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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
183 pages
Feb 2006
P & R Publishing

Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating

by Richard D. Phillips & Sharon L. Phillips

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt



Love Made New

God’s Design in Creation

IT WAS ALL SO GOOD. That’s what the Bible says: good, good, good. The light was good. The plants were good. The water was good. But then, in Genesis 2:18, all that changes. Suddenly we read the words, “not good.” Wouldn’t you know that it had to do with a man and a woman coming together?

You hear this from guys all the time: “Everything was great until the girls got involved!” “Everything was going well, and then he got a girlfriend.” To so many men today— including Christian men—women are the problem. But that isn’t what God says in the Bible. When Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good,” God is talking about a man without a woman. The verse says—and this is where our biblical tour of dating begins—“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’ ” This is where we start, with a man’s need for a woman and with God’s provision of a woman for the well-being of the man.

A Problem and a Solution

There were two ways in which God’s observation was true. It was not good for man to be alone, first, because from the start God had intended for the human race to consist of men and women together. This is what an earlier and vitally important passage, Genesis 1:27, teaches: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This is the truest statement of women’s equality with men! When God made the human race to bear his own image, he meant for that image to be expressed through the union of a man and a woman. The idea of bearing God’s image is a rich and involved concept, but when we remember that God is himself relationship, a triune God with three Persons in perfect and eternal love, it makes sense that we bear his image in part through loving relationship. So it was not good for man to be alone because God’s purpose in creation envisioned a relationship. When God thinks of man—that is, mankind—he thinks “male and female together.”

The second reason why Adam’s singleness was not good is more obvious to us today. It just doesn’t work very well. It wasn’t good for him. Just as God looks in on the average single man’s life today—in his apartment, in his refrigerator, and in his heart—and says, “This isn’t good,” it wasn’t good for Adam back then. It wasn’t good emotionally or spiritually or even physically. Adam wasn’t able to do the work that God had given him if he remained alone.

“It is not good for man to be alone”— emotionally, spiritually, or physically.

This brings us to a first important point when it comes to dating and relationships: God’s regular intention for mankind is marriage. Under anything like typical circumstances, an adult man ought to be married. Given the way things are today, he probably needs to date someone. And it also means that when he dates, it should be with an eye toward marriage.

It is commonly accepted among men today that the great danger is to get married too early. The thought of marriage is approached with fear and trepidation, with the threat of what the man will lose mainly in mind. But in the view of Genesis 2—and in our experience in ministering to singles—the greater danger is what will happen to the man if he doesn’t marry. It is not good for a single man to develop selfish and otherwise sinful habits. It is not good for a man to grow older without the sanctifying influences of a wife and children. It is not good for a man to battle with sexual frustrations. (The same things might be said about a woman, too, but the Bible is specifically talking here about the man.) What is good for a man is to seek a relationship that will blossom into marriage—the sooner in adult life, the better.

Since marriage is God’s regular intention for mankind, we should date with an eye toward marriage.

You will often hear it said of a single person, “She’s just looking for a husband,” or “He’s just looking for a wife.” If you take out the “just”—as if that is all that he or she is looking for—then the Bible answers, “Good for her!” and “Good for him!” Marriage is God’s regular intention for the blessing of men and women. There are exceptions (although if you are reading this book they probably don’t include you), but this is the rule: “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

This was Adam’s problem in the Garden, and God didn’t waste time working on a solution. Continuing with Genesis 2:18, God says, “I will make him a helper fit for him.” The biblical narrative that continues is both fascinating and instructive:

So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Gen. 2:19–20)

Adam was alone and needed a helper. So God brought before him all the other creatures that he had made upon the earth. As lord of the Garden under God’s overall lordship, Adam had the privilege to name each of the creatures. This must have taken quite some time, and it would have involved a great deal of investigation. After all, deciding on the name for something requires examining it and observing it in action. Adam was the first zoologist, studying each and every one of the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Imagine the thrill of seeing a lion for the first time and deciding what to call this majestic creature. Think about the curiosity of first encountering a giraffe or an anteater, or the fun of playing with the world’s first dog! Adam must have spent days and months, even years, engaged in this thrilling activity. He gave names to them all, each of God’s wonderful creatures, as the Lord himself brought them by in a glorious parade. And yet, with that said, the conclusion to the tale is one of dissatisfaction: “But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (Gen. 2:20, NIV). The point was not a trip to the world’s first and greatest zoo. The purpose had been to find a mate and companion for Adam, and none of all the animals that God had so far made fit the bill.

