Have you ever tried to list out all the different dating advice you’ve heard, even just the advice from other Christians?
- Date for at least a year.
- Don’t date for any more than a year.
- Date exclusively in groups.
- Make sure you get plenty of time one on one.
- Don’t kiss before you’re married.
- How can you know you have chemistry without kissing?
- Put clear boundaries into place.
- Don’t try to follow everyone else’s rules.
- Spend lots of time together.
- Be careful how much time you spend together.
- Date a bunch of people before getting serious.
- Don’t date anyone until you’re ready to marry them.
I could go on, and if you’re a part of almost any kind of Christian community, you probably can too. Even though we’re following Jesus, and reading the same Bible, and aiming for the covenant of marriage, our dating advice can be surprisingly wide and diverse. One Lord, one faith, one baptism — and a billion different dating tips.
The First Rule in Dating
The first rule in dating is the first rule in all of life: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). You will not truly love anyone else if you do not love God first and most. And no one will truly love you if they do not love God more than they love you.
The first step in dating should always be the step of faith we take toward our Lord, Savior, and greatest Treasure, King Jesus. He captures our heart; we find our deepest joy in him. We hide our soul in him, and stop trying to save or prove ourselves. We devote our minds to knowing him more and more, and plead with him to conform our mind and will to his. We put all our strength into his goal and plan for our life: to make disciples who love him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
If our heart is not there — if our soul is not already safe through faith, if our mind is distracted and focused on other, lesser things, if our best strength is being spent on the things of this world — jobs, sports, shopping, entertainment, relationships, and not on God — we simply will not date well.
Do you want to date and marry well? Listen to Jesus, and “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Seek him first (Matthew 6:33), and dating will be added according to his perfect plan and timing.
The Golden Rule in Dating
But after embracing and applying the first and greatest commandment, I have found that the golden rule in dating is this:
Lean hard on the people who know you best, love you most, and will tell you when you’re wrong.
It’s not the first rule, because in absolutely every area of life — every decision, every calling, every relationship, every dream — we must start with what we think and feel about God. Do we love him more than anything? Will we obey him, even when it will cost us? Are we willing to set anything aside for his sake? Will we trust him, even when we want something else for ourselves?
It’s not the first rule, but I have found that it is a “golden rule” that most often makes the difference between healthy and unhealthy Christian dating relationships. If you’re not a Christian — if you haven’t dealt with God before trying to date — you don’t have a chance of having a truly healthy Christian relationship with someone else. But even if you are a Christian, there are still a thousand more ways to subtly or blatantly reject God’s wisdom and fall into sin.
The key will be to lean on other Christians who know you best, love you most, and have a proven record of telling you when you are making a mistake or wandering away from God’s will for you.
The Third Wheel We All Need
Today more than ever before, we’re faced with a never-ending buffet of opinions and advice that has something to say about everything and yet lets us choose the answer we want.
- How far should we go physically before marriage?
- How soon should I start dating after a breakup?
- What things should I be looking for in a guy?
- What are girls looking for in a guy?
- Should couples live together before getting married?
We won’t have trouble finding an answer (or a dozen answers) to any of our questions in relationships. The scary reality is that we can find an answer somewhere to justify what we want to do — right or wrong, safe or unsafe, wise or unwise. The advice we choose might be from a book by a doctor, or a random conversation with someone at church, or a blog post by a teenager, or just something we found on Pinterest. For many of us, if we’re honest, it really doesn’t matter who’s offering the advice as long as it confirms what we thought or wanted in the first place.
We think we’re leaning on others as we wade into all the material online, but we’re often just surrendering to our own cravings and ignorance. We leave the safety of the doctor’s office and choose the freedom and ease of the gas station convenience store. Instead of getting the qualified perspective and direction we desperately need from people around us, we walk away eating a candy bar for dinner, again, and washing it down with Dr. Pepper.
Real friendship, with real life-on-life accountability, may not offer the same amount of information or advice, and you will not always like what it has to say, but it will bring one new critical dimension to your dating relationships: it knows you — your strengths and weaknesses, your successes and failures, your unique needs. These people know you as a sinner, and sinners who are never being confronted or frustrated by inconvenient truths are sinners drifting further from God, not towards him.
The truth is that we all need a third wheel — in life and in dating — people who truly know us and love us, and who want what’s best for us, even when it’s not what we want in the moment.
The Voices We Need Most
Dating often isolates us from other Christians in our lives. The closer we become with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the more removed we are from other important relationships. Satan loves this, and encourages it at every turn. One way to walk wisely in dating is to oppose absolutely everything Satan might want for you. Fight the impulse to date in a corner by yourselves, and instead draw one another into those important relationships. Double down on family and friends — with affection, intentionality, and communication — while you’re dating.
The people willing to actually hold me accountable in dating have been my best friends. I’ve had lots of friends over the years, but the ones who have been willing to press in, ask harder questions, and offer unwanted (but wise) counsel are the friends I respect and prize the most.
They stepped in when I was spending too much time with a girlfriend or started neglecting other important areas of my life. They raised a flag when a relationship seemed unhealthy. They knew where I had fallen before in sexual purity, and they weren’t afraid to ask questions to protect me. They have relentlessly pointed me to Jesus, even when they knew it might upset me — reminding me not to put my hope in any relationship, to pursue patience and purity, and to communicate and lead well.
These guys didn’t guard me from every mistake or failure — no one can — but they played a massive role in helping me mature as a man, a boyfriend, and now as a husband. And I wish I would have listened to them more in dating.
Joyful, Courageous Accountability
My golden rule in dating is a warm, but unpopular invitation to accountability — to truly and consistently bear each other’s burdens in the pursuit of marriage (Galatians 6:2). Maybe that term — accountability — has dried out and gone stale in your life. But to be accountable is to be authentically, deeply, consistently known by someone who cares enough to keep us from making mistakes or indulging in sin.
Only people who love Christ more than they love you will have the courage to tell you that you’re wrong in dating — wrong about a person, wrong about timing, wrong about whatever. Only they will be willing to say something hard, even when you’re so happily infatuated. Most people will float along with you because they’re excited for you, but you need a lot more than excitement right now — you have plenty of that yourself. You desperately need truth, wisdom, correction, and perspective.
The Bible warns us to weave all our desires, needs, and decisions deep into a fabric of family who love us and will help us follow Jesus — a family God builds for each of us in a local church (Hebrews 10:24–25).
God has sent you — your faith, your gifts, and your experience — into other believers’ lives for their good. To encourage them: “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). To challenge and correct them: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). And to build them up: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
And as inconvenient, unnecessary, unhelpful, and even unpleasant as it may feel at times, God has sent gifted, experienced, Christ-loving men and women into your life too, for your good — and for the good of your boyfriend or girlfriend (and God willing, your future spouse). The God who sends these kinds of friends and family into our lives knows what we need far better than we ever will.
We all need courageous, persistent, and hopeful friends and counselors in the dangerous and murky waters of dating. Lean hard on the people who know you best, love you most, and will tell you when you’re wrong.