Last time we looked at the other-worldly nature of Christian friendship. How are relationships that run so counter to the models in our daily life even possible? Where can we look for models? Our guide for true friendship comes in the form of 44 “one-another verses.” These are the passages in the New Testament that tell us how we are to relate to “one another.” For example, we are to bear with one another and forgive one another. Colossians 3:12-14 says,
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (ESV).
This isn’t a checklist of easy-to-do assignments. These one-another verses require Spirit empowered obedience to Christ, daily taking up our cross and dying to self, preferring others above ourselves. But as we practice living them out, our friendships can’t help but grow in depth and value, sweetening life as we encourage one another to be more like Jesus.
(To help you identify and learn the one-anothers, this graphic from Tim Challies is helpful.)
Friendship should be a Gospel witness to unbelievers.
When Cornelius heard the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection from Peter, he wasted no time calling his friends and relatives together to hear it, too (Acts 10:24). That’s the sort of spiritually vital friend we should seek out as well as try to be. Our friendships should be characterized by spiritual conversations. We should spend some of our time together talking about what we’re learning from Scripture, what we’re praying for, how God is answering our prayers, and how we growing in our understanding of Him. And this, not only so that we might be encouraged in our own faith, but also so that as we walk in Christian fellowship, we might be an example to unbelievers, that they might see the transforming power of the Gospel and be drawn to Christ.
Our faithfulness in friendship has the power, by God’s grace, to produce evangelistic fruit. Where believers are walking together in fellowship, their lives are an example, a ministry. Second Corinthians 2:15 says, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
Even as we pray that our friendships would show the power of Christ to save and transform, emitting a sweet fragrance that draws others to Christ, we must pray that our friendships would be a fragrant offering to God. For the ultimate purpose of all Christian friendship, whether before you marry or after, is to glorify God.
Friendship in the life of the believer should glorify God.
First Corinthians 10:31 says, “[W]hatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And the Colossians passage above that tells us with great detail how we ought to relate to fellow believers ends with this strong command: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17). Our friendships are to be marked by the new self that appears when we are raised from the dead to new life in Christ. We are to “put to death what is earthly in [us],” the very things that are considered normal in worldly friendships:
… sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices (Colossians 3:5-9).
Our culture provides no end of immoral, impersonal and self-serving friendships to model. But so much of what makes friendships so hard isn’t the culture “out there,” but the sin “in here.” Our fallen nature inclines us to be self-serving, impersonal and immoral friends. We are prone to sin. When a close friend marries and pairs off with her new husband, we’re tempted to grow bitter and angry over our loss. When someone new joins the tight group of friends at church, we’re likely to harbor resentment for the way they’re changing the dynamic. Our loyalties can be fickle; our demands, at times, unreasonable. We can be easily offended, and just as easily, give offense. Friendships, because they are between fallen humans, are hard work. But they are worthy work.
By the grace of God, when we trust Christ’s saving work on the cross, we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, forge friendships that glorify God. Therein lies the key. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing. It turns out there is one friendship we can’t live without.
One Friendship We Can’t Live Without
Rich are the lessons the Bible teaches about friendship and vital, too. Friendship can drag us down into sin, corruption and despair. It can also lead us into righteousness and life. At stake is our very soul.
God is One and three. He is in perfect relationship in himself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And so we, who are made in His image, are made for relationship. That, in an infinite mystery, is why we long for meaningful friendship. But our ability to form such friendships is marred by sin. We are by nature “children of wrath” who are drawn into the “thieves’ ethic” of friendship I mentioned in Part 1 of this article. What then is our hope for friendship? Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” There is One friend who sticks closer than a brother. His name is Jesus.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And later, “I have called you friends.” Jesus laid His life down for His friends. Without His friendship — true friendship that is self-sacrificial — we are utterly lost and without hope in this life or the next. But we are not without hope! He has died and risen from the dead. Any who call on His name, who repent for their sins and turn to Him will be saved. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (emphasis added). And what is it He commands us to do? “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). It is from this essential friendship with Christ that our friendships, if they are to be true friendships, must flow.
It is the conditional if that compels us to search for friends who will help us live out our calling to faithfulness. When Paul wrote, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14) he was talking about marriage, but also about friendship. We must strive in the strength of the Holy Spirit to forge friendships that will last through the trials and triumphs of life and spur us on in godliness.
Jesus is our example. He did not look to friends for what they could give Him; He came to serve. So, too, we should seek out faithful friends among members of the household of God by being faithful friends, friends like those who cared for Paul during his imprisonment (Acts 24:23, 27:3).
Friendship is sacrificial. It is giving, not taking. When we are united with Christ, we have the ability by God’s grace and His indwelling Holy Spirit to form deep bonds of friendship with other brothers and sisters who are also united with Christ. This is one of the sweetest benefits of being joined to Christ as members of His body. Apart from Christ, friendship is elusive, even destructive. But when we follow His example, by His power, denying ourselves for the benefit of others, it is there that we find the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God to be true. When you lay down your life, you find it (Matthew 10:38-39). When you give away your life to others, it is then that you are satisfied.
Copyright 2013 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.