If that was true, then the Lord would just have to create something new, and this is what the Bible says happened: “So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:21–22).

Adam’s opinion of God’s handiwork is recorded in verse 23. Here, when the eyes of man were first laid upon a woman, out of his mouth came a great, resounding “Wow!” Here is the full quote: “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man’ ” (NIV). This is how the relationship between a man and a woman first began, and it wasn’t a bad start.

A Suitable Helper

Adam is anesthetized, and his body is broken for the life of the woman. Woman is suitable for man because like no other creature she is really the same flesh and bone. Like Adam, the woman also bore God’s image, and was made to enjoy the same fellowship with God that Adam did (Gen. 1:27). She received God’s commands with the understanding that she held responsibility to carry them out (1:28). But if we stop here and understand suitable simply to mean the same, then we miss God’s purposes for the creation of man and woman. After all, if the only goal were sameness, then God might as well have made another man. But because of God’s special purposes and the fellowship he desired for humans, he made woman distinct from man. Her differences provided the perfect complement to Adam. This tells us something about what God wants. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and God wants Adam to know what it means to love. Therefore, God created the woman, who was made of Adam but differently, so that Adam would know a love that was more than self-love.

The fact that men and women are different is not a curse or the product of sin. God made us this way. But that is not how many of us think. “If only women were just like guys,” men lament (and vice versa). In Adam’s world not marred by sin, this distinctiveness was not a source of frustration but a delight. Rather than have Adam bear the burden of God’s purposes alone, God provided a helper with whom Adam could labor. The woman was not given to replicate the activities of man, but as a helper she complements and completes Adam in the work that they are now both assigned by God (Gen. 1:28). They were told to rule, to subdue, and to be fruitful and multiply.

That men and women are different is not a curse or a product of sin. God made us this way.

The woman was not merely different from Adam; she was “suitable” or “fit” for him. They fit together the way two pieces in a jigsaw puzzle do. This is evidenced by Genesis 2’s comparison between the animals and birds and the woman whom God made from Adam’s own flesh. Walter Wangerin has explained this concept particularly well:

Beasts of burden conform to their owner’s desires, bearing the drover’s loads, plowing the farmer’s fields . . . This sort of creature and this sort of relationship, is not “fit” for a spouse.

Birds fulfil the aesthetic side of the human’s superior nature, beautiful in their plumage, thrilling in their song, the focus of human dreams to fly, to soar, to be free of this drudge existence. But neither is a spouse “fit” only to be a beautiful object, a lovely but idolized thing, a “hunk” to show off, or a gracious goddess who satisfies my sense of my own importance.

And cattle are considered personal property—the domesticated animals of Genesis. In fact, the word cattle is a cognate of the words chattel and capital, as in “capital gains.” Animals may be the possession of another human being, but a spouse was never meant to be.

The slow may make up speed by riding horses so the horse is a help. The weak may make up strength by driving oxen; so the ox is a help. The blind use dogs. The thirsty milk cows; the hungry keep hens and slaughter steers; the sentimental fix affection upon cats. Humankind has always made up its lack of skills in the skills of animals. But that purpose . . . is not fitting for a marriage and is dangerous wherever it is found, because it reduces the spouse’s role to that of an animal—something to be used.1

These comparisons may give us some insight into why some women chafe at the idea of being made as a helper for a man. In a fallen world such as ours, the word helper can be misunderstood and abused. It often has negative connotations of something weak, extraneous, and devalued. In a postmodern world riddled with the battle between the sexes and a well-entrenched struggle for equality, one might be accused of oppressing women by even alluding to this truth. Some reading this might argue that women have come too far to lower themselves to being men’s helpers. “What have we done to deserve this? This is a biblical truth we cannot accept,” some assert.

