In the Church, men and women are brothers and sisters in Christ. This means we can relate to one another as friends by sharing life together and helping one another run the race of faith. To learn more about biblical friendship, read Aimee Byrd’s blog, “Does a Woman’s Sexuality Hinder her Capability for Friendship?” You can also read our latest harvestusa magazine, “Women, Sexuality, and the Church,” here.

In our Spring 2018 issue of harvestusa magazine, guest writer Aimee Byrd, in light of the #MeToo movement, explores the tensions that exist in friendships between men and women, and then argues that the gospel radically transforms these relationships. When the gospel is lived out, friendships between men and women won’t fall into the abuse that the #MeToo movement rightly exposes, resulting in true intimacy and respect.  (You can read the entire magazine issue online: Women, Sexuality, and the Church)

 

When we think about sin’s impact on sexuality, we usually think of things like pornography, broken marriages, rape, sex trafficking, and other abuses. But one category that we often neglect to recognize regarding sin’s impact on sexuality is the gift of friendship. When we over-sexualize men and women made in the image of God, we are unable to view one another holistically and fellowship platonically. And this has been a historical problem, even in the church.

Women Incapable of Friendship

I don’t know of anyone in our contemporary culture that would say women are incapable of the virtue of friendship. In fact, sociological studies reveal that men open up more about themselves when a woman is involved in the dialogue.¹ But ancient philosophers did not believe that women had the moral capacity for what they held as the highest virtue of communion — friendship. Echoing the same mindset taught by Cicero, Aristotle, and Plato in their treatises on friendship, even Augustine joined in this reductive thinking about a woman’s nature. One of our greatest theologians in church history, “although he knew that well-educated and cultured women existed,” and respected his own mother’s wisdom, wrote, “’If God had wanted Adam to have a partner in scintillating conversation he would have created another man.’”² While this kind of statement is a shock to our modern sensibilities, we can still be reductive about virtuous friendship between the sexes.

Men Incapable of Friendship with Women

Almost thirty years ago Billy Crystal uttered a line in the infamous movie When Harry Met Sally that still haunts us today:  “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” As the character Harry seemed to represent every man, and Sally, every woman, consumers lost sight of the fact that this is just a movie. Now the tables have turned, and instead of a woman’s nature being incapable of attaining relational moral perfection in friendship, it is the man who lacks virtue. Sally, representing all women, argues against this assertion. She sadly concludes that she really could have used a friend, as Harry is the only person she knew in New York.

It’s such a strong scene because in that argument and conclusion, women’s value, worth, and contribution are at stake. Man reduces woman to her capability of gratifying his uncontrollable sexual urges. But man is also reduced to his supposed animalistic impulses, even to the point where he cannot be a friend to someone in need.

Men and Women Can’t Even be Acquaintances

Under the good intentions of upholding purity and faithful marriages, the common teaching in evangelical circles is that men and women shouldn’t even share a meal, a car ride, or a text message without a chaperone. Considering that a number of prominent preachers have fallen into sexual immorality, wrecking their marriages, their ministry, and the faith of some of their followers, taking steps such as these seems prudent.

Many leaders and laity have since followed this example with the same godly intentions. Christian leaders should certainly model sexual integrity to us. But we need to see it displayed with mature spirituality and godly friendship, not with suspicion and fear. I’ve been in conversations with men afraid to give a woman a ride to the hospital, to share an elevator, or to send an email about work. Is this the message the church really wants to send about our design for communion—that women are threats to a man’s purity and that we are incapable of serving as an acquaintance in ordinary life, much less being an actual friend? Yes, take precautions, be accountable, examine your heart, but I wonder if our design and life as new creations in Christ can show us a better way?

A woman’s sexuality should not be a barrier to friendship, but it should call men to treat her with all purity, like he would a sister or a mother (1 Timothy 5:2).

Does a Woman’s Sexuality Hinder Her Capability of Friendship?

