Genesis 2:23-24 describes the creation of marriage with verse 24 revealing the closeness of relationship that a husband and wife share: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The marriage relationship is to be honored as the most significant, yet a husband and wife will still have other relationships. Should married men and women only have relationships with those of the same sex? Is it sinful for a married person to have a close friend of the opposite sex?
God designed marriage to be a unique union between a man and a woman in a covenant for life. God’s design for marriage includes sex, the consummation of that union, which is to be experienced only between a married man and woman. Any sexual expression outside the marriage covenant is sin. Yet, God calls believers to have meaningful relationships in the body of Christ. Married or single, male or female, believers are called to have relationships—same sex and opposite sex—that reflect Christ to the world by our love for one another (John 13:35).
Believers are a family (Ephesians 2:19), and God calls us into meaningful relationships with each other. Our love for one another is governed by loving God and loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Timothy 5:1–2). The Bible speaks of the value of friends (Proverbs 18:24; 27:17; Ecclesiastes 4:9) and gives us dozens of “one another” commands showing us how to relate to each another. We are called to love one another (John 13:34; Romans 13:8), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18), and spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). These instructions are for all believers, not simply those of the same sex.
At the same time, having a close friend of the opposite sex has led many into sin. First Corinthians 6:16 instructs us to “flee from sexual immorality,” and Ephesians 5:3 declares that there “must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, impurity, or greed” among us. These are strong warnings. The many failures of men and women of God over the centuries reveal the reason God warned so clearly of the dangers of temptation in opposite-gender relationships.
What should be the response then? Should a married person not have any close friends of the opposite sex? Clearly, it is not God’s will for us to cut ourselves off from meaningful relationships with 50 percent of the world’s population the moment we get married. Still, there are clear barriers that should not be trespassed, and it is wise to not even come close to those barriers.
Some have chosen to live by what is commonly known as the “Billy Graham rule” of not allowing yourself to ever be alone with a member of the opposite sex other than your spouse or an immediate family member. This is a good option and will surely minimize opportunities for temptation and/or accusations. For this reason, many pastors and counselors avoid meeting alone with a member of the opposite sex. They ask an additional person to be present in the room, and, if the door must be closed, they make sure the room has a window. Setting such personal boundaries is wise, and having rules that go beyond the scriptural prohibition is likely the right decision for some.
Care should be taken, though, that following personal rules does not result in legalism. The biblical commands are “Do not commit adultery” and “Flee temptation.” However, there is a difference between explicit commands and personal applications. “Never, under any circumstance, be alone with a person of the opposite sex” is not a biblical command. Neither is “Never be vulnerable or have any degree of emotional intimacy with a person of the opposite sex.” Developing biblical convictions that work for us is good and right. But they may not be the same convictions that God desires for everyone else. Our personal convictions should not be treated as if they were universal biblical commands.
For those in Christian leadership, even more care should be taken. Christian leaders are to be “above reproach” and have a “good reputation with outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:1–7). Accusations, even when proven false, can have a devastating impact on a ministry. Therefore, ministers should do everything possible to not give anyone an opportunity to slander (Matthew 5:11; 1 Peter 3:16). Keeping that in mind, 1 Peter 5:1 instructs elders to shepherd the flock, not half of the flock. Can a flock truly thrive if half of the sheep lack meaningful contact with the shepherd?
With all that said, here are some principles to consider:
• We have to stop looking at people of the opposite sex as potential objects to fulfill our lusts. Men and women are to relate to each other in meaningful and appropriate ways. We are to see those of the opposite sex as fellow bearers of God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27) and believers of the opposite sex as our brothers or sisters.
• If married, we have to give our spouse priority in all relationships (Genesis 2:24). We should never seek to get something from an opposite-sex friend that we are not receiving from our spouse. We must always be open and honest with our spouse regarding our relationships—all of them, not just those that involve the opposite sex. If your spouse has concerns about a relationship, take those concerns seriously.
• While we must be careful to not even give the “appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22), we can’t constantly worry about how everything might be misperceived by others. Romans 14:4 declares, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” We must live above approach and seek to please God not man (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
• Men and women are different. If you only spend time with people of the same sex, you run the risk of creating an echo chamber. It is important to have meaningful relationships with members of the opposite sex. They will see different things in and about you. They will encourage, love, serve, and spur you differently. They may even notice areas of needed change that your spouse has grown accustomed to—or that you’ve ignored when your spouse pointed them out.
The Bible clearly calls us to have meaningful relationships in the body of Christ. We will be spending eternity worshiping and serving God together. Male and female are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Yes, we should set safeguards to protect our reputation. Absolutely, we must flee temptation. But impactful relationships in the body of Christ, male and female, married or single, can be beneficial, edifying, encouraging, and most importantly, honoring and glorifying to God.