BIBLICAL COURTSHIP

Pedro Gelabert

When we become Christians we bring into the Body of Christ many worldly concepts. As we mature and grow in the knowledge and wisdom of Christ we experience a transformation if we donít hold onto the things of the world:

(Romans 12:1-2) "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. {2} Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Matters of practical theology and Christian living are the emphasis of these chapters. How the lordship of Christ should affect every area of life is the concern of the apostle. The initial summary statement in these two verses is a marvel of succinctness and insight. "Reasonable service," which is "logical ministry," demands presentation of oneself as a living sacrifice to God. A sacrifice is that which is utterly devoted to God. The Christian walk is, therefore, a living devotion to God. This may be accomplished through "transformation" (metamorphoo, Gk.) rather than "conformity to the world" (skematizo, Gk.). Skematizo refers to a temporary scheme of things dictated by the world and circumstance. Metamorphoo literally means "to have a form altered." This is a radical change from the inside out. The believer achieves this state of metamorphosis by the operation of the Holy Spirit's renewing his mind, making it possible for the believer "to prove" or "to test in order to find" that good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

Believerís Study Bible

This is only possible if we literally forsake everything that we ever thought we knew and find the newness and meaning of these things from Godís revelation in His Holy Word.

The area that Iím addressing within the context of this presentation is "courtship", or more commonly known as dating.

To look closely and succinctly at this we need to get to the essence of what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8.

(1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) "Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. {2} For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. {3} It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; {4} that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, {5} not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; {6} and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. {7} For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. {8} Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit." NIV

The theme of holiness or sanctification (1 Thessalonians 3:13) includes family life and sexual habits both before and in marriage (above vv. 1-8). Paul gives three motivations for holy living: (1) fulfilling the will of God (v. 3), (2) honoring the gift of one's mate (v. 4), and (3) avoiding sin against one's brother (or sister)(v. 6). Thessalonica was well known for its variety in sexual appetites. Believers who came from this background could experience problems. "Sexual immorality" translates a Greek word that speaks about a broad spectrum of sexual indulgence, both illicit and unnatural. The term would include practices such as premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, sodomy, incest, and bestiality. God's plan of one man and one woman united for a lifetime in marriage has never changed (Matthew 19:4-8). Any deviation from this pattern (excluding the gift of celibacy) constitutes sin.

Sanctification extends to the sphere of sex and marriage as indicated in Paul's exhortation concerning the believer's conduct in marriage (vv. 1-8). This text suggests three admonitions to safeguard the purity of sex within the marital relationship and to insure the believer's sanctification: (1) the command to "abstain from sexual immorality" (v. 3), (2) the encouragement "to control/possess his own body/vessel" (v. 4), and (3) the warning to avoid defrauding his brother (v. 6).

The word "vessel" (skeuei, Gk.) may mean "body," suggesting that the believer's body is to be controlled, i.e., "set apart" to holiness, and to be "honored"; or it may refer to the believer's wife. The Hebrew equivalent of skeuei is keli, which has multiple choices for translation, e.g., "vessel," "boat," "musical instrument." However, there is some evidence that keli is used in rabbinic writings to refer to the wife. In fact, "to use a vessel" seems to be one of the euphemisms that the Talmud uses in describing the sexual relationship in marriage. The latter interpretation, i.e., "vessel" as "wife," is further substantiated by a similar passage (1 Peter 3:7) in which the wife is called the weaker "vessel" (skeuei, Gk.), and the command to give "honor" (timen, Gk.) parallels the structure here, "in honor" (time, Gk.). Also, the same word (timios, Gk.) is used to describe marriage (Hebrews 13:4). The word "possess" (ktasthai, Gk.) may also be rendered "take," "procure," "provide," "win," "acquire." This word is used in the Mishnah to describe the betrothal or kiddushin (Heb.), i.e., the man "acquires" a woman to be his wife. In the LXX this verb (kektemai, Gk.) is used in reference to marrying a wife (Ruth 4:10).

Believerís Study Bible

The basic essence of this passage of Scripture is better understood when verse 6 is taken to be the principle of the encouragement. This verse makes it clear that possessing or acquiring your own vessel or body is a matter between two people and not just one person (or yourself) since it is possible that you can wrong someone else (mainly your brother/sister). This verse also points out another important considerationóthat Christians date (court) other Christians. For your further study I am going to include three other renditions (translations) of this same passage:

(1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) "Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. {2} For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. {3} For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; {4} that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, {5} not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; {6} and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. {7} For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. {8} Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." NAS

(1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) "Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. {2} For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. {3} For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: {4} That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; {5} Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: {6} That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. {7} For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. {8} He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit." KJV

(1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) "Now then, brothers and sisters, because of the Lord Jesus we ask and encourage you to excel in living a God-pleasing life even more that you already do. Do this the way we taught you. {2}You know what orders we gave you through the Lord Jesus. {3}It is Godís will that you keep away from sexual sin as a mark of your devotion to him. {4}Each of you should know that finding a husband or wife for yourself is to be done in a holy and honorable way, {5}not in the passionate, lustful way of people who donít know God. {6}No one should take advantage of or exploit other believers that way. The Lord is the one who punishes people for all these things. Weíve already told you and warned you about this. {7}God didnít call us to be sexually immoral but to be holy. {8}Therefore, whoever rejects this order is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit." Godís Word

As you can see from the differences in translation, particularly verse 4, Godís Word really captures the context of this passage. It is my conviction that this last translation is the most accurate for this passage and reflects what Godís will is for those who desire to court (date).

