Today I read an article that made me very sad. It was written by a woman whom I respect, though we disagree on some things. This particular article (about which I will not disclose any more details than what I have here) arrived at some conclusions that I do not share, but what disappointed me was the author's tone. It was not loving toward other women. Going beyond disagreement, she was sarcastic and condescending. Rather than respectfully disagreeing, this usually mature woman in Christ chose to belittle women who take a different position than hers.
That behavior is wrong. It is not Christlike, and as women of the church we need to be better than that.
Whenever women back-bite in the name of theological or ideological difference, Satan wins a small victory. While our own sense of self-righteousness often justifies this behavior in our minds, mud-slinging and ridicule are always unfitting for the church. Throughout history, tremendous destruction has resulted from rifts between women, so we need to take this problem very seriously.
It wasn't until I recently researched the biblical examples of female friendship that I realized just how serious this issue is. Last fall I spoke at the Fall Kickoff Event for the women's ministry at my church, and I talked about the dynamics of female friendship. In particular, I examined the two types of female relationships that we see in the Bible: a competitive model of friendship and a Christ-centered model of friendship. For the Christ-centered model I looked at Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1), Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1), and the women at the cross and resurrection (Matthew 27-28). Each of these female friendships is so encouraging to me, and a powerful example of the legacy we women step into. These biblical women maximized their relationships for the Kingdom of God in bold and valiant ways.
On the flip side, Scripture also presents us with a competitive model of friendship. The relationships between Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16), Rachel and Leah (Genesis 30), and Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4) all unraveled due to jealousy and competition. And as a result, each competitive model of friendship had disastrous consequences.
For instance, Rachel and Leah were sisters. Both were struggling with real issues—Rachel with infertility and Leah with a loveless marriage. But rather than support one another through genuinely difficult problems, they opposed one another. They competed for the attention of Jacob and became further entrenched in their own selfishness.
In the case of Euodia and Syntyche, two leaders in the Philippian church, their fighting threatened to undermine the entire unity of the church. We don't know the source of the problem, but we do know it had the potential to cause major division.
And finally, consider the repercussions of Sarai's actions toward Hagar. This particular relationship is not a traditional friendship in the sense that there was a power difference between the two. What's more, Sarai was obviously the transgressor. Even so, this female relationship was rife with jealousy, and we continue to feel the ripple effects of Sarai's actions even today. The Islamic religion traces its roots back to Hagar's son, Ishmael, and when you consider how much war and violence has transpired between Islam and the Judeo-Christian faiths, the negative consequences of one sour female relationship are inestimable.
As we look at the three Christ-centered models of friendship, we see many wonderful fruits: encouragement, perseverance, faithfulness, courage, intimacy with one another, and intimacy with God. Ruth became an ancestor of Christ, Mary was the mother of Christ, and the women at the cross and resurrection became the original evangelists, the first people to share the good news of Christ while the disciples were still hiding in fear.
On the other hand, the three competitive models of female relationships also have fruits: selfishness, division, and destruction.
As I compared the fruits of these two models, I was struck by the distinction. The fruits of the former model are consistent with the character of Christ. The fruits of the latter model are consistent with the character of his Enemy.
The female relationships we see in Scripture are important reminders that female conflict is not neutral. Our petty in-fighting and name-calling are not failures to achieve an ideal; they are tangibly destructive. God can use the love and encouragement and passion of female friendships to do incredible things in the Kingdom of God, but Satan can just as easily pervert female friendship to wreak havoc.
Knowing this, I want you to pause and weigh the cost the next time you speak negatively about a sister. Consider why you are doing it, whether it is consistent with the character of Christ, whether it is loving, and whether it will build up the church or divide it. Our relationships have power, so we cannot take them lightly. There is something about the female heart that seems especially prone to attack women with whom we disagree or feel jealous, and that is nothing but sin. Plain and simple. We can disagree, most certainly, but watch carefully how you do it. God is not glorified by the ugliness of pot-shots and gossip, but Satan revels in it.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, and mom. She earned her PhD on the subject of women and calling. You can read more of her writing at SheWorships.com.