Rev. Eriks and his wife Jen learned about dating through their own struggles and mistakes, and are still learning as they guide their own children. They have been married for 20 years.

While parents may dread the day their children begin dating, often young people cannot wait to jump in with both feet. Parents may dread it because they know the temptations, stress, and heartaches that may come for their children when they date. We want our children to marry one day, if God wills, but to arrive at this destination unwounded by sin and heartache is not easy.

Young people, on the other hand, are often ready to forge ahead. Emotional and physical closeness appeals to them, but they soon find real temptations and sorrows. Breakups happen. In fact, many times it happens that the first person our son or daughter dates will not be the one he/she marries.

How do parents and young people navigate the rocky road of dating? What will help with the fears, temptations, pressures, and breakups? The Scriptures, which are “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” faithfully lead. When we follow Scripture, we do things God’s way. This alleviates fears and protects us from being driven simply by excitement and feelings. Dating God’s way will always lead to blessing and joy.

Servants, camels, and bracelets

Probably the closest the Bible comes to mentioning dating is the history of Isaac and Rebekah. Remember, Abraham sent his servant, Eliezer, back to his hometown to find a wife for his son. Rebekah first met Eliezer when she offered him and his camels a drink from the well. He then gave her bracelets, the family approved, she traveled back behind a veil to meet Isaac, and they married. It would do us good as parents and young people to read this history in Genesis 24 before and while dating.

We are not advocating arranged marriages, camels, and bracelets as the new courtship. Although there is nothing wrong with giving your wife-to-be jewelry! (Guess who wrote that?) However, in this history and throughout Scripture we do find principles to guide dating. From the history of Isaac and Rebekah we want to observe the biblical principles that lead us to date in a way that is pleasing to God.

Dating for marriage

Christian dating is the intentional, selfless, God-glorifying, prayerful process of finding a godly spouse. The Christian dates to find a God-fearing spouse in dependence on God. Although Isaac never “dated” Rebekah, notice that Abraham was intentional when it was time for Isaac to marry. Applied to dating today, this means dating is for the purpose of finding a spouse.

Dating is not for intimacy, romance, or good times. Abraham did not tell Eliezer, “Find a wife to make Isaac happy and feel good about himself.” Intimacy and romance feel good. A young woman enjoys it when a young man buys dinner, listens to her, and holds the door open. A young man is pleased to take a young lady out, have her laugh at his jokes, and be impressed with his car. A young person looking for these things is not ready to date. Christian dating is intentional with a view to marriage. This does not mean a woman and a man must be committed to marrying each other before they date. But they should be committed to seeking a spouse according to God’s will.

Dating for more than marriage

Isn’t there something more? Dating is for worship! If you are single and want to be married, please remember marriage is not your long-awaited promised land. The goal of Christian dating is God-glorifying worship. Notice how Abraham’s servant worshiped when he found Rebekah (Gen. 24:26-27, 48). The goal of this life is not marriage. God has created us first for the purpose of worship. In dating, we must always focus on worshiping Him.

The one rule

Abraham’s instruction to Eliezer is clear: do not dare find a woman from the Canaanites for my son Isaac. Go to my hometown where you will find God-fearing women and find a wife for my son there. In this history we find the clear principle found in God’s Word: date and marry only in the Lord. Notice that we said date and marry…. If we are to marry only in the Lord, then we also date only in the Lord. Throughout the Old Testament, God warned His people not to marry the heathen. Time after time, God’s people disobeyed this command to the destruction of their spiritual health. The New Testament gives us the same principle in I Corinthians 7:39: “she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”

What does this mean? Is it enough that the young man or young woman says he/she is a Christian and goes to a church? No. Marrying in the Lord means that the person one dates is committed to loving and honoring Jesus Christ and shows this in his/her life. This love for Christ is manifest especially in a humility of confessing sin and clinging to the cross of Jesus Christ. One of the questions my wife and I ask a young man before he may date one of our daughters is: what is your relationship with Jesus Christ? If a young person goes to church but frequently lies to parents, expresses how much they despise catechism, or mocks and bullies others, he/she is not showing a commitment to Christ and His Word. This is not a person to be dating. Date only one who is consistently godly in words and actions, in any circumstance.

