Tag: Marriage

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”

Can I Date an Unbeliever?

Ever since my first ministry post as a middle school ministry director in 2003, I’ve dealt regularly with Christian folks who want to know if it is acceptable for them to date an unbeliever. Often (but not always), those who are pondering this question readily acknowledge that the Bible says a Christian cannot marry a non-Christian. Nevertheless, they believe they can move down this path because (1) the Bible does not forbid dating an unbeliever; or (2) their romantic relationship can serve as a means of evangelism to the unbelieving boyfriend or girlfriend; or (3) their situation is unique; (4) a combination of some or all of the above. Continue reading “Can I Date an Unbeliever?”

How Shall We Serve the Poor? Reflections on 'Nickle and Dimed' by Barbara Ehrenreich and 'The Natural Family' by Carson T. Mero

I would see them about once every three weeks; not that they only came in every three weeks, but my Pastor on Duty assignment and their periodic visits would only seem to coincide about once every twenty-one days.  The stories, though told by many different faces—men, women, black, white, young, old—were remarkably similar: they could not find work and needed money to pay rent; they needed gas money for their next job interview; their vehicle required specific mechanical attention; or they simply desired money for groceries.

Our church’s policy, obviously devised by men who were less prone to naivety than I was, stated that we were unable to provide financial assistance to those who did not have a relationship with our church.  The steps required to establish such a relationship were not rigorous: just come to church on Sundays and after two Sundays, you could meet with a pastor and probably, in most cases, start to receive some financial help.

When I first started to meet with these people, I was ready to open my own pockets to them.  We were told that we could give out our own money if we wanted to, but we were also advised that this was probably not a good idea in most situations.  Casting such counsel aside—in (self)righteous indignation, of course—as a veiled excuse for not helping the poor, I started to give money away to the first few people with whom I met.  Soon, however, after some broken promises, (“I will pay you back in a week”) and some reflection on what at the time seemed like legitimate stories, I decided to quit giving out my own money.  I figured I was being scammed.

Or maybe I wasn’t.  At least Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed has me second-guessing.  To be honest, Ehrenreich has probably only perpetuated a flip-floppiness that began shortly after I became a Christian: do we help the poor by giving them money, or not?  The annoying thing about Ehrenreich’s book is that it attempts to dislodge the treasured adage from an upper middle-class mind: hard work always pays off.  In the cases that Ehrenreich presented, hard work did not always pay off; in fact, if barely paid the rent.  And in my role as the pastor on duty, my initial reactions to most of the people who came through the church door looking for money (for the men, especially) was “Get a job”; and don’t tell me you have been looking—if you really wanted to work, you would take any job you could find.  Apparently, I am one of those Americans who is “used to thinking of poverty as a consequence of unemployment” (219).  But as Enrenreich vividly illustrates, it is not that simple: even many of those who work—and work hard—find themselves not earning enough to make ends meet.

It would seem that the solution for someone in dire financial straights would simply be more hours.  Since $7 an hour barely cuts it on a forty-hour workweek, then work sixty hours, or more.  But as Enrenreich learned from her experience in the low-wage work force, more hours means, in many cases, no day off—work is done on all seven days of the week—and this takes a toll that is just as real, but less perceptible (at least at the beginning), as the low-wage itself.

The undeniable testimony of Scripture is that God’s people are to provide for the poor.  But is our duty fulfilled when hand a five dollar bill to the man standing by the freeway entrance sign, or when we give our extra food from the Cheesecake factory to a beggar, or when we take our excess clothes[1] to the local Goodwill?  If we take seriously what Enrenreich has written, then to answer these questions with a self-satisfied “Yes,” would be myopic at best, and self-deceiving  at worst.  There is more to it.

What, then, is the Christian’s responsibility to help and provide for the poor in America?  I do not think that a few dollars here and there is going to make significant impact.  We need a full blown theological response to poverty that not only takes into account the fact of poverty, but considers the causes of poverty.

