A Paul Washer sermon excerpt was recently sent me on the topic of dating and marriage. I just so happen to be writing a book on marriage, so I was keen to give it a listen and consider what he has to say.
If you’d like to hear Washer’s sermon in its entirety, you can find the link I was sent here. But suffice to say for the purposes of this discussion, I found I agreed with many of the things Washer shared.
Yet there were perhaps more things he said which I cannot agree with, and must object to, because of a certain conflation of tradition, convention, and personal opinion getting all mixed up with what God’s Word actually says. The whole lot was packaged together and delivered with ample seasoning of bravado and humble-bragging as belonging in the ‘Thus sayeth the Lord’ category of commands, and that’s not correct.
Distinguishing Between Commands and Advice
With all due respect to Paul Washer and his fan-base: when giving dating or marriage advice to young people in the Church, it is critically important that we imitate more closely the example set by the Apostle Paul when he treats this topic in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.
There the New Testament weighs in on the subjects of singleness and divorce, as well as both marriage and possible remarriage after being abandoned or else widowed. And one of the really helpful things the Apostle Paul does in that passage is distinguish between when he is writing us a direct order from the Most High God on the one hand, and when what follows is just his own personal opinion and judgment.
Here the ardent “Yeah, that’s right!” guy from the Paul Washer sermon excerpt will pipe up that even the opinion of a man of God is to be respected and carry weight, and we should both listen to it and heed it if we are wise and godly.
Who’s a good boy? And do I think I’m more spiritual than Paul Washer?
Maybe! Particularly if he’s going to ask questions like that.
All I’m saying, though, is that if the Apostle Paul can distinguish between when he is giving his own personal opinion and when the Lord is issuing a direct command, any Paul can do that – and that includes those with the last name of Washer.
And if any Paul can do it, then we all should, and the reason for this is very simple. Even the wisest counsel does not belong in the same category as obedience to explicit commands from God Himself.
So also, disregarding even the most well-intentioned of godly counsel, or attempts at the same, should not be cause to call into question the salvation of the one going a different way, or keeping their own counsel. Nor can those who take counsel from several outlets which do not all agree be expected to heed all of the counsel fully. It’s not always possible!
When Young People Get Mixed Messages and Contradictory Counsel
Particularly when some of the details in various pieces of advice received from different folks consulted directly contradict one another, and are mutually exclusive, a young man will at times find himself in the character-building position of having to tell some especially pushy and indignant people weighing in on his life choices – ‘No.’
But far from proving that such a young man is worthless, those moments might just prove that he’s got enough confidence and gumption that he might amount to something. He might just have a backbone and a good head on his shoulders, so long as the course he’s following is predicated on what God’s Word actually says rather than some cocktail of our preferences, norms, and traditions with a bit of Jesus talk sprinkled on top to cover for the fact that we’re just recommending what everyone else is doing for materialistic and vainglorious reasons.
A young man willing to distinguish between good and godly counsel and arbitrary, self-serving power trips, preferring the good and godly as infinitely better and more blessed than kowtowing to the latter – that is a young man who might just get both my permission and blessing to marry my daughter some day.
She’s 8 now, by the way. And that is too young. But when she’s 18, and if she has a suitable suitor in a young Christian man of good character, I will have no objections based solely on their age. If anything, I should think I will be all the happier if they are young and wanting to run together for the Lord sooner rather than later.
But Washer here in this sermon excerpt tells the story of a young man of 20 who comes to him with tears in his eyes because he’s dating a young lady – both of them Christians wanting to live for the Lord, studying the Bible and praying with one another, wanting to remain pure. And what does Washer tell the young man?
‘Go back to your other advisors and tell them they’re fools, and tell them I said it.’
Just so! We see in such an anecdote all the proof we need that not all advice from God’s people, even ministers, is either necessary or helpful. Sometimes fallible human beings have to be seen as just that, whether on the giving or receiving end of direction, counsel, advice, and encouragement. But that holds true for you and me and Washer too when we’re the ones giving advice, not just the folks we disagree with. In all of the above, the test needs to be that of the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to see whether the things they were being told about Christ were so.
