To say “I love you” is a big step in a dating relationship. Love carries with it the weight of potential covenant and future intimacy. But how do you know when to say I love you? Like many of the relationship decisions discussed on this blog, the timing of I love you will look different for each couple. Even so, this individuality should be guided by biblical principles. God gives us His wisdom for questions like these.
Josh and I said “I love you” only eight days after we started dating, but we’d built a very close friendship long before our dating relationship began. We knew we loved one another as friends before we became girlfriend and boyfriend. Though our eight-day “I love you” would be too soon for other couples, it was guided by the following principles. Wherever you’re at in your own relationship, use these same principles to guide the timing of those three little words.
Say I love you when… It’s not led by emotion.
Before I met Josh, I was in a dating relationship that quickly became physical. There were times that the physical part of that relationship made me believe I loved the guy I was dating, even though I wasn’t comfortable with what we were doing. I confused an emotional high with covenant love.
Our emotions are closely tied to our sexual behavior. It’s one of the reasons I challenge you to think before making out, to honor God’s design for sex, and to protect the value of your intimate self. When you celebrate sexuality God’s way, your purity protects your emotions. When God’s standards come first, you’ll approach relationships objectively. Your emotions will stay play a role, but they won’t dictate your decisions. By putting Christ before your relationship, you’ll have the wisdom to know whether or not you mean “I love you” in the biblical – not just emotional – sense.
Say I love you when… You mean “love” in its biblical sense.
So what is the biblical definition of love? The apostle Paul gives us a great outline in the famous “love passage”, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Note that love is always active. Biblical love is either doing something or not doing something: It is actively patient and actively NOT impatient. It is actively kind and actively NOT rude. To love someone is a big responsibility. When we say “I love you”, we’re really saying something more like this:
“I will be patient with you. I will be kind to you. I won’t be jealous or condescending or arrogant toward you. I won’t dishonor you, and I’ll put you before myself. I won’t be quick to get irritated. I promise not to keep track of your failures. I promise to uphold purity of mind, body, and spirit, and saturate myself with God’s truth, because I love you. I will protect your person and reputation. I will give you the benefit of the doubt. I will offer hope when no one hopes for you. I will press through difficulty to make us work.”
Is it any wonder that Paul concludes by saying, “Love never fails”? This kind of love – when actively lived every day of our lives – cannot fail. But humans can.
I hope you were intimidated by the real weight of “I love you”. I hope you realize what a huge proclamation it really is. And I hope you see how absolutely necessary it is for you to be in a thriving relationship with Jesus Christ in order to love this way.
Say I love you when… You’ve built a trust foundation.
With the weight of “I love you” in mind, how could Josh and I say it so quickly? Even though we had both committed not to say “I love you” until we meant it the 1 Corinthians 13 way (a fact written into our wedding vows), we said we loved one another much quicker than the average couple.
Josh and I were at peace saying “I love you” so soon because we had built a trust foundation. We were friends before we dated. We counseled one another through some very difficult seasons. We knew that we loved one another as friends, and it didn’t take long to realize we were ready to love one another for the long haul. We were ready to commit to a biblical, covenant love.
But what if Josh and I had broken up? Would that “I love you” have been wasted? I don’t think so. If you uphold purity in your relationship, any love you give can still serve God’s kingdom. When you love another person in the biblical sense, that love 1) honors God and 2) honors that person even if that relationship eventually ends. And because of the biblical definition of love, it is possible to love more than one person during your lifetime. We are called to love as Christ loved us regardless of relationship status.
(Read More: How Do I Know If He’s “the One”?)
“I love you” should not be taken lightly because of its biblical definition. But also because of its biblical definition, love is bigger than our dating relationships. Christ-like love transcends emotion. It lasts beyond a break-up. It has a kingdom impact that we can’t always see or understand. But that’s why love is so powerful! Though we may fail, the love of Christ in us will not.