What are some healthy boundaries for friendship with people of the opposite sex? I am often teamed up with another Christian brother to teach our youth in my church. We are becoming friends and spend a fair amount of time together. Nothing inappropriate has happened, but I am trying to be cautious. I also have a concern about a female friend of my husband in his workplace, but I’m not sure how to handle my reservation. All boundary information is helpful. Thank you in advance for answering my question. I love reading your blog.
In need of boundaries
Thank you for reading my blog and for taking the time to write. These are great questions! I do not think male- female boundary issues get enough attention in the ever-evolving androgynous world we live in today. So, I appreciate the opportunity to ponder this through the lens of the Word of God.
It is unpopular to say, but men and women approach relationships differently. And in the interest of safety, these relationships do need special boundaries. There is no specific “go to verse” that will answer your question. Much of what I am writing is my own opinion; it is not necessarily scriptural. But please know that my response is based on nuances in Scripture and good ol’ wisdom from my many years on planet earth 😊! And I hope I am giving opinions that “by the Lord’s mercy are worthy of trust.” (1 Corinthians 7:25)
Let’s start right out the gate with a statement that will set the stage. This is not a new issue. As I consider the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, I understand that issues concerning relationships between Christians of the opposite sexes were present even back in the early church. In Romans 13:13-14, Paul urges believers to behave at night the way they do during the day. I believe that Paul was writing about male-female relationships here. I hear from that Paul’s list of sins an under-arching command to treat each other with respect and dignity and to live life in moderation.
Now consider what Paul penned to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 10:23), we find some additional guidelines that we can apply to interactions with people of the opposite sex. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul states that as believers we are free to do anything our heart may desire, but that not everything is good for us. We must make wise choices.
The Gospel according to John can help too in defining these boundaries! John writes that we are to love each other in a pure way like Christ loves us (John 13:34-35). So, as I answer your letter, know that there is no specific rule other than “do not sin.” You are free to weigh each relationship, as it presents itself, with the above Biblical standards. These guidelines are important to keep in mind:
1. Always behave with respect and dignity
2. Although we live in freedom, not everything is good for us
3. We are to love others with the pure love of Christ
Now, how do we practically apply all of this to our everyday lives? Here are some of my thoughts, all of which are anchored on Biblical standards, on my own life experiences as a married woman and on my experiences with troubled marriages in my church and community.
Make your spouse your priority relationship.
Do not allow Satan to whisper in your spouse’s ear that they are not appreciated or are not loved. Pursue your spouse, even after “you put a ring on it.” 😊 Sometimes we get lazy and forget to make our relationship with our spouse a priority, second only, of course, to our relationship with our heavenly Father. This takes work and a selfless lifestyle, but the benefits are enormous! Your spouse will be satisfied when you consistently meet their most important emotional needs. And when your spouse is satisfied, friendships with the opposite sex are very unlikely to become inappropriate. But if your marriage is plagued with unforgiveness and is lacking joy or intimacy, be very wary – you are both starving to be loved, known and heard. And, you are then vulnerable for a relationship to go too far and to go faster than you can yell for “help!”
Give your spouse permission to “pump the brakes” on any relationship he or she feels is not God honoring.
Do not minimize the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life as your source of discernment. I believe the Holy Spirit sometimes “nudges” our hearts and says, “Additional boundaries need to be in place with this person.” And sometimes, the Spirit simply says, “RUN!” When you or your spouse feel this way, respect their insight and put some distance between you and the person in question. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard one spouse say that they had an uncomfortable feeling about someone who later turned into the object of an extra-marital affair. On the other hand, I have felt a “nudge” once or twice about a female friend of my husband’s only to later get to know the person and find all my reservations unnecessary. Nevertheless, I am thankful that Jody trusts the Holy Spirit inside me and that I trust the Holy Spirit inside him. You state in your letter that you have a concern about one of your husband’s female co-workers. Trust the Holy Spirit in you and then talk to your husband about your concern. Do not allow your concern become an unmerited accusation, but rather a chance to make sure your husband knows how important he is to you.
People pleasers need more boundaries as they may fall into temptation more easily.
If you happen to be someone who needs to make sure everyone is happy, you need extra boundaries. I know many churched people who just wanted to “love the person well!” After time, the relationship became too close, too quick, and then, “BOOM!” It became intimate. Your heart may be well-intentioned, but if you are not careful, it can become the beginning of missionary dating. Later, you might be looking in the rearview mirror and wondering what went wrong.
Sidebar: practice saying no. We MUST please God! And yes, we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we are not to become their doormat. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Counselling in the church happens in same sex situations only.
My husband and I decided years ago that if the husband of a couple that was in marital distress called me, I would direct the phone to my husband. The same, we agreed, goes for him. We keep clear-cut boundaries in our ministry to hurting marriages. We do this because we are not naive and we understand our adversary. We do not want to give Satan any room to wreak havoc. The same is true for prayer. Praying is a very intimate act and one man and one woman praying together on a regular basis can increase the intimacy of the friendship. The increase may not become too much, but it is better to be safe and pure than it is to be sorry.
Be wary of signs of increasing intimacy.
Back to your letter … if the youth co-leader starts calling you by a nickname, you have probably crossed an important line. It may not mean that you need to apply the brakes, but I would immediately tap them. Let your brother in Christ know he has crossed a line and has made you uncomfortable. Always consider that if a person of the opposite sex, who is not your spouse, starts buying your little treats and complimenting you on things that make you blush or feel uncomfortable, then it is time to pump the brakes. Some of the time, this behavior is harmless, but if ever you feel the Holy Spirit nudge you that things are getting inappropriate, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
I hope my response has been helpful and not anxiety-producing; I do not want to scare you. I do not believe male-female friendships are wrong, just potentially more dangerous. I have a number of brothers in Christ that I would also call friends, all of whom I would distance myself from if my husband felt uncomfortable.
Keep your eyes on Jesus, my sweet sister, and love your husband well. Stay washed in the Word and all else will fall into place.
Word Washed Wife
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:7-10 NIV).”