Bringing Christianity into courtship
Because it involves the intention of marriage and establishment of a permanent relationship, courtship should be entered into with utmost seriousness and care. Here are eight helpful principles.
Dating and courtship are two types of relationships young people enter into as they move into their teens and beyond. Casual friendship may mark the relationships of boys and girls, but as they move into mid-teens, their relationship becomes a little more selective, which is what we call dating. Usually in this stage no permanent commitment is made, but as young people grow beyond, they enter into what is known as courtship.
Though there is no universally-acceptable formal sequential order that courtship follows, it is a serious process in which the relationship of a man and a woman enters into an explorative stage, in which the two try to get to know each other, weighing each other’s characteristics, with the possible intention of getting married and establishing a life-long relationship. Because it involves the intention of marriage and establishment of a permanent relationship, courtship should be entered into with utmost seriousness and care, and as Christian young people, with much prayer and commitment to the spiritual and moral aspects of life. The physical must not become dominant during the courtship period.
Ellen White counsels young people about the spiritual seriousness of courtship in these words: “Not one word should be spoken, not one action performed, that you would not be willing the holy angels should look upon and register in the books above. You should have an eye single to the glory of God. The heart should have only pure, sanctified affection, worthy of the followers of Jesus Christ, exalted in its nature, and more heavenly than earthly. Anything different from this is debasing, degrading in courtship; and marriage cannot be holy and honorable in the sight of a pure and holy God, unless it is after the exalted Scriptural principle.”1
My studies, personal experience, and counseling with young people have led me to enumerate eight principles that would be helpful in courtship, in order to assure a happy, successful, and lasting marriage relationship. These are listed here not in any particular order of importance, but young people will benefit if they keep them in mind as they enter the difficult stage of courtship on their way to choosing a life partner.
1. Evaluate every behavior. Unfortunately, courtship often tends to be a period of serious “cover-ups.” Each appears at his or her best in terms of manners and disposition in order to entice the other person. Be on guard for any activity — however small, in word or deed — that reflects any pretense. Make sure that the person is absolute in his or her commitment to spiritual priorities and godly standards. Do not take undue or inappropriate behaviors as “one of those things young people do” and blindly move along. Such traits may not be changed later and may even go on in the marriage relationship, when it will be too late for regrets. Better at the early stage of courtship to prayerfully discuss the inappropriate behavior, politely seek a change for the better, and look out for acceptable behavior. Blind impulse can control reason and judgment, Ellen White warns. “Under this bewitching delusion the momentous responsibility felt by every sincere Christian is laid aside, spirituality dies, and the judgment and eternity lose their awful significance.”2
2. Discuss in a spirit of love questions that come to your mind. In counseling with graduate students, I usually ask them to write down a list of questions they think are irrelevant to ask the partner they are courting or plan to court. The list usually has question such as: “Are you a virgin?”, “Do you believe and love the Lord?”, “What is your income?”, “Which church do you attend?” My response is: “You are wrong. Every question or issue that agitates your mind should be asked or settled.” The belief that love is blind or love conquers all things has its limitations. You do not fall into courtship without as complete a knowledge as possible about the other person. While you are not to be too strict or critical, nothing should be taken for granted on the ground that such things do not really matter in our technological age. God’s requirements for His children have not changed and will not change (Matthew 5:18, 19). “Love is a precious gift, which we receive from Jesus. Pure and holy affection is not a feeling, but a principle. Those who are actuated by true love are neither unreasonable nor blind. Taught by the Holy Spirit, they love God supremely, and their neighbor as themselves.”3
3. True courtship is not infatuation. Often young people get carried away by physical appearances and gestures and emotional surges. The feeling that “we are in love” makes one idolize their partner, leading to infatuation, often followed by overloaded emotional feelings — a tendency that overlooks character defects. Infatuation is not love. Rather, it is a relationship characterized by passion on a physical level; it lacks spiritual maturity and commitment. The courtship period is a time when youth need to have great caution, because they are preparing for one of the most intimate relationships in life. The journey ahead is long, the road is often unknown and rough, and courtship takes time. Hence, this is no time for hasty decisions. A life led by hasty obsession and not by true love leads to a dangerous risk.4
