Institute in Basic Life Principles

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How is courtship different than dating?

What Is Courtship?
understand how courtship differs from 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.)

For Further Study

Comments

Rebekah

The potential for a young person's heart to be broken, and for there to be great pain is there in a courtship just as it is in dating. There is a godly way to date without placing on the relationship all of the rules, regulations, and strains of courtship. When you only are allowed to get to know someone with your parents or a chaperone present, you get to know the Sunday best of the person. This is in many cases, a very dangerous practice disguised as a perfect formula for a happy and successful marriage. "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" puts marriage on the table when the couple have not yet committed to such an end. This is no different than dating when two people get too intimate too fast (I do not mean sexually) and give away a piece of their heart. I had to learn this the hard way. I am now married to a wonderful Christian man and we have 4 children. We dated and honored God in our relationship and listened to his direction throughout. Our parent's approved, but after both of us went through failed courtships that left us emotionally disheveled, they decided to trust us and let us seek God together and individually as to how we would like to conduct our relationship. We had no chaperones on many dates, we knew our convictions and if temptation came up (If and when, temptation is not constant, as courtship would have you believe), we turned to the Lord. We have been married 9 years tomorrow. Courtship does not fail every time, but when it does, it can be just as harmful as dating that is done the wrong way. I look back now and I am thankful for my heartbreak, it helped me learn what love is and is not. Always being afraid of, and being sheltered from getting hurt leads to being so cautious that you never learn anything by experience, and to missing out on walking closely with the Lord through the trying time and learning from Him. I thank God for my husband and children every day, who I would not have if not for my parent's seeing the flaws in courtship and trusting their daughter to stand in her own relationship and convictions with the Lord.

Patricia

Thank God for his word of truth, all the answers we need concerning anything in life is found on the living word of God.

Elizabeth

This is realy good, and good to know. Now I will know how to handle things differently.

Alejandra

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Mrs. Warren

Thank you for having this available to share. It is well written and helpful!

Constance

Thanks for the article a real eye opener I recently started online dating Thank God I haven't met with any of the guys.

Just Me

I find these guidelines to be reasonable. They are not rules or restrictions unless you make them to be such. the point is to make finding the best partner in marriage for you a spiritually and emotionally safe process without undue pain. The key here is in creating a safe environment for the relationship to be balanced and healthy while developing. It seems that people who conscientiously consider marriage inevitably come face to face with these guidelines at some point. However, the sooner the better in my estimation. No method is a one size fits all in finding a marriage partner, except listening to and obeying the voice of God concerning his will for a person. With that said, these guidelines can be safely followed by one who is seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, no matter if they choose to use all or some of the points given. Not all apply to every person's situation. Yet letting God lead will always take you to the right choice for the fulfilment of his will. married or not.

KASOKA STEPHEN

that is a very encouraging message, i love it, may you countinue with the same spirit. as youth of today we need such kind of messages for us to grow in our christianity and it is also very vital for us to to find God given patterners.

James

I'm glad to see the difference between courtship and dating spelled out. I do want my parents and my partner's parents to be heavily involved in my relationship. Courtship is the way people used to always do it, before our Twentieth Century convenience and consumer culture came along. People who say courtship is flawed do not understand history. Yes there is the potential for your heart to be broken, but so is life. I would rather be upset over a terminated courtship than violate my purity in dating.

milinda

Aren't we all looking for a marriage partner at some point in our lives? Of course I'm praying over this and seeking God's guidance for my life. I want to choose someone who will be a good role model for my son. I want to choose a good Godly man.

Joel

This is one of the most balanced approach to the subject of pre-marital relationships. The damage that dating is bringing to young people is quite tremendous and devastating. I think to help people one should not persuade people to do what is exceptional for them. Rebecca's experience must be considered unique; and it should not be taken as a reliable guideline. This article presents a workable principle for the success and safety of young people as they seek to allow God to guide them in this matter.

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