Jessa Duggar, one of the daughters in the famous Duggar family of 19 children, recently made the news for beginning to date, only in the Duggar family teens do not “date”, they “court.” Says Mom Michelle, “Courtship is not just about having fun…You are really considering if this person could be your life partner — you pray about it and see what happens. …” The whole topic of dating versus courtship has been a big debate in Christian circles ever since Joshua Harris released his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Harris’ book was met with another Christian’s book I Gave Dating a Chance, highlighting how difficult it is to decide if the Bible is in favor of “dating” or “courting.” The question, though, should not be dating or courting. Actually, there is a far more important question to be asked involving one’s goals and perspective of success.
Success, according to most daters and Mrs. Duggar cited above, is based on whether or not I find a spouse. It is about finding ME a spouse, to find someone with whom I can spend the rest of MY life. As Mrs. Duggar said “YOU are really considering if this person could be YOUR life partner.” In essence, that means that the entire dating or courting process revolves around ME, finding ME a spouse! While obviously no one dates or courts unless they are looking for a spouse, this has sadly become the end all, the goal, the ultimate intention, the number 1 priority, and the criteria for determining success. Did I find a spouse? Dating and courting in this way is inherently and Biblically selfish!
In defense of Mrs. Duggar and her daughter and all other Christian daters/courters, this selfishness inherent in our modern methods of courtship is so subtle that no one even notices how such a perspective twists and perverts the dating and courtship process. The reality, though, is that there are other callings in dating/courting that are higher callings for the Christian than the quest to find a spouse. We know that having our lives built on the foundation of God’s Word, under the authority of Jesus Christ, means that our primary goal in all of life is to glorify God, but somehow, we have forgotten that Scripture dictates our secondary goal in all things should be to serve others before ourselves.
Jesus said that the second greatest commandment after loving God is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Paul says in Philippians 2:3-4 to “count others more significant than yourselves” and to “look not only to [your] own interests but also to the interests of others.” Again, the Apostle Paul says in Romans 15:2 “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 he writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Christians are called to take the focus off of themselves and focus on others!
The Christian life can be summed up in the children’s Sunday School acronym “J.O.Y.” which stands for “Jesus, Others, then Yourself.” Yet, by making the secondary goal of dating all about finding myself a spouse, we have made dating God-focused, then Me-focused, taking the acronym “J.O.Y.” and making it “J.Y.O.” This simply is not that to which God has called us. To elevate our own interests over the interests of others is selfish and stands in opposition to the commands of our authority, Jesus Christ.
In order to realistically have the goal of serving others in dating, in order to realign our goals of dating and put “J.O.Y.” in the correct order, we need to radically change our whole perspective on dating or courting. We should not be evaluating the success of our dating relationships by whether we find a spouse but whether we can honestly say, “I served the brother or sister in Christ that I was dating/courting.” This in no way guarantees the outcome of a relationship will be marriage, but it does honor God in that the goal is to edify the other person. In fact, this should be true of all of our relationships, whether they be friendships, work partnerships, or in our families. In all of our relationships with other people we should be striving to glorify God and serve others. That’s the argument Paul makes in Philippians 2, calling us to have the mind of service that Christ has towards His people. Finding a spouse may be why we started dating, but that goal cannot be elevated over striving to serve the other person.
In this way, a relationship that did not end in marriage will be “successful” in the primary goal of glorifying God, the secondary goal of edifying the other person, and the tertiary goal of discovering whether or not the other person is a future spouse. If these goals are rearranged, it is possible that God is glorified and we discover whether or not the other person is a future spouse but the other person was not edified. In this second scenario, we are the only one served in the relationship. We end up tearing others down in our quest to find a spouse, treating them simply as a means to an end. Ironically, if we marry the person we date selfishly, we have potentially hurt our own spouse! This scenario also calls into question if we understand what it truly means to glorify God while dating. Can we glorify God while stepping on others to achieve our own end?
The question is not “should I court or should I date?” The question is “whom am I trying to serve while I court or date?” How will we measure success–I found a spouse or I edified a brother or sister in Christ? To this end, I actually wrote a small book on this topic that hopefully gives specific ways daters and courters can begin to apply the goal of service to others while they date or court. If you would like a copy, simply request one using the comment section below.