What is distinctive about Christian Friends
True Friendship – Article Series
1. True Friendship (Part 1)
2. True Friendship (Part 2)
3. Friendship is hard
4. Why Friendship matters
5. What is distinctive about Christian Friends
6. Forgiveness (Part 1)
7. Forgiveness (Part 2)
17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. 20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. 24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. ~ Jude 17-25 (NIV)
Let’s summarise what we’ve seen so far
At the risk of overlooking all the biblical theological bases for these precious truths, here is a summary of some of the big ideas we’ve seen in this series so far:
- A Friend is a person whom you make a deliberate commitment to love.
- Friendship can be offered, but it does not have to be accepted by another, nor does it have to be reciprocated.
- Fellowship is the foundation of Friendship.
- Friendship is hard, for the most part, because we are selfish individuals trying to engage in a selfless relationship.
- The ultimate goal of Friendship is to treasure and enjoy one another.
This is not a comprehensive list of what’s been covered, but it is helpful to be clear on these points as we now turn to a focused look at the practicalities of what we actually do as friends. Specifically, we’re going to look at what it is about being a Christian Friend that stands out in contrast to the rest of the world.
A commitment to love
Friends who aren’t Christians can still make a commitment to love, but there is a distinctive quality to the shape that that love takes if someone is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the risen Lord Jesus will one day return to this Earth and that we are currently waiting for that day to come. Our knowledge of the future directly impacts how we live now. If I know that there is a fire in the building, and that it is making its way over to where you are sitting, then I must warn you! If I don’t then I would be failing to look out for you and love you given what I know of what’s to come. So then, as a Christian friend, what it means to be committed to love another means to love someone knowing that Jesus will be returning one day. We’re going to focus first on what this means for a Christian to friend a Christian, and then turn our attention to what it would mean for a Christian to friend someone who is not a Christian.
In Jude 17-22 we see Jude encourage his readers to build each other up in the faith, pray by the power of the Spirit, and remain in God’s love. He also tells them to ‘have mercy on those who doubt’, which could be a reference to Christians who are struggling with their faith, or those who do not believe. Either way, the emphasis is on being merciful towards them, which I take to mean that we are to be kind, gracious, and understanding. This is contrasted with falling victim to the influence of those in the world who are not Christians, who can bring division among the Christian community. Jude’s exhortation is not specifically given within the context of friendship (though the NIV does translate the addressees as ‘dear friends’) but we can still apply his words to friendship if we consider that they are applicable to what it means to be a Christian. So being a Christian friend to other Christians means to love them by being committed to building them up, and encouraging them to trust in God and His love for us.
Christian friends can do this in several ways. It can happen in groups. It can happen in the short conversations after church. It can be in short, private Facebook messages you send to one another. There is no real limit, or boundary, to how this can occur. (After all, friendships are organic and can take different shapes, right?) But one way that I want to suggest is in meeting one-to-one. This is a way through which friends can take some time out in order to devote their attention, conversation, and social activity with another. Taking time out for friends is one of the most tangible expressions of love that can be made because, as Karl Barth recognised:
When I really give anyone my time, I thereby give him the last and most personal thing that I have to give at all, namely myself.
Within these one-to-one meetups friends can share how life is going, share in some activity (e.g. watching a film, or swimming), and enjoy one another’s company. But within these meetups there is an opportunity to delve deeply and speak into one another’s lives, speak the truth to one another, and seek to build one another up. Is one friend, or both, suffering? Weep, encourage, and pray together. Did one friend, or both, have a faithful and joy-filled week? Rejoice together! What sins are you both struggling with and needing God’s grace to persevere in fighting? Confess to one another, pray together, point each other to the love of Christ, and remind each other with the words of Scripture. Is someone is finding it hard to keep running the race of faith? Then be merciful, and teach and remind one another the words of God that bring life.
Recall that the foundation of friendship is fellowship, and in ‘doing life’ together with someone we strengthen the trust and sense of unity that we have with each other. But, also, we recognise that Christians who are friends with one another are headed to the same place – eternal life. As we build each other up, and grow in our love for one another, we are actually headed to the same destination. Tim Keller puts it beautifully when he says that:
Friendship is a deep oneness that develops when two people, speaking the truth in love to one another, journey together to the same horizon.
