Christian Dating and Courtship, Part 3: The Question of Physical Attraction

Male handsomeness and female beauty are good gifts from God. Scripture is unashamed to speak of men who had attractive physical appearances (Gen 39:6; 1 Sam 9:2; 16:12; 17:42; 2 Sam 14:25; 21:21; 1 Kings 1:6; Ps 45:2; Songs 5:10-16) and of women who had beautiful faces andget this—beautiful bodies (Gen 12:11; 14; 26:7; 29:17; 1 Sam 25:3; 2 Sam 11:2; 13:1; 14:27; 1 Kings 1:4; Job 42:15; Songs 4:1-5).

Yet, I am regularly asked if it is important for a Christian man or woman to be physically attracted to the person they are dating. As I’ve asked this question in the past, I’ve found that counsel usually comes in one of two basic answers. One answer is that no, physical attraction isn’t important and shouldn’t be part of one’s initial consideration; rather, a person’s godly character should be the paramount factor. Another answer suggests that while godly character should be the primary factor, physical attraction is important and should also be part of the equation.

Unfortunately, while I agree more with the second of the two, neither of the typical answers to this question go deep enough to provide sufficiently biblical counsel. In order to fully answer this question, we must consider physical attraction from both a male and female perspective, while also considering why physical attraction may be lacking in either case.

Men and Physical Attraction
It seems to go without saying that men, generally speaking, are initially drawn to a woman based on whether or not he finds her physically attractive. A Christian man will be looking for far more than physical beauty (Prov 11:22; 31:30), but that doesn’t negate the fact that physical attraction may be, and often is, the initial cause of interest. And, let’s be clear: there’s nothing necessarily unspiritual about that.

I’ve observed situations, however, where godly, well-intentioned, and otherwise wise men have counseled single brothers to not let the lack of physical attraction keep them from pursuing a godly woman. While I respect the effort of these men to uphold a woman’s character as the supreme consideration, I believe their counsel—to the degree that they merely instructed the young men to trudge ahead with the relationship without sensing any physical attraction—was superficial and ultimately unhelpful.

Rarely does anyone ask the question of why physical attraction is not present in such cases. Yet, it is this question that, if asked carefully and compassionately, has the power to unearth sin and wrong thinking and actually serve to nurture physical attraction in the heart. When a young man asks me, “Do you believe I should be physically attracted to my girlfriend,” I answer, “Yes!” In fact, I think there should be more men in the church who are attracted to more women than is presently the case! But I believe there are at least six reasons for why it is often lacking in men.

Pride. If we think highly of ourselves and the kind of woman we deserve, then we will be disabled from beholding and appreciating the beauty of the women around us. Pride blinds the eyes and skews the judgment (Ps 25:9; James 4:6), even in the area of romance. When it comes to relationships, proud men will pass by many worthy women because they have become convinced they deserve a certain kind of woman: a particular body shape, hair color, background, or ethnicity. But when we have a clear view of what we truly deserve—an eternity enduring God’s righteous judgment against our sin—that simple, godly girl we’ve known for the past couple years begins to appear very attractive, almost irresistible. A man should be attracted to the woman he is pursuing, but pride will often keep many a man from appreciating the beauty of the women already in his midst.

Not Enough Attention Given to a Woman’s Character. To the godly man, the beauty of a woman’s holiness will actually enhance her physical beauty in his eyes (Prov 30:10; Rom 10:15; 1 Peter 3:4). Those who say that physical attraction isn’t important are at least right to emphasize the woman’s character as a vital consideration. The most physically beautiful of women will appear unattractive to a Christian man if her beauty is coupled with immoral character (see Prov 11:22). Nevertheless, attraction his holistic, and it possible that physical attraction is lacking in a man if he is not placing enough emphasis on a woman’s character which will, over time, serve to adorn her physical beauty in his eyes. This is usually the underlying assumption of those who suggest that physical attraction is unimportant, but the men they counsel would be better served if they were told that physical attraction can and should grow when proper weight is given to a woman’s inner beauty.

A Wrong Understanding of “Attraction.” Contrary to popular Hollywood portrayals of romance and relationships, genuine attraction does not necessarily consist in an experience of “love at first sight” or unearthly feelings of romantic transport. I’ve counseled men who’ve been concerned about whether or not they are truly attracted to their girlfriend because their initial meeting didn’t result in intense feelings of desire and visions of destiny. There’s nothing wrong if romantic relationships begin this way, but we must be careful that we don’t bypass a potential relationship because it didn’t begin like like the latest box office blockbuster.