Since there will be no marrying and no sexual intercourse in eternity, we know that God’s plan for human sexuality is not ultimately expressed in the sexual intimacy of the bedroom. A greater understanding of what we are created for, who we are in Christ, and where we are headed will help shape the way we relate to one another. A woman’s sexuality should not be a barrier to friendship, but it should call men to treat her with all purity, like he would a sister or a mother (1 Timothy. 5:2). Christian men and women are co-laborers in the gospel, brothers and sisters in Christ, both given the same, affectionate “one another” exhortations in Scripture that teach us how to relate.

Created for Holy Communion

Christians, we were created for the high calling of joyful communion with the Triune God and one another. We get to participate in the Father’s great love for the Son, through his Spirit. God has revealed himself to us in the Son so that he can make friends with us. Is this what we represent in the way we relate to others? Does the world see us exemplifying God’s love for mankind in Christ? Do we treat one another as men and women made in the image of God? If the church cannot model virtuous friendship between the sexes, why would the world take us seriously when we say we are being sanctified even now as we look to our glorification as brothers and sisters serving together in the new heavens and the new earth?

Christian men and women are co-laborers in the gospel, brothers and sisters in Christ, both given the same, affectionate “one another” exhortations in Scripture that teach us how to relate.

The world should look to the church and see a household of fellowship between siblings in Christ that overflows into the way we relate to everyone.

What does that look like on this side of the resurrection, as we all still struggle with idolatrous tendencies, sexual brokenness, and over-sexualized messages regarding men and women? Scripture tells us, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters” (Romans 12: 9-10, CSB).

To love our brothers and sisters well, we are called to be wise at separating good from evil. We pursue godly relationships and we warn against sin. This means we will have to be honest in self-evaluation regarding our own maturity and emotions and open to the counsel of our brothers and sisters in Christ, as honesty is achieved in community. We are God’s own possession, so we are to “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

Here are some common areas we miss in self-evaluation:

Confusing attraction with sexual temptation.

Let’s not fool ourselves by saying we will never be attracted to anyone but our spouses. What do you do when you discover you are attracted to someone? We are to offer every part of ourselves—body, mind, and soul—to God. It’s easy to misread appropriate feelings that could be a godly attraction and reduce our feelings to romantic or sexual attraction since we hear so many over-sexualized messages. Let’s learn to recognize the difference and properly handle them so that we don’t miss out on the proper affection we could experience as brothers and sisters.

Assuming we won’t be tempted.

Self-evaluation will also help us recognize when we are weak in this distinction or with a particular person. Perhaps we perceive a weakness in someone else. In this case, we should not put ourselves in situations that would feed a temptation to sin or cause anyone to stumble. This is when proactive measures are called for, such as seeking accountability from someone we trust and establishing clear boundaries. If we understand the sin within our own hearts, we should exercise proper discretion, never assuming that we couldn’t be tempted.

Expecting marriage to fulfill all of our relational needs.

Looking to a spouse to fulfill all of our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs puts an unbearable burden on one person. This unhealthy dynamic can contribute to temptation that leads to affairs. When a wife or husband can’t measure up to these expectations, it is easy to romanticize a quality in someone else that we see lacking in our spouse.

Not valuing a spouse’s insight.

If you are married, it is dishonoring to your spouse to pursue a friendship with anyone he or she feels uncomfortable about. Also, our spouses often have insight into a situation where we may have a blind spot. Are you open with your spouse about your interactions and friendships with the opposite sex? Do your friends promote your marriage? A spouse may notice that someone has harmful intentions or manipulative ways. I have shared advice with my husband when I thought a woman had more romantic intentions in her friendship with him. He didn’t notice that until I pointed it out. My husband has given me insight about some of my friends being competitive with me in a destructive manner. We should always give heed to our spouse’s wisdom.

What is God calling us to in friendship? He is calling us to image the love he has for us in Christ. He is calling us to look at one another holistically, because along with our bodies, we have minds, souls, and emotions that matter. He is calling us to uphold distinction between the sexes, without reduction. He is calling us to growth, maturity, and a love for obedience that is greater than our fears. He is calling us to wisdom and discernment, not blanket extra-biblical rules that stereotype and hinder growth. He is calling us to a biblical understanding of purity that rightly orients all of our affections to God, as a proper response to understanding that by the help of his Spirit our purity is from Christ, through Christ, and to Christ in grateful offering (Rom. 11:36). He is calling us to promote one another’s holiness and to condemn sin.

