January 2, 2014

How Would Jesus Date?

Gary Thomas — 


photo: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, Creative Commons

photo: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, Creative Commons

Brain research suggests that romantic attachment—infatuation—is more powerful than the sex drive. Neurologically speaking, it’s easier to say no to physical sexual passion than it is to regulate the rush of emotional infatuation.

Consider all the sermons you’ve heard as a single about reining in the sex drive, developing skills to say “stop” in the heat of passion, not letting yourself get into intense situations, and yet, neurologically, it’s more difficult to deny powerful emotions than it is to regulate sexual passion.

Have you ever heard a sermon or read a blog about emotional self control?

We can’t always choose who we get infatuated with; sometimes, infatuation just happens. But we can choose what to do with that infatuation. We can choose to slavishly follow it, laugh at it, or learn to manage it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did a miserable job of this as a single, so I can’t use myself as an example. Fortunately, we have a much more reliable source to turn to: Jesus. While Jesus never dated, He did have friends, and His friendships reveal the nature of His relationships in such a way that we can imagine how He would date.

For instance, Jesus built rich relationships with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

When Lazarus grew very sick, the sisters sent word to Jesus to hurry back because Lazarus was dying. Yet Jesus purposefully delayed His visit until after Lazarus died.

It looked really bad on the surface. An uncharitable view might have been that Jesus was afraid of the Jews in Bethany who had tried to kill Him on his last visit, or that he was simply indifferent. The accusations these sisters greeted Jesus with demonstrated their distrust.

As God, Jesus knew that His friends would feel betrayed. Even so, he held back from doing what they wanted him to do. His friendship was based on something superior to what his friends would think.

Is your friendship great enough to put your loved one’s good above your loved one’s opinion of you?

That’s a difficult place to get to, but it’s the only foundation for mature love. You have to become the kind of person who does what’s best even if the person you love doesn’t think you’re acting with the proper motive or concern.

A 20th century writer, R. Somerset Ward, suggests that such “unselfishness is only possible by means of discipline, of warfare with selfish desires. The highest bond of friendship is forged in the fire of discipline, and it is true to experience to say that the greater the cost of the forging, the greater will be the friendship.”

Most people think the highest bond of friendship is the fire of emotion and affection. What makes someone a friend in the modern mind is that we like them or feel fondly toward them. Somerset suggests, and Jesus models, that the highest bond of friendship is personal discipline—the higher the cost and sacrifice, the truer the friendship. Love is doing what’s best for someone, even if what’s best is confusing or resented. To get to this place, we have to “declare spiritual war” against our selfishness.

Romance is built on dramatic displays of lavish affection

—but such displays can be evidence of an undisciplined heart. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to limit your displays of affection by submitting to God’s greater good for this person. Ward puts it this way: “A voluntary limitation of demonstration [and] a consideration of their highest good are marks of a great love.”

Jesus could have immediately traveled to Lazarus and healed him, and never given his sisters an opportunity to question His love, or He could have allowed Lazarus to die, allowed Mary and Martha to go through a natural questioning of His love and commitment, and thereby teach them a valuable spiritual lesson. Jesus chose the spiritual lesson and waited until Lazarus died.

It goes a little deeper than this, however. Jesus told His disciples that it was God’s will for him to raise Lazarus from the deadJesus couldn’t do that unless He first let Lazarus die. Jesus lived first for the glory of God, above every human friendship, and that made Him the truest friend anyone could ever have.

Notice also how deliberately Jesus acts in friendship.

Let me ask you a tough question: when you see a friendship or romance just beginning to bloom, are you deliberate or impatient? Do you seek God’s face before you “explore” your feelings and discuss them? If your feelings are contrary to God’s will, they are, at that moment, irrelevant, if indeed Jesus is your God and not just your “friend.”

Many couples tend to be undisciplined and hasty in declaring their affection. They blurt out their feelings before seriously even knowing the other person. And then they tend to be very self-centered, wanting the other person to respond in kind and begin meeting their romantic fantasies with equal desperation.

Jesus does the exact opposite.

Let’s listen to Ward again: “The mistakes in our human friendships are usually due to the fact that we give too generously what is useless to our friend [easy displays of affection], and are too [stingy] in giving the more costly gifts, which are essential to his welfare [reining in our feelings until we know we can back them up].… At the back of all appearances lies the truth that the measure of love is its costliness. To analyze one’s feelings is the worst way of arriving at a measure of friendship; to count its cost is the best way.”

To analyze one’s feelings is the worst way of arriving at a measure of friendship; to count its cost is the best way.

