Wednesday, November 30, 2016

BFF... or Not

I was recently reading Marriage God's Way. My husband asked me to read it so that we could discuss it before he would be giving some feedback to a friend who wanted his opinion on the book. I don't intend for this post to be a review of the book, although I am writing one. Here, I just want to address something that the author, Scott LaPierre, says on page 61,
...we forget that marriage should actually be the union of two best friends... Your spouse should be your best friend.
This sort of statement has always rubbed me the wrong way and I have never taken the time to really put my finger on why this bothers me. Sometimes I see a meme or something that says, "Share if your husband is your best friend" and I just cringe. What is with this modern obsession with friends and best friends?

The basis for my disgust with this notion is that a friendship is fundamentally a non-sexual relationship. Having sex with a friend transforms the relationship to something else entirely. We try to be clever and use terms like "friends with benefits," but the truth is that we don't have sex with friends. Having sex with a person means the person is a lover (in the case of fornicators) or a spouse, in the case of married people.

Different types of relationships have different titles, naturally. The woman who gave birth to me is my mother. The way we are related tends to set the parameters of the relationship. While not every parent/child relationship is identical (since no two people are exactly alike), every parent/child relationship has similar elements. For starters, I don't have sex with my mother or my father, pretty much by definition. Just as I don't have sex with my friends. Mothers and fathers are entitled to honor and there is an exalted status that goes with the parenthood relationship which is not enhanced by referring to them as my friends. But for some reason, in America, the culture gives exalted status to friendship over every other relationship, so that it isn't respectable to be a sister, brother or uncle unless that is qualified with ,"but I consider him a friend."

Not only do we want to have lots of friends and we want to lump every person related to us in any capacity into the group titled "friends." We also like to rate our friends. We have good friends, close friends, old friends and la creme' de la creme', the "best friend." This friend is sometimes referred to as the BFF (best friend forever). But there can only be one BEST friend, right? Otherwise it isn't the best. This is problematic.

Why is it problematic? you may ask. Because we are asking our friends to compete for the title. This is my friend, Jenny, and this is my friend, Mary, and THIS is my best friend, Rita! Now Rita gets to bask in her elevated title and the other gals get to feel inferior and plot how they can knock Rita from the pedestal to which she was exalted. Imagine if Jenny considered me to be her best friend, and I just stated that my best friend is Rita. This is not only confusion, it is cruel and pretty stupid.

Now, let us factor males and females into this mix. Let's say an unmarried woman by the name of Jane has male and female friends. Todd is one of her friends. Todd would like to be more than a friend to Jane, but so far, Jane doesn't seem to share this interest. Jane has declared that Maria is her BFF. According to Scott LaPierre, "marriage should actually be the union of two best friends" so does Jane marry her friend Maria? Of course not. Can Jane marry Todd? I mean, he isn't her best friend.

If Jane decides that Todd would be a good marriage partner, does she have to wait to marry him until Todd achieves BFF status with Jane? What if Todd and Jane become best friends and they don't want to marry? Are they forever forbidden from marrying other people unless they break up as BFFs?

I submit that "husband" is a superior relationship status to "best friend." It is superior in quality and fundamentally different in expression. The husband/wife relationship is, at its base, a sexual relationship. A one-flesh relationship. If I were to refer to my husband as my best friend, it would be a downgrade from the exalted status he holds in my life.

In our relationships with people, we should use care not to become conformed to this world, or to a particular culture. There is a biblical culture that transcends time and location. When God created marriage, He did not look around at the various existing relationships and say "A spouse is like a friend, but of the very best sort."  Instead, he created marriage to illustrate to us the relationship between Christ and the Church. It is valid in every corner of the globe and in every culture. While it might be comfortable for an American to say that his wife is his best friend, in other cultures that idea might be totally preposterous. It just doesn't compute. "A friend? Are you kidding? She's my WIFE!" Because the answers to "what is a friend?" and "who can be my friend" are not universal, we should not be proclaiming that in "marriage God's way" a spouse is a best friend. God did not say such a thing and the Bible doesn't endorse this idea.

