If you're a Christian, or you're around Christians, if you've set foot in a church Youth Group, if you were homeschooled, if you went to some sort of Christian youth conference, then you've heard this verse.
Chances are you've had it used on you at least one of the following ways: Someone quoted it at you to tell you that as a Christian you shouldn't be dating, or being in more than one relationship in your lifetime is bad; someone used it to tell you that you're crossing all sorts of physical boundary lines in your relationship that Christians aren't supposed to cross, or that you should commit to wearing a purity ring to keep yourself from doing so, or that you shouldn't be dating until x age or until after x milestone...you know - all sorts of things involving the words "courtship", "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", "defrauding", or anything implying that your first kiss should be on your wedding day and that your life needs a lot of chaperons.
Before I get any further, let me say this:
If you are waiting until you're married to kiss someone - good for you!
Do you have a purity ring and a solid commitment to what it means to you? Awesome!
Do you always leave room for Jesus/the Holy Spirit/a really big family Bible between you and your significant other? I'm glad you've got a boundary for yourselves that you're sticking to.
Are you determined not to date the way the unsaved do? GOOD.
I'm not necessarily here to say that all of those things are wrong, or at least not wrong for everyone. What I'm here to say is that at least one of the verses being used to ingrain these ideas into the minds of Christian youths (and therefore Christian adults, since we all grow up...wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey) might not actually be talking about those things, or talking about them in the specific way we're used to hearing them used.
I'm looking for someone to join me in an adventure through contexts and concordances, and you, beautiful reader, strike me as the perfect companion. Shall we begin? Very well. Allons-y!
Guarding Your Heart
I will be absolutely dumbfounded if you have had a Christian individual use this phrase to refer to anything other than a dating-in-some-sense-of-the-word relationship. Here's the verse it comes from:
"Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life." - Proverbs 4:23
One of the first things you should do with any scripture verse you hear - especially if you suspect it might be being used incorrectly, or so often that, while they keep using that verse, you do not think it means what they think it means - is crack open your own Bible and look at the context. So, without further adieu, here's the last chunk of that chapter in Proverbs (usually I find that there's a pretty clear beginning and end to where a verse came from, and I personally don't feel led to encompass the whole book or even chapter when looking for context on most things. If you feel that extra step is necessary, please do so - but in this case I think you'll still agree with my conclusion);
"My son, attend to my words; consent and submit to my sayings.Now, two things make me want to dig deeper:
Let them not depart from your sight; keep them in the center of your heart.
For they are life to those who find them, healing and health to all their flesh.
Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you false and dishonest speech, and willful and contrary talk put far from you.
Let your eyes look right on [with fixed purpose] and let your gaze be straight before you.
Consider well the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established and ordered aright.
Turn not aside to the right hand or to the left; remove your foot from evil." - Proverbs 4:20-27
1) That whole section certainly doesn't appear to be about dating. That doesn't mean that verse 23 isn't, since the section is definitely talking about how to live your life overall, but it certainly makes me want to take a closer look at the meanings of the words in verse 23.
2) "...for out if it flow the springs of life", if the verse really means heart as in the one you use to love who you're dating...well, if the center of our romantic feelings is the place from whence flows the very springs of life itself - excuse me but does anyone else find that a little terrifying? That doesn't sit right with me, either.
It appears as though we're in tall grass, here.
Wild CONCORDANCE appeared!
MINDY uses SEARCH. It's super effective!
"Leb" is the transliterated word my lovely online concordance gives me for "heart," via an Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon. Here are all the things it can mean:
inner manmind, will, heartunderstandinginner part, midstmidst (of things)heart (of man)soul, heart (of man)mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memoryinclination, resolution, determination (of will)conscienceheart (of moral character)as a seat of appetitesas a seat of emotions and passionsas a seat of courage
"Seat of emotions and passions" is definitely one way it can be used. So who you fall in love with is definitely something you should pay close attention to.
But you know what else? You should be paying attention to everything that can affect your inner man - the midst of who you are. And do you know what can do that?
