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Thinking friendships Biblically: Thoughts on friendships with the opposite sex?

Updated: Feb 21, 2023



Straight of the bat answer,


We are called to be more than friends with those who profess Jesus, we are called to be family! So of course we should love our sisters in Christ, spend time with our sisters in Christ and have true fellowship with them that has been made possible by Jesus through the Spirit!


“So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” – Romans 12:5


What this blog is not saying:


1) That you can or can't do anything.

- This blog is not me writing to tell you what to do! So stay calm.

2) That Biblical friendship that has within its core a familial identity is wrong.

3) That we should segregate the sexes.

4) That you can't ever have beautiful and God honouring friendships with your sisters in Christ.


What this blog is saying:


1) This blog is an appeal to conscience

- There are prescriptive commands and there are descriptive examples in the Bible (see our blog on conscience for more), but what then when the Bible does not speak specifically to something we need an answer too? This is a conscience issue, which means there is no way I can impose my conscience on this topic on you, nor can you impose your conscience on me!

Do not let people judge you and do not let people disqualify you with man-made traditions, ideas or concepts that allows them to be obedient to Christ! You see what safeguards I put in place that help me be obedient to Gods word, may be what hinders you! So make sure you come with discernment and wisdom when reading this, that what works for me may or may not work for you!

2) Therefore let’s not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this: not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s or sister’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to the one who thinks something is unclean, to that person it is unclean.

- We must understand this, that for you, you may be able to drink alcohol, but for another person they defiantly cannot drink alcohol, so the one who can't introduces safeguards to ensure they can obey the command, the command that is to ensure wine does not become a mocker. Now if a person wants to then speak about this within their family, and they do so to help others, not out of a motive to impose, judge or provide stumbling block, but instead to talk about what is important to them, we must rejoice in this, not get annoyed or upset that their conscience is different to our own!

- Ephesians 4:2, "Be humble and gentle with one another, patient with one another, bearing with one another in love." Always remember to pursue truth, to do so in love and unity! Always ask what is the motive of this person, what is their character, what are they saying or doing, and what is the implication of this?

3) Apply all this to the blog you are reading, let me not leave you to assume what I am doing, what my motive is, what my character is, let me tell you!

Motive | I love God so much! And my love is expressed to obedience to him and his command! I want to tell people about my conscience as it relates to this issue, but more so, I want this blog to act as a catalyst for conversation, I want people to say I disagree with this point, or I agree with this point! I want people to think more about everything we do, because the Bible says "whether we eat or drink it should be done for the glory of the Lord," so how much should we think about our friendships and who we spend time with and why!

Character | I pray that my character is being constantly conformed into the image of Christ, now for those of you do not know me writing this blog, 1 Corinthians 13 says that "love assumes the best," so you will want to read this and at every point acknowledge that this is my brother in Christ whom I am called to love with everything I got! So assume the best up until the point of clarity, that clarity will come when you ring me, text me or meet up with me to understand more about who I am!

Act | Lets not dramatise things, all this is, is a blog from someone who follows Jesus who is simply writing to talk about his conscience, and to present the reasoning for his conscience in the hope that it will help others begin to talk about what their conscience says at it relates to this topic.

Implication | What is the worst case scenario here... You read this and come to a different conclusion as it relates to this topic! That's it! That's the worse that can happen! At the end of all this, I pray that you will not have my conscience, but that you will have a Biblically informed conscience on this topic that sees us honour God with every detail of our life.


1. What you are and who you are?


2 Corinthians 5 rings true for Gods children, that we are new creatures, that the old has passed away and the new is here.


It remains true that our identity is the following:


New creature

Holy temple

Royal priesthood

Chosen race

Children of God


It remains true that Gods spirit resides within us, giving us:


The conviction

The motivation

And the power to overcome sin, to be renewed and transformed to the point where we can, should and do live our lives radically different in comparison to the secular world around us.


