Every year around Valentine’s Day, I like to open a window on the world of love and romance. My title comes from the sometimes bizarre lingo of Christian personals: “Single Christian male seeks single Christian female for long term relationship.”
I began thinking about Christian personals a month ago, when a “Christian Dating Newsletter” arrived in the church mail. It caught our attention for two reasons. First, unlike most ministries, the sponsor can be accessed only via a 1-900 telephone number, at $2.00 per minute.
The newsletter also caught our attention because, much to our surprise, it featured lengthy promotional material for City Light, the singles ministry of Tenth Presbyterian Church. Apparently, City Light is renowned throughout the Delaware Valley as the place to meet eligible Christians on Friday nights.
The arrival of the newsletter raised a question: Should single Christians run personal ads? What does the Bible say about how to find a mate, or about whether it is right to look for one in the first place?
The Bible does not tell contemporary Christians how to find a spouse. Consider the biblical examples. There was Isaac, who married Rebekah based on her ability to draw water for camels (Gen. 24). There was Jacob, who was able to choose a wife for himself, but had to work 14 years to get her (Gen. 29). Then there were the prophets, like Hosea, who married a prostitute (Hos. 1). All in all, there is not much to go on. It is safe to conclude that God gives people the freedom to meet and to marry in many different ways.
God’s providence over marriage is infinite in its variety. Little did I suspect when I saw Lisa Maxwell sitting on the edge of a couch during Orientation Week that my life would never be the same. But every couple meets in a different way. Recently, I performed a wedding for a couple who first met in New York for a blind date set up by friends in Korea, half-way around the world. The providence of God extends even to dating newsletters, which, no doubt, have produced some happy marriages.
One thing Christian personals acknowledge is the importance of sexual purity. A quick glance at the personals in any of the Philadelphia city newspapers is enough to show how raunchy they are. Christians ads have a different tone. They often feature evangelical vocabulary words, like “spirit-filled” or “serious about the Lord.” They recognize that there is more to a relationship than sex.
This is so important that it probably needs to be repeated. The Bible forbids sexual intimacy outside of marriage (see 1 Cor. 6:12-20). Period. If a couple asks “where the line is,” they have probably crossed it already. Call it what you will, but most physical intimacy between a man and a woman is foreplay, which is why couples usually end up breaking the boundaries they set. So I encourage single men, especially, to seek counsel from godly husbands about how to maintain sexual purity in a relationship.
Another thing Christian personals acknowledge is that Christians should not date non-Christians. Period. The only legitimate purpose for dating is courtship. Christians may only marry other Christians (2 Cor. 6:14); therefore, they may only date other Christians. Since the Bible gives relatively few explicit instructions about love and romance, we must be all the more careful to obey the ones it does give.
If I am starting to sound like I recommend Christian personals, I don’t mean to. The fact that they occasionally lead to marriage says more about God’s providence than about human wisdom.
For one thing, like their secular counterparts, many Christian personals focus on appearance. Information about height, weight and hair color comes up frequently, as do terms like “attractive” or “physically fit.” Our culture places far too much importance on physical beauty, which, after all, is only temporary. And we place too little value on basic friendship, which is the foundation of a happy marriage.
Another problem with many Christian personals is the desire which lies behind them. One ad came right to the point: “Seeking Mate.” Yet the Bible does not say whether or not God even wants us to be married.
Sometimes I wish the Bible spelled things out more clearly. I wish it came with a personal appendix, a sort of “Epistle to Philip G. Ryken.” As I envision it, God’s letter to me would contain hints, guidelines and especially prophecies which pertain uniquely and explicitly to the events of my life.
God’s Word does not reveal anyone’s future marital status. But one thing it does reveal is that God wants you accept your present circumstances. He wants you to be content. Whether you are married or single, at this moment, this is God’s best plan for your life. Do you accept this?
A few months ago, there was a refreshing article about singleness in Regeneration Quarterly. It was written by Paige Benton, who does campus ministry for the Presbyterian Church in America.
I long to be married. My younger sister got married two months ago. She now has an adoring husband, a beautiful home, a whirlpool bathtub, and all-new Corningware. Is God being any less good to me than he is to her? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me because God cannot be less good to me. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to shortchange any of his children… If he fluctuated one quark in his goodness he would cease to be God… I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me [Paige Benton, “Singled Out by God for Good,” Regeneration Quarterly, 1997].
That is a wonderful attitude for anyone to take about life, married or single. Too often, we want to bend God to our desires, rather than allowing God to shape our desires to match his plans. My present circumstances are God’s best for me. He is doing what he is doing in my life because, ultimately, he loves me. That is the long term relationship which matters most of all.
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