Several years ago, I was introduced to this foreign concept called “philosophy.” After my professor finally resolved all of my “How philosophy doesn’t necessarily contradict Theology” questions and issues, I began to see its value and did my best to immerse myself in this type of Christian thinking.
As part of this process, I began attending symposiums that the philosophy professor of the college I attended put together. During one of these, a recent graduate read her philosophy thesis from the previous year. That thesis radically altered my view of women for the better. The punch line for me was when she pointed out a cultural stereotype of how we tend to define and articulate that which is important to achieving masculinity and femininity.
…boys are providers, girls are pretty…
As I’ve been working through some issues in my own heart, I’ve been reminded of this thesis, particularly this stereotype. It’s so easy for me to compliment girls I know on how they look. It’s almost second nature for me to give a girl a hug and say “Hey, gorgeous, how’ve you been?” or send a text message to a friend I haven’t seen in a while “Hey beautiful, how are you?” like the words are said in a vacuum.
But they aren’t.
Those words have meaning and impact and, deep down, I know it. It builds confidence in physical appearance, can mislead a woman as to a man’s intentions, and can even cause an unhealthy emotional connection. And how does that make the girl standing next to the one I hug feel when I don’t say those words to her? Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with giving a good friend a legitimate compliment, but there’s a difference. It may be a fine line, and may even be a line that’s different for each person, but there is a difference between that and saying a casual sentiment for the sake of flattering a girl.
All day, every day, both men and women are bombarded with media, advertising, and cultural philosophy that says that women find their worth and acceptance in their physical appearance. As Christians, we cognitively know this isn’t true, but in this area it seems so hard for our Theology to affect our methodology. It seems that what we know isn’t changing how we interact with our sisters in Christ. Yes, the spiritual maturity and relationship with the girl matters, but I’ve seen and heard from several girls that flirting really serves to make it harder for them to shake the “find your identity in appearance” motif and really find the freedom and strength to press into Christ and find their identity in Him.
So, how do we guard our sisters and ourselves? I know there really can’t be any hard and fast rules here (nor should there be), but a good litmus test can be asking yourself if you know her well enough to compliment her on something that isn’t physical. Do you know her well enough to compliment on character traits, her personality, the way she serves God and the Church, and pursues community? If not, it may be wise to step back and decide whether it would be beneficial to comment on her physical appearance.
Are you complimenting to build her up,
or fulfill a need for emotional connection?
Brothers, Invest in Your Sisters
I realize that there is a vast range of opinions on how close men and women can be before it gets complicated. There’s also a variance as to whether men and women can really walk in close community with each other at all outside of marriage and it be beneficial. There is obviously a different level of closeness between a husband and wife than there is between single men and women, and that’s why I think there is different language used when it comes to the investment a husband makes in his wife and the way a husband should pursue his wife’s sanctification and spiritual maturity.
Ephesians 5:26 likens a husband’s pursuit of his wife’s sanctification to “…the washing of water with the word…” Paul doesn’t use words lightly, or incorrectly, especially since they were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16). So, when I see “washed” in this context, in conveys a type of intimacy and care, much like a husband helping his wife wash her back. Now, contrast that against other passages in Scripture. We’re told to “build up” or “edify” the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12, 16, 29). That has a distinctly different feel than washing does. One is closer and intimate, the other language allows for a range of intimacy from more distant encouragement in the faith to really bearing each other’s burdens and working through patterns of sin. Yes, the text does speak of “the body” generally, but these gifts aren’t just used on Sundays and Wednesdays from a pulpit or the soundboard. We do build up the body as a whole, but we also do it one on one. We do it corporately, but we also do it individually over bread and wine, or chicken wings and beer.
Yes, we do need to use wisdom and have oversight to help us encourage and build up our sisters and it not become detrimental to our walk, or theirs. But, take the time to look around you. If a woman serves well, tell her. If she displays Christ well, tell her. If she’s Theologically solid and can articulate that well, for the love of God, tell her!
Perhaps more than that, we may actually serve our sisters better by holding back our comments about how they look, so they don’t feel pressured to maintain that appearance from week to week and can focus on being real, through all of the muck and mire of life, and focus on worshiping Jesus and conforming to His image.
Soli Deo Gloria