However, despite the above transformation, it would be naive, foolish and passive to forget the following:


The world

The flesh

The devil

Still exists, that is why there now exists an internal conflict, as highlighted in Galatians when it says the flesh is against the spirit and the spirit is against the flesh.


It can best be summarised in Romans 7, when Paul says “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.(A) 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.(B) 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.(C) 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a](D) For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.(E) 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”


So, when placing ourselves in any circumstance, such as, should I pursue intimate friendship with someone of the opposite sex? We must take into account the new identity that was imputed upon us, but the existing threat that is still ever apparent.


On one hand, it is true that we could and should have these friendships in their most purest form because of the power that is within us and the firm certainty of who we are in Christ.


But it is also true that we should approach with caution that we otherwise wouldn't have to do with friendships of the same sex, as we could easily succumb to the flesh and the tactics of the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to destroy.

Like a bull fighter who steps into the arena with an uncontrollable and threatening animal, regardless of how experienced and assured he is, there is always the possibility of getting wounded of the very thing he thought he was in control of.


By now, you perhaps see the principle being extracted from the metaphor, as Christian’s we are constantly admonished, commanded and encouraged to operate in wisdom and to value others more highly than ourselves.


Colossians 4:5, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”


So a question you must ask yourself is am I wasting time in an unhealthy intimate friendship that has the capacity to hurt me? Regardless of the potential benefits, the temporary feelings and the here today, gone tomorrow euphoria, or am I living in healthy and Godly friendships with both my brothers and sisters in Christ alike.


We are called to be the family of God, to encourage and motivate one another, to build one another up! Opposite sex friendships do have such benefits, ie (3), girls and guys can teach one another valuable lessons about the opposite sex, about what girls like and don't like. However, this can and should be achieved in settings that are not going to be a stumbling block for our fellow brother or sister in Christ. One on one time with the opposite sex has the capacity to promote an intimacy that should be reserved for marriage. "Remember God designed us to have deep friendship with only one person of the opposite sex: our spouse. God did not create a bunch of Eves for Adam to have intimate friendships with; he created Eve. Period." So we should always proceed with caution and not walk naively. The possession of a gun finds its true and safe purpose in the possessor, for example, a gun in the hands of a trained soldier is good, whilst the gun in the hands of a toddler is dangerous! So it is with these friendships, they can and should be good! But they will only be good within the context of those trained in the spirit of the living God!


There is NO COMMAND forbidding this, so this is a conscience issue that should be informed by:


Wisdom

Gods word

Prayer

Mentorship

Character

Motivation

Future trajectory

Communication


So the premise that I will be taking is this:


The recommendation is not to pursue unhealthy friendships with those of the opposite sex as the risk outweighs the benefit; however, there is not an explicit command forbidding such relationships and your personal experience can extinguish the potential threats that I and others bring up. So there is an exception to the rule, but this is something that is isolated to a few and should be cautiously walked with specific safeguards put in place to ensure a God honouring friendship prospers.


2. The necessity of friendship

We are created for community, for relationships, to share our lives with the people around us. Life takes a downward spiral when loneliness takes centre stage. From genesis we see the importance of relationship, ie. Adam and Eve, we see the need for mentors in Elijah and Elisha, we see the togetherness of Daniel’s friends, we see the intimacy of David and Jonathan, the inconsistency of Jobs friends, we see the friends of Jesus and the effect when they forfeited the fundamentals of good friendship.


Proverbs 27 - “A mirror reflects a man’s face but what he is really like is shown by the friends that he chooses”


Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor, If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”


Proverbs 18:24, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”


Proverbs 27;9, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.”


3. The fruit of any biblical friendship


-Intimacy

We all know the beauty of a friendship that deepens over time with invaluable closeness.


-Joy

We all know a friend that brings more than just happiness, but actually instills joy through their steadfast character, their personality and humour.