Let’s put those conceptions aside and take a fresh look at the meaning of the text. The Hebrew word for helper is ezer. What is said of how woman will function in relationship to man is also said of God as the Ezer of Israel. God was a help to Israel most powerfully as Jehovah God, their Redeemer. As helper, he powerfully delivered Israel from their enemies. On one occasion he is called helper when he gently fed a prophet, a widow, and her son; this is again said of God when he was a patient shepherd to Israel in the wilderness. Psalm 121 puts it in especially beautiful language: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (vv. 1–2). We could continue with the examples, but you get the point. To call a woman a helper is not to emphasize her weakness but her strength, not to label her as superfluous but as essential to Adam’s condition and to God’s purpose in the world. Helper is a position of dignity given to the woman by God himself.

To call a woman a “helper” is to emphasize not her weakness but her strength. It is a position of dignity given by God himself.

Genesis 2:20 says that God made Eve because no suitable helper was found “for Adam.” The woman, therefore, was created for the man (see 1 Cor. 11:9). Here again, many women (and some men) will cry out in anger: “Isn’t it archaic to believe that woman exists for man?” The loudest message today is the one that says, “I am created for myself, for my own personal fulfillment and happiness.” But the Bible says that we were all created for others, and especially for God’s glory (see Rom. 11:36). “But won’t I be confined to having no initiative; won’t I be taken advantage of, used, and thrown away whenever the man feels that I have lost my usefulness to him?” God does not intend that a woman should be so used. Matthew Henry helps us to see God’s purpose with greater clarity. He writes of God’s gift of the woman to the man: “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved. Adam lost a rib . . . but in lieu thereof he had a helpmeet for him, which abundantly made up his loss.”2

The woman was made out of a rib: not out of his head to rule him, nor out of his feet to be trampled by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.

It may be helpful at this point to understand rightly Adam’s position and calling in the Garden. Adam and Eve were together called to exercise dominion over the creation (see Gen. 1:28, which gives this authority “to them”). But Genesis 2:15 makes it clear that Adam in particular was granted lordship in the Garden, under God’s ultimate sovereignty. The New Testament consistently looks back on the events of the Garden to establish the principle of male leadership in the home and in the church (see 1 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Tim. 2:12–14). But we make a great mistake if we understand Adam’s lordship to emphasize his privileges. Instead, Adam’s lordship was one of obligation.

This comes through especially in the tasks assigned to Adam in his lordly office: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). This verse contains two key verbs. The first is the Hebrew ’abad, which is elsewhere used in the context of priests’ ministry among the people and which here has an agricultural connotation. It speaks of a ministry of cultivation and nurture. So Adam’s lordship was to take the form of nurturing. How directly this confronts the view of our society that men should be stoic and unfeeling! Adam’s first calling was to make things grow and blossom, and in our relationships this is true of the hearts of those to whom men minister. The second verb is the Hebrew shamar, which means to guard or protect. So Adam’s lordship was to take the form of nurture and protection. Adam was called to a servant-lordship.

Adam’s lordship was to take the form of nurture and protection. Adam was called to servant-lordship.

If the woman was created as a helper for the man, this is not to say that she alone was called to servanthood. She was the servant-helper and Adam was the servant-lord. Both are to be servants in complementary ministry according to God’s design. How beautiful this all appeared in the pristine glory of the Garden before the entry of sin into the world! If sin has made God’s arrangement offensive to us, the answer is not to reject his design but to have it redeemed in Jesus Christ. To say that the woman was made for the man is not to demean her but biblically to define her ministry in relationship to the man. This is not her only relationship and often not her only ministry; especially significant is her own relationship to God and her calling to serve him with her gifts and talents.

Moreover, the woman was given to man not for his whims but for his character. A woman does not find her fulfillment by supplanting a man in his God-given role of exercising lordship in the creation. Rather, she elevates a man in true masculinity; it is no understatement to say that it takes a woman to make a real man. In a perfect paradise not touched by sin, God’s people delighted in his design. Helper was not a position for Eve to fight, but a function for her to fulfill. It is God’s design, bearing his fingerprints for his glory and our good, a design we tamper with at our own peril. As the man delighted in the woman, so also she delighted in her calling and fully embraced it. This is why she is called his “glory” (1 Cor. 11:7).

