LCN Article
Christian Courtship

May / June 2016

Gerald E. Weston

Some people have accused me of being a matchmaker. Well, I don’t know how in the world they could come up with such an idea. Me, a matchmaker? I don’t think so, but I will admit to this: I do love a really good, real-life love story.

Tragically, too many of today’s real-life love stories deteriorate into bitter relationships and sad affairs. Why is this the case? Why are there so many unhappy marriages and broken relationships? What is the source of so much heartache?

The reason I am addressing the subject of Christian courtship is because too many people I really deeply care for and love have made some very bad decisions that have lifelong consequences. Many of the problems began with courtship. We normally think of courtship as the process of attracting a mate, but the wrong kind of courting courts disaster.

Without any exaggeration, the overwhelming majority of people in Western culture today, and even many in God’s Church, are courting future heartache.

When Does Courtship Begin?

Since courting involves going to great lengths to win favor, with a view towards marriage, we should consider; When does courtship actually begin? This may be a simple question, but few know the right answer.

While we often use the expression, “opposites attract,” we also use another equally strong expression: “Birds of a feather flock together.” Both are true. Some women are attracted to men of low moral character, thinking they can reform them. This is very foolish thinking, as it almost always turns out badly for the woman, and any children produced by the relationship.

On the other hand, individuals who have strong moral character, who are positive and sincerely want to live according to God’s law, are attracted to those with similar values. Conversely, those who “play church,” who profess one thing but practice something else—who live by this world’s values—will most certainly attract like-minded individuals.

So the question is, do you personally want to marry someone who will value the same things you value, who will not come home drunk and embarrass (or harm) you or the children, who cares for your needs and will be faithful to you? If so, then you must strive to be that kind of person yourself.

It is for this reason that courtship in its fullest context begins with what we call “reputation.” We normally think of courtship as a period of time of active, steady dating that precedes and leads up to marriage. However, in today’s world, courtship itself is often bypassed entirely. Boy meets girl, they end up in bed together—then most often they split; the not-so-uncommon “one night stand.” In some cases, however, they continue to see each other, and it is a short step to conveniently moving in together. Marriage sometimes follows, not because this is the person he or she really wants to marry, but because splitting up is not so easy. Who gets the television and how do you divide the dog? This is to say nothing of children that sometimes come along.

Under these circumstances, the couple usually has no concept of what marriage is all about—especially true, godly marriage. Little or no thought goes into what kind of person, what kind of parent, provider or housekeeper he or she will be, nor do they know how faithful the other will be in the long term.

Instead, many men and women have reduced mate selection to an animalistic process, devoid of thoughtful inquiry. Then, when the relationship goes down the drain, they blame the other individual and wonder why it turned out badly.

Wendy Shalit, author of A Return to Modesty, quotes a 1998 issue of YM Magazine, stating that “the best predictor of someone’s future behavior is their past behavior.” She goes on to define this as “reputation” (Shalit, 34).

When Your Reputation Begins

Proverbs 20:11 explains: “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right.” Reputation, from this perspective, begins very early in life, even from childhood.

We read in the Bible about a young man who was so highly respected that the Apostle Paul took note of him (Acts 16:1). When Paul came to Derbe and Lystra, he met Timothy, the son of a Jewish Christian mother, and whose father was Greek. Timothy had a very positive reputation.

Reputation can be good or bad, but is something we all have one way or the other. Paul wanted to mentor Timothy, because he saw in this young man a certain godly approach toward life. Timothy had a positive reputation. As a child, he had faithfully followed what his mother and grandmother taught him.

Now, consider this: if Timothy had a bad reputation and tried to repair it at the last minute when Paul arrived in town, would Paul have taken him under his wing? What if Timothy had said, “Well, you know, Paul, I know I haven’t lived a very good life, I’ve been doing a lot of things that are contrary to the Word of God, but I would really like to be a minister, and I’ll clean up my act from this day forward.” Paul himself had a “reputation problem” at first, and knew the effort required to repair a lifetime of mistakes. Would he have subjected an eager young Timothy to a lifetime of derision and scorn while he was yet unprepared?