And yet isn’t that what many of us do, spend endless hours trying to figure out what we’re really feeling? Jesus lived and taught that friendship and love are marked by sacrifice: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Feeling romantically inclined toward someone, but not mentioning it because you know doing so would be premature and unwise, is one of the most loving and difficult things you will ever be asked to do. It is difficult to feel so strongly and not talk about it with the one you’re infatuated with. And it is so delicious to hear that the feelings are returned. But giving free rein to such emotion and conversation is the opposite of love; it is selfish. It threatens that person’s emotional and spiritual health. It shows a lack of concern, a refusal to embrace the sacrifice on which true love is based. Are you learning to deny your selfish desires and put the other person’s spiritual welfare ahead of your own emotional and physical lusts?

How do you truly know whether you are committed to this person, and that you truly love him or her? Here’s how you know: your love is directly proportional to your willingness to act unselfishly, to even let the person think less of you, if in doing so you are serving their spiritual advancement. If you would rather not declare your love because you want to make sure the relationship is wise, that’s counting the cost. That’s love. If you would rather know whether your feelings are returned before you even know whether the relationship would honor God, that’s selfishness. Analyzing your feelings is a waste of time. Analyze instead the fruit of love, your willingness to sacrifice, your commitment to the other person’s welfare.

A God-honoring friendship that might also lead to marriage is exciting

—which is all the more reason we should guard it and make sure it is built on a solid foundation. “The spirit in which we enter on a friendship, determines its growth. Too often we enter lightly and without thought into friendship, but if we consider it as a part of spiritual life, we shall be saved from this disaster. In such a case we shall approach it as a serious matter, striving to discipline it rightly from the start, prepared to give our best to it, however costly it may be… If we can accomplish this by God’s help our life will be enriched by the greatest gift to be found on earth, a friendship such as Christ gave to Lazarus and his sisters.”

If you don’t value God’s approval above your friend’s, you’ll never be able to truly love them. Faith isn’t just about what happens when we die; it changes the way we live, the way we fall in love, and even the way we date.



This blog post was adapted from Gary’s book for singles entitled The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not About Who We Marry, but Why?

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5 responses to How Would Jesus Date?

  1. This is a powerful article that all singles should read before embarking on a relationship. It is like a breath of fresh air in a time where it appears that most dating relationships (Christian and non-christian alike) border around the physical. It’s like nobody wants to take the time to build a solid friendship that is likely to blossom into a beautiful relationship. Spiritual advancement is placed on the back burner so no wonder our marriages are in deep trouble.

    I am presently reading the Sacred Search which, in my opinion is a powerful tool both for married and singles alike. I have been encouraging my friends, especially singles, to purchase a copy and also give as gifts. Thank you for such a treasure!

  2. I recently heard you on Focus on the Family. I am very interested to read your book to learn how to better help my teenage boys understand dating/marriage with godly guidance. Which book would be my best resource? I am a single mom who was raised in a Christian home and married my husband who also claimed to be a Christian and was raised in a Christian home. Unfortunately, I was more committed to my relationship with God and ultimately we divorced while the boys were almost 2 and almost 3. I REALLY want to give my boys HOPE in following Christ and that they still have a chance to have a healthy and godly marriage. I just don’t even know where to start to even talk about dating. I have different beliefs than our friends that there isn’t a reason to “date” until you are seriously thinking of marriage, but I want to guide my boys with God’s Word. Please help! Thanks!

  3. Thankyou so much for these brilliant pieces of wisdom you have posted on your blog. I had to run an errand with my Dad in town yesterday, and whilst he was in the store, I turned Rhema on and heard your piece “A Fresh Look at Dating” with Focus on the Family. It was so very timely for me, I was so grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to hear your wisdom and Godly advice. I have since purchased your book “The Sacred Search”, and I am looking forward to reading it.

    Thankyou for standing up for marriage the way God created it to be. I have seen so many lives around me affected by the results of divorce and bad choices in marriage, and it breaks my heart to see. I am very grateful that you are furthering the message of how one can build a better foundation and better relationships through God’s Word and by His infinite grace.

  4. “How do you truly know whether you are committed to this person, and that you truly love him or her? Here’s how you know: your love is directly proportional to your willingness to act unselfishly, to even let the person think less of you, if in doing so you are serving their spiritual advancement.”

    This is an absolutely compelling piece. It makes me wish anew that you would devote all of your ministry energy to reaching FUTURE married folks… BEFORE THEY FALL IN LOVE! I know we’ve talked about this before, but just pray about it again.

    Especially the guys need to learn this stuff. Many folks are out there talking to the ladies, but I can tell you from experience hardly anyone is trying to get the men ready to lead a Godly home. You know this. Join me! And we could rule the galaxy as father and son!

    OK, I’m kidding about that last part, but seriously – how about it?

    And of course I’ll be sharing with the Future Marriage University community at https://www.facebook.com/FMUniversity.

    • Michael,

      I love what you’re doing. I have NO plans of leaving the “let’s help singles make wise choices” ministry anytime soon. But I do believe God has called me to address marriage in a wide context, including those who are already married. I’d bust apart if I quit talking to marrieds…