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The Trouble With “Just Friends”

The Trouble With “Just Friends”

Ever since Aimee in the first grade, I’ve only ever wanted a wife. I’ve never wanted a lot of friends, to be “one of the guys,” seen as a “ladies man,” or to even “date.” Marriage was my only relational desire. Even at 7 years old, I was fully aware of the ideal of Christian marriage. So, for that end, I began to set my mind, steel my character and discipline my heart so that I might become the most eligible Christian bachelor I could be.

In my pursuit, I have been paying very close attention to the unique subculture that is Christian singleness, dating and relationship advice my entire life.

A new study, surveying 88 pairs of male/female friendships, shows that men are significantly more likely to perceive in these friendships a potential for romance—and in fact, the friendships that did not leave any room for attraction were a staggering minority.

But you don’t have to be a scientist to recognize this reality.

Now in my mid-30s and single, I have learned much about relationships the hard way over the years. Among these lessons, I’ve learned what many others have learned before me: that Christian men and women can’t be “just friends.”

But why?

We begin as something greater

In Mark 3:33-35, Jesus proclaims, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Then, in Mark 10:29-30, He says, “No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children …”

What Jesus is defining is the Church as the new family of God. Through spiritual rebirth, we each become brother and sister of Jesus Christ through adoption into the family of God. Consequently, we are brother and sister to each other. Husbands and wives are first of all brothers and sisters before they are husband and wife. Earthly bonds are secondary to spiritual bonds. The Bible teaches a surprising dynamic, where marriage is temporal (Matthew 22:30) and Christ’s body, eternal (Mark 10:29-30).

This thread runs throughout the New Testament. It was radical then, and it’s radical now.

That means that the primary understanding of one another and our primary interaction model from Scripture is that of the eternal brotherhood and sisterhood of all believers—and that changes everything in a world-wrecking, plan-changing, pride-stomping, topsy-turvy way that Christ and His Kingdom does so well.

To be crystal clear, “brotherhood and sisterhood” is not a synonym for “just friends.” This cheapens and limits the body of Christ. As the guiding principle of all of our interactions, it is so much more. You do not start there and move on to something more.

The something more, the something greater, is the brotherhood and sisterhood of all believers! We are given this greater default relationship as a gift of grace. And as with all things Gospel-driven, you do not need to be anything other than who you are at this very moment to receive it. We begin in the eternal. How amazing is that!

Shame on us if we reduce the brotherhood and sisterhood of all believers to something so much less, so trivial as some modern dating version of “just friends.”

We are meant for more

Regardless of the relationships that this life has brought your way (good, bad or lack thereof), you now have access to “a hundred times as much in this present age.” No one is in this alone. There may be no generation or culture in history more in need of the freedom and security that comes from this understanding than ours.

Yet if we insist on our interactions being driven by modern dating practices and romantic qualifiers, we are choosing to needlessly segment the body of Christ and deny one another the familial unconditional love and support that each of us need and the world was meant to see.

I can promise you, and you may agree, that if there was a community where everyone could enter in and lay their armor down just for one second, where no one would feel judged, pressured or compared, where they could truly trust the people around them, that countless men and women would run to be a part of that kind of community. The floors would be stained with the tears cried in relief from the pressures and loneliness faced day in and day out.

We must never forget—nor let our personal desires lead us to ignore—that everyone is in your life for a reason, and there are far more relationships, deep and meaningful, than the romantic “one.” We are capable of and deserve so much more from one another than the all-or-nothing mentality that a dating culture can create.

We settle for so much less than God has for us. The fellowship of the saints, the body of Christ, the brotherhood and sisterhood of all believers is the something greater!

We can do better

The collision between worldly norms and Christian ideals can often create a strange, confusing, often contradictory culture of relationships, friendships and dating in our communities. How we see, think, act, react and speak to one another have all been so heavily influenced by the broader culture (and our dating-obsessed subculture) that it requires a deep intentionality about developing a proper theology of Christian relationships if there is to be any hope of building an authentic community.

We can do better than allowing the culture, Christian or otherwise, to define our relational starting point—friends, dating, the one and all the rest. We simply can’t allow those shallow categories to define us, divide us, keep us from important relationships or, far worse, judge and alienate others in our pursuit of romance.

Put simply, Christian men and women can never be “just friends” because we are already so much more. May we all embrace the relational richness of God’s gracious design.

Brothers, meet your sisters. Sisters, meet your brothers. Become the something greater!

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