Outside of marriage, Americans are equally careless in identifying, quantifying and rating friendships. We would do better to limit the use of friend and to use other more specific terms to define what other people are to us. For example, a person I have just met is more properly described as an acquaintance. In the same way, the men that I know are my husband's friends or the husbands of my friends. I try to never call men my friends. It is not appropriate for men and women to be in friendships as that relationship is thought of in America.

Between the same sex, as in friendships between women, it is wise to identify no particular woman as a best friend. I forbid my children from using this terminology. Among girls, it is almost dangerous because of the multiple ways they will hurt each other by classifying each other. It is ok to say that someone is a close friend, because I may have several women who fit that description. I can say from experience that these sorts of friendships are transitory because life is not static. A close friend to an unmarried woman may move from the inner circle when the woman marries, or when she has children. People change churches and move to other towns and their circles of friends are ever shifting. There is nothing wrong with this and no one should feel burdened to maintain a close friendship whose season in life has passed.

So there. I've said it. My husband is NOT my best friend. He is dearer to me than any other. We share a oneness that no other type of relationship can approach. He is not threatened by my relationships with my close friends, because the nature of my relationship with him and my relationships with my women friends are so completely different in quality. If I were to expect from him the things I look for from my friends, it would be wearisome to him. Likewise, he doesn't look to me for friendship. It doesn't mean we don't have fun together, or that we don't share common interests. We do. But those things do not define our relationship as husband and wife.

I think the author has a presupposition that everyone should have a best friend, and so it is understandable that such a thing might be seen to compete with or endanger the relationship between a husband and wife. Therefore, it would naturally follow (from the presupposition) that husbands and wives should be best friends. However, the Bible doesn't prescribe having a best friend, and it is a good practice for Christians to avoid such decisive relationships. Instead, just call a friend a friend and call a spouse a spouse.


Scott LaPierre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott LaPierre said...

First, thank you for reading Marriage God’s Way! My website showed a link from this site, so I clicked it and was intrigued to see this post. Thank you for writing it!

I appreciate what you said and generally agree with you, because our spouses – as you said – are definitely much more than best friends! I think I’d simply add that just because they’re more than best friends doesn’t prevent them from also being best friends. Katie is my wife, lover…and best friend.

But none of this really matters if not supported by Scripture, right?

A little further (than page 61) I have a section titled, “A Wife’s Phileo.” Perhaps by the time you read my comment you’ll have already read that section. In it I discuss wives being commanded to have phileo for their husbands (Titus 2:3-4). You probably know this is a brotherly affection; hence Philadelphia being the city of “Brotherly Love.” I’m sorry if this – as you sort of said in your post – grosses you out to think of having “brotherly affection” for your husband, but that’s what Scripture commands of you ☺.

With that said, you can still have a strong, sexual (Song of Solomon) attraction for your husband.

Thank you again, and I hope the rest of the book blesses and strengthens your relationships with your husband and Christ!

God bless,
Scott LaPierre

subject by design said...

Thanks for reading my blog post and taking the time to comment. I have read Marriage God's Way two times through. While I am a fast reader, I also like to think I am a careful reader, as I have over 12 pages of handwritten notes so far. This particular topic (husbands and wives as best friends) produced a flood of thoughts which prompted me to make a quick blog post before I could forget what I was thinking. I don't have a large readership, and I primarily use my blog as a dumping ground for things I want to get off of my mind so I can get on with my daily duties. My opinions are not always fully developed when they appear on the blog, as the writing process itself serves to hone my thinking.

The Greek word used in Titus 2:4 and translated as "love" is not the Greek word for brotherly love. That word is philadelphia. While the word used in this passage is similar because both words have phileo as a part, the meaning is quite different, particularly in application.

The words doghouse and countinghouse both contain the word "house" but we wouldn't say that the words are interchangeable nor would we use the word countinghouse when we are trying to describe a doghouse. The same is true with the words philadelphia and philandros.