The Culture’s Standard of Beauty. Our culture has also imprinted a certain ideal of beauty onto our minds. Specifically, we are told (and shown) over and over that true physical beauty is found primarily in a particular body shape or hair color or facial structure. We are also taught to value physical beauty supremely and treat a woman’s inner beauty as secondary. This mindset is devastating to our relationships and our hope for marriage because physical beauty must diminish over time. Those who attempt to preserve their physical beauty into old age risk destroying their physical appearance altogether, as we’ve witnessed in some horrendous celebrity plastic surgery mishaps. When we are walking in humility and pursuing the right things, it is possible to be physically attracted to many different kinds of women, not merely those who appear on the magazine covers.

Pornography. It is no exaggeration to say that soft and hardcore pornography has decimated many a man’s ability to appreciate the physical beauty of the women around him. The ease of access to pornography has allowed men to store up naked or scantily dressed—often air-brushed and utterly unrealistic—images of what he perceives to be the perfect woman. But the more a man immerses himself in fantasy the less able he will be to appreciate reality, to the peril of his hopes for marriage. Why are men, more and more, losing their taste for real physical beauty? Because they are, more and more, drinking from the poisoned well of pornography.

Same-Sex Attraction. It is also possible that a man finds that he is not physically attracted to his girlfriend because he is, generally speaking, attracted to other men. Should we counsel a Christian man in such a scenario to plod ahead in his relationship and ignore his desires? No, I don’t think so. Again, we should recognize that physical attraction is important and that it is possible for a man wrestling with same-sex attraction to grow in his attraction for the woman he is dating. He should be encouraged by stories of men for whom this has been the case.

Women and Physical Attraction
It seems that, by and large, physical attraction is the initial movement of the man’s soul, and, as he pursues a woman, she becomes more physically attracted to him. We would be wrong to conclude, however, that physical attraction does not matter to women. It does. The reasons it may be lacking in some women can be similar to the reasons it is lacking in men: pride, not enough attention given to man’s godliness, concern about the lack of euphoric romantic feelings, a wrong standard of male handsomeness, same-sex attraction, and, now more than ever, pornography.

But women must also be aware of their design in relation to men. God has created the man to be the pursuer and the one who woos and wins his wife. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Prov 18:22), the Proverbs tell us, which implies that the man is seeking after his wife. As a man pursues a woman, she often naturally grows more and more physically attracted to him as she is able to perceive his godly character and intentional leadership.

Practically, ladies, this means that you should be willing to give a worthy guy a chance to win your affection. If, after a reasonable amount of time you are still bereft of any desire or attraction, you can end the relationship. That’s why Paul says that an unmarried woman can marry “whoever she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39). You are not obligated by the mere pursuit to marry any particular man.

But this question of physical attraction also naturally leads to the question of how a Christian should care for his or her physical appearance.

Should Christians be Concerned About their Physical Appearance?
It seems reasonable to say that a Christian should neither neglect his or her physical appearance nor worship it. It is not a mark of holiness to allow your physical appearance to deteriorate, nor is it ultra-spiritual to purposefully neglect your clothing or hygiene. When Proverbs 31:30 says that “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,” it means these features are deceitful and vain when they exist apart from the kind of godly character described in the previous verses of Proverbs 31 (see Prov 31:10-31).

What, then, should mark our physical appearance? This is not an easy question to answer, for Scripture doesn’t say too much on the subject. But I will attempt an answer that, I trust, makes reasonable use of what Scripture does say. 

Intentionality in How We Dress. A Christian’s life should be lived intentionally, not haphazardly (Prov 4:26; 21:5; Eph 5:15-17). This intentionality will be naturally expressed in how we dress. A lack of intentionality in life is a mark of youth and immaturity, and a lack of intentionality in how we adorn ourselves may be an overflow of our life as a whole. Intentionality does not imply that we must wear expensive clothing or latest fashions, but only that we give some thought and attention to what we are wearing so as not to be a distraction to others.

Adornment that’s Fitting for the Occasion. Wearing what is appropriate for a given occasion is an expression of intentionality, and it shows respect for others (Matt 22:39; 1 Peter 2:13-14). If you wear pajamas to a formal gala, you will not only embarrass yourself, you will embarrass the host, the person who invited you, and make all the attendees feel awkward. This kind of neglect is a refusal to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

Clothing That Doesn’t Draw Attention for its Opulence or its Neglect. We should avoid distracting others with our wealth or drawing attention to ourselves by neglecting our physical appearance (1 Peter 3:1ff; Matt 6:16-18). In both cases—opulence and neglect—we are focused on ourselves rather than on Christ and others. If we are most concerned with drawing people’s attention to Christ through our word, conduct, and character, then we will not be likely to dress in a such a way that draws undue attention to ourselves through our overly-fancy clothing or poor hygiene.

Reasonable Care for Our Physical Health. Our physical health is a stewardship (Prov 20:29; 31:17; 1 Tim 4:8; 5:23). We should desire to remain useful to our King and to his people for as long as possible. Eating well (with self-control and a reasonable attention to healthy food), getting adequate sleep and exercise are ways we can steward our health. None of these guarantee that we will remain healthy, and some of us may suffer illnesses that hinder our ability to exercise and make it difficult to maintain our weight. But for our part, we should desire to maintain our health so we can labor diligently for the Lord and for others as long as possible.