And yet, often this is what we find with singles, young or old, who have sown their wild oats, who have used drugs or alcohol in a wrong way, who suddenly meet the “right person.” They begin to make approaches toward that individual to introduce themselves, hoping that the person is going to be attracted to them—but, is that the way it works?

Will someone looking for a mate of high moral character suddenly take your word for it that you are going to clean up your act and be the person of his or her dreams? Not likely!

Importance of a Good Reputation

If you are honest, hard-working, living a consistently godly life and conducting yourself with moral integrity, your reputation will precede you.

The choice is yours, so what is it going to be? Here is what it comes down to: if you someday want to marry someone who is faithful, someone who is stable, someone with whom you can share a relationship of real quality and lasting beauty, you have to be that kind of person. However, it takes time to build a good reputation. So start today—not tomorrow! You never know when you are going to run into Mr. Right, or Miss Right.

If you want to marry Mr. Right, you have to be Miss Right. If you want to marry Miss Right, or Miss Very Right, you have to be Mr. Very Right. Birds of a feather do flock together!

When that special person walks into the congregation where you are, or you go to the Feast and find yourself introduced to somebody that you never knew before, and you see that person, and you are interested, why would you think that he or she would suddenly be interested in you if a negative reputation has preceded you? Even if the person is brand-new in the Church, word gets around. There is also the problem of suddenly trying to change bad habits—which is not always easy to do.

Courting begins long before you arrive at the stage where you are actually dating. It begins with the kind of person you are.

Many people date based only on physical appearance—and when they date for looks that is usually all they get. On the other hand, the person who really wants to obey God is looking beyond looks! He or she is looking at what kind of person you are. Obviously, physical attraction is important, but have you ever noticed how a good-looking man does not look so physically attractive once you really know him? Or how a merely pleasant-looking woman becomes more physically attractive once you have come to know her?

What kind of a mother will she be? What kind of a father will he be to your children? How loving, how outwardly concerned, and giving is this person? Or, is this person selfish? Is he a hard worker? Does she tip the bottle too much? Does she go to a lot of fast parties, or does he exhibit wild, irresponsible behavior?

This is the type of thing that people are going to look for if they are looking for a quality person. They want to know that they are marrying somebody who not only looks good, but somebody who has a good reputation and who has good character, as much as humanly possible.

Is Your Reputation Good or Bad?

God is going to reward us tomorrow for what we do today, and the same principle applies to dating and marriage. If you are single, you are being judged right now by singles of the opposite sex.

You either have a good reputation or a bad one, but one way or the other, you have a reputation—and it is being noticed by others. So, what it comes down to is this: if you want to marry a real quality person, start now by being the kind of person that you hope to marry, because in a very real sense, courting has already begun! You are attracting or repulsing others by your behavior, even though you may not yet know the person of your dreams.

Now, this does not mean that there is not forgiveness; and, some of our young people in the Church, as well as some of our older people, need to do some reputation repair. Some have been doing things that they ought not be doing. This is especially true of those who grow up in the world, but they are often very repentant and have already begun working on overcoming bad habits. It is also true that many of our young people “take a walk over fool’s hill,” only to return and “clean up their act.” They should be forgiven, but sadly, they may be carrying bad baggage from their trip! God will forgive the sincerely repentant unwed mother, but this will not absolve her of the responsibility of child-rearing. God will forgive the drug abuser who cleans up and stays sober—but there is no guarantee that He will heal the physical damage done by the drugs or by the actions of the one who was intoxicated.

If you have been on the wrong path for a while, it does not mean that all is lost, but it does mean this—if you want to have a good reputation, you are going to have to clean it up, and this only happens if it is from the heart. Unlike beauty, such efforts cannot be “skin deep.”

People are very forgiving, especially in our modern world. People make so many mistakes that it is hard to find someone today who does not have plenty of regrets and some degree of “baggage.” So if you have been drinking too much, “partying hearty,” or been involved in any other ungodly behavior, procrastinating positive change is not in your best interest. Now is the time to change! You never know when that right person is going to walk into your life, so the sooner you clean up your reputation, the better.

