I have been friends with a fellow Christian for four years now, and that friendship has certainly gone through quite a bit of refining fire. He is a college student (as am I) and is married. However, his wife left him for various reasons. She was working to support them while he got his degree, so when she left, on top of the heartache was the practical issue of having lost all income.
A month later, I moved in with him to help out. The agreed upon deal was that I would pay for all expenses minus $200 a month (which is what his parents were going to charge for him to move in with them). Since moving in, I have paid much more than I initially agreed to, while he has paid less.
He has two campus jobs that would enable him to get that amount a month, but he has not pursued them. Financial agreement aside, I work full time and do school full time. He only does school with the exception of a few hours a week for his jobs. Despite this, if cooking is done, I have done it. If cleaning is done, I have done it. He now expects me to purchase everything he needs and wants, and does not so much as ask or even thank me. He did ask and thank me for the first few weeks I was there, but for whatever reason, he has stopped.
To make matters worse, he has recently stepped into the habit of telling me what to do rather than asking me politely (as I do for him). I have proven my love for him as a friend and as a Christian brother a hundred times over with my actions. I am currently sacrificing a good deal to help him out. I don’t do it for reward, count it as debt or do it for gratitude. However, I receive little to no gratefulness, little to no help with maintaining the house, and less than our agreed amount for the finances.
My problem lies in that I can see nowhere in Scripture where I have any rights to expect to be treated a certain way. There are certainly expectations for how I should treat others, and I have been diligently pursuing those. My question is, can I draw a line biblically that calls him to account for his actions and inaction? My frustration is increasing at being blatantly taken advantage of, but I do not know if I even have call to be frustrated.
There are two things at work here. One is about loving your neighbor as yourself. The other is about the consequences of our actions. Scripture speaks to both.
My heart goes out to your friend. Set aside all the reasons for a moment, and just consider his emotional and mental state. I’m sure his life feels like a confusing mess, obviously not at all what he envisioned when he married. I’m sure there is hurt, depression, anger and who knows what else. No matter who it is and no matter who or what is responsible, when the life of a friend is broken, we feel that brokenness, too.
First, let’s talk about how Christ commands us to love others and what that means.
Our love for others must flow out of our love for God. We love because He first loved us. Love God first, Jesus said, and then love your neighbor as you would like to be loved. Trying to love others out of our own human strength will always leave us frustrated and angry, because as humans we can’t help but keep score, and not surprisingly we always have more points than the other person (or persons).
Spirit-empowered love comes from a source outside of our natural selves and takes place through us, rather than from us. That makes a huge difference. It allows us to love freely and fully, not taking the response (whether good or bad) personally, because the love didn’t originate with us anyway.
This takes a very mature understanding and practice of Christ-like living, and it is exactly what Jesus explained to and expected of His followers. Rejoice when you suffer for the name of Christ! Turn the other cheek! Walk an extra mile! Give more than is required! Don’t just love your friends; love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Freely you’ve received, now freely give!
What a love ethic! God’s way is completely reversed from the world’s economy and is impossible without His power.
So my first piece of advice is this: Don’t think in terms of your relationship with your friend first. Think in terms of your relationship with Christ first and being empowered with His love to love, no matter who the recipient might be. The reaction to love means nothing. We don’t love to get a reaction. Pursue loving others in such a way that you can’t help it because it flows naturally through you from the One who forgave His killers and mockers even while hanging from the nails they drove into Him. That’s how big the vision of real love is; it sees the whole picture.
Let me encourage you, when you learn to stop trying to love in your own strength and start letting Christ love through you, it will set you free.
Now about actions and consequences. Your friend has made some decisions that are having natural negative consequences. God warns us of this cause-and-effect relationship and encourages us to sow wisely, because we will reap whatever we sow.
But this negative reaping can have good purpose if we let it. It can lead to repentance, restoration, new life and a fresh start.
Here is where we need to be careful when we love someone who is reaping the negative actions they’ve sown. We don’t want to inadvertently enable a continued rebellion and refusal to repent by trying to guard them from what is being reaped.
Where there is work and you refuse to do it, hunger kicks in as incentive. If I continually feed someone who is able to work but is lazy, I am exacerbating their problem. I am not talking about feeding the hungry who have no other hope than our help. I am talking about someone who is perfectly capable to take care of himself, but out of laziness refuses to do so. When we coddle that person in the name of “love,” we are working against God’s design and not loving at all.
I think you are coddling your friend in the name of Christian love, and you need to stop. From what you’ve described, his heart does not appear to be anywhere near responding rightly to the decisions he’s made. I advise that you have a talk with him again about his responsibilities for taking care of himself, and then you need to let him do it.
His changes should start immediately and continue. If they don’t, then you should consider moving out. He needs a wake-up call, but you keep answering the phone for him so he can keep sleeping. That’s not love. I would tell him he has one month to begin fulfilling his obligations. If he’s not able to do that, and I mean all of his obligations, you need to find other living arrangements.
Copyright 2012 John Thomas. All rights reserved.