Are you playing by The Rules? Let me list them for you:

Rule #2: “Don’t Talk to a Man First (and Don’t Ask Him to Dance)”

Rule #5: “Don’t Call Him and Rarely Return His Calls”

Rule #7: “Don’t Accept a Saturday Night Date after Wednesday”

Rule # 12: “Stop Dating Him if He Doesn’t Buy You a Romantic Gift for Your Birthday or Valentine’s Day”

Rule # 18: “Don’t Expect a Man to Change or Try to Change Him”

Every year around Valentine’s Day I like to evaluate love and romance from a Christian perspective. This year I want to discuss a book called The Rules, written by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider [New York: Warner, 1995]. The book has sold several hundred thousand copies and has produced a bevy of devoted followers. Women play by The Rules in the hopes of capturing the prize shown on the book’s cover: a diamond engagement ring. Are these rules really what they say they are, “Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right?”

The basic idea behind The Rules is that the best way to catch the man of your dreams is to play hard to get. That sounds more sophisticated when it is explained over 174 pages, but that is the basic idea. Men and women are made differently—say Fein and Schneider—and men are designed to be the aggressors. This is their advice for how a single woman should treat a man she likes:

Keep thinking, “How would I behave if I weren’t that interested in him?” And then behave that way. Would you offer endless encouragement to someone you didn’t really like? Would you stay on the phone with him for hours? Of course not!

Don’t worry that busyness and lack of interest will drive him away. The men you don’t like keep calling after you’ve turned them down, don’t they? [p. 8].

Like most self-help literature, The Rules has its share of utter nonsense. For example, if my wife had followed The Rules I would still be a bachelor. I called her on a Thursday night to ask her out for Saturday. A “Rules Girl” would have turned me down as a matter of principle, but Lisa had pity.

This is not the first time someone has tried to write down rules for love. When it comes to romance—like everything else—history helps put things in perspective. In the twelfth century a young monk named Andreas Capellanus wrote De arte honeste amandi, or The Art of Courtly Love. One of his rules for young lovers ought to sound familiar: “Rule XIV. The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.” For as long as men and women have been falling in and out of love, people have been trying to establish rules for romance.

What about the Bible? Does it contain any rules for love?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).

Those are God’s rules for every relationship, whether romantic or not.

Fein and Schneider do not leave much room for God’s rules for love. Their approach to romance is essentially selfish. Their only concern is what you can get out of a relationship, not what you can give to one. But God’s rules tell us to do just the opposite because love is not self-seeking (1 Cor. 13:5).

Although the Bible has many rules for love, it has fewer for courtship. The heroes and heroines of the faith do not help us very much, for example, with dating. In order to find a wife for your son, Isaac would have you send a servant to a far country—taking a nose ring for a gift!—to find a girl willing to water a herd of camels (Gen. 24). That is not an approach many Christian parents would favor these days, especially the nose ring. Ruth would have you go to the barley harvest and lie down under someone’s sleeping bag (Ruth 3), which sounds like a better way to get slapped than to get married.

But the Bible does have some basic rules for romance. The main one is this: If you are a Christian you may not marry an unbeliever (2 Cor. 7:14). And if that is true, then you should not court one, either.

Here is another one of God’s rules: No sexual intercourse outside the bonds of covenant marriage (see Exod. 20:14; 1 Cor. 5:11). That is not a rule you will find in the book by Fein and Schneider. They seem to think that sex before marriage helps make a relationship work, as long as you do not do it on the first date. God’s rule is better. The reason it is better is that sex is like super glue. When used in the right place—namely, marriage—it cements a bond that will last a lifetime. When you use it anywhere else it is a mess, and it is always painful to undo the damage.

Beyond these rules there is great freedom. God leaves us free to experience all the uncertainties, all the heartaches, all the anxieties and all the pleasures of romance. The Bible does not tell us whom to marry, or if we are to marry at all. It only tells us what kind of men and woman we should become (see Proverbs 2 and 31, respectively). And then it leaves the romance up to us. As long as a man and a woman play by God’s rules they will be able to make a relationship work.

© 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org