Biblical courtship is a difficult issue to address because it is connected to so many other aspects of our lives. One of the things we must do is abandon pious sentimentalism in our thinking.
3For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: 4That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; 5Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: 6That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified (1 Thess. 4:3-6).
2Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband (1 Cor. 7:2).
Courtship is related to marriage as preparation is related to accomplishment. This means that the one cannot be understood apart from the other. Now the Bible teaches that there are three basic purposes to marriage. They are first, companionship (Gen. 2:18), second, godly children (Mal. 2:15), and third, prevention of sexual sin. Our texts above relate to this third aspect of marriage. Consequently, this needs to be understood as one of the reasons for courtship as well. If you are taking a vacation to “recharge the batteries” then this means you are preparing to take a vacation in order to “recharge your batteries.”
PROPRIETY OR MORALITY?
The development of godly cultural standards is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that we come to understand what God expects of us, and we begin to expect it of one another. This is as it should be. The curse is that we can draw erroneous doctrinal conclusions about where we have been because we have caught a glimpse of where we are going. Many Christians struggle this way in their imaginations: “If all the others here knew my sexual sins, they would chase me out of town, pelting me with stones.” But this is based on nothing more than all the bright, shining faces at church. But what is the point of the gospel?
9Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (! Cor. 6:9-11).
DEALING WITH THE PAST
Nevertheless, for those who are married, and those who are seeking marriage, sexual history is relevant—but not for purposes of condemnation (Rom. 8:1). We live in a fallen world, and we have to learn how sin in the past is dealt with. God uses us as instruments of sanctification in one another’s lives (in the future). He does not use us as instruments of justification in one another’s lives (in the past).
For example, if a man is (retroactively) jealous of someone his wife had sex with back in high school, then he is trying to do something he is incapable of. The impulse of jealousy is good when it is rightly ordered. But by trying to protect her from something in the past (which he cannot do), he is becoming someone she needs protection from in the present. The only thing that can be appropriately applied to the past is the blood of Jesus Christ.
NEVERTHELESS, STILL . . .
For those already married, these issues have to do with learning the meaning of confession and forgiveness. For those courting, or wanting to, there are a few key principles here. If the young man has a sexual history, then he needs to acknowledge that to a girl’s father when he first expresses interest in her. And fathers should ask about it. A young woman’s position is slightly different. But in all cases, the great danger and threat is any practice of deception.
fornication—sexual activity apart from a covenant vow is fornication.
pornography—the great concern here is slavery. But beware of self-deception.
perversion—by this is meant sodomy, incest, various forms of androgyny, or bestiality.
childhood sexual abuse—because of the times we live in, we have to make careful distinctions.
abortion/out of wedlock births—the fruit of sin is always fruitlessness.
WISDOM FOR THE FUTURE
When considering a prospective mate, a number of factors should be taken into account. This is done while asking the question, “Am I capable of being a godly husband/wife to this person?” A second question is related: “Are they capable of being a godly husband/wife to me?” In answering these questions, a host of issues are involved: personalities, cultural backgrounds, education, money, doctrinal commitments, sense of humor, and sexual problems past and present. Such problems should never be solved with a wave of the hand, but neither should they be overblown.
The current worldly wisdom wants to talk about healing, with forgiveness attached to the end of the process, as kind of an optional ending. In the Christian faith, forgiveness is foundational to everything else. We start with forgiveness; we do not work through a three, five, or twelve step process with forgiveness as the goal. With the Christian faith, it is forgiveness first, then healing.
Have you sinned? Welcome to the font and Table. Have you sinned? Then hear the Word of the Lord. “Such were some of you.” The abortion is forgiven. The sodomy is forgiven. The promiscuity is forgiven. The pornography use is forgiven. The adultery is forgiven. You have come into the holy Church, but it is a holiness that was bestowed.