A woman was given not for a man’s whims but for his character. She elevates him in true masculinity. It takes a woman to make a real man. This is God’s design, and we tamper with it at our peril.

The result of God’s design was perfect companionship. Adam and Eve were like two sides of the same coin. She really was exactly what he needed, a suitable helper. People talk about a dog being “man’s best friend.” But a dog cannot share a man’s dreams, cannot kneel beside him in prayer, cannot exhort and encourage him with God’s Word, and cannot inspire in him the self-sacrificing love that makes him godly. The same might be said of male friendships. Too many Christian men rely on their male relationships for spiritual support, when what they most need is a godly woman. A woman was made to fit with a man: to match his strength with her resilience, to minister to his heart with the power given to her by God. Only a woman is a suitable helper for a man.

If men need women, the same is true in the opposite direction. A woman who rejects God’s design as a helper in the life of a man loses much of what makes her a woman. What is left for her but to take her place in “the man’s world”? This does not mean that women may not have important positions or undertake meaningful careers. We should always remember that the first thing said about women in the Bible is that they are made in God’s image, just as men are, having the service of God’s glory as their highest calling. But as the very name “woman” suggests, she was formed in relation to man. She brings beauty into the world for him. She ministers to him in light of the struggles and trials of his life. She stands beside him. She makes demands on him that God intends for him to fulfill. Without her, things are “not good” for man; without him, she loses an important part of her identity and calling. Only after the woman had been made from the man and given into Adam’s waiting arms could the Bible finally say, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, NIV).

A woman who rejects God’s design as a helper in the life of a man rejects much of what makes her a woman. What is left but to take her place in “the man’s world”?

Building Blocks for a Marriage Relationship

How does this presentation of God’s design for marriage relate to single men and women today? Does this simply add to the chorus that singles have no life until they get married? Not at all. As we have already said, there are exceptions to the rule that God’s regular pattern for our blessing includes marriage. Furthermore, like Adam before Eve, even apart from marriage we are not really alone because of God’s companionship with us. The most important relationship in every Christian’s life is his or her relationship with God. Singles can be content and should be purposeful in their service to God. But if we are going to biblically understand the relationship between men and women, we simply must start with the way God made things. If Genesis 1 and 2 present God’s purpose in marriage, and if our view of dating is directed toward marriage, then this tells us not only what we are aiming at but also much about how to build a relationship in that direction.

To that end, we turn to the concluding verses of Genesis 2 and find some key biblical commentary on the man and the woman together in marriage. According to verses 24–25 (NIV), “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Not only is that a beautiful statement of what it means to be united in marriage, but it tells us much about the kind of relationship marriage involves. Before departing our study of this key chapter, we should observe three dynamics that bind the man and woman together in marriage and serve as building blocks for growing a healthy dating relationship: commitment, intimacy, and interdependence.

The first of these dynamics is commitment. This is an absolutely necessary component of any relationship like Adam and Eve’s. For the sake of a woman, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, NIV). This—to leave and “cleave,” as the King James Version puts it—is what commitment is all about, and a dating relationship that is moving toward marriage will have more and more of it over time. Commitment involves cleaving, that is, uniting together in a new relationship. As a dating relationship grows, more substance will develop in it, and the man and woman will each have more of themselves in the relationship. What does commitment involve? It involves an increasing exclusivity in terms of relationships with others; it means giving time to the relationship; and it involves a growing attention to the needs of each other.

At the start—on a first date—commitment is low. The couple is not likely to be dating exclusively, there is little expectation for each to give time to the other, and, while they should certainly seek to be a help and blessing to each other, their obligation is little higher than that toward any other brother or sister in Christ. By the time they have married, how much this has changed! The man is completely committed, loving his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) and practicing the kind of self-sacrifice for her that Jesus showed us on the cross. The woman is no less committed, submitting herself wholly to the authority of the man as the church submits to Christ. Between a first date and a wedding, this commitment must grow if the relationship is to flourish.

