TITLE: Not optional
By Lou Bloss
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If you talk to single or single-again Christians long enough, this question inevitably arises: "What does the Bible have to say about dating?"
The question isn't really about the social practice of modern dating protocols. The question is really about how to relate to other people, particularly single ones of the sex opposite yours. It addresses the issue in surprisingly clear terms: "Do not rebuke an older man but exhort him as you would a father; treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity." (I Tim. 5:1-2 RSV).
Paul, in his pastoral letter to Timothy, is providing specific direction about what this young minister is to teach his congregation. "Command and teach these things," is what Paul says to him in 4:11. So Timothy, as a pastor, is to follow the prescription given at the beginning of chapter 5, and he is to also command and teach these things as well.
Note that it is a command instead of a suggestion. This is not optional.
Paul frames the debate in context of family relations. Families should be safe places. Obviously, not every family is intact, functional, and safe. But that is what they should be, and Paul says behave as if you are a part of one.
How should you, as a single again Christian, act toward an older Christian man? The command is to treat him as you would a father, exhorting him to continue in the faith and not lose hope instead of rebuking him for past mistakes or present discouragement. Men who have seen much in life often have seen not enough of God's mercy and goodness. Many times an older person finds great comfort, joy, and strength by the presence of a younger person.
Older women should be treated like mothers. How do you treat your mom? How do you want her to be treated by others? That is how you are commanded to treat older women. Paul goes on in the following verses to describe how widows are to be treated, and the broader issue of providing for family is addressed. But it is clear how older women are to be treated.
Paul also addresses how younger men and younger women should be treated: like brothers and sisters. I have found this to be very helpful to help me determine appropriate behavior towards single women. Would I open the door for my sister if we entered a building? Yes. Would I pay for lunch if we dined out? Yes. Would I carry items from the car to her door for her? Yes. Would I give her a hug before I left? Yes. Would I neck with her for 30 minutes in her living room before I left? Absolutely not. So there is where the line is drawn.
The final part of this command is to act "in all purity." These three words are important. Read them like this: "In ALLLLLLLLLL purity." That middle word becomes mighty big. I think of it as a preservative: it keeps friendships from turning into stinking, rotten, ex-romances.
How do you know if you are acting in all purity? Just take a look at Gal. 5:19, "Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness," The list goes on, but impurity is nestled snugly between fornication (acts of sexual sin) and licentiousness (thoughts of sexual sin). So anything between and including acts and thoughts of sexual sin is impure. Impurity of any kind -- falsehood, deception, addiction, self-destructive behaviors -- destroys any relationship.
So how are these commands intended to benefit the single-again Christian? First, they put us squarely in a family relationship with other Christians. Family should be a safe place, and acting like family should nullify the potential for unsafe behavior. Second, they provide the relational structure to build solid friendships. Out of those friendships you may find someone to marry. If you are inclined to be married, then it's preferable your spouse is a friend and not just an infatuation. Infatuations that are pure do not exist.
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