4. Let Christian character govern your courtship. Our times are known for spiritual erosion and moral decadence. We see these trends everywhere — in the home, at work, at school, in politics, in government, with the old and the young. This trend of moral and spiritual decay and lack of integrity also affects the foundations and functions of marriage. So it is not surprising that courtship among young people is often lacking in valuing each other. The value one places upon the other is significant in letting Christian character govern courtship and courtship behavior. Courtship is not a time to test out the passions of the physical, but rather it is a time to strengthen one’s character and resist every temptation that will chip away the moral fiber of life. More than physical attraction and appearance, courtship should be characterized by Christ-like character. Even when marriage may be contemplated while the couple is courting, physical appearance should not take precedence. Beauty of character is far more important and should be accorded priority. Physical beauty may fade away, a victim of passing time or an unexpected illness or accident. But there is an inner beauty that a couple should discover, each in the other. Ellen White urges: “It is right to love beauty and to desire it; but God desires us to love and to seek first the highest beauty — that which is imperishable. The choicest productions of human skill possess no beauty that can bear comparison with that beauty of character which in His sight is of ‘great price.’”5
5. Avoid sexual relationships. Sex is one of God’s gifts to humans, but it is a gift reserved within the boundaries of marriage. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage is either fornication when done with the unmarried or adultery when done with the married. In either case, it is immoral, about which Paul issues a stern warning: “Flee from sexual immorality” (I Corinthians 6:18 NIV). Neither culture nor modern permissiveness is an excuse to indulge in sex during courtship. Mentally and spiritually draw a line between courtship and sex, and take every care that you do not cross that line. Temptations may come, but it takes Christian character and maturity to resist that temptation. God in His wisdom has given sex as a gift to humans to be entered into only after marriage. Though during courtship there is the tendency for you to appreciate the company of your spouse-to-be, that appreciation should be within the boundaries of biblical conduct. Keep away from late-night parties, vigils, clubs, and entertainment arenas that are known to lure one to evil. Be on guard and never consider yourself a spiritual giant, as many giants have fallen and their records are in the Bible. Also, do not say “I trust myself.” When you trust in “self” instead of trusting in God, the root cause of failure is in the making. No wonder Solomon counseled: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Ellen White warns: “Do not see how close you can walk upon the brink of a precipice, and be safe. Avoid the first approach to danger. The soul’s interests cannot be trifled with. Your capital is your character. Cherish it as you would a golden treasure. Moral purity, self-respect, a strong power of resistance, must be firmly and constantly cherished. There should not be one departure from reserve; one act of familiarity, one indiscretion, may jeopardize the soul, in opening the door to temptation, and the power of resistance becomes weakened.”6
6. Always speak the truth. In courtship, partners desire and respect honesty and truth from each other. Sometimes the tendency to appear at one’s best may lead one to tell lies or exaggerations to bolster the ego of the other person. There may also be a temptation to be flattering and tell “little lies” to cover up. “Everything Christians do should be as transparent as sunlight,” Ellen White says.7 Your transparency during courtship will be a source of respect for you during the marriage proper. A partner who tells lies during courtship may not change the behavior in marriage, and by then it will be hard to quit. Hence, speak the truth as it is. A God-fearing partner will appreciate you for telling the truth at all times. He or she will see you as someone to be relied on. Be courageous enough to tell him or her the truth about yourself, your work, your social status, your income, your parental background, your place of birth and cultural background, and your level of educational achievement. For instance, do not tell her that your father is a director of a bank when he is a local subsistent farmer. Do not tell him you are a virgin when you are not. When lies burst open, there may be a problem of trust in the real marital relationship.
7. Always be content. Every society is stratified. We have the masses, the poor, the middle class, the rich, and the aristocrats. There is no society in which all are rich or all are poor. Whatever your position, be content with it and prayerfully work harder to better your lot. For the sake of impressing your partner, do not stress yourself to buy a flashy car or costly wares. Even if you have these things, do not make them objects of focus. You are marrying a person and not their possessions. Let the materials assume secondary importance. While showing appreciation for each other on special days, center that appreciation on love, and not on large gifts at enormous cost. A bloated credit card does not buy love, but a contended heart speaks louder of each other’s care.
8. Seek God always. During courtship, you need to seek the face of the Lord, perhaps more than at any other time in your life. Through prayer, be in constant touch with God. This is because you are entering into a relationship that has eternal consequences and that only ends at death. Every step you take, every decision, every correction, every complaint, every settlement of quarrels, every discussion, every desire, every outing, every expenditure for him or her, and every joint activity should be presented to God in prayer for guidance and direction. If you desire intelligent and wise courtship, seek God and His requirements first in your scale of priorities.8
Courtship and marriage is a journey that the two involved in should walk along carefully and wisely. If both young people trust in God and make Him first and foremost in all their thoughts, plans, and actions, God will bless that courtship to blossom into a fragrant flower called marriage.
Chimezie A. Omeonu (Ph.D., University of Ibadan) is a professor of educational-counseling psychology and has served as a deputy vice chancellor for academic administration, Babcock University, Nigeria. He is the author of Marrying for True Marriage: Before You Say I Do, After You Say I Do, and three other devotional books. His email: email@example.com.