We’re so hung up on this and it’s really not as complicated as people make it.
People who give advice in this area often use words like “friendly” and “boundaries” and spill a lot of ink over the verse that talks about treating younger women “with absolute purity” and stuff. But they forget about the middle of that verse, which says “AS SISTERS.” Not “as potential seductresses, with absolute purity,” or even, “know your own weaknesses, and therefore treat women with absolute purity,” but “as sisters,” in a passage that encourages us to treat older people as parents and younger people as siblings — i.e., family! The purity of relationships in the body of Christ is grounded in familial affection, not “boundaries.”
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t even have boundaries (and here I’m talking about relationships among peers, not pastor-church member or employer-employee relationships or whatever which will likely need a little more specificity and care). But if your boundaries preclude you from paying what you owe to your brothers and sisters, they’re too narrow and — dare I say it — possibly sinful!
We’ve gotten so negative on all this when I think it would be much biblical — not to mention more effective and less neurotic — to say, “Treat your friends of the opposite sex with MORE care, MORE genuine, selfless love, not less,” than to say, “Distance yourself from others because they’re a sin danger to you.”
Trouble is, the principle of love is always more complicated than a list of rules. We like rules. We think they make us holier, that they protect our reputation from the slander of the world, that they actually stop us from sinning. But they don’t. They might channel our sin in another direction, or give us the reputation of being fastidious or scrupulous or (best of all!) righteous, or make us look holier. But listen, if Jesus was slandered, we will be too, even (or perhaps especially) if we require of ourselves His standard. They’ll know we are Christians by our fussiness about boundaries? No, man. They’ll know we are Christians by our love for one another.
That means a mental shift — in fact, a behavioral shift without a mental shift is just going to get you in trouble. So, repeat after me: “This brother/sister does not belong to me. They don’t exist on this Earth to fulfill my emotional or relational needs. I have a joyful obligation to love them, serve them, and to consider their ultimate good above my desires, which necessarily precludes seducing or using them, but which also excludes coldness or distance or lovelessness.”
We are in the same family, y’all — we are actually truly really brothers and sisters. We have got to stop letting ourselves off the hook about loving one another by making a list of supposedly sin-preventing rules that distance us from one another. I honestly believe that what keeps us from sinning is not a longer list of rules but a bigger vision of Jesus. And I believe a bigger vision of Jesus — who He is and what He did to make us one with God and one with each other — will result in more love, more self-sacrifice, more connection, more genuine affection, more of just being the family that Jesus made us. More.