For many people, the idea of a man and woman just being friends is cute but completely unattainable. They argue that the friendship will always “lead to something more” and develop into a romantic relationship, where either one or both is invested. With how many male and female friendships are portrayed in media, they may be right. It’s often rare that a TV show will depict an opposite sex friendship that doesn’t evolve into something more.
However the media doesn’t always showcase the real world. It is okay and actually valuable to have opposite-sex friends. There are reasons why it can be dangerous for Christians, but if you are aware of the boundaries going in you can develop very deep and meaningful lifelong friends. These friendships can be great in enhancing a church community.
Having a Friendship With the Opposite Sex
To start, we have to acknowledge that there are many different types of male and female friendships. It can be between a single woman and a married man, a married woman and a single man, two married people or two single people. Depending on the status of each person in the friendship, there needs to be different boundaries set so that they do not cross over the line of becoming inappropriate.
God does not prohibit men and women from becoming friends, but tells us a lot in the Bible about how we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. Like any friendship, you have to ask yourself some questions before jumping in. First, you have to weigh out the risks of the relationship. Will it hurt your husband to be friends with another male? Are you the type of person that is easily tempted by the opposite sex? If so, you might want to pass on keeping them as a close friend.
Secondly, you have to implement necessary and loving boundaries into the friendship. There are many ways you can show someone you care about them without being flirty or crossing inappropriate lines. Communication is key here. If you are single and don’t want to pursue the other person romantically, let them know that upfront.
Thirdly, identify if the relationship is a healthy one that can help you grow in your relationship with Christ. What positive benefits are you getting from the relationship? Is it helping you grow closer to God, or is it someone that pulls you away? If the other person is someone you are easily tempted by, it might be time to walk away.
We usually undergo this process subconsciously with each new relationship: evaluating whether the relationship will be detrimental to ourselves or disobedient to God, and if it is not, identifying healthy parameters to make the relationship as fruitful as possible, and finally enjoying the ongoing benefits of the relationship.
As we ask the question, “Can women and men be friends?” we must realize that each new possibility of a friendship between a woman and a man may require a “no” or “yes” in various circumstances, or at various stages of life. You have to be honest with yourself and with God. He knows your true heart, and can tell when you are making excuses as why you are keeping an inappropriate friendship.
Risks With Opposite Sex Friendships
There are always going to be risks for Christians that enter into a male-female friendship. There is the possibility that it can start as an innocent friendship, but one person falls for the other and the feelings are unreciprocated. When this happens, the friendship should end immediately.
Male and female relationships are also vulnerable to the risk of sexual temptation. Solomon writes in Proverbs 6:12,14-15 “A wicked man…with perverted heart desires evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.” It’s wrong to have the attitude that “there is nothing to worry about because we aren’t intimate.” It can occur suddenly and surprise us.
Male and female friendships also risk undermining marriage. It’s common for single people to get penalized as being the temptress, yet married people are not just victims in these situations. For example there were married people in the Bible who went after singles, such as Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:11-18) and the church member and his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1).
A few questions you should ask yourself if you are being risky in a friendship include: Are we spending alone time together? Are our meetings increasingly private? Are we texting each other privately? Do I find myself thinking about them regularly? Do I find myself excusing intimacy that would otherwise be inappropriate?
Rewards of Opposite Sex Friendships
After you have evaluated the risk factors, you can ask yourself if the risk can be mitigated. Can honestly, community, and accountability keep you from falling into one of the traps of opposite sex friendships?
God can reward those who keep appropriate boundaries in their relationships. He will help us find people in our lives that will be supportive, caring friends. We need to set up how these friendships will look if we want to reap benefits. This includes boundaries like no private text message, no secret meetings and no detailed discussion of love lives.
God also rewards clear communication. Sin thrives in ambiguity and laziness. You have to be honest with yourself about why you want to build and invest time in this friendship. Is it because you love the attention from someone new? God wants us to be honest with ourselves and ask if you are being their friend for the sake of the church, or a project, or a mutual hobby, or because there is something more sinful going on.
It’s easy for the church to split into women and men’s ministries, but what God really wants us to do is come together in community. He rewards our community efforts by helping us develop deep and meaningful relationships with people in the church. Friendships between men and women in the church are one expression of what God has earned for us in Christ (Galatians 3:28) .
God delights in male-female friendships, but only when they say something true and good about him to the world (John 13:35). Men and women, let’s be diligent in wisdom, open up lines of communication, be honest with ourselves and be friends in Christ.