The goal of courting is not to build physical intimacy with the person, contrary to the passionate way of the unbelievers (gentiles). Rather than building this type of intimacy, as Christians, we are to build rich spiritual bonds with the one we are courting. These bonds should be no different than what you seek to build with brothers and sisters in the body. Interdependency in the Lord should always be stressed as opposed to dependency upon the emotional factors of the relationship itself. In other words, the motivation to grow and build each other up in love into Jesus Christ should always be the primal and central focus of your courtship, not the worldly romanticism that can make your relationship mutually exclusive of other relationships in the body. This is what tends to deviate a courtship from the path dictated by the above passage into a vortex of uncontrolled emotions and passions.

Your overall desire for each otherís intimacy is expressed as a decision in exercising self-control to let the spiritual bonds take deep root within each otherís souls and hearts. If your life is controlled by lust it usually is because you are not acknowledging God in your heart and in your life. You are not making the Lord God your main reason for EVERYTHING in your life:

(Romans 1:20-25) "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. {21} For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. {22} Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools {23} and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. {24} Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. {25} They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen."

Our hearts become darkened in understanding when we begin to seek other fulfillment in our life aside from what God has given us already. All of the sudden, you can find yourself not glorifying Him, you stop giving thanks and instead complain, you begin to proclaim a wisdom that is from your heartónot from the Scriptures. God then gives you over to your passions and you are deceived! Watch out that your heart may not lead you! Uncontrolled passions are the sign that you are following your heart as opposed to the sound teaching of Jesus! Many great Bible leaders who had strong convictions and were filled with the Spirit of God eventually were lead astray by their deceitful hearts! Three men in particular had a weakness for women: Samson, David and Solomon. From the accounts we read in the Bible we can clearly see that some of relationships they had were not holy and honorable.

(Judges 14:1-4) "Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. {2} When he returned, he said to his father and mother, "I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife." {3} His father and mother replied, "Isn't there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?" But Samson said to his father, "Get her for me. She's the right one for me." {4} (His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)"

Samson willfully disregarded loyalty to Yahweh and sought a pagan wife. His hormones were probably guiding him more than his reason! This verse should not be taken to mean that the Lord caused or even favored Samson's marriage to a pagan, but that He would use Samson's actions to accomplish His goals. If Samson's level of spirituality had been higher, perhaps the Lord would have been more direct in His use of him. Instead, the Lord used his pagan marriage to "plant" Samson among the Philistines and so to begin the deliverance. The Lord's plans superseded Samson's which reminds us that we should always walk by faith and not be depressed by appearances.

(Judges 16:1) "One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her."

This is another example of his moral weakness.

(Judges 16:4-6) "Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. {5} The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, "See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver." {6} So Delilah said to Samson, "Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.""

The story of Delilah is the third example of Samson's moral weakness (14:1-4; 16:1-3). Through her he broke the third Nazirite vow (14:8-10), after withstanding her first three advances (vv. 5-20).

(Judges 16:23) "Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, "Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.""

Eventually, because Samson is distracted by his love for women, his enemies make a mockery of God. Now hereís David story:

(2 Samuel 11:1-5) "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. {2} One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, {3} and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, "Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" {4} Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. {5} The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, "I am pregnant.""

Bathsheba may have been guilty of some indiscretion in her immodesty, and apparently she made no effort to resist the amorous intent of the king (note the clause "and she came to him"). David found that lust grew into adultery; adultery produced deceit in concealing his sin (vv. 6-13); and the failure of these attempts pressured David to the desperate act of murder (vv. 14-21). Furthermore, David involved Joab as an accomplice in the crime. The truth of James 1:15 can be clearly observed in this sequence of events. Note also the awesome power of visual images when the mind is allowed to meditate at length on the object of desire. Unfaithfulness in terms of adultery unfailingly results in the disfavor of the Lord and the certainty of His judgment (v. 26).

(James 1:13-15) "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; {14} but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. {15} Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

Even though David is known as "a man after Godís own heart", his lust eventually cost him the throne of Israel, his firstborn son and much trouble and heartache during his life.

(2 Samuel 12:10-14) "Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.' {11} "This is what the LORD says: 'Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. {12} You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.'" {13} Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. {14} But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.""

