In life, one ought to be very thankful for friends who call out their sin. Criticism hardly lands soft on any man’s ear; especially when it’s an accurate evaluation of something off about their walk. Scripture encourages us to treasure rebuke (Proverbs 27:5) certainly not because it is comfortable. It does because rebuke, when accepted leads to life.
Recently during a work peer to peer evaluation a colleague cautioned that I should establish more boundaries with women. That hit hard, my natural reaction leaning towards feeling unfairly judged and taking a defensive stance. But “how on earth can you think that of me” wouldn’t reflect a humble heart seeking to mortify the flesh and become more like Jesus. “How in Christendom can I dismiss that as entirely untrue” was the attitude I needed at the moment.
My colleague wasn’t accusing me of flirting with women. More accurately, the caution was “make effort to be above reproach” – Titus 1:6, 1 Timothy 3:2. The message was “brother, you’re not necessarily in sin, but do not allow yourself any close to it.”
I happen to be very sociable. I am chatty and easily noticeable in any gathering I’m comfortable in. I also happen to be quite caring. I will be easily moved by people’s struggles and will readily offer comfort and counsel. Those are certainly not qualities one should regret possessing. But as my wife and I would establish when I shared with her feedback from the evaluation, these qualities can easily be taken advantage of by sin.
Women are designed to give allegiance to people who make them feel cared for. Their hearts lean towards where their emotional needs are met. Being as approachable as I am and working among students, it’s obvious I will occasionally be met by a female in need of counsel or comfort. Even though I am naturally inclined to offer those, I should guard the lady’s heart by pointing her to my wife or a female colleague who might help.
But such a move not only guards the lady’s heart alone. It guards my heart also. The lady’s heart may be pure, but sin may creep in mine. It is rather obvious of men to give emotionally to where their hearts have been drawn. A man will naturally care more for a lady he likes a little more than the others. While a woman will like a man because she receives gifts from him, a man will offer a woman gifts because he likes her.
That however is not the only way emotional entanglement works with men. If it were then I certainly need not care to set boundaries with female friends because my heart has no such liking for any. Why fear when I am not emotionally drawn to them as I am to my wife? But I would be a fool not to be watchful because a man can also begin to like the woman he gives emotionally to.
We sort of naturally expect from those we give to. I could very innocently help a woman once. But the more I help her, whether with counsel or comfort, the more I begin to like her. Keeping a safe distance with a woman therefore doesn’t mean I am suspicious of her in the sense she has sinister intentions to ruin my marriage. It means I am suspicious of my heart to allow it any close to what could have fatal results on my marriage.
Paul’s counsel to young Timothy to treat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2) captures best what a healthy distance should be between a man and a woman. He is definitely not saying “be careless around other women as you would with your blood sister because you could never sin with her.”
That’s the attitude that has led many men to sleep with their wives’ best friends or female friends no one would have ever imagined they would sin with. They simply allowed themselves to get too comfortable around each other, fooled into thinking “you’re like my sister so there’s no harm,” only to end up sinning and waking up to the realization “though she may be like a sister, she is not.”
Paul is not saying be lax with other women as with a sister. He is saying strive for purity in your interactions with younger women as though they are your sister and older ones as though they are your mother. Make every effort to keep sin outside because whatever is unimaginable with a blood sister is most certainly desirable to the un-mortified flesh with any other woman.
The Wife of one’s Youth
A relationship or a marriage is not only threatened by external influences that may steal a heart’s loyalty. It is also equally internally threatened by a waning interest that dulls a heart. That requires equal vigilance guarding against.
A young friend asked me in wonder how it is that a man can suddenly find his wife less physically attractive. Or suddenly think that another woman’s beauty surpasses the beauty he once believed was incomparable.
I loved his question because he doesn’t ask if that ever happens, but why it happens. Clearly it’s not because beauty fades. No woman’s looks drastically depreciate so that she’s less beautiful three months or one year into a marriage than she was when the man could spend hours looking at her photo.
Physical attractiveness shouldn’t entirely determine who one walks into marriage with, but it is no doubt needful between two married people. I would hate to find out my wife doesn’t think I’m handsome. And I would be worried if I thought another woman is prettier than she is.
I believe the fading appetite for a spouse’s physical attractiveness is not because it has waned, but because emotional closeness has been lost. Physical appearance is the least of things that determine whoever one falls in love with. It is no surprise that a man can be sincerely infatuated by a woman’s beauty which another man would find hardly attractive.
It would scarcely offend me if someone wondered just what my wife could have seen in me to think I’m handsome enough to be her husband. The person within will most often determine what one thinks of what is seen. The kindness, gentleness, bravery, graciousness, jolliness, whatever imaginable quality one could find attractive, those are the very things that lead people to fall in love.
They do because they meet an emotional longing. If the heart is satisfied, most certainly the eyes will be impressed. And when the heart is increasingly dissatisfied, the eyes will consequently grow unimpressed.
A woman grows more in love because she increasingly feels cared for, and a man cares more because he loves. If the things that make a woman happy are catered to, the man who does will ever remain the most charming she has knowledge of. For the man, caring not only follows love; the more he cares, the more his love will grow.
Being so differently wired, it is often that the things that make a woman happy will require quite some effort if the man were to meet them. My wife enjoys quality time. For a restless personality like mine, spending hours not doing ‘anything’ really is too demanding. It can feel like work. But I have come to realize that the more I attend to this need of hers, she’s not only happy, but I grow all the more delighted in her. In a sense her beauty grows.
Diminishing physical attraction is only a sign of dwindling emotional nearness. It is not resolved by a woman trimming her weight, or applying more makeup, or changing her hairstyle. It is not overcome by a man hitting the gym and reaping a six pack and biceps like Dwayne Johnson’s. The trap is only avoided by the couple going back to being the friends they once were when they first confessed their love for each other.
It is possible to remain in love with the wife of one’s youth – Proverbs 5:18. Simply remain the very selfless, loving, funny, gentle personalities you were in your youthful days however long you’ve been married. The body may grow weak and wrinkled, but the charm of friendship should never grow frail with it. Occasionally it may require work to bring back, but the work soon becomes a delight. For so is love.