How is courtship different than dating?
Courtship is a relationship between a man and a woman in which they seek to determine if it is God’s will for them to marry each other. Under the protection, guidance, and blessing of parents or mentors, the couple concentrates on developing a deep friendship that could lead to marriage, as they discern their readiness for marriage and God’s timing for their marriage. (See Proverbs 3:5–7.)
Courtship is a choice to avoid temptation and experience the blessings of purity. It is a choice to not emotionally give away your heart, piece by piece, to many others through casual dating relationships and instead to give your whole heart to your life partner.
It is a choice to wait for God’s best, for His glory. It is a decision to walk by faith, to trust in God, to honor others above yourself, and to believe that God will deal bountifully with you, because He is love. (See II Corinthians 5:7, Psalm 9:10, Romans 12:10, Psalm 13, and I John 4:8.)
Because each individual, family, and set of circumstances is unique, each courtship will be unique. While those who choose courtship will hold to general guidelines for the relationship, their specific choices about when, where, and how to court may differ according to their needs and circumstances.
If, during the courtship, one or both parties realize that marriage is not God’s will and they end the relationship, the courtship has not failed. On the contrary, the courtship was successful, because God gave the direction that was sought through it.
Although the termination of a courtship most likely will be painful, damage and hurt—which can lead to bitterness—can be avoided. Both parties, as well as their families and all the people who love them, should continue to trust in the Lord and accept the grace He gives to deal with any disappointment or unfulfilled hopes. (See Romans 5:1–5.)
“Let love be without dissimulation [be sincere]. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another” (Romans 12:9–10).
The Difference Between Dating and Courtship
Purpose of the Relationship
The main difference between dating and courtship involves the goals to be reached by spending time with a potential marriage partner. Men and women who choose to date often have no commitment to consider marrying the other person. Maturity and readiness for marriage are not considerations in the decision to date. Instead, couples usually date with the selfish goals of having fun and enjoying romantic attachments.
In contrast, courtship is undertaken only when both parties are prepared to make a commitment to marriage. Dating tries to answer the question, How can I find the one who will make me happy? Courtship strives to answer the question, How can I honor God and discern His direction regarding my life partner?
Accountability to Authorities
In a dating relationship, there is little if any accountability for the couple and little or no interaction with family members. The dating couple is merely attracted to one another in some way and often pursues an exclusive relationship that is independent of others’ influence or counsel. Since the boundaries of the relationship are self-determined, the couple may easily succumb to temptation and fail to consider their responsibility to honor each other in purity and genuine love.
A couple participating in courtship seeks the accountability of their parents or other mentors. As they establish guidelines for their relationship, they can more easily recognize that God also holds them responsible to honor one another. Receiving God’s grace and the support of others strengthens them to maintain their commitment to purity.
Exposure to Temptation
In a dating relationship, self-gratification is normally the basis of the relationship. Instead of focusing on God’s pleasure, the couple is often looking for personal pleasure. This oblivious self-centeredness can lead only to dissatisfaction, promoting an attitude of lust (taking what I want) rather than the Scriptural attitude of love (giving unselfishly to others).
Consequently, dating opens the door to many temptations. If defrauding (stirring up desires that cannot be righteously satisfied) occurs, the couple can foolishly and tragically give away both emotional and physical affections that should have been reserved for a life partner. Thus, in a dating relationship, frequently intimacy precedes commitment.
A courting couple can evade numerous temptations by the choice to be held accountable to God-given authorities. The dangers of defrauding can be avoided more successfully, and an honest, open friendship can be nurtured and protected. Thus, in courtship, commitment precedes intimacy.
Focus on God’s Kingdom
Since one of the most important decisions we will make is the decision of marriage, we should make every effort to know and do God’s will in this area. A dating relationship is usually based only on what the dating couple presently knows about each other. In contrast, a Biblical courtship is based on what God knows about each partner and on His plans for their futures.
Jesus gave this instruction with a promise: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). When a person makes a growing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ the foundation of all decisions—as he or she seeks God’s kingdom—God will provide all that is needed, including the marriage partner prepared by God just for that person. (See Proverbs 18:22, 19:14.)