Christian Friendships: God's Good Gift
Bibianna reflects on Christian friendships—its origin and importance in the Christian's life, as well as the encouragements that we can get from it.
Fictional friendships often strike a chord in our hearts and leave a lasting impression. An entire generation grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione as they battled various problems in school. Animated buddies Woody and Buzz gave us multiple movies and even an iconic song called “You’ve got a friend in me”. Frodo and Samwise Gamgee remains my all time favourite depiction of a friendship that stands the test of trials.
Real life friendships are just as important and sometimes underrated. Friendships, like all relationships, take work and often grow in the mundane moments that movies rarely depict. It takes time and sometimes it can feel like our hard work doesn’t pay off.
As Christians, we know that friendships are important too, as the Bible speaks about it in places like Proverbs 17:17, 27:17 and Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. We often speak of community, but sometimes, don’t you struggle with it too? Burden bearing sounds great in a sermon, but doing it is often hard, and we wonder if we are able to or equipped to do so. As Timothy Keller once said, “Everyone says they want community and friendship. But mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way.” I find my own heart wrestling with this and being able to love and commit to people. Do you too?
Christian friendships begin with and are centred on God.
You are not alone, friend. The topic of Christian friendship is a broad and wonderful thing that we can explore in greater depth. Drew Hunter’s book, Made for Friendship, is an excellent book if you are interested.
But in this short article, I hope to encourage us all to press on and pursue our friendships with fellow believers in spite of some of our challenges and discouragements, because it is a good thing. God has designed for us to be in relationships—marriage, families and the church etc. Our series in Exodus has shown us how God rescued a people for Himself. Dane Ortlund, in his book Deeper, writes, “Categories such as introversion and extroversion, useful as they are, do not penetrate to the even deeper matter, the fundamental way in which God wired all of us, introverts and extroverts alike, for human fellowship. Even introverts get lonely.”
As a highly introverted person, the struggle is real. But whether introvert or extrovert, we are all learning how to love one another as Christ loved us. This is how we show the world that we are His disciples, if we have love for one another (Jn 13:35) This is what it means to be people that have been redeemed by Him and for Him.
Thus our friendships begin with God in Christ. Just as how the 10 Commandments show how God’s people live firstly in relation to Him, and then with others, we too, live and love in light of Christ’s work on the cross. God cares not only about our relationship with Him individually, but also about how we relate to others—our parents, spouses, neighbours. We look to the Bible for guidance on our work, marriage. Why not on how we can be better neighbours and friends?
This means that unlikely people—even enemies—can become friends in the church! I am so thankful for how we can catch a glimpse of this in our church. We have people of different ages, nationalities and backgrounds living life together. Singles are a part of the life of families and have meals or go on holidays together. People come alongside one another when their friends face a difficult situation and spend time together to pray, or meet practical needs. This is a wonderful testimony to the love of Christ that has made us one.
Christian friendships are necessary for our holiness.
Our friendships that are centred on God also serves God’s design—for our holiness. God has given us each other so that we can live out the gospel and grow in the gospel! As I was thinking about this, I was helped by Dane Ortlund, in the same book, Deeper, who wrote a wonderful chapter on how Christians are to be honest with one another in community as a means of fighting sin. He exhorts all, regardless of personality types, to be a part of this community, saying “We were made to be together, to speak to each other, to share our hearts, to laugh together, to co-enjoy a beautiful flower. The pain of a sorrow is doubled when endured alone but greatly lessened when borne by another alongside us; likewise the satisfaction of a joy is doubled when celebrated with another yet lessened when enjoyed alone. … Often our idolatrous pursuits through sexual immorality, overindulgence in alcohol, or social media platform-building are all simply misplaced longings for human fellowship. If we traced those heart-eroding pursuits down to their source, we would find, among other things, simply an absence of real Christian fellowship.”
We display the love of Christ in meeting practical needs and welcoming each other. But as we live together, we also learn to see each other’s sin. We are to help each other grow by confessing and confronting sin. This is an important part of our Christian relationships, and makes it different from other relationships that we have.
Borrowing from Ortlund once more, “When you trust God enough to speak your sinfulness to another human, the channels of your heart are opened to feeling forgiven. This is because the same pride that stops us from confessing our sins to a brother or sister also hinders our felt belief in the gospel. Pride hinders fellowship both horizontally and vertically. Evading honesty before another Christian is more fundamentally a rejection of the gospel itself. Refusing to be honest with another is works righteousness in disguise; we are believing that we need to save face, to retain uprightness of appearance. But in conversion to Christianity we have already acknowledged that we are hopelessly sinful, with nothing to contribute but our need.”
The gospel doesn’t just make us friends. It also gives us the resources to confess sins, and be honest with one another before God. Do your friends know what you’re struggling with? Thomas, in John 20, is a great picture of one who is honest about his struggles. As Pastor Mark reminded us, he had his doubts, but still remained in the community. As we struggle, it is often tempting to withdraw. Let us trust God and His people by remaining in community, and allowing God to work through them.
As friends, what do we do with the struggles of another? We are reminded that we do not have to solve their problems, but bring them to Jesus like the paralytic’s friends did for him (c.f. Luke 5:17-26). Likewise, Thomas’ friends did their part by proclaiming the truth—that Jesus has risen. Yet they couldn’t persuade him until he had his own encounter with Jesus. Let us not give up on our friends, and continue to press on in friendship, even when it is difficult or does not seem to bear fruit!
The path of Christian friendship was first walked by our Saviour.
Iconic fictional friendships often have an element of heroic achievements, or they have proven themselves to be loyal despite all the odds. Deep down, we desire this accountability and commitment that Keller spoke about. But the greatest Hollywood scripts pale in comparison to the friendship that our Saviour displayed. He, who was God, did not consider equality with God to be grasped. He took on flesh and dwelt among us, living the life of a man who was eventually scorned, despised, rejected. He loved us to the end.
He knows what it means to be committed to people who despise, reject, betray Him. Hebrews 5:2 also tells us that He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since He himself is beset with weakness. And yet, He calls us friends, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (Jn 15:14–16)
We who are in Christ, love because He has first loved us! As we press on in our friendships with fellow believers, let us take heart that our relationships begin with and are centred on God, are for our holiness and we have a friend in Jesus.