You need to be keeping a diligent watch over your memories, what you reflect on when you get pensive or nostalgic, what kinds of knowledge you take in, in what way you are determined and how much so (too much determination IS a bad thing, actually), and you should be watching over anything that wants in to your soul, because the Devil is out there and you should be making sure he's not getting at you through your job, your music, your movies, your family, your friends, your belongings, your workout schedule, your food, your drinking, your games, your motivation, or, yes, your romantic relationships.
This verse is telling you to be a watchman over your whole life.
It's not telling you anything about relationships specifically because that's not what Leb means! Leb means you - everything you have been, everything you are right now, and everything you will ever be. It means thing things no one will ever know about, and the biggest part of your legacy that you will leave behind when you go home to join our Father in heaven.
What it's definitely not telling you is how many relationships is okay before you find the one you marry, whether you should hold hands, or kiss goodnight, or make out, or cuddle, or whatever - that's never a black and white until you get to sex, actually, which Paul addresses later in the new testament, and he straight up says sex. The closest this verse gets to directing the physicality of a relationship is that it's saying "If you know you can't make out with someone without wanting to go all the way - back off." Just like it's saying "If you can't get within walking distance of a casino without blowing your savings account - stay away," "If you have no concept of bowls of ice cream and will eat the whole half gallon - leave it at Kroger, "and if you can't get on the internet without watching porn - cancel your service."
This verse is not just about romantic things - it's about SO MUCH MORE, and I really think it's deceitful and damaging how it's used these days. Your whole life does not flow from your romantic desires, and they deserve no more vigilance than the entire rest of your life deserves. (Which is all your vigilance, so break out the Armor of God and suit up, dearies - life is a giant, crazy, spiritual battlefield.)
Also, I have yet to find a single verse (including the ones about not awakening love until it pleases - I can post on those another time if anyone would like me to) that says you can't date, or that you should only date the person you'll end up marrying, or that you can't have opposite-sex, platonic friendships, or anything else "guarding your heart" is generally paired up with. In conclusion, I think the overall things the Bible has to say about how you conduct your love life are as follows:
- Make God and His will for your life your absolute number one priority. This includes my last post about striving to be 100% of who He created you to be. When you were born, tiny little bald-potato you had all your potential, all of your personality, and a whole great big destiny wrapped up in that mini-Sontaran form. So unleash that all day every day and use it to do God's work wherever you find yourself.
- When you meet someone the first goal you have should be to love them with beautiful, Christian love. Accept this beautiful human being that God made and treat them like we're told to - with reverence and submission to each other, with songs and hymns and love and acceptance. Whether you want to be friends or it's love at first sight - this should be first.
- Because you started off respecting that person, getting them emotionally involved in a "summer relationship", "nothing serious", or something you want to "take slowly and see where it goes" so you can "keep your options open" should already be right out. If it's not, go back to bullet point one and repeat as necessary until you can actually complete bullet point two.
- If that other person also loves you with Christian love and respects you as a human being with feelings, and you guys can reasonably forsee enjoying each other's company long enough and to the point where you want to enter into marriage and maybe raise a kid or two and otherwise support each other in God's will and generally Song-of-Solomon it up on a regular basis - DATE. Don't date like the world does, but DATE! Spend time together, one-on-one, with friends, with family. A bunch of days in a row and a bunch of days apart. Do that. Because it's one of the only ways to get to know a person on a "Yes. I can marry you and not murder/divorce/ignore-you-forever-because-I-actually-hate-you" way. And that's okay.
Also, not dating someone will not protect you from heartbreak. I've had my heart broken by men I was not in a relationship with. I mean...think about the heartbreak that will occur when Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston finally get married!
I kid, I kid. But seriously. Walk in the beauty of Ephesians 5:13 - be transparent and illuminated, flaws and awesomeness, and when you find someone you like, let them know. At best - you just found your spouse. At worst - they're not mature enough to say "hey, lets just be friends" and follow through, and you lose someone that wouldn't have been a good friend anyway.
So. Follow the convictions the Holy Spirit gives you. Go only as far as you are morally comfortable with physically. Keep your purity ring, but keep it because you feel led to, not because of a verse that doesn't even mean what they say it means. If you feel called to keep away from dating, you'd better keep away. But if you want to date - date. Date! Date with respect and the best of intentions. Date while being you and being vigilant about your whole life.