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Col. 3:18-21

May 11, 2003


Biblical courtship is not a technique. It is not a step-by-step process for garnering sure-fire results every time. Rather, biblical courtship is an area of our lives where, once again, we are called to walk in wisdom.


Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged (Col. 3:18-21).


The text is general. That is, it does not give us the “subject matter” under discussion in any given instance. There in Colossae, the husbands and wives, children and fathers, could have been talking about anything. So this means that we may apply what is said here to the subject of courtship. This is an area where strong feelings run deep, and they often run contrary to each other. Those feelings include love, aversion, suspicion, bitterness, and so on.


When we read a passage like this, the husbands tend to hear the word submit, wives hear the word love, parents hear the word obey, and the children hear provoke not. It ought not to go this way. Rather, the wives should hear the word submit, the husbands love, the children obey, and fathers provoke not. This should remind us of Ambrose Bierce’s definition of a Christian—someone who believes the New Testament is a divinely inspired book, admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ so long as it is consistent with a life of sin.

Courtship requires great wisdom on the part of everyone. But whenever we call for someone else to be obedient first, we are abandoning the path of wisdom. Consider yourself, lest you also be tempted. Get the beam out of your own eye first—mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.


Many in the Christian world have adopted what is now called the courtship model. This is wonderful, and as a model, as something on paper, it is clearly superior to the common system of recreational dating. But also, on paper, it doesn’t do anything. Truth on paper is not really truth at all. Truth must be embodied, just as the Lord Jesus took on flesh, in order to even be itself.

Methodological thinking looks like this: “The first thing a man needs to do is talk to the dad, right? After that, what does he do? Talk to his wife? His daughter? How long before he gets back to the young man? When we have him over to dinner, where does he sit?”

Principled thinking looks like this: “Sons, daughters, honor your parents. Parents, set an example of love and submission. Parents, do not provoke your children.” Now note that the principled thinker still has to make particular decisions about particular methods. But how is this done is key.


Now imagine a situation where everyone is seeking to honor parents, love wives, and so on. Even if the decisions about certain particulars were wrong, it doesn’t matter because love can trump dumb. This is why some Christians always appear to land on their feet. And others go right down the line, by the book, connecting every dot—and the whole thing still goes sideways. This is why other Christians are perpetually tangled. There is always a deeper right than being right.


When considering how we come to quarrel with one another, James tells us that it is because of how we want. Driven by want, we come readily, naturally into conflict. And when there is conflict, a reasonable question to ask is “what want brought this about?”

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (Jas. 4:1-3).

The “wanting” that is related to sex and romance is one of the most powerful wants we have. This means that unless this is surrendered to God, according to His Word, we are setting ourselves up for some fierce quarrels. But note: the wanting is not just on the part of the young couple, wanting to be with each other. The parents have their own desires which can be tangled up with others issues like money or reputation. And parents need to remember that by their actions they are always granting some kind of covenantal permission.


The basis of a godly relationship is a character, in two people, that puts the interests of the other first. The man sacrifices himself for her; she sacrifices herself for him. He gives her what God says she needs. She renders to him what God commands. God is the source of all wisdom, so we can trust Him in this.

With regard to character, marriage does not change what you are; it amplifies what you are. Courtship does not solve all your problems; rather, it gives your character a new opportunity to display itself in a new setting. Are you ready to respect a husband? Then show it through how you respect your father. Are you ready to love a wife? Then show it through how you love your mother. And always remember that obedience is not to start in the next chapter.

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