Davidís sincerity and openness before the Lord led him to godly sorrow. Although the Lord forgave him of the sins he had committed due to his penitent heart, David still had to suffer the consequences of his sin. This shows me the seriousness and ugliness of sin. Praise God that we have forgiveness and, remember, you may just as well still have to suffer for the consequences of some or all of your sin!

Letís look at Solomonís situation:

(1 Kings 3:10-14) "The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. {11} So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, {12} I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. {13} Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for--both riches and honor--so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. {14} And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.""

The Lord was pleased that Solomon was wise in what he asked and God made him the wisest, most powerful man of Earth. Even though he was the wisest man, he still was led astray by his passion for foreign women:

(1 Kings 11:1-13) "King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter--Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. {2} They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. {3} He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. {4} As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. {5} He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. {6} So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. {7} On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. {8} He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. {9} The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. {10} Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord's command. {11} So the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. {12} Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. {13} Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.""

So the question to be asked now is; what makes you think that you are better than any of these men, or less susceptible to fall prey to the passions of your heart? That is why we are given the admonition to pursue a wife/husband in all holiness and honor. All such passions and attitudes that are worldly are not in keeping with the mind we have been given in Christ!

(Ephesians 4:17-24) "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. {18} They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. {19} Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. {20} You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. {21} Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. {22} You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; {23} to be made new in the attitude of your minds; {24} and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

When you got baptized you were made new in the mind and that means that most things we thought were appropriate or good, are probably not! We need to re-learn things and adopt Godís ways of going about doing things as opposed to the way we are used to doing it in the world. This applies across the boardóeverything that touches our lives in every way. Dating is treated very lightly in the world and not as serious as the Bible treats it in the passage we are examining from 1 Thessalonians. If the commitment to treat your brother/sister with holiness and honor was not taken seriously during dating, how serious will it be taken in marriage? This passage (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) tells me three things:

1- It is up to me to make a decision whether or not I want to pursue a wife. I need to bring up the passage where Paul speaks of marriage very objectively and urges me to be sober in judgment when desiring to get married. Just because I may have an excellent relationship with a sister doesnít mean that marriage is the way to go with her. Consider what Paul says:

(1 Corinthians 7:28-35) "But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. {29} What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; {30} those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; {31} those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. {32} I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord. {33} But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife-- {34} and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world--how she can please her husband. {35} I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord."

The tendency in marriage is for both partners to become divided in their attention to the Lord. This divided attention is what brings the many heartaches that threaten marriages and your relationship with Jesus. Notice the last verse in this passage (verse 35) says that Paul says this for your own good, that you may live in undivided devotion to the Lord, whether married or not! It is my conviction that living in undivided devotion to the Lord occurs for the married and the unmarriedónot just for singles! That is why you need to be very sober when selecting your mate. You want someone to be dedicated and completely satisfied in their relationship with Jesus. Someone who is thankful and service-minded. Someone who is always looking to grow and emulate Jesus: someone who has made Jesus Lord and Savior!

2- I need to date in a holy and honorable way, that I may not wrong my sister. I need to express my love to my sister by exercising self-discipline and patience. Holy = different. Different from the world. The world teaches a love that is self-centered and manipulative. A love that caters to self and that indulges in the passions of the flesh. Holy love believes all things, trusts all things and hopes in all things. Holy love is the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. A holy love is a love that honors. This kind of love doesnít focus on self (what you can get or receive) but on ministry (how you can serve the other person). Your brother/sister is very valuable to you and you must put that person above yourself. (As you must do for any other brother or sister).

3- I need to keep away from sexual sin. The sexual urges are a powerful force. It is a gift from God to be used within the context of a holy marriage to catapult that marriage into blissful and exhilarating intimacy. Outside of marriage, though, it destroys, shames and wreaks havoc on the lives of those involved. Learn from the men of God in the Old Testament! Do not awaken love before it so desires!

(Song of Solomon 2:7) "Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires."

This verse is a recurring refrain in the Song (3:5; 8:4), serving to indicate the close of one section and the beginning of the next. Physical intimacy is always in the background of the statement as well. The phrase "Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases" has been interpreted several different ways: (1) as a warning against forcing the development of love prematurely; (2) as a plea to the court women not to interrupt the embrace of the lovers; or (3) as a warning against the arousal of sexual passion before "it pleases." The latter interpretation seems more natural since the verb is accurately translated "awaken" instead of "disturb." Also, premarital chastity is elsewhere extolled in the Song (4:12; 8:8-12), as the Shulamite pleads with the daughters of Jerusalem not to become involved sexually with any man before marriage (3:5; 8:4).

The goal in courting is to develop a deeper relationship with the brother/sister you are considering for marriage. Relationship = to relate: To establish or demonstrate a connection between. To communicate (heart to heart) (soul to soul). Your relationship with God is demonstrated by the kind of relationship you will have in your courtship. God is at the center and both of you are intertwined along Him within unbreakable bonds. What bliss!

(Ecclesiastes 4:12) "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."