As a teenager, I had someone tell me (with good intentions) that the goal of dating is marriage. After defining the goal of dating, they went on to say that I was not to date someone who I would not consider marrying. I felt like this was good advice, and I began to act on it. As I began to date in high school and college, I consciously began screening all of my dating options through the “would you marry her” filter. Oftentimes, this filter was overridden by the “is she pretty” or “does she like you” filters; however, I always kept in the back of my mind the idea that dating ultimately was about finding a wife.
When I began dating my wife — then girlfriend — I did so with the intention of marrying her. I knew after our first date that this was the woman I wanted to make my bride, so I intentionally dated her with this future goal in mind.
I tried to be very deliberate about dating my then girlfriend, in the light of one day being her husband. I pursued her passionately, trying to exemplify what a Godly man was and how I was capable of loving, providing for, and protecting her. After about seven-months of dating, I asked Allyson to be my wife, and by the grace of God, she agreed. Eight months later we were married and the goal I had set at the beginning of our dating relationship had been met.
After we were married, I began to ponder the advice I had been given as a teenager. Thinking back on this definition — that dating was ultimately about marriage — a question began to form in my mind.
THE GOAL OF DATING
If the goal of dating was marriage, what happens to dating after you’re married?
I believe this question exposes a glaring flaw in the thinking that the goal of dating is marriage. I contend that dating is not simply about finding a spouse, but about the pursuit of intimacy with someone of the opposite gender. If the goal of dating is simply to be married, then dating can be negated after marriage. However, if the goal of dating is the pursuit of intimacy, this goal is exponentially expanded inside the marriage covenant.
Perhaps no one would be so foolish as to say that the pursuit of intimacy stops at the wedding altar. Functionally, however, if the end goal of dating is not the pursuit of intimacy, but simply making our girlfriends our wives, we have made a case for halting our pursuit upon the reciting of our vows.
Unfortunately, in many marriages the dating relationship has been grounded to a halt. I believe this unfortunate stoppage is due to a misunderstanding of what the dating relationship is for.
A MODEL OF PURSUIT
In Ephesians 5, Paul challenges husbands to a great pursuit, saying, “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
Paul exhorts husbands to model their love and service for their wives after the model of Jesus’ love and service for the church. When Jesus called the church to himself, he did so with the intention of presenting her holy and blameless to the Father.
He does this through calling the church to himself (pursuit), cleansing her from her sinfulness (justification), and making her holy through his Spirit and his Word (sanctification).
His pursuit of the church was for the purpose of creating a covenant relationship with her, so that she might one day perfectly display the splendor of God’s glory (Eph. 2:19-22). Jesus did not simply pursue us to have a relationship with us; he pursued us so that, through this relationship, God might be seen as glorious (Eph. 1:3-6), and that our joy might be made full Jn. 15:11).
If we use this passage as a guide in the pursuit of our wives, I believe it sets before us an exemplary model of love, honor, and service.
First, as men we must pursue our future wives through a dating relationship that is God-honoring and self-sacrificing. Our goal ought to be to appropriately pursue intimacy as we seek to move from serving God independently of one another to serving him jointly.
Then as a dating relationship gives way to a marriage covenant, our goal must change from strictly pursuit to pursuit and presentation.
My goal as a husband is now to work diligently for the sanctification of my wife.
My prayer is that she might grow in grace and truth, flourishing under my care as her lover, friend, provider, and protector. My wife will not grow, nor flourish, if I do not lovingly attend to her needs by pursuing intimacy with her. This means that dating inside the marriage covenant is equally, if not more important, than dating prior to marriage.
VALUING HER AND HONORING JESUS
In my own marriage, this truth has been a trial and error of sorts as I learn what it means to date my wife. When I first got married, I believed that dating my wife well meant coming up with all kinds of creative date ideas for us every week or so.
This plan was a three-fold failure in that it was significantly stressful, financially unsustainable and, most importantly, not what my wife was looking for. My plan to date my wife was not a plan to pursue intimacy with her but to impress her with my creativity and hopefully score a one-way ticket to the bedroom later in the evening. This was not an example of loving my wife like Christ loved the church, but of using my wife as a means to love myself.
Eventually, through the grace of the Holy Spirit and the patience of my wife, I am slowly learning what it means to date my wife in a way that values her and honors Jesus. I am finding that my wife often feels more valued through an intentional conversation rather than an elaborate gift, a small act of kindness rather than a big gesture of infatuation, and honest transparency rather than audacious creativity.
This is not to say there are not times that I honor my wife through creative gift giving or through financial expense, but I have found that Allyson feels most loved and pursued when I spend time getting to know who she is and how she feels.
There is not a one-size fits all plan for husbands in regards to dating their wives. As a husband, you’ll need to put in the work of finding out how your wife feels most valued and loved by you.
It takes energy and work.
It takes conversation and compromise. It takes time and effort — all because dating is ultimately pursuing intimacy with your bride who God has entrusted you to love, shepherd, and care for until the day he makes us new. As men of God may we accept this challenge with love, strength, and tenderness, longing to present ourselves before God that he might sanctify us through the covenant of marriage.
ABOUT DAVID: David serves as the Teaching Pastor at The Church At Cane Bay in Summerville, South Carolina. He is married to his wonderful wife Allyson, and they are the parents of one son, Titus.
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