We do this by being a friend, because friendship is something you do. Friends pursue a common mission, and the church is the ambassador of the gospel in the great commission God has given us. These relationships with our brothers and sisters in the faith will benefit us as we are sent out into the world to be good neighbors to all creation.

¹For example, see Dee Brestin, The Friendships of Women (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1988), 16.

²Translated by Henry Chadwick, St. Augustine, Confessions (NY: Oxford University Press, 1991), in Chadwick’s Introduction, xviii. Quoted from St. Augustine, Literal Commentary on Genesis.


Watch Ellen Dykas discuss this topic further in the accompanying video: Can Men and Women Be Friends? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

Living as both single and sexually faithful might feel impossible. For someone who is single, committing to live within God’s boundaries seems foolish in our current culture’s celebration of sexual ‘freedom.’ But for Christians, we find comfort in knowing our loving and holy Lord has a design for every aspect of life. Jesus is present always to help us stay the course of the race of faith, and he constantly holds out forgiveness and mercy when we fail. Jesus and the Bible are also wise and practical when it comes to our street-level fight against sexual sin and temptation. Jesus stands ready to help when we turn to him as we face struggles and temptations.

So let’s consider one important tool in this battle to help us as single men and women: identifying and fleeing triggers.

In the world of addictions, the concept of a ‘trigger’ is significant. It refers to people, places, experiences, and things which stir up thoughts, feelings, memories, and desires connected to certain behaviors.¹ A food addict may be triggered to overeat by the sight of pastries or criticism from a parent. A TV addict may binge watch while important work is left undone, triggered by feeling lonely or work-related stress. A trigger prompts a person to move towards a harmful behavior which soothes or numbs troubling and painful life experiences. In other words, it’s a temporary pain killer. But then the pain comes back, stronger than ever. And a cycle is set up.

Identifying triggers isn’t meant to make us live as suspicious, joyless Christians who avoid people or good gifts!

For a single person battling sexual temptation, it is crucial to identify the triggers which prompt us to move towards various pain-reducing behaviors like viewing or reading pornography, crossing physical boundaries with a person, or engaging in sexual fantasy and masturbation. Let’s be clear: married people also must battle sexual sin! However, singles committed to walking in sexual integrity do not have this context for sexual expression, so fleeing sexual temptation will never involve having God-blessed sex such as married persons enjoy.

Identify your triggers
Emotions and feelings – What emotions are most troubling to you? Which are difficult to ‘sit with’ or bring to the Lord in prayer? In addictions counseling the acronym HALT is often used to teach that feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired are common triggers which addictive behaviors serve to soothe or numb. With the men and women who come to HARVEST USA, we add boredom, sadness, and relational pain. Sexual sin (with people, self, via technology) often is an attempt to avoid internal pain in our lives, which is usually tied to external, troubling situations.

Circumstances – What are the situations which seem to most often precede your fiercest battles with sexual temptation? Is it work-related stress? The holidays? Family gatherings? Church-related events? Large gatherings of people or times of aloneness? Traveling and being out of your normal routine? Having downtime or a vacation?

People and relationships – Do certain people or relationships seem to consistently trigger the feelings that are troubling for you? On this side of heaven, not all relationships will be redeemed or ‘safe’ for us, so identifying individuals we need to avoid can be challenging for Christians to consider. After all, aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor? Yes, and sometimes loving God and loving people wisely (Philippians 1:9-11) means being aware of relational dynamics which pull us away from Christ, rather than towards him and obedience. Wisdom will necessitate having firm boundaries with people with whom you have participated in sexual sin; those who constantly tempt you towards lust and selfish fantasy; people who consistently discourage and disrespect you and your boundaries; and those who are manipulative, deceptive, and hurtful with their words.

I know that seems like a lot to keep track of, but with focus and intention, it can become second nature. Learning what the triggers are in these three categories will help you not just to know what to avoid; you can make those triggers the things that prompt you to run to Jesus, and that’s the best part of doing this. Identifying triggers isn’t meant to make us live as suspicious, joyless Christians who avoid people or good gifts! The goal is increasingly running towards Christ and running away from sexually sinful activities that we use to soothe difficult experiences.

