Many of us Christian women would love to have a boyfriend. We would love someone to cuddle up with in front of a movie on a Friday night. We would love someone to call our own. Basically we would love someone to share emotional intimacy with. Why shouldn’t we want such a relationship? Because such a relationship, biblically, should not exist outside of engagement and marriage.
The Biblical principles of not stirring up love until it pleases (Song of Solomon 8:4), guarding our hearts (Proverbs 4:23), brothers treating women as sisters in all purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2) and not defrauding our brothers (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8) do not allow for many versions of the boyfriend/girlfriend relationships that are common in a number of Christian circles.
In some churches, it is normal for a woman to meet a guy and soon become his official “girlfriend” meaning that they are suddenly in an exclusive, committed, emotionally intimate and physically affectionate relationship. They believe that they belong to each other. The man often at this stage will not have even initiated a clear discussion of his intent to pursue marriage and there will be little or no church or parental involvement. As soon as she is his “girlfriend” she begins to show him physical affection and allows him to show her physical affection that is of an unbrotherly/unsisterly nature. Because they are now an item she holds no restraints on her heart, as she believes part of having a boyfriend is being in love. She allows her self to be consumed by the new relationship, to have high levels of emotionally intimate communication and her heart is soon very attached to him. This is the type of relationship this article is warning as being unbiblical.
Such a relationship:
- Promotes intimacy with someone who is our brother in Christ and could quite possibly never be our husband (1 Tim 5:1-2).
- Copies the emotional oneness of a covenant relationship without the marriage covenant (Mal 2:14).
- Focuses us on pleasing a man who is not our husband at a time when we should be focused on pleasing the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:34).
- Creates the illusion of a safe, loving environment which encourages sexual desire to flourish (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
Such emotionally intimate relationships are the reason why many Christian women:
- Have experienced major heartbreak and will walk down the aisle having been deeply emotionally (and sometimes physically) bonded to a number of different men who are not their spouse.
- Marry a guy whom they have little in common with or who has serious character flaws because they are too emotionally attached to walk away before getting engaged.
- Waste much precious time in which they could have been serving the Lord with all their hearts.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases. (Song of Solomon 8:4)
We are living in a Christian culture where having our love stirred up multiple times with different people outside of marriage is the norm. This was not always the case. Such emotionally intimate, public, affectionate relationships outside of engagement and marriage were pretty much unheard of in the western world until the 1920’s. Most of us have just accepted such relationships as normal in the church and are blind of their potential to dishonor God and damage us.
Some of you may be thinking, what’s the alternative? Below are some suggestions that could help us get to know men well enough to figure out if we should get married to them, without stirring love up before it pleases.
What you will read below are tips. They are not rules. Most of the advice will not to be found in the Bible, so please take the suggestions as sisterly advice from a woman to a woman based on an interpretation of scripture and no more.
1. Make it clear that we are not his.
If a godly man asks us for a coffee as a friend we can say yes! If he has told us he likes us romantically and would like to get to know us better we can agree. We can let him be aware, if it becomes necessary, that we don’t believe it is right to act as if we are a couple, but are happy to spend time getting to discover more about him. Once he has made his romantic interest known, obtaining sound council would be a wise idea. This would probably include our elders and parents if they are in the Lord.
2. Keep our time and conversation intentional
The following are examples of types of conversation and ways of spending time that some women have found stirs up love too quickly for them (without helping them better know if they are suited to marry):
- Chatting, texting and tweeting morning, noon and night about all the details of their day.
- Doing things together one-on-one many times a week such as Bible studies, praying and just hanging out (Bible studies and praying are good but doing them one-on-one with such frequency can lead to a lot of intimacy).
- Sharing all their hurts and pain too quickly as if the guy is their councilor.
- Going on family holidays together.
We need to check our own hearts and figure out individually what types of conversation and ways of spending time we need to avoid to protect our hearts and also protect his while getting to know him.
Here are some examples of alternative ways we could spend our time and conversations that are more intentional and useful for figuring out if we are suited to marry. I would recommend not suggesting such ways to him until after he has already made his feelings and intentions known to us (as before that point, some of the following behavior could be seen as a bit too forward):
- Keep in mind when we are talking with him that we are trying to get to know him. Think of all the types of questions we should know the answers to before accepting an engagement and let him know that we would like to ask them. Questions like: “What do you see yourself doing in the future?”, “What do you think about women’s roles in marriage?”, “What are your beliefs about educating children?”, “How did you become a Christian” and “What are your priorities?”.