Marrying in the Lord emphasizes the importance of spiritual oneness. We should date those who are committed to Jesus Christ by being committed to His truth. The other should believe the same truth, God’s truth, that I believe. Marriage is difficult enough because of sin. It becomes even more difficult when husband and wife are not united in their faith. Remember Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Although this passage is not about dating per se, the principle is certainly vital for dating and marriage.

Abraham followed this one rule in finding Isaac’s wife. Here are some ways we can apply this timeless truth to contemporary dating.

Pray, pray, and pray

Before Abraham’s servant saw even one woman, he stopped and prayed, “O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham.” We should pray for the determination of God’s will in the same way Eliezer did. His prayer encourages us to pray…and pray some more. If it is your desire to be married, pray for God to bring a spouse to you. Pray before you start dating. Parents, pray for God’s blessing on your parenting and that God would bring a godly spouse to your children. Begin praying when you hold your child in your arms. Before they walk, pray for their future spouse. Do not stop praying.

Parental involvement

When it was time, Abraham oversaw the process of finding Isaac’s wife. So also parents ought to be intimately involved in and faithfully overseeing the dating process. We should be talking to our children about marrying in the Lord from the time they are young. Although not mandated by Scripture, but a good idea nonetheless, fathers could set the rule that any young man that wants to date his daughter must first speak with him. This possibly awkward yet important and frank conversation would include expectations, boundaries, and purpose in dating, among other things. Fathers should be talking to their sons before they ask a girl out about why he likes this young lady and how to treat her as child of God. As parents, we may not simply pray and hope for the best. Be an instrument in God’s hand to help your children date and marry in the Lord. Our children may struggle with the heartaches and uncertainties of dating as they learn about relationships. Parents, be there to guide and help with the comforting words of Scripture.

Seek confirmation

For those who are dating, let those who love you help you. Abraham’s servant explains to Rebekah’s father, Bethuel, and brother, Laban, all that has happened and why he believes Rebekah is the wife for Isaac. Laban and Bethel respond, “The thing proceedeth from the Lord: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good…” (Gen. 24:50). If God has brought two people together in Him, He will make it clear to other believers in their lives. If people who love Jesus Christ and you have serious reservations about your relationship, you should have serious reservations about it. Do not wait for opinions. Ask godly friends at church and school who are committed to godly marriage. This is especially true of parents, who know you best. Even those who no longer live with their parents should consider them an important resource here.

Do not rely on your feelings or the feelings of the one you are dating to give evidence that this is the one. Listen to the multitude of counselors around you, because dating can easily blind us to reality. One of the ways God reveals His will is through those around us. If you are unwilling to ask those around you what they think, consider that a warning that something is not right.

Clarity before intimacy

One of the greatest dangers of dating is that couples form premature emotional and physical closeness. Dating couples tend to build emotional and physical closeness, which is really cheap and easy intimacy. It is dangerous to give our hearts and lives to someone while dating because temporary intimacy is not the goal of dating. True Christ-centered intimacy is reserved for marriage. We want to know with clarity whom we should marry. Dating is a time to seek and pray for clarity regarding a relationship.

Timeless truth

God’s timeless truth does not remove all the pitfalls on the path to finding a spouse. But when we do this God’s way, we can be assured of His guidance. Parents can direct their dating children with God’s timeless truth. Those dating can be assured God will not abandon them in this exciting, yet difficult search. God may not answer our prayers about dating as directly as He did Eliezer’s. We do not find our spouses at wells or with thirsty camels. But He guides with His Word today as surely as He did with camels and bracelets.