Cleaving involves leaving, of course. As commitment increases, parts of the old life must be left behind or adjusted. The man will watch less sports on television, while the woman will spend less time on the phone with friends. Their reliance on family and friends will be left to make room for their mutual reliance in the new relationship. Old priorities and allegiances give way to the growing partnership of the man and the woman.

Many singles today, especially men, flinch when it comes to commitment. They want to enjoy the new relationship without giving up anything from their former lives. They especially fear to close the door on other options in order to “settle for” a sole mate. But what they are turning their back on is love as God designed it between a man and a woman.

Commitment is realized through faithfulness, one of the most glorious of God’s own attributes. God wants Christian men to be faithful, and in no relationship on this earth is this more demanded and developed than in a man’s relationship with a woman. To safely enjoy the blessings of love with a member of the opposite sex, we must be willing to assume expectations and obligations that go with the relationship. A dating relationship that is growing toward marriage is one in which the man and the woman grow in confidence toward each other as expectations and agreements are faithfully met.

Commitment is realized through faithfulness, one of God’s most glorious attributes. Between a first date and a marriage, commitment must grow.

The second dynamic of the marriage relationship described in Genesis 2 is intimacy. Genesis 2:24–25 (NIV) says that the committed couple “will become one flesh.” It says of Adam and Eve, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” It is in this capacity for intimate union that a man and woman are so suitable as companions for each other. Men and women are made of the same substance, they equally bear God’s image, and they are called into a common purpose and labor to the glory of God. Men and women are made to fit together for the most intimate ministry one to another—spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

It is because men and women can become so deeply bonded together, and because the breaking of these bonds does so much damage, that commitment is so necessary for healthy intimacy. This is why God’s restriction of sexual intercourse to marriage is for our protection, because any other relationship lacks the commitment needed to make it safe for our hearts. If you doubt this, then glue two pieces of paper together and then try to separate them. To pull them apart there will be ripping, and the same is true for couples united emotionally and, especially, sexually. Their hearts have become one, and they cannot be casually separated. Moreover, intimacy involves uncovering and exposing oneself: “They were naked.” Especially in a sinful world such as ours, one is foolish to expose the secrets of his or her heart to someone who has not made a tangible commitment to faithfulness. Intimacy should therefore follow commitment; commitment is the cup into which intimacy is safely poured and from which it is wholesomely enjoyed.

If commitment is fulfilled through faithfulness, intimacy is realized through sharing. A man and a woman share their hopes and dreams, their pasts and their futures, their burdens and their cares. What a wonderful blessing it is to have a suitable companion with whom you can share your fears, your pain, your passions, and your delights. As a dating relationship grows toward marriage, an increasing amount of sharing will take place between the hearts and minds of the couple.

Intimacy is realized through sharing. Intimacy follows commitment; one is foolish to expose the secrets of his or her heart to someone who has not committed to faithfulness.

Third, the marriage relationship involves interdependence. The man and the woman are not just two people doing their own thing. They are a team, working in concert. Neither can succeed in his or her calling without the contributions and involvement of the other. The most graphic instance has to do with childbearing. Paul writes, “As woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman” (1 Cor. 11:12). But this interdependence applies to all of a man and woman’s life together. Therefore, for a dating couple to grow toward marriage, they must learn how to work together. This does not always mean that they share exactly the same tasks. Instead, they will learn to appreciate and complement their differences, to uphold each other in prayer, and to communicate effectively with regard to shared goals. They would be wise to serve together in ministry. Interdependence is achieved through teamwork, which is the ability to work as one.

Interdependence is achieved through teamwork, the ability to work as one.

Commitment, intimacy, and interdependence—these are the building blocks by which a healthy dating relationship grows toward marriage. They start out small—a first date does not and normally should not involve a great deal of commitment, intimacy, or interdependence—but as a couple desires to grow toward marriage, they should pray for these qualities to grow in their relationship and they should give of themselves along these lines. This is, by the way, the best way to develop a healthy marriage. A strong marriage draws from the relationship that was developed before the wedding, a relationship that grew according to the architectural plans of God’s design in creation.