-Peace

We all know the friend that instills within us a sense of calm and assurance, with their potent words that hits the pulse of any given situation.


-Accountability

We all know the friend who loves us so much that they say what needs to be said, they call us up on what we do wrong, admonishing us to a place of restoration.


-Love

We all know the friend who lavishes love upon us, whose love goes beyond words and transitions into action. Those friends who are kingmakers, being attentive to everything that is said, who remember the things that we wouldn’t expect them to remember.


-Spiritual growth

We all know the friend who always brings everything back to God, who acknowledges the brevity and futility of life outside of Christ, and so desire to reflect love to people and God through obedience.


-Abiding interest

We all know the friend who is there, they aren’t there to be seen, to be celebrated, to be acknowledged as the good friend, they simply are the good friend who genuinely desires to be there for you no matter the circumstance.


-Wisdom

We all know the friend whose wisdom is timeless, those friends who speak into a situation, enabling us to see more than one path, more than one decision, who open our eyes to the foolishness of our actions and implore us to look at the wisdom found within Gods word.


-Support

We all know the friend who is there, encouraging and motivating us to continue on in our race, growing in God and glorifying God.


The benefits of a steadfast and timeless friend are endless.


4. Potential consequences and limitations of opposite sex friendship we should be aware of

  • Potential relationships thwarted

Those maybe interested in one of the friends involved may be deterred from pursing them, as they are uncertain of the nature of the relationship. Being friends with a person of the opposite sex will lower your chances of a romantic relationship with them or another person. Why would Gary want to date Melissa, when Melissa hangs out with George all the time. (Some relationships are circumstantially more necessary than the perceptions of others on that friendship).

  • Miscommunication

The two friends do not communicate correctly, leaving the friendship in a sea of ambiguity.

  • Fractured relationships

The two friends out grow the initial definition given to the friendship, either one is interested and other is not, one person regresses and other progresses, causing friction that leads to the breaking of the once healthy friendship.


  • Unhealthy desires

One friend developes interest, while the other doesn’t, but stays in the friendship, thus increasing their attraction, while the other person remains true to what they originally said. Leaving one feeling guilty and other feeling hurt. Young people today often become emotionally close with the opposite sex without considering any kind of commitment to protect that intimacy; this undefined friendship trend—rooted in emotional promiscuity yields negative effects. It’s actually a contributing factor to the escalating “living together” rate, which is now at 7 million [Sharon Jayson, January 27, 2011, USA TODAY].


  • Stumbling blocks

Matthew 18:5-7, “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” We obviously never want to be a stumbling block to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, instead we want to ensure that we establish Godly friendships with our brothers and sisters.


  • You miss out

You ultimately consume yourself with a friendship that leads to a cliff edge, when you do inevitably go out with a person, this friendship must devolve into something less, but this ‘something less’ could have been carried out along time ago.

So you invest in a relationship that is going now where, the time spent could have been spent elsewhere, you could have met other people when you met them, you could have done other things instead of doing it with them.


Pause | Now is the time to put into practice what we said at the start! Remember my character, but more so remember my motive! This blog is designed to present the possibilities, what could take place, it is not designed to take every situation, including your own and to give you prescriptive instruction! That would be impossible! I am here to make people aware of what is a reality, it is possible for people to consume themselves with a "counterfeit relationship," that is it has all the trappings of a relationship but without the commitment! This is one example of an unhealthy friendship that can take place and should be avoided, but that does not then mean it accounts for every friendship! Ie. Those friendships between the opposite sex that are God centred and are the will of God for specific seasons!


  • You cannot be fully transparent with the opposite sex, it would be unwise to be vulnerable with specific sins such as lust or sexual immorality, so accountability in its fullest form is not possible. Husbands who struggle with porn-addiction should not go to their sister in Christ and confide in them the details, instead, a healthier option would be a brother in Christ who has conquered this and can resonate and respond to this person fully without their being unnecessary threat.