It appears we also disagree as to whether I am commanded to love my husband. The very essence of sin is to disobey the commands of God, so I try to be very careful in asserting something is a command if it is not. In Titus, the apostle Paul is instructing Titus in how to speak to or teach his congregation the things that become sound doctrine. One of those things includes the older women instructing the younger women how to behave. One of the things the older women are to teach is how the younger women should love their husbands. This is not presented in the form of a command to either the older women or the younger women. It is just something that needs to be done. Elevating it to a command is unnecessary and puts the woman who is not very skilled at loving her husband in the position of needing to be disciplined for sin rather than simply being in need of instruction.

That may seem to be trivial, but I think it is always better to be careful with the details of Scripture. Young women needed to be instructed in the proper way to love husbands and love children, they don't need to be admonished if they aren't good at it.

I am planning a future blog post very soon on my understanding of philandros and how this very pointed word should direct the instruction of the older women towards their younger peers.

Scott LaPierre said...

According to Strong’s philandros is, “from G5384 and G435.”

It is a compound word using:
o G5384 (philos): “friend, to be friendly to one, wish him well.”
o G435 (aner), which occurs 215 times in Scripture, and 206 times it’s translated as “man” or “husband.”

You can check what I’ve written here:

When you look at the above, do you think it’s discussing a wife being her husband’s friend?

subject by design said...

I do not. Specifically because there are multiple greek words that come closer to expressing the English word for friend, including phileo, philos, and philostorgos. The word is modified by aner, and this is the ONLY place this word is used in the New Testament. To me, as a wife, I would be remiss to think that the meaning being conveyed is that of a mere friend or that the actions to be taught are the same as the way I would act toward a friend or other family member. I also do not believe that "love their childen" means that mothers are to learn to be the friends of their children.

Here is my complete explanation.

Scott LaPierre said...

Hello again,
You said, "There are multiple greek words that come closer to expressing the English word for friend, including phileo, philos, and philostorgos."

Philos is the word used in philandros. So in other words, when it says, "love their husbands," you're acknowledging the English word for friend is the Greek word used in philandros.

You also said, "As a wife, I would be remiss to think that the meaning being conveyed is that of a mere friend or that the actions to be taught are the same as the way I would act toward a friend or other family member."

Right. This is just one verse. There are plenty of other verses in Scripture identifying a wife's other responsibilities and/or roles toward her husband.

subject by design said...

I do not agree with you. I do not believe that Paul was telling Titus to make sure the older women in his church teach the young wives to treat their husbands as friends. This is my assertion in spite of the fact that philandros is a compound word including the word philos.

In the same way, if I ask my son to build a doghouse, I don't expect him to be dumbfounded and wonder why I asked him to build a dog. The nuances of philos include words other than the noun "friend" such as affection and fondness. If the context calls for the word to be translated as "friend" then it is the proper word. Not one translator used the word friend in this verse, because the context dictates that what is being described is love. The only questions remaining are "What type of love? What type of loving behaviors are the young wives to exhibit?" Anyone can teach someone how to be a friend, but it takes an older wife to explain how to love a husband.

To find out what God wants from me here, I have to do more than identify the Greek root words. Again, I do not believe that wives need to learn to be friends with their husbands in some way that is so important to marriage that it would cause the Word of God to be blasphemed if it is not done. I am not convinced that is the proper interpretation of the passage at all.

From the whole of the Bible I see a wife as something that is unique and different from every other person in her role to her husband. She is uniquely qualified, uniquely "meet" as his helper. A man can have many friends. A man can love another man with a love that is greater than the love he has for his wife. But not the love being described here in Titus 2:4. This love is specific to the way a woman loves her husband. There is nothing unique about a wife offering her friendship to her husband. No man would take on the challenge of marriage for the sake of friendship. I don't see this verse or any other in the Bible using friendship to describe the relationship between a husband and a wife.

Scott LaPierre said...

Okay, thank you for the discussion.

God bless you and your ministry!

In Christ,