Attention to Our Personal Hygiene. Personal hygiene is a matter of loving one’s neighbor (Song 7:8; Matt 22:39). Brush your teeth. Take a shower. Comb your hair. Wear deodorant. Chew gum when necessary. Personal hygiene not primarily about you; it’s about respect for others.

God has made us embodied creatures, now and for all eternity. Our bodies are important. How we clothe them and think about physical attraction in our romantic relationships are significant issues because they relate to God’s good creation and the stewardship of it. I hope this post has helped you think afresh about these common yet often misunderstood questions. And, as always, your comments and feedback are always welcome.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Christian Dating and Courtship, Part 2: Compatibility

Much is made these days about compatibility when it comes to romantic relationships. Indeed, the entire online dating industry is built upon the idea of compatibility, and a simple Google search will provide you a dizzying array of romance gurus ready to share their wisdom on how to find the person with whom you are the most compatible.

One popular Christian dating website offers seven types of compatibility, including the nebulous “Personality Compatibility.” One social-psychologist, states that when we’ve found another person with whom we share the “traits that really matter” we are most likely to experience the greatest happiness and avoid divorce. That’s quite a promise. Continue reading “Christian Dating and Courtship, Part 2: Compatibility”

Christian Dating and Courtship, Part 1: Leadership

Ever since Joshua Harris kissed dating goodbye in 1997, the dating vs. courting debate has raged within the evangelical community. While not as controversial as it once was (as far as I can tell), the question of whether Christians should “date” or “court” is still a hot topic within the larger Church.

I do not intend to enter that debate directly here. Rather, I want to lay down a few vital biblical principles to help you to think carefully about romantic relationships, regardless of whether you think dating or courting best facilitates the implementation of these principles. I will discuss these principles in a series of posts. Continue reading “Christian Dating and Courtship, Part 1: Leadership”

Brothers, Be Patient: A Few Thoughts on Pastors and the Writing of Books

I’m thirty-eight. I’m a pastor. I love to write. But in terms of full-length books, I’ve only written a dissertation (which remains unpublished), a little book entitled How to Pray for Your Pastor, and a recent book, Strong and Courageous: The Character and Calling of Mature Manhood. I’ve got some other projects in mind, and I hope to serve the church by someday writing more books, but right now it’s hard to find the time. I have a wife and two young (very active) boys, a new (super cute) baby girl, a ministry full of people I love to serve, and friends and family members to whom I want to give my time and attention, so it’s often difficult to secure time for book writing.

But I’m not discouraged. Continue reading “Brothers, Be Patient: A Few Thoughts on Pastors and the Writing of Books”

Books on Homosexuality from a Christian Perspective

Below is a list of books that deal with the issue of homosexuality from a Christian perspective. There are many other resources available, but these are the ones I have read and on which I can offer my thoughts.

DeYoung HomosexualityWhat Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? | Kevin DeYoung –In part 1 of this accessible and well-written volume, DeYoung examines all the major Bible passages that address the issue of homosexual practice. In part 2, he answers several objections to the biblical position. This is an excellent resource that all Christians should own and read. 153 pages. Continue reading “Books on Homosexuality from a Christian Perspective”

The Pursuit of Mutual Encouragement: A Mark of Spiritual Maturity

I hadn’t noticed it until recently, but Paul says something unexpected in the first chapter of Romans. The apostle first introduces himself to the church (1:1), then underscores his theological and spiritual credentials (1:2-7), and expresses his genuine love for the believers in Rome (1:8). Paul longs to see these brothers and sisters, and he reports that he has prayed toward that end (1:9-10).

Paul had good reasons why he wanted to see the Christians in Rome; he desired to strengthen them through the impartation of a spiritual gift (1:11) and the preaching of the gospel (1:15). That makes sense. What I find remarkable is what Paul says immediately following verse 11.

For I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine (Romans 1:11-12; emphasis added). Continue reading “The Pursuit of Mutual Encouragement: A Mark of Spiritual Maturity”

Screen Time and the Christian

The dawn of the iPhone ten years ago, in the words of its chief inventor Steve Jobs, was a revolutionary event. It created a whole new category of personal technology that would, by itself, establish an entire industry within the global marketplace. The iPad, introduced two-and-a-half years later, would also prove transformative to the personal technology industry, again creating a new category broadly known as the tablet. Immediately after their respective unveilings, the iPhone and iPad prompted companies worldwide to produce similar products in order to gain a share in this new market. Presently there are approximately 2.6 billion smartphone users and 1 billion tablet users in the world. Continue reading “Screen Time and the Christian”