  • Research shows that many opposite sex friendships lead to sexual activity, for example, in a blog published in 2019, the following information is recorded: Monsour, Harris and Kurzweil found that 64% of men and 44% of women reported that their opposite-sex friends became their sexual partners. Again physical intimacy must be backed by commitment, faith and boundaries, but this is a separate topic.


  • This is an interesting blog, to which the content should be considered when thinking on this topic. These opposite sex friendships can leave many in a place of complacency. In a research report taken in 2019, it was recorded that only 44 percent of millennials were married, it is no hidden secret that in our culture today people get married much later. A contributing factor to this, may be that many people are content within their opposite sex friendships and so there is no desire to go elsewhere. They get all the benefits of a dating relationship without having to be romantic, they get the emotional attachment, the person who is always there for them, the person they can spend time with, the person they can go out for dinner with; so they don't even think about finding a relationship, or rather they are content to stay in this 'friendship' that is detracting away from potential relationships. Women usually prefer face to face relationships, are more emotional and have a greater desire to share their thoughts and feelings more. Meanwhile, a guy will forfeit the more leisure based and transactional friendship, to hang in there for the potentiality of a possible relationship. If a guy and girl are in an intimate friendship, and the girl says we are just friends, you can be sure that if the door even creeks open slightly with some hope, he will more than likely jump straight in there. [Article from 'better.']


5. The safeguards for opposite sex friendships

Once we are self-aware of the potential threats, and we inevitably decide to keep pursuing a Godly friendship with a sister in Christ after weighing up the cost, we must be willing to put in the safeguards that must be matched by rigorous and intentional effort to maintain them.


  • Accountability

You must have people in place, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, depending on the gender, ie. Guys and Guys, Girls and Girls. Who you can update and they can then speak into the situation to ensure you are not being clouded by unhealthy desires.


  • Mentorship

You must have an individual with whom you can be completely transparent, with whom you can get their experiential and biblical wisdom.


  • Prayer

You must constantly seek God, remembering 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Seek God, and his kingdom first and all these things will be added onto you.


  • Constant communication

The two friends must constantly talk to one another, explaining their thoughts, desires, where the are at, to ensure that if anything changes, each person will not be blindsided by any changes and anything unhealthy will not be allowed to fester.


  • Aligned views

Each person must be in the same place, if there are conflicting views then it will and cannot work.


  • The Bible

Ensure that every action, thought and desire can align and be firmly rooted in scripture.

1 Timothy 5:2, "Older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity."


  • You should set out clear expectations, what are off-limit places, off-limit topics and establish how much time you should spend with a person.


  • You should both be aware of your own weaknesses and vulnerabilities, being constantly aware if a friendship is veering away from into dangerous territory.


  • You should maintain and cultivate same-sex friendships as these will comprise most of your closest and most rewarding friendships.


  • Apply the 1234 rule [or fourfold rule]

  1. Can you operate in the fruits of the spirit

  2. Can you apply Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

  3. Romans 14:23, "What doesn't precede from faith is sin," is what you are doing coming from a place of faith? Are you being a stumbling or a witness for Christ in what you are doing?

  4. Can you do what you are doing innocent before the the throne room of God, Hebrews 4:16.


Conclusion:


Should you be friends with the opposite sex, there is no prescriptive command against this, nor is there any descriptive places that we can turn to for unequivocal clarity. However, there is always everything we need to ensure we have a Biblically subordinate conscience.


