In His Image Part 2: Gospel-Centered Singleness, Dating, and Marriage
May 8, 2012 3 Comments
This blog post was adapted from a sermon that I gave at the Harvard Avenue Student Ministry youth group on Wednesday, May 2, 2012. It is the second of a two-message series about a Gospel-defined view of gender and relationships. To read part 1, click here.
The way that we interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ is a testimony to a life transformed by the gospel. The distinctions in our relationships flow from a desire to serve the needs of others and encourage them as they become more like Jesus. As God’s image-bearers , men and women have been created with unique roles that reflect the relationship between Jesus and his bride, the Church. The way we think about manhood and womanhood, singleness, dating, and marriage are rooted in true understanding of the very nature of God.
Read Ephesians 5:15-33.
The covenant of marriage is a beautiful picture of the unity of Christ and His Church: together, but with distinct roles and characteristics. It is a selfless one-flesh union of a selfless man loving a submissive wife that points all of humanity to a deeper understanding of the love of Jesus for those he has redeemed. Because of this, a cross-centered marriage scares the mess out of Satan.
The meaning of marriage is not known in its essence or fullness until we see it as a parable of Christ’s relationship to the church. So creation as male and female points to marriage and marriage points to Christ and the church. Paul notes this several times in the passage in Ephesians. Christ and the Church don’t illustrate marriage, marriage illustrates Christ and the Church. And therefore the belief that God created us in His image as male and female is not complete without Christianity – without Christ and His saving work for the church.
If marriage is a picture of Christ and his Church, then any dating/courtship relationship should have that in mind. Dating, like everything else in the Christian’s life, should be centered on the gospel. The two individuals should enter the relationship not to fill an emotional void or for physical/sexual advantages, but to explore the possibility of entering the covenant of marriage with another redeemed sinner.
Biblical dating differs significantly from modern dating. Biblical dating is defined as “a method of introduction and carrying out of a pre-marital relationship between a single man and a single woman that begins with the man approaching and going through the woman’s father or family; that is conducted under the authority of the woman’s father or family or church; and that always has marriage (or at least a determination regarding marriage to a specific person) as its direct goal.” In contrast, modern dating can be defined as “a method of introduction and carrying out of a pre-marital relationship between a single man and a single woman that begins with either the man or the woman initiating with the other; that is conducted outside the formal oversight or authority of either person’s family or church; and that may or may not have marriage as its goal and is often purely ‘recreational’ or ‘educational.'”
While the Bible doesn’t speak directly to dating (since the concept of dating didn’t appear until 1960s), there are a lot of Scriptural supports for how to conduct yourself in a dating relationship
- Proverbs 6:20-7:27 (warning to avoid sexual sin and foolish relationships) **See 6:29, 34
- Song of Solomon 2:7 (“do not awaken love before it pleases” — i.e. before the proper time, meaning marriage)
- John 14:15 (if you love Christ, you will obey His commands — read: above your own desires — and live biblically)
- Romans 13:8-14 (love others, work for their soul’s good; don’t look to please self)
- Ephesians 5:15-33 (Christians are to walk in wisdom in their relationships with each other and submit to Christ and the Church. Also, the way men and women relate to each other in marriage models Christ and his Church)
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-7:19 (command to be pure, seriousness of sexual sin and instructions regarding marriage)
- 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (do not wrong or defraud one another in relationships — by implying a relationship or commitment by your words or conduct that does not actually exist)
- Titus 2:1-8 (young men and women should focus on self-control/godliness)
In a dating relationship, God has created man to be the pursuer, protector, and provider and women to be the responder and helpmate. This is seen throughout Scripture most notably in Genesis 2 as well as the books of Ruth and Song of Solomon. Even reality TV shows like the Bachelor/ette have proven it…. When many men pursue one woman…. There is sometimes a happy ending. But when many women pursue one man…. They breakup in a few months. The entire secular world, feminists included, has come to observe that for a relationship to be successful, the man needs to be the pursuer. God’s design of masculinity as pursuer of femininity directly reflects Christ’s pursuit of his bride, the church. Jesus pursued us, his bride (1 John 4:19). Jesus made the provision for us to have a relationship with him (Is. 53:5). His love is unconditional and unfailing (Rom. 8:38-39).
1 Corinthians 7:8, 32-35 implies that the healing which Jesus brings to our view of genders is not dependent on marriage. Jesus and Paul were both single. Their singleness allowed them to focus more on their devotion to the Lord. The same is true for single Christians today: use your singleness as a time to not only prepare yourself for marriage, but also to serve and grow closer to the Lord. God isn’t punishing you or holding out on you because you are single; he is giving you that time to focus on him and him alone. What a wonderful gift! While you are single, practice spiritual disciplines, treat everyone you come in contact with like a brother or sister in Christ, invest in the lives of others, serve your church, and be yourself and God will take care of the rest. If all goes according to plan, you’re only single once (unless your spouse dies before you), so enjoy it!
The Most Important Relationship
While relationships with other men and women are to be taken seriously, the importance of these relationships is difficult, if not impossible, to see without a life transformed by Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit works in us to shift our relational foundation from ourselves and cultural expectations to the gospel. Do you want to know more fully what it means to be a godly man or woman? The answer isn’t found in what culture or fallible men and women tell you, but what God has revealed in his Word. Your ability to be effective in all your other relationships (family, work, church, friends) is directly related to your understanding of the cross.
“Every day of our Christian experience should be a day of relating to God on the basis of His grace alone. We are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day.” –Jerry Bridges
Every day we face the temptations to move away from the gospel and put something else at the center of our lives and our relationships.
A cross-centered life results in a deeper level of intimacy with God and a new basis for all other relationships. God created you; He created you in His image; and He created you male or female that you might be utterly and radically and uniquely devoted to the Lord.
Learn It. Love It. Live It.
For more reading on the topic of Gospel-Defined Singleness, Dating, and Marriage, check out these resources:
[image credit: George Kepnick on Flickr]