I recall when I was in high school, back in my pre-Christian days, just wanting to get girls and not to do so with pure, noble intentions either. People that know me well have probably heard me say more than once that before I knew the Lord Jesus Christ all I cared about was being cool and getting laid. That may sound a bit crass, but it is, unfortunately, an apt description of what sort of passions I had before the Holy Spirit of God powerfully moved into my life to bring me to salvation and to re-order my heart. I found the things of God to be boring, church to be a snooze fest and the idea of gently caring for a woman's heart and loving her like Jesus to be just no fun at all.
All I cared about was perversity and was enslaved by the lusts of my flesh, lusts that I am happy to say God has pierced through and overcome for me in my life. My first ever relationship began during this time in my life before I was converted to Jesus Christ, and so it was founded upon a lot of rushed, unwise, unbiblical, and therefore unloving things. For purposes of this article, I want to focus on the fact that it was badly rushed. Why was that a problem? Why is it a poor decision for two people to rush into a dating relationship? Is there a wiser way to go about the whole enterprise of dating?
I would say rushing into a relationship is definitely a poor decision and that all people who are seeking the romantic love of a relationship should take time before dating to build a solid friendship, one that can endure difficulty and where enough vulnerability has been shown for it to be real rather than disingenuous and fake. First, why is that I feel this way? There may be more, but I will here give two reasons. One, it is almost an issue of common sense. I say this because we almost intuitively know that relationships are a big enough deal in reality that rushing into them in a reckless fashion doesn't befit their importance. We have all heard the counsel "take it slow," and though it has become almost a kind of cliché in our day, we understand it to be a solid piece of advice. Two, if someone rushes into a relationship with another person in a sort of devil-may-care way, they commit to someone before they really have a good understanding of what they are like and so it often follows that if they turn out to be a not so good fit for them, a nasty breakup will likely ensue.
Not that building a friendship always guarantees it will work out between two people, because that guarantee never exists in a way that can rightly be grasped, however, it can protect one's own heart and the heart of the person they are interested in from starting and ending a commitment. It appears that the existence of a commitment makes it harder both to break up if it is necessary and harder for both people or at least one of them when that day comes. Now that we've pointed out some of the flaws in jumping into relationships in a rushed fashion, I will give a few reasons why I strongly believe that building a friendship before dating is a highly valuable thing to do that should be pursued by everyone rather than the reckless alternative.
First, building a friendship greatly puts you in the position to know a person's heart. When you spend time with someone for a prolonged period of time, building an active friendship with them, you will inevitably learn about their primary passions, their affections, what they find valuable, what they find beautiful, what they are in awe of. Also, you will learn of their flaws, their insecurities, their troubles, their imperfections, the junk of their past, and what remains of that junk in their life at present. Building a friendship with someone before dating, I think, is a great way to be vulnerable and handle someone else's vulnerability well and it is also a fantastic way to be reminded that no one is perfect and that you aren't an exception to that yourself.
Second, building a friendship with someone enables you to cultivate the closeness, connection, and even love that will need to be there for dating and marriage to go well, or as it was Biblically designed to go. I hold the value very firmly in my heart that in marriage, it is good for the people to regard one another as best friends. Too many marriages grow cold and alone because genuine love and friendship existed not between the people. In order for a man to Biblically and properly love his wife, in the way Jesus Christ loves us as His redeemed, called people, he must have a rock-solid friendship and bond with her that has been built and tested over time. In order for a wife to practice the kind of pure, loving, submission to her husband that God has laid out in Holy Scripture, she must possess within herself sincere passion for his good, honest regard for his needs, and friendly affection for his heart. To put it basically, marriage cannot work properly, according to God's design for it, if married people robotically, disingenuously obey Scripture. The commands and designs of God are given for our joy and our loving, worshipful obedience. A serious friendship and real relational bond is necessary for marriage and building a friendship is a great way for that to be developed between two souls.
Third, building a friendship with someone can help defend against sexual immorality. Whenever dating and marriage come up as topics of discussion, usually sex and the proper way for Christians to understand it comes up in the talk. This is appropriate I would say. It seems to me though that it is more difficult for a person to stomach taking advantage of someone who has risen to such a high place in their heart. It makes sense that as a person begins to realize the spiritual, heavenly beauty that exists in the heart of a young woman, it would be harder for them, granted they know the Lord, to reason that it would be okay to treat them any less than priceless. It seems reasonable to figure that the more a woman sees the grace of God and the love of Jesus Christ in a man's soul that has been made plain to her through months of getting to know it through building a friendship, then the prospect of taking advantage of him would be all the more outrageous and sickening to her. The godly person's heart should daily grow all the more heated and enraged against sexual immorality and moral filth of its kind.
To speak very briefly on sexual immorality and dating, we Christians regard sex as a sacred activity that is specially designed by God to be happily practiced within the confines of heterosexual marriage and practiced often, yet never outside of marriage. Yes, this means people that are building a friendship, dating, or engaged have absolutely no permission from on high to be having sex. Sex is only morally permissible within marriage and any sex outside of marriage is regarded Biblically as sinful, that is to say morally wrong and legally criminal against God's law.
Another way of saying this is that any act of sexual immorality both legally transgresses God's law and personally grieves God's heart. I brought up the earlier point to illustrate that building a friendship has the potential power to help a couple against the fleshly temptation to lust after each other and treat each other like objects rather than people, but that is not to say that sexual sin is any less severe a crime in the absence of a friendship. God abhors it and so should we, His people.
Finally, I want to close this article by giving a personal story of how valuable it is to build a friendship with someone before beginning a romantic, dating relationship with them. As I write this article, sincerely hoping that it ministers to you, reader, I am in the very season of life that I am writing about. I am currently building a friendship with a young woman that I attend church with.
As a Christian man who feels the heavy call of Almighty God on my soul to serve in pastoral ministry, I know that if I were to marry someone, I would need a woman that first and foremost loves the Lord Jesus Christ and holds Him as her all-satisfying pleasure and joy and that shares a passion for the Gospel and for ministry too. She would also need to have a godly strength about her, as ministry is very difficult and being a pastor's wife is a massively weighty task and takes a special woman of God. In a manner of speaking, the role of pastor's wife is a huge pair of boots to fill. Building a friendship and being patient in it has shown me that the young woman with whom I am building the said friendship is godly, kind, compassionate, strong, brilliant, Biblically faithful, joyful, supportive, patient, forgiving, and understanding. She has heavenly wisdom, Holy Spirit-developed kindness, and a special sort of grace to handle all the mess, baggage, and junk in my life. Had I just jumped into a relationship with her and not taken time to actively, patiently, and intentionally build a friendship with her, the sudden commitment, instantaneous sharing of difficult personal stories, and the faking it 'til making it that often accompanies relationships that shoot off in such a fashion may have severely harmed the friendship we already had and ruined any chances of a future.
In my judgment, building a friendship with this young woman is one of the greatest decisions I have made in my entire life and I praise God for ensuring that it went down that way and is a present moving very slowly and in a way that is pure, wholesome, and hearty, Jesus Christ and His glory being the central focus of our friendship and the foundation under it as it progresses hopefully to something more.
Friends, I entreat you to be very careful, prayerful and trusting in God's goodness and providence as you go about this seriously delicate issue.