"In Scripture, undefined relationships between men and women were virtually non-existent. For the most part, relationships had specific definition and purpose. Jacob didn’t ride up to Laban’s house on a camel and say, “Come on Rachel, my friend, we’re going to go hang out with some church people down at the river.”Most “friend” situations in the Bible ended up with disastrous results. Samson defined his “friendship” with Delilah as love, while she regarded him as nothing more than another coin in her pocket. The result? She betrayed him, surrendering him to the Philistines as a prisoner." [ The Just friends Dilemma]


My conscience on this is that I, like the majority will not pursue intimate opposite sex friendships due to the limitations and threats that they can pose (4), however, I, like the majority of people, after prayerfully considering this topic will preserve healthy and Godly friendships with my sisters in Christ, in which there is a focus on implementing the safeguards that ensure a healthy and biblical friendship takes place (5). So the question remains, what is your conscience on this topic? It may not be mine, it may not be someone else's, but you should have one and it should be Biblically informed.



FURTHER READING:

 





A report from the Scientific American


"In order to investigate the viability of truly platonic opposite-sex friendships—a topic that has been explored more on the silver screen than in the science lab—researchers brought 88 pairs of undergraduate opposite-sex friends into…a science lab.

Men were much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. Men were also more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them—a clearly misguided belief. Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual. As a result, men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends."


A comment from John Piper


"I think that it is good to postpone dating and pairing off as long as possible. Meaning, postpone it until it's ready to mean what it was designed to mean.

Pairing off is a powerful thing. If the relationship here means groups of 4, 8, or 20 people doing stuff together without the dynamic of "she and I are a thing," you know, that's great. But this question is talking about pairing off.

Pairing off is hormonally charged, psychologically charged, physically charged, spiritually charged, and it is meant to be! It's meant to lead somewhere! And it's beautiful where it is meant to lead.

Therefore my counsel is that as the electric charge begins to happen between two seventeen-year-olds, they better think really clearly about how to manage that. And if they don't intend to get married in the next year or so, they better not pair off but keep it in groups and step back from it.

To Talitha, my daughter, I say, "Through high school, keep it at groups. And then when the guy shows up, tell him to call me"—that's one way to manage it—"and we'll talk about what it should look like."

Long engagements are hard and dangerous. And so I think we should probably marry earlier, if we prepare our children well, or postpone dating till later. Because these long pairs aren't healthy for any of us."


A comment from Doug Wilson


"A brother comes home from college and if he takes his sister out for a coffee in order to catch up, the prospect of sexual or romantic feelings developing is simply off the table. It isn’t a date. That doesn’t occur to anybody involved. When the brother introduces his sister to someone passing by, the fact that she is his sister immediately removes any questions or concern that such a person might have had. On a related front, nobody thinks it is creepy when the groom dances with his mother at his wedding. But here’s the thing. There is no such barrier when it comes to a brother/sister relationship in Christ, and the protections provided by such a barrier cannot be whistled up by Aimee simply by publishing a slim book. A biological brother who is spending time with his sister can do so knowing, assuming, presupposing, and understanding that she will never be a potential sexual partner. He knows this down to his ancestors’ bones. There are no circumstances where that will happen. There are no circumstances where it would be okay. That is simply an axiomatic given, and that is where a great deal of the safety lies. Such is not the case with a spiritual brother/sister relationship. Given the right circumstances, your friend across from you at the coffee shop might one day soon—and lawfully—be your lover. If you are both single, it might be six months from now when the scales fall from your eyes and you begin to pay romantic attention to her. But before that happens, you needed to have known the entire time that it was a possibility. You have a responsibility to know that it is always a standing possibility. That was not off the table the same way it is with your biological sibling."


Every gun is a loaded gun.


"When a man and a woman are in a one-on-one friendship, there is always, of necessity, a sexual undercurrent to it. A man who is singling out a woman is doing one of two things—whether he admits it to himself or not. Either he is trying to figure out how to get her into bed unlawfully, on the one hand, or he is trying to figure out how to do it lawfully. For a believer, the law of God is sweeter than honey. It matters to him, and so it is one of the central things he must take into account. It is part of the framework of his life. It matters to him. He is a believer, so when he is showing interest in this woman, he is assuming that “all that” would have to occur in a way that would be under God’s blessing."


