I was wandering through one of my online social networks one night looking for people with whom I would like to relate. I came across one young woman who said in her blog that she had just deleted all males from her friends list. She somehow based this on 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and felt that she should not enter in to conversations (either physical or cyber) with anyone but her husband. She insisted that men should fellowship with men, women with women.
Whilst I respect her choice, I could not help thinking that this poor young woman has been subjected to some very repressive and unbalanced teaching. As I read through the Word of God, nowhere do I find this kind of segregation.
Even in the traditional and paternalistic culture of the Old Testament, it is very clear that men and women mixed freely together. Every so often, we even get glimpses of women in roles which we would never expect them to have held in that culture. Apart from Deborah, who led the nation (how I would love to be able to talk to that lady!) and Hulda, the prophetess who was consulted by the king even though the prophet Jeremiah was in town at the time, and Miriam, whom God says led the nation along with Moses and Aaron (Micah 6:4), there are a few hidden ones. Sheera built three towns (1 Chronicles 7:24 – another lady I would love to be able to chat with!), and the unnamed daughters of Shallum pitched in with their father, along with the rest of the men, to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after the return from Babylon (Nehemiah 3:12).
There are plenty of others, all working and playing, laughing and weeping, talking and relating right along with the rest of the community, men and women alike.
In the New Testament, it is even more pronounced. Jesus was often found in the company of women – and, because the Twelve were generally wherever He was, that meant they too spent a lot of time in female company. Jesus obviously saw no problem being alone with the woman at the well, or with Martha and Mary. We are told pointedly that many women followed and supported His ministry.
In the Book of Acts, Luke makes a point of telling us that the women were included in the group gathered in the upper room. When the church held a prayer meeting for Peter who was in prison, the group included both women and men (Acts 12:12-15). When Lydia, an apparently single businesswoman, was converted and consequently invited Paul and his companions to stay at her home, they had no hesitation in doing so. In fact, from Romans 16 and similar passages we learn that Paul numbered many women among his friends.
Obviously, there are some sensible precautions we should take. In one-on-one counseling, where heightened emotions could cause improper attachments to be made, it is wise that the counselor and counselee be of the same gender, and that a third person be present or at least hovering in the background. Likewise it is not wise for an intercessory prayer group – where emotions can also be heightened – to consist only of one man and one woman, unless they are married. There is, however, no reason why it should not consist of three or more people in any gender combination.
As a woman, some of my best friends are men. I enjoy their company, and I value their different perspective on things. I draw the boundaries clearly, often using the good old Aussie term “mate” (a strictly platonic friend) in our conversations, and, if they are married, often asking them to convey my love to their wives. Within those boundaries, I am richer for their friendships, and I dare to believe that they are richer for mine. I think it would be a very sad world if we had to put all the men in one camp and all the women in another, and “never the twain shall meet.”