The bible puts relationships in three categories (well four if you count immorality):
- Brother / Sister (see also: Friend & Neighbor)
- Betrothed (A covenanted romantic relationship)
- Husband / Wife (Married)
This is quite different from the modern western culture that has add multiple “try-before-you-buy” relationship categories: “dating”, “a couple”, “we’re serious”, “engaged”, etc. None of these romantic (but uncovenanted) relationships are valid according to God.
So what does a Biblical “Romantic” Relationship look like?
Stage 1: Brother/Sister relationships
God has adopted us into His family. This means we should treat others as brothers or sisters in all purity. Purity not just for our sake, but for their sake as well. If you love someone, you’re not going to put your own desires before what’s best for them with God.
”… [treat] the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.” - 1 Timothy 5:1-2
If an action wouldn’t be appropriate with all guys/girls, then it’s not appropriate with any one person.
“It is good for a man not to touch a woman. - 1 Corinthians 7:1 “Flee also youthful lusts”. - 2 Timothy 2:22
We are to be serving the Lord in this stage and not looking for a spouse (or riches, or fame, or any other part of “our own kingdom”). One day God will point someone out to you.
Brothers and Sisters serve together, they do community together. Brothers and Sisters don’t have to be romantic to have meaningful and important conversations.
You’re not seeking a romantic relationship yet - you are simply learning who this person is until…
Stage 2: Betrothed
After much prayer, God told you to marry this person. Your family, friends, and mature, spiritual mentors have told you that God confirmed it to them. Everything is lined up and you are ready to fall in love with this person. In fact, you’re ready to enter a covenant with them to begin the journey as husband and wife.
A couple become betrothed with very little (if any) uncertainty about the marriage. This should be a sure step for someone walking in faith as God leads them.
If there are still questions, or one person isn’t ready to covenant to marry - then both people need to remain brother and sister in the Lord and not try to partially enter into the marriage relationship. You need:
- Clear instruction from the Lord
- Support from the body (family, elders, friends, etc..)
A Betrothed couple still are not physical with each other. However, a betrothed couple are no longer brother and sister - but betrothed (or espoused) husband and wife. They are able to think or speak about things that may not be appropriate with others. They are free to fall in love with the other person in the safety of their covenant and promise to marry.
A Betrothal is not an engagement. An engagement can be called off - a betrothal would require a divorce. Both people have already covenanted with God to be united in marriage. This period before marriage is often short as the couple is focused on finishing up what remains so that they can be married.
Stage 3: Marriage
At last, every last part of the relationship between two people is operational. Marriage is a union by God. Uniting two people into one flesh. It’s not something the state does, it’s not even something we do, it’s something that God does. (And you want God to orchestrate as well)
Marriage is a picture that points to our relationship with Christ as his bride. Our marriage on earth won’t last forever, but that eternal marriage will. God arranged Christ’s marriage and will surely bring it to pass. Our marriage here on earth should mirror this.