What we need to understand is that when we use things repeatedly to get through life, those things we use become our functional gods. They become idols to which we run, they become the things we worship, and that’s no different than what Israel did when they ran to and worshipped idols made of wood or clay.

The process of learning how to flee triggers and temptations can mean taking various steps of faith, such as:

  1. Contacting close friends to pray for you, with a call or quick text
  2. Setting up an accountability relationship for honesty and prayer
  3. Putting into place intentional steps to grow in your faith, like doing daily devotions
  4. Willingness to limit technology and media if they are strong temptations

Do you see how practical it is to identify your triggers? It’s a way to bring Jesus into your struggles, and to experience the joy that comes from living in new, better, and God-glorifying ways.

 

¹https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-addiction/201003/triggers-and-relapse-craving-connection-addicts


For more help in this vital aspect of faith for singles, consider HARVEST USA’s mini books, Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart, What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Single?, and How to Say No When Your Body Says Yes: Finding True Satisfaction.

To see Ellen talking some more about this issue, click on Ellen’s video blog, Sexual Integrity for Singles: It’s not a tragedy, and it’s not impossible! Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters (together with the accompanying written blog) in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

Robert Lynn, Associate Pastor, Knox Presbyterian Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Part of Harvest USA’s mission is to encourage and equip churches to reach out to individuals struggling with sexual brokenness and sin. Several years ago, two Harvest USA staff members traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to meet with the pastoral staff and present a seminar at Knox Presbyterian Church. Pastor Robert Lynn spearheaded this cooperative effort. He writes how God has since used him in the lives of strugglers and how he has reaped personal benefits. Here’s another blog post that will encourage you to lead a support group for men; you can read it here.

I recall some years ago, one of the pastors I serve with stopped me as we left a bi-weekly meeting. “I’ve got to tell you,” he said, “that you’ve really changed over the past eight months or so. You seem so much more relaxed and at ease. You’re taking things in stride in ways you didn’t use to…” The conversation went on a few minutes as he articulated the differences he noticed. I was taken by surprise, but it didn’t take long to see the significance of the eight-month time frame.

A bit of background might be helpful to understand this small tale of pastoral transformation. Eight years ago, I found myself in a difficult season of ministry for me. It was difficult to the point of me thinking, “I don’t want a new church. I want a new career!” The last half of 2007 was a time of tending to wounds, so if you had asked me at the beginning of 2008 how I was doing, my answer no doubt would have been, “Great.” And on many levels, God had done some wonderful heart work, but clearly the work wasn’t finished.

What happened in my life that took my healing to new depths. Quite literally, God opened a door, and one by one a string of men struggling with sexual sin entered my life. They’re still coming. I look back now and see that God was preparing me for all this—understandably, I couldn’t see that then.

What is the result of walking with these men in their sexual struggles? First, there is the opportunity to bring good news to them again and again. I have the privilege of calling them to the only One who has the wisdom and power to make all things new. 

What is the result of walking with these men in their sexual struggles? First, there is the opportunity to bring good news to them again and again. I have the privilege of calling them to the only One who has the wisdom and power to make all things new. It seems that I’m always talking about the gospel!

Second, there is growth and strengthening of my own faith—my own understanding of how Jesus is sufficient for the men and for me. When I begin to grasp that and stake my life on it, things begin to change. Jesus will meet all my needs; therefore, I do not need to trust in worldly things to find meaning or peace.

Third, there is an overflow of deep, deep joy. As I read the Psalms, David provides words that say it best, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7, ESV). How can fellow sinners get together with the Gospel at the center and not see an explosion of joy? If anything brings new vitality and passion for ministry, it’s Gospel-promised, cross-purchased, and resurrection-guaranteed joy.

Fourth, I have a new love for my fellow strugglers. In 401 AD, Saint Augustine wrote his friend Pammachius, “I have seen your inner being… Seeing this has made me know you, and knowing you has made me love you.” I have experienced this same truth. These men have all let me into their hearts to see their needs. I have seen Christ at work in them as we engage the Gospel. Seeing has made me know them and knowing them has made me love them.

