many young couples ask these questions when they are dating? How many diligently search into these matters in an attempt to know and love the person they court?

So many young men and women rush into marriage without taking time to discover who the person really is that they are marrying. They feel this sudden infatuation, this sudden giddiness, this sudden gush of emotion. They feel a sexual attraction toward another person and they right away think: “it’s love!” They then hurry into marriage, expecting that this fairy tale love will last them a life-time! But they have failed to discover who it is that they are really marrying. Then in a year or so (maybe it takes a few years) they find out that they did not really know that person or love that person. Some of these marriages by God’s grace remain intact, since God after marriage leads these couples through much turmoil and pain into that true love they should have had before marrying. Most of these marriages are trashed because the couple has no love for God and His Word, much less a love for each other!

A person ought not to date until he or she well understands that the goal of dating from the start is marriage. Neither ought that person to date until he or she understands that the purpose of courtship is to learn to know and esteem the other as one’s closest friend, and in that way to love him or her.

We will discuss the practical implications of this in the next article.