God forgives instantly upon true repentance, but human beings—especially your prospective husband or wife—may take a bit longer to convince. Not knowing your repentant heart, they will be looking for outward evidence—how you behave—and they will tend to forgive not just because of your sincere words, but because they will begin to see different fruit coming from you. And you should not expect this to happen overnight. Regardless of the circumstances of your “bad rep,” much time, study, fasting and prayer for change will be necessary, but you should never grow weary (Galatians 6:9–10) for in constant effort comes reward.

Three big destroyers of reputation lead to what I call a “S.A.D.” love story—and, it is sad, because this is an acronym for sex, alcohol and drugs. These are three big ones—but not the only ones—that will destroy your reputation and turn people of godly character away from you.

Sex Outside of Marriage?

In our Western society, sex outside of marriage is taken for granted by the vast majority of people. But a loving God counsels us against this vile behavior—and it is vile. People just assume that men and women are sleeping together before they are married. Our language is drenched in it. We have substituted words such as spouse, husband or wife, with the word “partner.”

Yet, the damage to individuals and families from this sin is enormous. Many people today are simply skipping the entire dating and courtship process and jumping into the privileges of marriage without marital commitment.

Notice that our loving Father’s counsel is to avoid such behavior. 1 Corinthians 6:9 states, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” Now, what is this unrighteous behavior that will keep someone out of God’s Kingdom?

He says, “Do not be deceived…” (v. 10). In other words, this is behavior that can deceive us. We can rationalize around it. We can think that, “Well, it’s okay. I can do this today, and I’ll repent later and God will forgive me. I will sow my wild oats. I will do whatever I want to now, and then I will clean up my act at the last minute when I find the right person. We’ll get married and live happily ever after. I’ll be faithful to her, and she will be faithful to me.”

This type of thinking is dead wrong—sex outside of marriage has a price-tag and it has to be paid!

Sex, Alcohol and Drugs

Notice some of the things Paul writes here: “…neither fornicators [people who have sex before marriage], nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).

Remember, the three sins that will give you a S.A.D. love story are, sex, alcohol and drugs. Two, and in principle all three, are mentioned here.

Sometimes, we in the ministry shed tears when we hear of the things some of our young people do, and sometimes we are thrilled when they do what is right and see things working out in their lives.

Our Heavenly Father knows and loves us more than any human being does, and He inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

Pam Stenzel, a prominent lecturer on the dangers of sex outside of marriage, points out that in the 1950’s there were just five common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Today, there are more than 30, and 30 percent of them are incurable. They will be your companions for the remainder of your life!

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, “about one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes,” but the most common STD today is the Human Papilloma Virus. The CDC reports: “About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that most sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Health problems related to HPV include genital warts and cervical cancer.”

There are more than 30 varieties of HPV that are sexually transmitted. Some have no symptoms, until they produce abnormal cells, which can turn into cancer. HPV is so prevalent and serious that most doctors now recommend the vaccine Gardasil despite its many reported ill effects. Yet even if a young woman chooses to be vaccinated against HPV, Gardasil will not protect her from the many other STDs.

Among those teenagers having teen sex, about one in four will contract an STD prior to adulthood. While these statistics are from the United States, it is difficult to see how the situation is any better in the rest of the Western world.

Consider this: do you really want to tell that special person of your dreams that you are carrying a disease that can harm her or your future children? Or that your reproductive organs have been damaged by an STD and you cannot have children? Yes, courtship begins before you meet that special person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life!

When God told us to flee sexual immorality, He truly did so for our own good. This is one of those points I like to refer to as “unshakable unbreakables.” These are rules that you set for yourself that will protect and preserve your life, your reputation and your future happiness.

Flee Fornication

For example, a single person should never go into an isolated location where temptation with a member of the opposite sex may have a chance to flourish. It is good for teens to date in groups, and avoid what are known as “compromising situations.” This is one way to “flee fornication” as we are instructed to do in 1 Corinthians 6:18 (KJV).

