I was late. My good friend Bobby was in town for a few short days and we were finally going to get to catch up… and I was running late. He had already staked out the comfy chairs in the corner of Starbucks and had his Bible open. It was one of our favorite things – discussing Scripture and ministry. We initially bonded over Scripture and southernness in the snowy northern land of South Bend, Indiana. We were deep in discussion over the issues in his youth group when a gray-haired man walked up and tapped our table with his cane. “Are you brother and sister?” He asked, squinting at us. “Um, no.” I answered, looked at Bobby in confusion. Granted, we were both tall redheads, but most people know that being a redhead does not make you automatically related. “Are you dating?” he interrogated us with a frown, banging his cane in agitation. “Um, no,” this time Bobby replied. “Well! Are you not dating because you look like you are brother and sister?!” The old man demanded, then turned on his heel with a huff and hobbled away. Speechless, Bobby and I stared at each other for several long seconds before dissolving into a fit of laughter. What in the world had just happened?!
However odd he was, the man had a point – exactly what were we? Not related, not a couple, we were friends.
But what does that even mean? In a world of friends who provide each other with sexual benefits, girls who have a posse of non-sexual guy friends and guys who date girls without calling it dating…. What does it mean to be friends with the opposite sex?
It’s no wonder that Christian singles are confused. Can single guys and girls be ‘just friends’? Should they be? What does the Bible say about male/female friendships? While you can walk into any Christian bookstore and find an entire section devoted to godly dating, courtship and relationships, you would be hard-pressed to find a book about appropriate boundaries in male/female friendships. It was this very question that sent me to Scripture… two days and 13 books of the Bible later, I realized that it’s a complex question that is intricately connected to the issues of church, marriage, family, and witness. While there is no chapter of the Bible specifically devoted to male/female relationships before marriage, the entire Canon of Scripture applies to Christian friendships.
Friendship in the Bible
In reading about the New Testament church, I was struck by the lack of male/female non-romantic, non-familial relationships. The primary goal of male and female relationships in Scripture is marriage. All interaction between believers takes place within the context and under the umbrella of the church. Male and female believers – unmarried, married and widowed – walked through life together in groups while serving at church, meeting the needs of the poor and fellowshipping together in each other’s homes (Acts 2:44-47, 4:32-37, 9:32-43).
The body of Christ is designed for the edification of believers and to bring glory to God. And edification means encouraging faith, growing in knowledge of God, recognizing sin/false teaching, practicing spiritual gifts, and speaking the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:12-16) Edification does not mean getting emotional, spiritual and physical needs met by someone that isn’t your husband. Toward that end, there are several general Biblical truths that have specific application for Christian male/female relationships:
- Your friendships should be with believers.
God is very clear on this subject of close relationships between believers and unbelievers. 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” This verse applies to all types of relationships with non-Christians, but since the purpose of single male/single female relationships is marriage, it is extremely important that these relationships be under the authority of Christ and the Church.
- Your friendships should be above reproach.
Your interactions with Christian guy friends (as well as Christian non-friends and non-Christians) shouldn’t raise any questions in the minds of believers or unbelievers who observe your life. It means going out of your way to make sure that God’s reputation isn’t tainted because of thoughtless behavior with a Christian guy friend. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Ephesians 5:3
- Your friendship should be pure.
God calls His children to lives of absolute purity – before, during and after marriage. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” Appropriate male/female friendships must be on guard against having emotional, physical or spiritual needs met by a person that is not their spouse.
Your Brother in Christ is Not One of the Girls
God created us male and female as a living visual of the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-33). In the same way we were designed female to bring glory to God, men were designed male to bring glory to God (Gen. 1:27-28). God created men to function as provider, protector and spiritual leader, while he made women as a helpmeet, complement and responder (Gen. 2).
It honors God when we function as male and female, not when we treat our brothers as a gender-neutral lapdog of a ‘best friend.’ The men in your life and church were designed male by God and we, as women seeking to honor God, should respect their masculinity. There is never an instance where it is okay to treat a male friend as one of the girls – that is disrespectful to God’s design for you both as male and female and it opens doors for temptation on both sides.
Your Brother in Christ is Not Your Brother
He is a man – an available man – and you should guard your heart accordingly. Labeling a guy friend as “like a brother,” can be very dangerous when he isn’t your actual brother. There’s no point at which you would consider marriage to your brother an option, the subject is completely off the table. That cannot be said of Christian male friends, because who knows what God may do in the future? Applying the “like a brother” label (while it may be true that we currently have brotherly affection for him now) often tempts us to operate outside the boundaries of accountability. I mean, why would a person need accountability for a relationship with someone who is like a brother? Well, because he isn’t your brother and you want to honor God with your life. I have seen many girls fall into sinful relationships with guys who are like their brother, because they viewed those relationships as “safe” and “above temptation” for emotional, physical and spiritual affairs (Ephesians 5:3, Hebrews 13:4 ).
Baring your heart and soul to a guy friend is not honoring and respecting your future husband or marriage. Having an emotional affair with a best guy friend to meet the needs that only God should meet during singleness does not make room for God to bring along your future husband. Even friendships with a guy who is ‘like a brother’ should be checked regularly within accountability.
Your Brother in Christ is Not Your Husband
Until the point that a brother in Christ says ‘I do’ – he isn’t your spiritual leader. God appointed your father as Spiritual Leader until you leave your family to make a new family through marriage (Gen. 2:24). Your male Christian friends – no matter how godly – are not God’s spiritual authority for you unless you marry one of them. The authority of spiritual leadership transfers from family unit (father) to family unit (husband) with no exceptions. In cases where the father is an unbeliever, not following God or deceased, his leadership is still honored but God often raises up godly older couples as mentors and spiritual advisers for a girl pursuing godliness.
That doesn’t mean that Christian guys can have no voice in your life, but they are to function as members of the Body of Christ rather than a Spiritual Leader. As my friend David explained it, “Christian guys are a voice in a girl’s life, not the voice (until marriage). They can offer advice that is insightful and helpful, but they are not in authority over you. So their counsel is strictly alongside and not over the girl.”
We Are Friends
Can Christian guys and girls be friends? Yes, if both parties guard their hearts, have appropriate boundaries, practice accountability for these friendships, and realize that these friendships are designed to function within the boundaries of the Body of Christ (mainly in groups). Just remember, a Christian guy friend can be a wise advisor, but he is not one of the girls, not your brother and not your husband, so treat him accordingly!
Some M/F Friendship Checkpoints:
- Are you accountable about your friendships with guys, just as you would for guys you date?
- Is everything you discuss appropriate? (would you feel comfortable having a friend overhear the conversation?)
- Is your time investment appropriate for the level of defined friendship (groups vs. alone)?
- Are you guarding your heart from emotional affairs?
- Are you protecting your brother in Christ?
- Are you honoring God’s reputation to a lost world by how you function in friendships?