A review by Gospel Coalition


"However, Byrd rightly points out that avoiding one-on-one situations can lead to unloving behaviour. For example, Byrd references a time she was “in a strange city, at night, in the rain, walking down a sketchy alley when [she] could have been offered a ride” (26). Presumably a certain man didn’t give her a ride due to concerns about being alone with a woman. Byrd was rightly offended by this man’s failure to help her, but disregarding his rule wasn’t the only way for him to care for her, as she might suggest. The man could’ve left her in a safe location, walked down the sketchy alley in the rain himself, and driven her car back to her. Most situations afford this type of option allowing a man to follow his conscience while still extending kindness to a woman. In her criticism of the Billy Graham Rule, I find Byrd too focused on the idea that it communicates an oversexualized view of women as temptations. Many men, in ministry in particular, have these rules primarily to avoid false accusation and scandal, not because they view all women as temptations.Though Byrd does briefly engage this concern, she’s quick to dismiss it, saying Jesus risked his reputation in his interactions with women. This is true—any interaction with women in the first century was potentially suspect—but we can be certain that Jesus conducted himself with wisdom and never put himself or others in the path of temptation. When we engage the other sex, we can do likewise. May the Lord grant us wisdom to know how to enjoy the blessings of friendship in a way that will honour both our marriages and also our brothers and sisters in Christ—while ultimately bringing glory to him."


A comment by Aimee Byrd


"Friendship between men and women is a taboo topic in the evangelical subculture. It makes us uncomfortable. Apparently, we are all time bombs on the brink of having an affair—or of being accused of having one. Because of this, men and women often feel uncomfortable around each other, even in innocent contexts, and we impose strict hedges on behavior in order to avoid the threat of sexual impropriety. Most of us instinctively know what constitutes sexual impropriety in conversation and action—but, due to influence from our overly sexualized culture, we tend to scandalize ordinary acts of kindness and business. It becomes suspect to give someone a ride, share a meal with a coworker in a public place, or text the other sex without copying our spouses or another third party. Prohibitions of these acts are couched in language of protecting our purity, honoring our spouses, or wisely avoiding the threat of temptation. Challenge any of these suggestions, however, and the language of danger is invoked. If these ordinary acts are dangerous, it must be downright foolish to use a meaningful term like friendship to describe a relationship between the sexes. Do ordinary acts of kindness and business give you anxiety? Have you been reluctant to introduce someone of the other sex as your friend? Even in something as simple as a conversation with someone of the other sex, there seem to be too many ambiguous factors. Am I holding eye contact too long? Oh no, I just laughed at his joke—is someone going to think I’m flirting? Is my body language sending the wrong signals? These can be noble questions in certain situations. However, if we view one another more holistically, they don’t have to be a common anxiety."


Philippians 4:5,


"Let your moderation be known unto all men.The Lord is at hand.Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."


Moderation, that is a balance, not an ignorant aggression, neither a passive reluctance.


In all things there is a spectrum of beliefs, and in every case there is extremes on either side! We as Gods people want to constantly pursue God alone with wisdom, understanding and humility! We want to avoid a nonsense view that we cannot have Biblical friendships with the opposite sex that will deny the spiritual reality of our sibling-ship in Christ! We want to avoid the extremist view that every sister or brother is viewed and reduced by their opposite-sex friend to something that is simply sexual. On the other hand, we also want to avoid the other extremist view, that because we are in Christ there is no threat within the spiritual family of Christ! Our spiritual sibling-ship should not be equated with our earthly kingship, these are quite distinct, and so we must not naively throw out the necessity of recognising dangers that can occur and are exclusive in opposite-sex friendships, and so we want to apply safeguards that can preserve these Godly friendships.


In all things, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water, we must be careful in eating the meat and spitting out the bones.


Many, many more reports could be appealed too, I encourage you to research yourself and come to an informed and biblical conclusion that sees your conscience undefiled before the God who saved you and loves you.


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