When I started dating my wife, GraceAnna, in the summer of 2008, I was a Marine officer stationed in Japan, and she was on CRU staff at Duke University. As I began to have feelings for her and think that I wanted to pursue her in an exclusive relationship, I decided to call her dad to let him know more about me and what my intentions were. What started then was a mentoring relationship and friendship that has continued to this day.
Throughout the course of our conversations while we were dating, there were several qualities that he encouraged me to pursue as a man in the relationship. There were also some biblical ideals that I held up for myself, for example, to have a “God-entranced vision” for all of life, which I got from John Piper and Jonathan Edwards.
These ideals for a man, which I share below, helped guide me throughout the course of my dating relationship and have carried over into my marriage. I have by no means been perfect at following them, but they have been immensely helpful to me and to other young men that I have passed them on to. I pray that they are helpful to you as well.
1. God-entranced Vision
One of the church’s greatest needs is men who are entranced with God. Men who would be willing to follow Christ anywhere, no matter the costs. And one of the unique necessities that a godly man brings to a relationship is a vision for what God wants him to do with his life. In a marriage relationship, it is the man who is expected to provide leadership and vision and the man who is charged to provide for his family.
A woman cannot force these ideals upon a man. Rather, a godly woman is looking for a man who knows what God has called him to do and is pursuing it. There are many single women at the church where my wife and I are members, and in conversations with them, all of them — without exception — have expressed a desire for a man with a God-entranced vision of life.
2. Servant-hearted Leadership
A godly man must strive to serve the woman he is dating in everything that he does. A godly husband is called to a life of servant leadership in the marriage relationship, and that means putting his wife’s needs ahead of his own. This mindset and heart of service begins in the dating relationship, and it means that a man should strive to serve the girl he is dating in the big things and in the small things.
He should be cognizant of things like his date’s preferences for food, temperature and other comforts. He should strive to open doors, offer his coat when needed, and call at appropriate times. These are all small ways that a man can show his willingness to serve a woman, but they make a big difference in a relationship and show a woman what type of heart he really has.
3. Godly Accountability
One of the questions that I often hear from young men in our church is about when they should ask a woman out. The reason they ask me this is because I know both them and the woman they are thinking about dating. The church is a great place to find a godly woman, and it is also a great place to seek accountability and wisdom from older saints as you pursue a dating relationship. Please read Gary Thomas’ recent article about this: “Why It Takes a Church to Make a Wise Marital Choice.”
Pastors are charged with keeping watch over the souls of their congregations. So why would we exclude our pastors and other godly mentors from helping us navigate the difficult territory of dating? I believe that it is incumbent on a man pursuing a woman to pursue her under the accountability of godly men in his own church and to honor the authority figures at her church in addition to her father.
As I mentioned before, while we were dating, GraceAnna’s dad and I would talk often. During one conversation in February 2009, after I expressed my desire to marry GraceAnna, he asked me about when I was thinking I would marry her. I replied that I thought I would marry her when I came back from Japan in the summer of 2010, because in my mind that was the safe thing, even though I would have married her that day if I had the opportunity. He then said, “Why are you planning to wait so long?” I was stunned. I think I muttered, “What do you mean?” He said, “That seems like a really long time to wait. Why don’t you think about getting married this summer?” I couldn’t believe it. Her dad was giving me the go-ahead to marry his daughter in just six months! I thought I was doing everyone a favor by curbing my desire for marriage and waiting a year and a half. The reality is, God used the relationships I was in to speed up the timetable of our marriage, and I would have not sought that otherwise. When we seek godly wisdom and accountability, God can bless that in many ways (Proverbs 19:20-21).
4. Christ-like Purity
The reality of our justification in Christ is that God sees us as having the purity of Christ when we place our faith in Him. All of our past lusts and sexual sins are paid for in Christ, and we are viewed as having His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). The exhortation then of the New Testament is to live as who we really are, as justified saints. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:1, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
It is incumbent on a man not only to pursue physical purity in his dating relationship, but also to pursue purity in his thought-life by not lusting after the woman he is dating. The devil will often attack men in this area, and it is difficult to fight against his schemes. I once heard J.D. Greear say that in these situations it is best to imagine that your girlfriend’s dad is a Navy Seal, and he is there with you. I thought that was funny, but in a sense the principle is true, because the God of the universe sees our every move, and He is the one to whom we will give an account.
We also owe it to the woman we are dating to not look at pornography. It is completely unfair to a woman for a man to seek a dating relationship with her having looked at pornography in the past year. That seems harsh, but I think it is wrong to ask a godly woman to commit to a dating relationship and possibly an engagement when that sin is so close to the surface. I have found from experience, that when men are looking at pornography either right before or during a dating relationship, the pattern will continue into the marriage. So in short, every man must bring a pattern of purity to the table in a dating relationship.
5. Word-saturated Wisdom
Lastly, each man should ask the Lord for spiritual wisdom to help him discern if the girl he is dating is the one he is supposed to marry (James 1:5). A man should not lead a girl on, but instead he should exercise Word-saturated wisdom in knowing when to keep pressing a relationship forward.
I recently saw Matt Chandler mention in an interview with the Gospel Coalition that in a dating relationship, each couple must discern whether their theology is in sync and whether their desires mesh together before they decide to get married. I think that is right, and I definitely found that to be the case when GraceAnna and I got married. Let me unpack those a little bit:
If, as A.W. Tozer once said, the most important thing about you is what you think about when you think about God, then the most important thing a man or woman can find out about each other are their theological views of God. There are some Christian beliefs that are first-order and cannot be comprised. These would include: the inerrancy of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, justification through faith alone by grace alone, the humanity and deity of Christ, Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Ideally, couples would think similarly on most other doctrines as well.
Couples also must assess if their respective life desires mesh together. Do they desire to do the same things with their lives? What type of family do they want to have? How many children? These questions — and many others like them — help us understand if the desires of our hearts are together.
We should not marry someone with the expectation that their theology or their desires would radically change after marriage. That is unfair to them, and it also sets yourself up for a lot of heartache and unfulfilled desires. In fact, that is often how God shows us whom we are supposed to marry. He brings a woman to a man that has the same vision and love for God and similar desires in life. In short, men must exercise wisdom in this area. The goal is not to marry the pretty face, but to find a woman whose theology and desires match yours. Then in marriage your love for each other will truly grow.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it has been helpful to me. I challenge you to take it up, think through it, and modify it or add to it where you feel led by God. And most of all, act like a man in your dating relationships.
Copyright 2015 Grant Castleberry. All rights reserved.