This certainly does not mean that a young man must avoid going into his grandmother’s house when she is alone, and this does not mean there is not a place for one-on-one dating, especially when you are old enough, prepared for, and seriously thinking of marrying a particular individual.

Mr. Armstrong pointed out to Ambassador College students many years ago that sex is not just the final part of the act, but is also the activity that leads up to it. We refer to this as foreplay. Too many couples play with foreplay and end up with regrets when they go much further than they intended. Proverbs 22:3 instructs us: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.” So if you are prudent, you will avoid playing with foreplay outside of marriage! Make that another of your unshakable unbreakables.

Alcohol Abuse Destroys Reputation

The second way to destroy your reputation is through the misuse of alcohol. Alcoholic beverages can be a blessing or a curse. When used for the purpose of getting drunk, they are a curse—period! Nothing good can come from this kind of behavior, and with social media and everyone carrying a cell phone camera, your reputation can be destroyed in a single evening.

In Proverbs 31, we are instructed by King Lemuel’s mother. Her son was going to be a king—just as we will be kings someday. She first warns against immoral women, and against becoming involved with sex outside of marriage, but her second warning regards the misuse of alcohol: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the justice of all the afflicted” (Proverbs 31:4–5). Notice that one’s judgment is impaired by the improper use of alcohol. The Bible does not condemn alcohol, only the misuse of it. When alcohol is used for the purpose of getting drunk, it is a problem. When drinking a glass of wine or some other alcoholic beverage with a meal, it is seldom a problem.

However, recreational drinking is a major problem in our world today, and sadly, this is what some of our young people are getting into, even at the Feast of Tabernacles! For the sake of your physical, mental and spiritual well-being, and for the sake of your courting reputation, do not let yourself become caught up in recreational drinking.

D is for Drugs

There is a D in S.A.D. and it is closely related to A. We might say that drugs are alcohol on steroids. So-called recreational drugs can be found on university campuses and parties everywhere, and they strongly encourage inappropriate and destructive behavior. Besides the potential damage these can do to your mind and body, you are courting disaster to your reputation. Make it an unshakable unbreakable to never, never, never touch them!

Do you realize that recreational drug use is mentioned in scripture? Notice what God’s word says in the Book of Revelation: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7–8). We normally associate sorcery with someone wearing a pointed hat and carrying a wand. Or, we might think of Harry Potter.

However, it is interesting that, when we study the word sorcerer in the above verse, we find that it comes from the original Greek pharmacos, from which we get the word pharmacy, and relates to the distribution of drugs. Why would we find such a word used in this passage? Some people have misapplied this word to modern medicine that is used to treat the sick. They never thought of it in the context that we find it today.

Many cults, past and present, use mind-altering drugs to induce a state of ecstasy or trance and bring about some kind of “transcendent experience.” God says that these pharmachais (sorcerers) are not going to be in the Kingdom of God. Recreational drugs are not productive, and provide nothing positive in the long run. What they will do is harm you, your reputation, and your future happiness!

Never Skip Dating and Courtship

Too many people today skip courtship and dating altogether. They jump into bed with someone they know little about, move in together for convenience, and only as an afterthought consider marriage. Marriage today is no longer an institution. It has become a one-day event for the bride to have her day in the sun and receive lots of presents. There is still something charming and romantic about a wedding, but the purpose of marriage has been lost.

When two people skip all of the things that should have gone before, they fail to build the foundation for a lasting marriage. They care little about reputation—theirs or that of the person with whom they are “hooking up.” Too often, their wonderful marriage ceremony turns into a S.A.D. affair. When it does, it is because they are living according to the ways of this world and eating the fruits of their sad choices.

True Christian Courtship

True Christian courtship is an important step to building marriages, families and wonderful love stories—and we all love a good love story. When we see two young people just starting out in life, we rejoice with them. We want a love story that is going to last, and proper dating and courtship are steps along the path to achieving that goal.

For those of us in God’s Church, we ought to be doing things differently from the world, because we want different results. We want positive results. We want to see a beautiful love story in which we can all rejoice.

I hope and pray that each single man and woman in God’s Church will have a beautiful, warm, loving courtship and a love story that will last a lifetime!