Why Christians Are Bad at Dating, Part 1: The Pressure to Marry

Mark Beuving —  February 13, 2012 — 8 Comments
This entry is part 1 of 6 in the seriesWhy Christians Are Bad at Dating

A couple from TLC’s show “The Virgin Diaries” sharing butterfly kisses.

I doubt I’ll surprise anyone by saying that Christians are bad at dating. We all feel it in our bones and see it at every church function. Christians tend to be awkward when interacting with members of the opposite sex. Much of this is simply a human problem and not a specifically Christian problem. But our Christian culture places weird pressures and expectations on us, so we end up with some unique manifestations of awkwardness in dating.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to explore some of this awkwardness. No, I don’t have any “moves” to pass on. And no, I don’t think that I’m less awkward than anyone else. But I would like to debunk a few myths about dating and the road to marriage that have become as engrained in Christian culture as evangelistic bumper stickers.

Here is a myth that most of the church has embraced, but that remains a myth nonetheless: “I need to get married.” Do you? Why?

I’m not surprised that Christians feel this way. Marriage, of course, is a great and beautiful thing, and I have been incredibly blessed in my marriage. I’m a huge fan of marriage. But should every Christian be married? I don’t see how we can possibly say or even suggest that this should be the case. Is it possible to be a godly Christian and not married? Jesus obviously thought so. So did Paul. In fact, read 1 Corinthians 7 if you’re tempted to believe that marriage is inherently better than singleness. Paul seems to be making the opposite case: remain single unless God specifically calls you to be married.

I have heard many young people (guys more than girls) appeal to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:9 that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. “I have these lust issues, so I need to get married. Paul says so.” But believe it or not, marriage doesn’t magically cure lust. If lust is in your heart, then changing your external situation (having a spouse to have sex with) is not going to fix you. That lust is in your heart and will find new and more inventive ways to manifest itself. You may spend your honeymoon lust-free (probably you’ll just be venting your lust with your new spouse), but only gaining self-control through the power of the Spirit will change the desires in a person’s heart.

No, Paul seems to be talking about a person who is called to be married and who tries to deny that calling by trying to live single for the rest of their lives. In other words, Paul isn’t saying that you should get married as soon as you feel lust. Instead, if you are the kind of person that God has called to marriage (and this implies that there is another kind of person as well), then don’t run from God on this issue.

At every wedding you attend, you will hear the pastor read Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” For many, this is an affirmation that singleness is bad, so everyone ought to end up married. Adam was an unmarried man in the garden, God looked at him and decided that being unmarried was bad, so He solved the problem by creating a wife and getting Adam married. But I don’t believe that this is the point of Genesis 2:18. When God looked at the one human being He had created, He decided that human beings shouldn’t live in isolation. So He created another human being so that Adam could live in community. Eve was a wife, to be sure, but she was also another human being. If Genesis 2:18 means that singleness is bad, then Paul was mistaken in 1 Corinthians 7.

Let me just re-affirm that I like marriage. I think it is a good thing. But we all know that good things can easily become idols. Rather than assuming that you have to be married, why not leave that up to God? Here is the attitude I would recommend: “My goal is to glorify God as long as I’m single, and if God decides at some point to give me a spouse, then I’ll glorify Him in marriage.”

I think that much of the awkwardness surrounding dating in Christian culture stems from fact that every single Christian feels pressured to shop for a godly spouse. Let’s stop the pressure. Let’s play it cool, trusting God’s unfolding plan more than our own assumptions. Let’s not misuse the people God placed in our lives by constantly assessing their marriageability. Let’s love God and love people and allow Him to move us into the marriage arena in His time and on His terms if that’s what He wants to do with us.

Tomorrow I will try to sort through the awkward language we use for dating (e.g., courting, dating, boyfriend/girlfriend).

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving

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Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.
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  • Devan Safer

    I like this article, but I don’t see how anyone could conclude that Paul’s message was at all ” stay single unless God called you to be married.” He expresses his preference for singleness and says that he didn’t command anyone to be single. As a matter of fact Jesus’ message about singleness is the opposite in Matthew 19:11. In that verse it implies: get MARRIED unless SINGLENESS is revealed to you. Otherwise this article is great.

    • MarkBeuving

      Devan,

      Paul says each person has his own gift of God (presumably the gift of marriage or the gift of singleness). Then he says, “I wish that all were as I myself am” (i.e., single) (v.7), “to the unmarried…I say that it is good for them to remain single” (v. 8), and “he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (v. 38). It would be a stretch to say that Paul thinks everyone should be married except for those exceptional cases where God calls someone to be single.

      And Jesus doesn’t say that only a select few can be single. Jesus often said important spiritual truths that everyone had to come to grips with and then said, “he who has ears, let him hear.” Jesus wasn’t winking at a couple of destined-to-be-single disciples when he said this, he was giving an important teaching to mankind and saying, “if the Spirit enables you to understand it, do.”

  • torri

    also, GREAT…
    “Let’s not misuse the people God placed in our lives by constantly assessing their marriageability”

  • torri

    hahaha… Christian bumper stickers….

  • My buddy Michel and I did some study on that Corinthians passage and we think that Paul was for sure married at some point. His ranking as a Jew couldn’t have been reached if he wasn’t. Marriage was a prerequesite at that time. And perhaps that’s why he spent a good bit of time talking about divorce, because later it looks like he wasn’t married…
    but I could be super wrong here.

    • Alex Groh

      I don’t think Paul’s previous marital status would change his point in the Corinthians passage. Whether he was married and his wife died or left him in the past wouldn’t change the fact that he was single through most of his ministry and it seems fairly clear that he wasn’t seeking marriage. Although it’s an intriguing question to ponder what might have happened in his past, it’s conjectural and ultimately it doesn’t affect the exegesis of the passage.