So also, while I hold that Washer is right in saying that dating by Christian young people can certainly be an example of us being conformed to the pattern of this world rather than being transformed by the renewal of our minds in Christ Jesus, that is by no means the only possible way in which Christian young people – or older people, for that matter – can find themselves conforming to the pattern of this world.
Various Forms Conformity Can Take Besides Just Dating
Particularly in more white collar and careerist circles, going with the flow can also take the form of insisting that the most spiritual and wisest course is for young people to finish their 4-years or longer degree programs and invest another 4-5 years establishing their careers before marrying. Maybe by 30 our sons and daughters can all be directors of international missions organizations, and then we will be content to give them our blessing and permission to marry.
Until they’ve got their brass ring, however, we’re going to wave them off with hyperbole about how much smarter and wiser we are than they are – a hundred, thousand, million, or billion times smarter and wiser, by the way – and how they’re just pimply good-for-nothings who don’t know what’s best for them like we do.
What gets lost in the shuffle, unfortunately, is the fact that God’s Word says “it’s not good for the man to be alone,” and also “give your sons and daughters in marriage,” and also “he who finds a wife finds a good thing,” and also “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
But if the Apostle Paul can say both that he wishes all men were as he is, unmarried, yet can also make concessions for those finding it difficult to remain both single and pure, we are not holier than he, and we should not try or pretend to be.
Or why else does the Apostle Paul warn us in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 the way he does?
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”
How Long Will We Withhold Our Blessing?
Something to keep in mind here also, these days especially, is the undue burden we may unnecessarily place on our children and other young people telling them both that they must remain pure and also that they are forbidden from both dating and marriage until they are 30.
As young people today come of age in the midst of economic conditions here in the U.S. and around the world which have nothing whatsoever to do with their choices or contributions, but rather should be blamed entirely on older generations of Americans especially having spent their children’s and grandchildren’s future on lavish government spending programs and projects for decades, all to make themselves comfortable and secure – in such a climate, the prospect of shaming and browbeating young men in particular for wanting to marry younger than the older folks would prefer seems not only downright cruel, but quite frankly unbiblical as well, albeit in a different and distinct way from the dating scene Washer is particularly concerned by.
That is to say, yes. Paul Washer is right that dating as the world does it finds no support in the Scriptures. Moreover, the principles and truths we do find in God’s Word cast an unflattering light on this feature of our modern American popular culture. So I agree that we would be the better for bringing parlors and courting back, and doing away with dating as we know it all together.
But let’s not be so quick to presume we know categorically that 35-years-old is how old our sons and daughters need to be before we will say “Yeah that’s right!” concerning their dutiful adherence to the admonition found in Song of Solomon.
“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.”
Maybe I missed it, but where in that do we see a specific age given for when “until it pleases” has been satisfied?
When Conventional Wisdom Conveniently Lines Up with Our Christianity
We know now that statistically most American young women are waiting until they’re 29 to get married, and most American young men are waiting until they’re 30. So whatever Washer and others may suppose to the contrary, our young people are already doing the thing they’re talking about as far as putting higher education and their career before matrimony.
As a recent Wall Street Journal article reports, “the conventional wisdom is that they should get launched professionally in their 20s and wait until 30 or after to marry.” Yet this same article goes on to say that young people who marry in their 20s without cohabiting first have the lowest divorce rates of any demographic.
That is to say, most American young adults are already following Paul Washer’s advice – as far as what age they get married, at least – albeit not because they are living for the Lord, but because their parents told them they will amount to nothing and be pock-marked good-for-nothings if they don’t go to college and establish their professional lives over several years first.
But bear this in mind: that’s just the young people who are getting married. Plenty aren’t even doing that to begin with, and have no apparent intention of getting married. And this is why the declining divorce rate is misleading. But that’s a topic for another day.
Suffice to say that it’s not worth as much as the Apostle Paul’s, and it may be worth at least close to as much as Paul Washer’s, but my genuine opinion is that older American Christians have every bit as much or more reason to wonder whether we are counseling our young people to wait on marriage for godlier, purer, and more Biblical reasons than many of those same young people have for either dating around or else wanting to marry younger than 35.
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