One thing I noticed as I read Ehrenreich’s book is that she primarily interacted with women.  This makes sense since she is a woman.  But in her experience in the low-wage work force, she ran into many women who were either working in order to supplement the husband’s income, as the sole income for herself and her mate, or in order to support themselves.  The missing piece in each situation was a man who was bound and determined to work hard enough to support his family, or a man altogether.

Perhaps our serving the poor begins in an unlikely place, namely, in the Church’s affirmation of marriage and family.  The economic benefits of marriage are well documented.  Allan Carson and Paul T. Mero, authors of The Natural Family: A Manifesto, write that “the wealth-creating benefits of marriage mark the best way out of poverty,” and marriage is especially advantageous for women, showing that “‘power of marriage to deliver affluence for women is extremely strong.’”  Carson and Mero tell of a probability sample of 10,847 women ages fifteen to forty-four conducted by researches from Ohio State and Penn State University demonstrated that “‘marriage matters economically.’”  Carson and Mero continue, “compared to never married peers, [the studies show that] ‘ever-married women are substantially less likely to be poor, regardless of race, family, disadvantage, nonmarital birth status, or high school dropout” (153).

The authors of this study also demonstrated that “‘the deleterious effected associated with a disadvantaged family background is completely offset by marrying and staying married (i.e. disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged women who marry have similarly low odds of poverty).’” (154).  Carson and Mero write

This means that “marriage…offers a way out of poverty for disadvantaged women.”  The numbers bear this out.  Married black women are much better off economically than are their single peers.  The household net worth of the average married black woman in 1990 was $15,650, compared to just $4,563 for the average unmarried black woman.

Carson and Mero also note that, “researchers see marriage fostering affluence by eliminating some of the household expenses that since individuals would incur by making possible ‘a division of labor that maximizes family income’ by ‘enabling the partner with higher earnings [usually the husband] to devote relatively more energy and attention to remunerated work.” (152-153).  A “division of labor” implies that the husband and wife have different roles to fulfill.  The man, primarily, would be earning the income; the wife, primarily, would be taking care of the home and nurturing her children.  This “division of labor” allows the man to dedicate himself to earning more money for his family and thus alleviating poverty in his own home.

The Church’s affirmation of not only marriage, but the fulfilling of designed roles within marriage, appears to be an effective tool by which to alleviate poverty.  This does not mean, however, that we can shirk our responsibility to give our money and possession away to assuage immediate needs.  It would be easy to cultivate a greedy heart while claiming to be concerned about the poor because we are “affirming marriage and family.”  No, I think serving the poor means getting into the trenches, providing for their needs, visiting shelters and having genuine compassion—not only the “poor” as a group, but on certain poor people that we know by name.

Nevertheless, it cannot stop here; we must do both.  While we are giving of our money and possessions to help the poor, we also need to be upholding the glorious institution of marriage within our immediate sphere of influence and within society as a whole.  As marriage and the roles within marriage are embraced by society, I believe we will see a decrease in poverty, as the studies that Carson and Mero appear to indicate.

Some significant questions still remain, however, and will require more reflection and study.  How do we as a church approach the issue of low-wages for women?  Granted, we will be affirming marriage in such a way so that less women need to be subjected to low-wage jobs, but what is our responsibility in the meantime?  How do we counsel young single women who, although they strongly desire to get married, have not yet and therefore face poverty?  How should single women, who desire to remain single for Christ’s sake, seek to support themselves?  Should women in general, despite their unmarried state, be dependent on others in some way?  It is easy for me to tell a 22-year-old man who has just graduated college that it is time for him to move out of his mom and dad’s house, but I find myself reluctant to instruct a young woman in an identical situation to do the same.  It seems, by the very nature of our design as men and women, that women were made to be dependent upon a man (either her dad and her husband).  It appears strange, therefore, to encourage women to leave the home (when they are unmarried) in the same way that we would encourage a young man to leave the home.  How do we counsel young women in this situation?  May the Lord guide our efforts as we seek to serve the poor and think more rigorously about how these things apply to the men and women in our churches.