Pastoral Perspectives

Dating and Courtship – What’s the difference?

Recently, I was planning to conduct a third run of marriage weekend with our partner in SQ and instead they asked if I could conduct a seminar on “Dating & Courtship”. Dating and Courtship are some of the least discussed topics in the church. Yet dating has caused the most havoc, destroyed countless lives, resulted in unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and even split churches apart.

As most of the churches don’t teach on this subject, a vacuum exists resulting in our teenagers adopting the worldview of popular culture. This has led many church youth groups to become havens for dating and premarital sex. Let me attempt to give some clarity on this all-important subject for the sake of the sanctity and safety of the next generation who will soon have their own families. The following are guidelines that best fit young people but many of the principles still apply to older and more mature single adults looking for a mate.

Dating is an unbiblical method crafted by the world that has the following pattern:

  • Two people can mutually claim to be “boyfriend and girlfriend” if they are physically attracted to one another (having a crush is the litmus test) and claim each other for themselves in a special relationship.
  • They most often end their relationship after several months when one “feels a crush” for someone else. Thus, the relationship ends with at least one of the individuals feeling devastated and wounded.
  • There are no boundaries or ethics to govern this type of relationship. Thus, what initially starts off as a good-night kiss quickly accelerates to petting, fondling, and then full-blown sexual intimacy.

Although the above points are generalisations, they are true depictions of most cases regarding dating.


Although the Bible does not lay out specifics regarding courtship, since some of the biblical marriages were arranged by families (for example, the Old Testament patriarch Isaac and his wife Rebecca were brought together providentially by God), when we piece together all the principles of Scripture we have a good plan for courtship.

Courtship based on the biblical model of love, romance, sacrifice, dignity, and covenant implies the following about how two people could begin a process that may eventually lead to marriage:

  • A person should not even begin to look for a mate unless they are adequately prepared for the responsibilities of marriage and family, and are themselves emotionally healthy and spiritually mature.
  • Both parties should back off, receive counsel, and pray to hear from God with other mature leaders and/or parents before allowing their hearts to be pulled towards each other romantically.
  • Besides physical attraction, other considerations to make in the discernment process are emotional connectedness, intellectual compatibility, spiritual health and even the personality of the potential partner.

Courtship is a relationship between a man and a woman in which they seek to determine if it is God’s will for them to marry each other.

The main difference between dating and courtship involves the goals to be reached by spending time with a potential marriage partner. Men and women who choose to date often have no commitment to consider marrying the other person. Maturity and readiness for marriage are not the considerations in the decision to date. Instead, couples usually date with the selfish goals of having fun and enjoying romantic attachments.

In contrast, courtship is undertaken only when both parties are prepared to make a commitment to marriage. Dating tries to answer the question: “How can I find the one who will make me happy?” Courtship strives to answer the question: “How can I honour God and discern His direction regarding my life partner?”

In a dating relationship, the couple doesn’t is not accountable to anyone and there is little or no interaction with family members. The dating couple is merely attracted to one another in some way and often pursues an exclusive relationship that is independent of others’ influence or counsel. Since the boundaries of the relationship are self-determined, the couple may easily succumb to temptation and fail to consider their responsibility to honour each other in purity and genuine love.

A couple participating in courtship seeks to be accountable to their parents or other mentors. As they establish guidelines for their relationship, they can more easily recognise that God also holds them responsible to honour one another.

Let me conclude with a story: A wise-man was taking a stroll with his disciple. This disciple, a young man, was troubled over an issue and so he asked his mentor: “Sir, how do I choose a right partner? How can I have a great marriage?” The mentor smiled at him and did not directly answer him. As they were crossing a wheat field, the mentor told his disciple: “Why don’t you go into the wheat field and pick me a nice and full stalk of wheat. There are however 2 conditions:

  1. You cannot turn back
  2. You can only pluck once.

Once you’ve made your choice, pluck the best stalk and I’ll meet you at the other end of the field.” The mentor waited for a very long time and finally the disciple appeared but with an empty hand. The mentor smiled and asked: “What happened?” The disciple looked troubled and replied: “When I first entered the wheat field, I saw plenty of wheat that were full and grown but since I could only pluck once, I hesitated thinking that I could find even better ones. Sure enough as I moved along, I saw better ones ahead. I was again hesitant as to which one I should pick and before I knew it, I realised that I had come to the exit. I decided that I should choose sparingly and so came out empty handed.” The mentor smiled said: “It is because you are not prepared.”

Both then continued on their journey. The disciple seemed to have come to his senses and asked his mentor if he could give him another chance. The mentor replied: “Sure.” And they came towards a garden and the mentor told him: “Now you go into this garden and pick me the most beautiful flower.” The mentor added: “The 2 conditions still apply:

  1. You cannot turn back.
  2. You can only pluck once.”

The mentor then went to the exit to wait for his disciple. Surprisingly, even before the mentor was there, the disciple was already waiting for him. In his hand was a most beautiful flower. The mentor asked: “Are you sure this is the most beautiful in the garden?” The disciple replied: “Yes, I am sure! When I first entered the garden I saw it. I admired it for a long time before I plucked it down. As I made my way out, I kept admiring this stalk of flower and I no longer looked at all the other flowers and so I can now tell you this is the most beautiful bloom in the garden.” The mentor was very pleased and satisfied and said: “You are now well prepared, you’ve made the right choice.”

3 thoughts to take home:

  1. Seek GOD’s WILL and godly counsels.
  2. Start relationships only when you’re PREPARED and READY for a lifetime commitment.
  3. Seek not for the Mr or Miss Right but BE the Mr or Miss RIGHT.

Jesus gave this instruction with a promise: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). When a person makes a growing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ the foundation of all decisions—as he or she seeks God’s kingdom—God will provide all that is needed, including the marriage partner prepared by God just for that person. (Proverbs 18:22, 19:14.)

Rev Tan Cheng Huat (SQ Non-Resident Missionary)

April 15, 2018