Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan immortalized the popular (mis)understanding of male/female relationships in the hit movie When Harry Met Sally. When Harry makes a pass at Sally, his fellow co-ed, she turns him down with the familiar words, “No, Harry...we are just going to be friends, OK?”Harry responds: “Friends? You realize, of course, that we could never be friends.”
What I’m saying, and this is not a come-on in any way, shape, or form, is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.
No, you don’t.
Yes, I do.
No, you don’t.
Yes, I do.
You only think you do.
Are you saying that I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?
No, I’m saying they all want to have sex with you.
Poor Sally! What a choice when it comes to men-romance or nothing. Why not “just” friends? Is a pure, non-romantic relationship really impossible between a man and a woman, or is Harry right? More specifically, how does Harry’s theory relate to men and women who follow Christ? I believe that Christians, indwelt by the Spirit, will prove Harry to be wrong. Men and women really can be friends. In Christ, they can be more than friends-they can be sacred siblings, and the implications for ministry are enormous!
What blinds us from seeing one another as sacred siblings? The answer is different for each of us. But even more than the role of women, sexual temptation is the hyper-charged factor we cannot ignore-for both men and women, especially in our over-sexed culture. It’s almost impossible not to be influenced by women with bare bellies and breasts, and muscular men sporting steely pecs and abs. God asks each of us to take charge of our hearts and hormones and submit them to Christ for the glory of God and building up of His Kingdom.
Does the Bible weigh in? The Bible tells us straight up. Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:1, 2). Paul indicates that in the community of faith we are called to honor older, mature men and women as if they were godly parents and male and female peers as if they were our brothers and sisters. Paul insists that we see the opposite sex as family members first, not as sexual objects. God considers lust between a biological brother and sister to be abhorrent. Just as sinful is lust between any man and woman, according to Jesus (Matt. 5:28). Shouldn’t it be unthinkable to lust after a spiritual brother or sister? Followers of Jesus are to consider one another as family, as sacred siblings. Is this mission impossible? Are we able to see one another this way in the family of faith? Yes, he enables us through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts and minds. How might our churches be changed if men and women caught this vision and lived it out?
I wrote Mixed Ministry with a team of friends to explore answers to these questions but I'd love your input. Can men and women in Christ really be friends?
Dr. Sue Edwards specializes in ministry to women as Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary. Her books include Leading Women Who Wound, Mixed Ministry: Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in a Damaged Society.