The publishing of my book on friendship between the sexes and the even greater calling and beauty of brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ has caused some controversy. Sadly, I knew it would. Most have thanked me for writing on this topic, as common sense tells us that Christians should be friendly creatures. I have merely offered the theology to support this reasoning, along with a biblical model to shape how it is done.
But the minority dissenters have loud voices. Some boldly wrote critical reviews before the book was published. It is ironic that writing a book about friendship has earned me some enemies. Some have gone to the lengths to open anonymous social media accounts to mock me, assign evil motives to my work, and caution others about the danger of reading my book. Interestingly, the critique has scarcely been directed to the specific content of my book. I don’t recall seeing any serious complaints about the theology in it. The arguments are more in the category of what I would call, “yeah, but…” What they are saying is, “This all sounds biblical, but it can’t be done by most. Don’t try this at home.” The charge is that my book will lead to sexual sin and affairs.
The title of my book is Why Can’t We Be Friends? And my critics answer, because of the power of sin.
I agree that sin is very powerful. Without Christ, we are all under the reign of sin. We cannot please God. Our motives are unrighteous. We are slaves to our sin. What a devastating state to be in!
One powerful expression of sin is manifest in the sexual revolution of our time. Men and women are reduced to our sexual impulses and gratification. Many are confused about sexual identity. This leads to basic questions like: how do we view one another and ourselves, how do we relate to one another, and what is our purpose? While Christians see all the sin of the sexual revolution, many are getting caught up in it, and everyone is asking these questions.
The Church’s Witness
What kinds of answers do unbelievers find when they look to God’s church, God’s household of believers? Many in the church who want to be moral, pure, and faithful to their spouses have answered with avoidance. Since sin is powerful, since Christians can still be tempted, and since we are called to holiness, many think that we can only persevere if we do not befriend the other sex. This is a way to feel safe and protected from temptation.
But what does this say about the gospel, God’s mission, the nature of friendship, our status, and the power of holiness? Is our message to the world that God has called us to salvation in Christ, made us new creations whom he is preparing for eternity on the new heavens and the new earth…and therefore we cannot exercise godly friendship between the sexes? And as a matter of fact, we should not eat with, give a ride to, or even text the other sex in order to avoid temptation? What kind of gospel message is this?
Christ’s church has good news. It is the power of God unto salvation. Jesus is Lord! Yes, without Christ, we are “dead in our trespasses and sins,” living “according to the ways of the world according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient…But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ although we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” (Eph. 2:1-2, 5-6). All those who turn to Christ in repentance are filled with his Holy Spirit so that we are no longer under the reign of sin, but the reign of grace. The bodies of believers are no longer ruled by sin (Rom. 6:6). We are called to live to God (Rom. 6:10). And we are called into a covenant community of believers. God’s church is God’s household (1 Tim. 3:15).
The Triune God has called us into eternal communion with himself and one another. This is not a gendered mission that separates the men from the women. Christ tells us all:
I no longer call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I call you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me but I chose you, and appointed that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give to you. (John 15:15-16).
As our friend, Jesus reveals the Father’s will to us, invites us into communion with the Triune God, and appoints us to grow in holiness, bearing lasting fruit. We are called to growth in holiness. Part of growth is exercising wisdom and discernment in our interactions with everyone. We can’t do this by avoiding one another, but by loving one another the way Christ has shown us in his Word and empowered us by his Spirit to do.
The Nature of Friendship and Our Status
Friendship is not a call to candle light dinners. Friendship is not romantic—it is platonic. Friendship is not exclusive like marriage—it is lived out in community. This is what I am addressing in my book—how to be a friend in community. And our status as brothers and sisters in Christ helps us to understand this better. It is an even higher calling that comes with rights and obligations.
Are we capable of becoming a sincere friend to our brothers and sisters in Christ? And how does this extend to unbelievers? Friendship changes us. It is a virtue that we need to develop, and there are close to sixty “one another” verses in Scripture teaching us how. God’s household promotes friendship, as it requires rooted identity, mission, holistic value, purity, maturity, and growth.
The Power of Holiness
The Father reveals what holiness is, first in his law, then in his Son Jesus Christ. In Christ he declares us to be holy, but he doesn’t stop there! Christ’s friendship transforms us, so that we also bear the fruit of holiness. Jesus promotes our holiness. That’s what friends do. And we have the power of the Holy Spirit to do it. The power of holiness is greater than the power of sin. And our zeal for obedience should be greater than our fear of sin.
Who Can We Be Friends With?
I think we need to look at this a different way: Who must we love and with what kind of love?
Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Rom. 12:9-10)
Would God’s Word command us to do something without giving us the power to do it by his Spirit?
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It’s as if the critics are saying men have a friend in Jesus and women have a friend in Jesus, but men and women can’t be friends in Jesus. Ridiculous. In Jesus, we can all be friends with each other: women with men and men with women and men with men and women with women. It’s one of the great blessings of Christ to be in fellowship with one another.