But what about our non-Christian friends? What is distinctive about the friendship that a Christian can commit to them? Well, Jude 23 gives us some help here.
Jude encourages the Christians to save people by snatching them from the fire, which I take to be a reference to judgement. Within the context of friendship this could be seen as sharing the Gospel with those who do not know it, seeking to lovingly and truthfully persuade them of the message of the Cross so that they can be saved from the fire of the judgement of God. Jude also has an encouragement about showing ‘mercy, mixed with fear’ which, given the reference to the ‘clothing stained by corrupted flesh’, I see as a command to be kind, gracious, and understanding towards non-Christians while also hating and being fearful of sin and things that are associated with sin. Jude gives us the balance here of detesting anything that goes against God, while still reaching out to others in mercy.
As a Christian friend of a non-Christian person our priority is to seek to be committed to loving them. But what it means for us to be committed to loving is to recognise that Jesus is returning one day, and we need to share the Gospel with them. We must show them mercy, being kind and gracious, relating well and seeking to convince them of the truth of God. And yet, we cannot endorse views, behaviour, and actions that are sinful or associated with sin. That will make us unpopular with some people! Being a Christian in a group of non-Christian friends can mean being singled out as unusual, different, and a target for accusation. But we cannot become part of the darkness because we are children of the light. (Ephesians 5:1-17 is one of the clearest sections of Scripture that give us insight as to how we are to relate outside the Christian community, so do consider reading that section).
Note, however, that to be gracious and kind (and to relate well) does not necessitate every second sentence being “Jesus is Lord…so believe!” Our heartfelt desire is that our friends would be saved from God’s wrath, but salvation does not come from saying ‘Jesus’ in every sentence – it comes from the grace of God. So share the Gospel, love your friend, and prayerfully embody the love that has been shown to you in Christ. Relate well and enjoy their company. Share in life and activities. But don’t forget what it means for you to be committed to loving them knowing that Jesus will return.
But it must be said that there is a time limit to these friendships. That is true for many of our friendships. For instance, we may have an argument and avoid contact with someone. Or we may be separated due to death. But I am speaking specifically about friendships with non-Christians from an eternal perspective. For, when Jesus returns and judges the living and the dead we will no longer be able to friend those who do not follow Him. Instead, we will be separated from one another – some to life and some to everlasting judgement (John 5:24-29). That means that we will not be friends forever with our non-Christian friends. So make the most of the time that you have.
However, in Jude 24-25 we see his confidence in God’s persevering grace. Jude is confident that God will hold His people, sustain His people, and bring them into glory and joy. Whereas friendship with our non-Christian friends has a definitive use-by date our friendships with Christians will be able to continue into eternity. The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 3:20-21 that Christians, communally, have a citizenship that is in heaven. This does not mean that Christians will all be beamed up into heaven and live in the clouds one day – after all, Christians believe that when Jesus returns to Earth the Universe will be renewed and we will dwell physically here in a new creation with God. The idea, rather, is that their identity is rooted in the presence of God and that all Christians will certainly be found there at the end of all things.
For the Christians, goodbye is never truly goodbye. Whether we don’t see each other for 2 days, or 2 years, or 20 years, or ever again in our lives, we know that because of our common identity in Christ, and citizenship in heaven, we will see each other again – in this life or in glory. And, consequently, Christian friends do have the ability to be friends forever.
While it looks different for Christians and non-Christians, let me put it in one sentence:
Christian friends are committed to lovingly preparing their friends for eternity.
A Christian seeks to build their Christian friend up in love, encouraging them to remain faithful, and to pray for them by the power of the Spirit. A Christian seeks to see their non-Christian friend saved, and lovingly shares the Gospel, shows them mercy, while at the same time hating sin. In both cases, the Christian is acting with eternity in view.
In the last two posts we will turn our attention to forgiveness, because it is fundamental to the Christian life and the way in which we can sustain meaningful, lasting, and committed friendships despite our sinfulness.