Brothers and Sisters: Dating and Ecclesiology

A Christian sister will be your sister longer than she’ll be your wife. A Christian brother will be your brother longer than he’ll be your husband. Marriage is temporary, but our identity in Christ is eternal. #Matthew22

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

In 1 Timothy, Paul is encouraging and instructing Timothy, a young pastor, in the way “one should behave in God’s household (3:15).” He is talking not just about the way he should relate to them as a pastor, but also in the way we should relate to each other as fellow believers.

What we see in this passage is that Paul is exhorting Timothy and his church to treat one another as something special: as a family. Not in the way guys call their buddies, “bros,” or the way girls call each other “best friend.” No, it goes far deeper and extends outside of our inner circle. It means seeing each other as part of the family of God, as a family that is in some ways more real than the one you have now (Luke 14).

What this means is that we have a relationship with each other that is not based on how we feel about each other or what we see in each other: it’s about whose children we are, and knowing Jesus who is our brother (Hebrews 1-2). It means we have a relationship with each other that is real and not faked or impersonal (Ephesians 3). It means that other relationships won’t last besides them.

For example, you won’t have a President in heaven; you won’t have the DMV employees to renew your registration, the Postal worker who drops off your mail, or the teller at the bank giving you money- you won’t find anyone doing those same jobs in heaven, not even your pastor. In fact, you won’t even have a husband or wife, according to Jesus in Matthew 22:30.

See, I don’t think today we take our commitments seriously, not even to our church body. I don’t think we primarily see each other as brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers, but as people we could date, connect with socially, or with whom we could enjoy the freedom of convenient friendships. This journey to heaven is filled with people in different camps, wanting to be accommodated instead of self-sacrificing for the sake of others.

Family involves hard work, and I don’t know if we are putting in the effort to make it grow and develop. I think we are distracted. If we took these relationships seriously, for what they are in God’s eyes, would we respond in the same way we are now? Would we so quickly desert others in the church to only spend time with those we find the most personal connections with?

Jesus teaches the disciples in Matthew 12,

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothersstood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

What Jesus is referring to here is our adoption as sons and daughters- of being included in God’s family through being “born again” (John 3:1-17; 1 Peter 1:1-3). Your first birth brought you into this world, and in this world you have lived a life of sin that you could not escape from. You were “dead in sin,” and you could not make yourself into someone else. But, God did the same work in you as He did in me, if you are in Christ. He made you a new creation. He made you born again.

It is true that God created everyone “in His image” and so in one sense we are the “children of God,” (Gen. 1:27-2; 9:6; Acts 17), but because of sin from Adam (Rom. 5:12) we don’t want the same things God wants. In fact, Jesus would tell the Jewish leaders and those who denied Him, “you are of your father, the devil (John 8:43-48).

We needed to be changed, to be born again to a “living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1). Jesus accomplished for us not only the forgiveness of our sins, but also provided the gift of His righteousness to us. We are seen as righteous in the eyes of God because God exchanged our sin for His perfect record. He guaranteed us not only a home in heaven, but also a new heart that beats after righteousness and a love for God and others (Ezek. 36:26). He gave us the ability to live like Him, and we will one day be as He is- free from sin, and displaying His glory forever and ever (1 John 2-3).

The Dating Dilemma

So, how does this relate to dating?

Well, today we have access to innumerable articles on how to date, who to date, and why to date or not to date as a Christian.

Point being, we hear advice from all corners of the internet, and there are benefits and problems associated with this. It’s affecting our life in the church and from seeing each other as a family in Christ.

For one, a constant emphasis on getting dating right can send the message that dating and marriage should be high on our priority list or thought on too frequently. If everyone is talking about it, then it must be important (and it is!)- and I don’t want miss out on God’s best for me, do I? I must not be thinking of it enough, or finding the right advice, or the best article to help me make a decision.

Secondly, it can instill in us Biblical wisdom about who and how to date (or not), but its influence only extends as far as we are willing to rightly apply it. It needs to be preceded by a clear understanding of “this person is my Christian sister,” or, “this is my Christian brother; we both belong to Christ.” Until you see them as your church family first, you will miss out on all the relationships inside of the church, not just the one you especially desire.

Third, a constant focus on Christian dating can cultivate a stronger desire for marriage and a weaker desire for the Church, when both are meant to model Christ for us. We can read of one so much that we forget the other. It can cause us to spend time focusing on only one relationship and allow us to miss out on all the others around us. If my emotional and mental energy is mostly spent on seeking out someone to be my bride and the mother of my children, then I am not utilizing my time and energy in the healthiest way. Instead, I should ask myself, how am I best modeling what a Christian brother is not only now, but also in the ages to come?

Fourth, how does this affect your relationships with brothers or sisters that you are not interested in? Does the way you think about marriage and dating assist you in these relationships in healthy ways, or cause you to overlook others? Would you still get to know them because of where they stand with you in Christ? Are you willing to share laughter and fellowship for the sake of something other than dating or marriage?

I am not saying that there are not helpful articles out there- the issue is not with the internet, so much as what the internet can do when paired with our motives. It is because the internet is a private resource for us that we face problems; as you’re reading about how a husband should act, you may begin to idealize how that man should be even before you date him, when you have brothers around you who are being sanctified and may be growing into future husbands Or, men, you read articles thinking that the kind of woman you are thinking of exists out there, but your sisters in Christ are being sanctified into women who could be a wife someday. But, that’s not your priority- Christ is, and His kingdom and His church body.

In light of all of the above, my brothers, do you see Christian women as your sisters first, or as potential wives? Or sisters, do you see Christian men as your brothers first, or potential husbands? Is that the first thought that enters your mind when you see them, or think of them? Or do you see them primarily as someone you could date and marry? If I’m being honest with you, I think the latter controls my thinking more than the former. I think our insecurities about our singleness often ruin our Christian relationships, and I think this all boils down to a weak ecclesiology- a weak understanding of the Church.

In the end, I encourage you, along with myself, to direct all that energy you have on gaining a stronger Biblical understanding of the body of Christ, and on building strong relationships of every kind, not just one.

Austin

Practical questions: 

If you are my brother, what does this mean about how I relate to you?

If you are my sister, how can I best honor who the Lord has made you to be?

If you are my father, how can I best serve you and learn from you?

If you are my mother, what can I do to best serve you?

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