In true homsechooler fashion…
…all ages mingled together as our two families stood around the kitchen talking. Having two unmarried 19-year-old girls (one of whom was myself) in the room, the conversation predictably turned in the direction of romantic relationships. Mrs. R. shared her concern that her children wouldn’t be able to have relationships with the opposite sex without having romantic thoughts towards them, and posed the question, “how are they supposed to treat others as only brothers and sisters in Christ?”
Without thinking, I blurted out, “I don’t think that’s possible.”
My friend’s twin brother, who had been completely silent during the conversation, suddenly exclaimed, “Thank you! I’ve always thought that, but so many people say the opposite.”
Aren’t Relationships Confusing?
He is by no means the only person who has dealt with frustration over the confusing jumble of conflicting advice floating around, even (maybe especially) in the conservative Christian church. In fact, his twin sister and I had spent countless hours talking about this very fact, discouraged that we knew theoretically how to handle relationships, yet in practice it proved unattainable.
Courtship advocates ask you to attempt to do the impossible often without realizing they are asking for anything unreasonable. They read Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “exhort… younger men as brothers… [and] younger women as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1&2) and assume, rightly, that we ought to all treat all young people as brothers and sisters in Christ.
They also understand Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:28, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a women to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” and therefore instruct young people not to look at one another sexually (which isn’t hard to do if you are treating each other as brothers and sisters).
That’s all fine and great… until we run into the brick wall of romantic relationships.
The problem is that brother-and-sister relationships are by definition non romantic, and thus romantic relationships are unable to be brother-sister relationships. There’s no neutral ground. It’s like asking someone to draw a purple whale with a yellow marker.
The current American paths to marriage, namely dating and courtship, are literally contradictory to the above commands given by God through the apostle Paul. Not only that, but read any courtship books and they’ll spend countless pages, even chapters, trying to figure out how a young person in one of these semi-covenanted relationships is to stay pure not only physically, but mentally as well.
On the one hand they believe that it’s wrong to think of someone of the opposite sex in a sexual way before marriage, and they believe we are to treat them as brothers/sisters in Christ… and yet they encourage us to enter relationships that are neither brother-sister nor covenanted marriages, and consider someone of the opposite sex as a potential spouse. In other words, they want us to think about them as if they are our husband while also making sure we only think about them as a brother.
I have changed my tone since that kitchen conversation years ago. I do believe men and women can treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, but not if we continue with our failing man-made systems of getting married. We must stop telling young men and women to do two opposing actions and expect things to work out perfectly.
What, then, are we to do? Never marry? Quite the contrary, for the Bible encourages marriage.
What if, just maybe, we began our romantic relationships with a solid covenant? What if we began “getting to know a man” in the relationship of husband and wife? What if, like Rebekah, we were willing to leave father and mother, home and country, to marry a man we’d never met, yet whom the Lord had so clearly and providentially chosen to be your husband?
Sure, it’s radical. But you know what, even the world is understanding the benefits of marrying before love.
God designed romantic love to be the fruit of a committed relationship, not the other way around. Adam and Eve were husband and wife before they were lovers. Same with Issac and Rebekah, Joseph and Mary… and same with Christ and His Bride.