Finally, I now realize how much a pastor needs strugglers. My personal struggles have been ministry wounds and anger, while theirs has been sex, but we each need Jesus desperately. To my surprise, I find that the one who points them to Jesus needs Jesus as much as any of them.

Updated 5.19.2017

Bob Heywood shares his story about his battle with pornography and what it took for him to change.

 

Discovery Support Group – This biblical support group builds on the Foundations group, helping men further process their struggle with sexual sin and learn to embrace Jesus in the midst of life’s challenges, rather than medicating through their sexual behavior. An initial visit with a staff person or intern and completion of the Foundations group is mandatory before entering the Discovery group.

Philadelphia:  This group meets every other Tuesday night, beginning at 7:00pm

Please call the office at 215-482-0111 to set up an appointment.

 

For information on our Foundations Group please Click Here!

For information on our Open Support and Accountabililty Group please Click Here!

Discovery Support Group – This biblical support group builds on the Foundations group, helping men further process their struggle with sexual sin and learn to embrace Jesus in the midst of life’s challenges, rather than medicating through their sexual behavior. An initial visit with a staff person or intern and completion of the Foundations group is mandatory before entering the Discovery group.

Philadelphia:  This group meets every other Tuesday night, beginning at 7:00pm

Please call the office at 215-482-0111 to set up an appointment.

 

For information on our Foundations Group please Click Here!

For information on our Open Support and Accountabililty Group please Click Here!

Foundations Support Group – This is the introductory level biblical support group for men seeking to overcome struggles with pornography, promiscuity, unwanted same-sex attraction, sexual addictions, masturbation, etc. This group focuses on the work of Christ – applying the gospel to sexual brokenness – and examines the importance of community, as well as taking personal responsibility, to overcome sexual sin.

An initial visit with a staff person or intern is mandatory before entering this group. 


This group will run: August 27, 2015 to December 17, 2015  – Excluding 11/26/15
Please contact David White at 215-482-0111, ext. 119, or email: davew@harvestusa.org

 

For information on our Evening Open Support and Accountability Group Click Here!

For information on our Afternoon Open Support and Accountability Group Click Here! 

For information on our Discovery Group.

Location: 3901B Main Street, Suite 304, Philadelphia, PA 189127

Contact: Dave White: 215-482-0111, Ext. 119 or davew@harvestusa.org

Foundations Support Group – This is the introductory level biblical support group for men seeking to overcome struggles with pornography, promiscuity, unwanted same-sex attraction, sexual addictions, masturbation, etc. This group focuses on the work of Christ – applying the gospel to sexual brokenness – and examines the importance of community, as well as taking personal responsibility, to overcome sexual sin.

An initial visit with a staff person or intern is mandatory before entering this group. 


This group will run: August 27, 2015 to December 17, 2015  – Excluding 11/26/15
Please contact David White at 215-482-0111, ext. 119, or email: davew@harvestusa.org

 

For information on our Evening Open Support and Accountability Group Click Here!

For information on our Afternoon Open Support and Accountability Group Click Here! 

For information on our Discovery Group.

Location: 3901B Main Street, Suite 304, Philadelphia, PA 189127

Contact: Dave White: 215-482-0111, Ext. 119 or davew@harvestusa.org

Foundations Support Group – This is the introductory level biblical support group for men seeking to overcome struggles with pornography, promiscuity, unwanted same-sex attraction, sexual addictions, masturbation, etc. This group focuses on the work of Christ – applying the gospel to sexual brokenness – and examines the importance of community, as well as taking personal responsibility, to overcome sexual sin.

An initial visit with a staff person or intern is mandatory before entering this group. 


This group will run: August 27, 2015 to December 17, 2015  – Excluding 11/26/15
Please contact David White at 215-482-0111, ext. 119, or email: davew@harvestusa.org

 

For information on our Evening Open Support and Accountability Group Click Here!

For information on our Afternoon Open Support and Accountability Group Click Here! 

For information on our Discovery Group.

Location: 3901B Main Street, Suite 304, Philadelphia, PA 189127

Contact: Dave White: 215-482-0111, Ext. 119 or davew@harvestusa.org


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