A Brilliant Grace for Opposite Gender Relationships in the Body
Excerpt from teaching "Managing Affections and Attractions as Single Women in Community" Legacy Disciple, 2016. Chicago.
Generally speaking, many in the church feel strongly that male and female interaction needs to be primarily reserved for the purpose of marriage. They want to keep men with men, and women with women, until they somehow all start liking each other, get together, get married, and all have little boy and girl children that are also going to be kept completely separate. Let me start by saying I understand and support the separation of genders particularly in adolescence, when there is a lack of spiritual, mental, and emotional maturity – for the purposes of their protection. Children and youth need and deserve our protection through guidance.
I also understand gender-focused gatherings and our need for them within Christ community. I get that they can be a safe space – and I have need of that space myself quite often. There’s joy, and sense of acceptance, understanding, etc that we find in sisterhood or brotherhood. I am not in any way anti- pursuing those kind of gatherings. I want to be clear so it’s understand that I do believe in the safe space of sameness.
The problem is, that for far too long, in too many ways, much of church culture has said explicitly or inexplicitly – men and women should only be in relationship or communication for the purposed goal of dating and marriage. I think a lot of it is fear...but I also think many well-meaning people honestly believe it to be true. My problem is, I do not see that in the scripture.
Philippians 4: 1-9
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Timothy 5: 1-2
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.
God instituted Christ-exalting cross-gender relationships at the foundation of His church.
Men and women worked together to serve and establish the church. Christ followers committed themselves to the Lord in labor side-by-side in partnership. Not only through marriage, but through giving of themselves and their resources. Non-romantic male/female collaboration and partnerships is a critical and healthy component of a godly community. So, Paul gave guidelines. We must acknowledge these provisions in the scriptures if we want to have a healthy view of each other. Because if the only cross gender relationships in the church are dating relationships and marriages, than the temptation becomes to assume the church is obligated to give those things to us. To provide it for us. This results in relationships and marriage becoming an idol for many.
The reason we often automatically make women/men we come across in ministry and service a potential wife/husband is because we (as the church) have failed to provide people with another context in which to recognize them. AND probably because t's quite natural (and perfectly fine) to want a boo! But it’s not either or. It’s not, “Oh the church has jacked me up” and it’s not “It’s probably just me “ It’s both. There’s a void. There’s a lack of education. AND there’s personal desire. But desire is part of our human nature. We have chosen to reject or ignore the full view of across-gender relationships. So let’s start there. Let’s rid ourselves of the idea that God’s church should be gender-segregated.
Before anything, we are a family as we see in 1 Timothy 5:1-2 and in Romans 12- one body. Think of yourself as a member in an extended family with the men/women of the church. It will help you value them. It will help you see how God desires to use them in that family. And hopefully, you’ll develop other roles and affections for them outside of romantic interest or lack thereof.