A couple of years ago, I was on holiday in Scotland with a friend and we had enjoyed a lovely coastal walk in the hot sun. (Yes, it does occasionally happen). We’d arrived at a particularly rugged clifftop overlooking a breathtaking cove with some fascinating geological formations. I decided I wanted a closer look and spotted a makeshift rope that people had obviously used to lower themselves down. My friend sensibly decided to stay up the top and strongly and repeatedly warned me to do the same. I should have listened to her. To cut a long story short, I ended up clinging to a cliff 40ft above jagged rocks before being airlifted to safety underneath a helicopter. I ignored the warnings and I nearly died.
There have been other times I’ve ignored the wise warnings of good friends. In my early Christian life, my honest and careful search of the Scriptures had led me to the conclusion that the Bible teaches that sex should only be in a marriage between a man and a woman. But even though I knew this to be true, I found it hard to live up to and so I got involved in a relationship with another woman. I felt conflicted because my life didn’t match up to what I believed, but I desperately wanted both this relationship and my faith.
Some Christian friends told me I could have both and that it didn’t matter how I lived. Others told me that the Bible is supportive of sexual relationships between two people of the same sex. Still others avoided talking about it with me altogether. All of these responses seemed unhelpful to me, even though I recognised that my friends cared about me. Some were trying to encourage me to live out a sexual ethic that goes against orthodox biblical teaching and others were reluctant to confront me with the truth and would rather tell me what my itching ears wanted to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).
However, there were two people whose love for me and love for God saved me from heading into spiritual danger. One was the minister at the church I was part of at the time. I was open with him about the situation and asked him what would happen to me as a church member, drummer in the worship group, and occasional preacher. He very clearly and compassionately said that he wanted to help and support me as I worked through the implications of biblical teaching and my lifestyle choices. He wanted to give me space and time to wrestle with God’s word and work out how to navigate this relationship, but thought it would be helpful for me to have some time away from frontline ministry while I did it, which I thought was very sensible.
We agreed together that it would be appropriate that – should I decide that I was going to pursue this relationship long-term and morally justify it – at that point I would need to rescind my formal church membership. He emphasised that I would still be completely welcome to be part of the community and to come to church events. I thought the way this minister spoke truth in love to me was amazing (Ephesians 4:15). I was worried that I might have been thrown out of the church and told never to come back. Or on the other hand, he could have unhelpfully affirmed my relationship and prevented me from embracing God’s amazing purposes for my sexuality. Instead, he showed me the path of real love that ‘does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth’ (1 Corinthians 13:6).
She loved me enough to tell me the truth, even though it was hard to hear. I’ll always be grateful for her.
Another friend who had the courage to speak truth to me was my house group leader. I had got to the point where I knew I needed to end the relationship, but I kept making excuses that it wasn’t the right time. She wisely saw that there are always excuses we can make, but the right time to be obedient to God is now. She loved me enough to tell me the truth, even though it was hard to hear (Proverbs 27:6). I’ll always be grateful for her.
With the support of these wise friends – and others – I did end the relationship, which was such a painful thing to do, but I’m convinced was the right thing for both of us. I am now enjoying fulfilling singleness lived in community with my brothers and sisters in Christ and it’s definitely not the ‘second best’ I had feared.
Returning to the cliff-top incident, my friend didn’t try to stop me lowering myself down the rope because she was trying to stop me having fun, or she was trying to be controlling, or she was following some warped set of rules. She was trying to stop me heading into danger. She was trying to prevent me coming to harm. That’s what good friends do. When it comes to misuse of our sexuality, let’s have the courage to listen to our wise friends, and let’s be the kind of friends who have the courage to warn.