Q. Can a man and a woman ever just be friends?
© 2.15.06 By D. Eric Williams
A. For a short time perhaps. Making the friendship last requires
that you find each other at least vaguely repulsive. Good luck!1
Within the Church, the idea that men and women can be "just friends" (signifying a close relationship without [too much] physical familiarity), is part of the Christian attempt to ‘baptize" the dating game and declare it a sanctified activity. After all, when a Christian dating relationship doesn't work out, we certainly can't go the way of the world and allow one or both of the participants to have hurt feelings. Thus, good Christians remain friends after the ardor of romantic love has cooled. Not only that, good Christians stave off weekend boredom by maintaining "just friends" relationships with any number of men and women whom they may call upon for a "just friends" date. But it doesn't stop there; many Christians don't see any problem with married men and women maintaining a "just friends" relationship with a member of the opposite sex other than their spouse. The fact of the matter is, it cannot be done (after all, no one would really want to maintain a friendship with someone they found repulsive).
According to the Bible, Woman was designed to be a suitable helper or companion for Man. In part, this means that God designed men and women in such a way that it is natural for them to be attracted to one another and to bond emotionally, intellectually, socially, and sexually. The only context where attraction and bonding should take place is within the marriage relationship. Since men and women are designed for mutual attraction and bonding, they have to work at not becoming attached to one another.
When a man marries, he "forsakes all others" and focuses his attention on his wife. She becomes his best friend and is meant to satisfy his need for female companionship. Remember, the very first thing said about man and woman after the creation of Eve (and after Adam's description/naming of her), was this: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). This is the definitive scripture passage concerning relationships between men and women. We search in vain for any indication in the Bible that men and women are capable of being "just friends."
The Scripture does provide examples of men and women working together to advance the cause of the kingdom. For instance, Paul lived and worked with Aquila and his wife Priscilla while in Corinth; he commends Phoebe to the church in Rome and sends greetings to Priscilla (and Aquila), and to five or six other women2 who were part of the Roman church; he implores Euodia and Syntyche, members of the Philippian church and women who labored with him in the gospel, to be reconciled. Moreover, there was a group of women who apparently traveled with Jesus and His disciples, supporting His ministry from out of their own resources (Luke 8:1-3). However, none of these examples tell us that men and women should develop and maintain friendships with the opposite sex outside the marriage relationship. Certainly the biblical men and women cited above were on friendly terms with one another. But cordiality is not the same thing as friendship.
In Paul's first letter to Timothy, he commands his young charge to treat "older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity" (1 Tim. 5:2). He isn't instructing Timothy on how to maintain a "just friends" relationship with women. Instead he is telling him to guard against sexual temptation. The implication is that any time a man finds himself in close proximity to a woman, he needs to guard against the allure of a sexual relationship. Again, men and women are designed to be attracted to one another and prolonging close communication is a sure fire way to get the ball rolling.
You see, friendship is characterized by openness and vulnerability. In a true friendship, two people share their innermost thoughts with one another without fear of rejection. They know that they can be who they really are with their companion and not worry about losing the love of their friend. A friend is the one you turn to when you need emotional support and affirmation. When you are with your friend you can be joyful, sad, angry or melancholy. The point is, friends know one another intimately and are comfortable being themselves when together; barriers are removed and they become emotionally and spiritually exposed to one another. The only time a man and woman should have this sort of relationship is when they are married. Furthermore, any time a man and woman spend significant time together their relationship will naturally move toward emotional and spiritual (and physical), intimacy. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that this is the kind of relationship that Jesus had with the women who supported His ministry. Likewise, there is no indication that Paul had this type of relationship with any of the women he was associated with.
Unfortunately too many Christians don't understand these fundamental truths. As a result Christian men have affairs with attractive female co-workers (who are "just friends"), as often as non-Christian men do. Moreover, plenty of Christian women believe that they can be "just friends" with the handsome fellow in the cubicle next door just like their non-Christian counterparts. What's sad is that many pastors encourage this sort of behavior by the way they oversee their flock.
Pastors are supposed to model Christ-like behavior for their congregation. Yet, it's not uncommon for pastors to develop friendships with their female parishioners. It is often seen as part of a proper sheep and shepherd relationship. I'm acquainted with more than one pastor whose familiarity with the female members of his church led to the break up of his family. Even so, they failed to recognize (after the fact), that their divorce was directly linked to their belief that they could be "just friends" with the women in their church (one case I'm personally aware of didn't involve sexual infidelity on the part of the pastor, but his emotional promiscuity caused his wife to feel unloved, insecure and abandoned which led to her having an affair and the subsequent termination of their marriage).
Brothers and sisters, it's time for the Church to wake up and smell the coffee. There is no excuse for foolishness on the part of Christians concerning this matter. The Bible is clear; men and women are designed for marriage to one another; it is within the marriage relationship that men and women find the intimacy of a close friendship and no where else. Certainly men may have male friends and women female friends. But there cannot be any friendship that rivals the relationship we have with our spouse.3 Just as there cannot be any friendship that rivals the relationship Christ has with His Church (Eph. 5:22-33). Selah. (Consider it).