- Limit talking/seeing each other to a level that allows us to not become dependant on each other. A good indicator that love is getting too stirred up is if we can’t go a week or two with no communication without feeling love sick.
- Allow a lot of the time seeing each other to be in a less intimate group setting where we can learn how he treats people and how people relate to him.
There is going to be to a degree, a sliding scale when it comes to how we spend our time and conversation. For example, in the early days when we are not sure of the man’s character, track record or the honesty of his intentions (especially if we had not known each other for long) we need to be extremely careful and guarded (See 7 reasons to guard your heart) and keep our time and conversation very intentional. There are a great number of important things to discover about the man and until those things have been discovered, there is really no point allowing love to stir up much at all (See Is he a good match for you?). If we have got to the stage where we have discovered that he…
- meets our non-negotiables (and we meet his).
- has proven how serious he is about marrying us (through doing things like inviting us to meet his family, friends and church family, frequently discussing marriage, showing loyalty, explaining to us his plans of how and when he would like us to get engaged etc.)
- Has consistently shown genuine fruit of a thriving relationship with Christ
- Demonstrates godly character that many others openly confirm as being authentic
- Has shown himself faithful in how he has treated and protected other sisters in Christ in recent years through not stirring up love in them and then breaking things off.
- Is compatible with us in many different important areas of life.
…we will have progressively reached a period where we can be far more relaxed and far less guarded than at the beginning.
Still at this later stage, many Christian men do break things off to the complete surprise of the woman and thus we should still not let our hearts go free and remain careful in choosing how we spend out time and the types of conversation we engage in. Personally I probably let my heart go from 0% to 25% by engagement. Then 25% to 50% during engagement and finally I allowed love to get fully stirred up and awakened in marriage. Before engagement, I had always wanted to have the strength to walk away in tact (and leave him in tact) if I had seen some important warning signs. If the engagement got called off, I wanted to be able to survive and also know I had not fully given my heart away.
3. Treat him physically in all purity like any other brother in Christ, not like he is ours.
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
Our brothers are called to treat us as “sisters in all purity”. How this works out in practice will depend from culture to culture. If a Christian culture permits brothers and sisters in Christ to hug a lot and walk down the street holding hands and it means nothing other than that they are just friends, then it could be argued that such behavior is fine between an unmarried woman and her prospective husband. If, however, such behavior would mean they are a couple, intimately involved or belong to one another then it’s a different story. To manage to not stir up love before it pleases we need to figure out what it means in our culture to physically treat him as a brother and have him treat us as a sister.
4. Avoid daydreaming and presuming the future
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)
For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear. (Ecclesiastes 5:7)
Until he has proposed there is no guarantee we will get married to him. Many romantic relationships do not end up in marriage and sadly, even many engagements don’t end up in marriage. We are called to presume nothing about our future knowing that our life is but a mist. King Solomon informs us in Ecclesiastes that when there is lots of dreaming, there is vanity. There are many women who have managed to fall head over heals in love with a man who never even had any romantic interest in them or a man who was not sure about them because of daydreaming and imagining a scenario that was never to be. By avoiding such daydreaming we can far better keep love unstirred.
5. Keep investing in heavenly treasure
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:19-21)
If we put all our hope, time, money, thought and energy into the man pursuing us, our heart will most likely be his (for where our treasure is, there our heart will be also). Part of keeping love from stirring up before it pleases is not investing too heavily in a guy but rather investing the majority of our hope, time, money, thought and energy in God’s kingdom. If God, His church, His kingdom and the lost remain our greatest desire throughout our time of being pursued (as they should) we will be far better equipped to not stir up love before it pleases and keep our love focussed on Christ.
We might live in a culture of stirred up love but it does not mean we have to be part of it! Let’s pray that God helps us keep love unstirred until it pleases! Let’s pray that if we are to get married, the next man we fall head over heals in love with will be our husband! [Rowina Seidler]
If you want to read more on this topic,
- ‘Boyfriends vs Courtship (What’s the difference)‘ explains in far more depth why a girl and guy considering themselves ‘a couple’ before engagement is unbiblical.
- ‘Chemistry, Intimacy & Attachment (Are they important?)‘ looks at how we can know, before getting engaged, if we’re capable of experiencing great emotional intimacy in marriage if we shouldn’t get too emotionally attached during courtship.