Saturday, January 21, 2006


Platonic friendships

It's been a while since I've shopped for bananas (I'm more a plum man nowadays :-) ), but when I did so, I thought it wasn't a terribly difficult task. My preference was for bananas that had just a touch of green to their color. If no such bananas were available, I'd choose those that had a minimum of brown spots. In general, this procedure garnered a bunch of bananas that were free of soft spots, but from time to time, peeling open a banana that appeared free of blemishes on the outside revealed a substantial amount of soft spots. Although my efforts to judge a banana by its outward appearance usually gave me a reasonable impression of the quality of what was inside, this kind of problem happened often enough that I came to distrust whether my all-yellow banana was in fact all that it appeared to be. Regarding banana inspection, I think I was guilty of two main faults: (1) my wisdom regarding what outward signs indicated a good banana was lacking, and (2) my outward visual inspection was insufficient to reveal the inner faults of the fruit.

Regarding the discernment of sin, especially the sin that lurks within our own hearts, I think we're all pretty rotten fruit inspectors. Don't take my word for it: Jesus Himself said so. Whereas we love to compare our behavior with the grossest external wickedness--compared to which we are apparently white as snow--Jesus taught that sin constitutes not just obvious outward behavior, but inner heart motives as well. When I look at a woman with lust, I commit adultery, and when I'm angry with my brother, I commit murder. Like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, we judge ourselves by far too superficial a standard.

Lately, I've been mulling over the subject of male/female relationships. As I've done so, it's occurred to me that a lot of destructive relationships start out as outwardly innocent "platonic friendships." A man and woman start to hang out with each others, sometimes publically, sometimes in private. They enjoy talking with each other and doing things together, but they don't feel a strong physical attraction to each other, so they manage to avoid blatant fornication. Although there are many times that such a friendship evolves into a romantic relationship, there are other times that the relationship never crosses the line from friendship to romance. So long as this line isn't crossed, it's easy for the pair to think, "There's nothing wrong with what we're doing. We're just friends. Why, we've never even kissed!" In such cases, it is indeed a mercy of God that blatant fornication doesn't take place, but yet we ought to consider whether such a standard of judgment is sufficiently strict.

When I was a young adult, I had a number of platonic friendships with women. Not a single one led to any kind of obvious immorality. I came to fancy that I had a special gift of self control: that I could handle a considerable degree of emotional intimacy without letting things get out of hand. Moreover, I learned to conduct myself towards women, both unmarried and married, in such a way that they felt that they could trust me. When my friend was married, I always made it a point to get to know her husband and spend time with both of them. After all, I was just friends with his wife, and had no desire to disrupt their family life. In a very real sense, I was successful in this balancing act. I was, in a way, the best-case scenario for the participant in platonic friendships.

During that season of my life, I was a professing Christian, but like so many in the modern charismatic and evangelical church, I was ill-taught in the Scriptures. In due time, God had mercy on me and brought me to a solid Bible-preaching Reformed Baptist church. Through my own Scripture reading and the preaching I enjoy in church, I've become better acquainted with God's standard of righteousness and the various roles and relationships He has ordained for His creatures. As I've grown in knowledge and wisdom, I've come to realize that there was in fact much evil in my former friendships, and if the outward damage from them was limited, it was on account of God's amazing mercy rather than any righteousness of mine. I broke off my last platonic friendship shortly after coming to my church six years ago. Since then, I've concentrated on building friendships with other men, and have pursued close relationships with women only so long as both of us were open to the possibility of marriage, breaking off each such relationship once we came to realize that we were not well-suited for each other.

Although I discontinued platonic friendships years ago, it is relatively recently that I've come to realize just how dishonoring to God those friendships had been. In the cases where my friend was unmarried, our relationship served as an excuse to avoid the long-term commitment that ought to be found only in marriage. When my friend was married, my friendship with her was never helpful to the health of her covenant relationship with her husband. Although I always broke off such friendships when I saw that things were not going well with my friend's marriage, I now realize that the very fact of my friendship with the wife would have had a tendency to weaken the special intimacy that she ought to have had only with her husband.

Thus, much like the skin of a banana doesn't necessarily prove that it's fresh, I have learned that the lack of outward sexual immorality in a "friendship" in no way proves that it is honoring to God. It is not enough to avoid the commission of the most blatant sin. In our relationships, we must consider not only the sanctity of the flesh, but also the sanctity of the marriage covenant. If I pal around with a married woman, I can only weaken her marriage, whereas if I pal around with an unmarried woman without any consideration for possibly marrying her, I am trifling with her affections. Although it can be good and right for men and women to be friends to a certain degree, a husband's closest friend ought to be his wife, with his other close friends being other men. The lack of fornication in no way sanctifies the type of intimate friendship that weakens or demeans the marriage covenant. Thus, I must join my voice to the chorus who warns men and women against entering into so-called platonic friendships.

Related article: Companionship without committment

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