Still to the guys,
In the previous post, I pointed out the folly in having close or intimate fellowship with a person of the opposite sex. The basic conclusion was that it is foolish and therefore sinful to put so much confidence in our own strong wills, when the Bible (for our instruction and warning) clearly outlines the weakness of our flesh. If God’s Word is right about our weaknesses, then to ignore these warnings is to imply that we know ourselves better than God knows us. That is foolish, and sinful. However, the way out of this mess, as suggested by Paul in 1 Timothy 5:2, is to treat these female friends as sisters. The specific reference to “younger” women in the verse is what prompted me to write this second post in the series.
It is easy to solve the problem of cross-gendered fellowship by quoting that verse and making the sweeping conclusion that ‘Yes, treat those younger women as sisters’. But we all know that that is a very vague and open-ended conclusion. What does it mean to treat a younger woman as a sister? How exactly does that look like? Why would Paul suggest that as an appropriate alternative? It is with such questions in mind that the question of cross-gendered discipleship comes into the picture. Discipleship refers to the relationship between an older (or more experienced) person (in the faith) and a younger person whereby the former encourages and helps develop Christ-likeness in the latter. This is best achieved through a one-on-one friendship relationship. The older man deliberately invests in the younger man and encourages his spiritual growth.
First, he encourages this growth by encouraging the disciple to love God’s Word (Psalm 1:2; Joshua 1:8) and his people (Ephesians 4:11-16). Secondly, the older man achieves this by encouraging the younger man to be a strong, self-sacrificial, servant leader both in the home and in the church. The older men are therefore called to look like Christ, imitating his life-giving, sacrificial service (Ephesians 5:21-33). The older women on the other hand achieve this by training “the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:3-5). These scriptural examples seem to clearly demarcate gender-sensitive discipleship roles and objectives.
Discipleship is best carried out by example.
Now, the issue of cross-gendered discipleship has been highly and extensively debated. Unfortunately, most of the reasons given to discourage it have been quite pragmatic. And if you’re like me, pragmatism doesn’t convince many people who want to see the biblical sense in a proposition. Some of these pragmatic reasons include: 1) It never quite works out as it usually ends up being romantic, 2) It gets “weird” at some point, and 3) The man ends up filling the father-figure or even Husband hole in the woman’s heart. All these reasons and dangers are reasonable. But I have encountered many Christians whom, even after hearing these reasons and agreeing with them, they insist on asking, “but where is this expressly discouraged in the Bible?” I’d like to make the outright point that such questions often indicate a resistance to (and a disdain for) the spiritual authority of older and more experienced believers who are trying to warn us of the dangers.
Even so, I would like to wrap up this post by presenting what I hope will be a reasonable biblical case for discouraging cross-gendered discipleship. First, as already noted, Paul instructs Titus about the role that the older women in church ought to play in discipleship; ” They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:3-5). The instructions for the older women are explicit. The deliberate reference to older women training young women is also explicit. But this is not even what convinced me to use this verse to justify the need for same-sex discipleship.
The first of two things that stood out in the verses above is the fact that the older women are to “train” the younger women. The reference to training is a reference to the deliberate act of discipleship. Secondly, what are they being trained to be? They are being trained to become Godly women, not just Godly people. Godly women are women who strive to live according to the biblical design for women in the different contexts of the church. Please note the context deliberately chosen by Paul in his advise to the older women to train the younger women. It is a marriage context. The younger women are growing up to become Godly wives. As wives, the younger women should be trained “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind and submissive to their own husbands.” The Bible explicitly prescribed older WIVES to train younger women on how to become GODLY WIVES.
Now, it is easier to argue one’s way out of this verse by claiming, “Yes, you see? That verse is only talking about the specific aspect of training them to be wives. But it does not necessarily address other aspects of discipleship! I can still, as a man, disciple the woman on being Christ-like, studying the Word of God and other non-gendered areas, can’t I?” And it is at this point that the folly of such an argument lies. The moment we start looking for loopholes in a given command or instruction, we are no longer submitting to the Spirit of God, but only to the law. We are being legalistic. The truth of the matter is that we are not compartmentalized people with different compartments of our lives existing independently.
God created men and women and designed them as men and women because He had specific purposes for their design. The difference between men and women is not just a biological one, but also a socio-emotional and psychological one. To ignore and deny these stark realities is to despise God’s design for women as women and men as men. Furthermore, the Bible has always pegged the growth of women and men on the culmination of them becoming wives and husbands respectively. This is in light of the larger eventual destiny of the church and Christ becoming the bride and the bride-groom respectively. Single-hood is an exception to the rule – an exception in which we have absolutely no way of knowing that this woman is destined to be single, and is therefore “safe” to disciple.
Finally, God has called all men to be overseers in their families and homes. One of the main qualities of an overseer is that they must be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). To be above reproach implies that one must never do anything that would lead the Body of Christ to be suspicious about his relationship with a younger woman. This also applies to the case where there is actually nothing wrong going on between the two of you. To be above reproach is to be beyond suspicion; even false suspicion. To be above reproach is to be beyond any resemblance of sin, let alone actual sin. To be above reproach is to act with an other-consciousness that seeks to edify the Body of Christ at the expense of your personal comfort and secret “innocent” indulgences. To be above reproach is to be Christ-like.
Men, God has called us to be above reproach. Please, let us strive to be such men.
In His service and for His glory.