Why Friendship matters

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Why Friendship matters

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)

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20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
~ John 17:20-26 (NIV)

The difference between friendship and other relationships

If you’ve been following along in this series so far, you may be wondering at this point what the difference is between the definition we’ve set forth for friendship, and other kinds of relationships we may have. If friendship is a deliberate commitment to love another, what is marriage?

There are many similarities between marriage and friendship. For one, both are types of relationships that you aren’t born into. You have to deliberately act in order to enter into them. But what is the difference? In short, the difference is that while Christian marriage is built on friendship, it is more than friendship! Not only do a man and woman make a deliberate commitment to love another (which has been the definition of friendship I’ve used), but they also become ‘one flesh’ with one another, joining together and becoming permanently bound together in this life. I think that, from a Christian worldview, you can be expressing true friendship without being married, but you cannot be expressing God’s design for marriage without friendship. Marriage is not just commitment, but it is also become joined to someone.

Additionally, family relationships are not the same as friendships. The key difference is in terms of what they signify. Our families are communities of nurture and mutual care. They are signposts of where we have come from, and partners in what has been, and will be, done among our members. Your family can grow, or shrink, without your immediate action or knowledge. Usually the bond that ties us together is blood, but before God and the state it is recognised that the making of a promise can forge familial links that didn’t previously exist (through marriage, adoption, etc). There is a general sense in which we cannot choose our family members, but we can choose our friends. While we may make a deliberate commitment to love our friends, we cannot choose to avoid loving and providing for our family. Our families have been gifted to us by God to care for and protect, and to care for and protect us, and to share in the benefits, joys, and grievances that befall our community.

So why do friendships matter?

Sadly, in the cases of family, marriage, and friendship we do have cases of severe neglect, betrayal, and hurt. In the last post we saw examples of that in the case of friendship. It could be easy to say “well, forget these relationships!” Even Christians may think that, of the three listed, friendship is not important. Family and marriage have instrumental value, like survival, and the continuation of the human species, so they matter most…right? But listen to what CS Lewis has famously written:

I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine.  No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art,  like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.

Lewis’ point here is that friendship does not appear to have any instrumental value in and of itself, but that doesn’t mean that it is not important. Rather, friendship is a beautiful relationship that gives us a reason to value and be thankful for life itself. There is much to be thankful for in a quote like this, but I think that we can turn back to the Bible to answer this question.

Friendships matter because…

Back in John 15:9-12 Jesus sets the model for His friendship to the disciples, and says that they are to love each other as He has loved them. But He also says that He has loved them just as the Father has loved Him. So we see that the vertical relationship between the Father and Jesus is what Jesus has reflected in His loving the disciples, and Jesus has called upon the disciples to love one another horizontally in the same way. The following four points are primarily drawn from John 17, where Jesus is praying to the Father, revealing what kind of love He shares with God.

Let’s be clear here: Jesus does not reference friendship in this passage. But if our framework, derived from John 15, is correct then in examining Jesus’ relationship with His Father (and what He prays for) then we can gain some principles for friendship itself.

1. Friendships means that we don’t have to be alone

In verse 20-22 Jesus prays that the disciples would be one just as He is one with His Father. The love that we see between the Father and the Son is one where they are always united, and it is this unity that Jesus longs to see for His people. Jesus laid down His life for His friends – plural. We are not meant to be alone. We as Christians are saved into the community of the Gospel, and called upon to love one another. What that means for our friendships is that Jesus wants us to love one another to demonstrate the companionship, commitment, and unity that He has with His Father.

And so, friendship means that we do not ever have to be alone. It reminds us that we have sisters and brothers who are devoted to our good, and for whom we can be devoted to their good. But I think this point needs to be taken even further. Stanley Hauerwas writes:

To be…[an] alien is a formula for loneliness that few of us can sustain. Indeed, it is almost impossible to minister alone because our loneliness can too quickly turn into self – righteousness or self – hate. Christians can survive only by supporting one another through the countless small acts through which we tell one another we are not alone, that God is with us. Friendship is not, therefore, accidental to the Christian life.

Hauerwas is referring to the fact that the Christian life is one in which we are utterly dependent on the community of God in order to survive. This is reflected in passages like Hebrews 3:10-12 that point to the necessity of community to encourage one another, and spur each other on in our faith, lest we fall away. Friendship is one of the God appointed means by which we can do that.

Are you struggling in your Christian life? One thought to consider is what sort of friendships you have. God has given us friendships so that we are never alone – so friend those who you can love and be loved by with the love and unity that Jesus longed for us to share. But also, Christ-centered, God-glorifying friendship is how we can cure our loneliness. Friendship, expressed through the love of Christ we see, has the power to ease our hearts, relax our fears, and satisfy our longings for relationships.

2. Friendship can show the world that the Gospel is real

In verses 20-23 Jesus prays that the unity that His people show in loving one another can show the world the truth of who God is and what He has done in sending Jesus. That’s amazing. Did you catch that? Just read those verses. What they mean is that the selfless, united, God-patterned love that Jesus is praying for His disciples is meant to convince the world of the truth of the Gospel.

I completely hold to the belief that in order to be saved we must have our hearts of stone removed (Ezekiel 36:24-26), we must be born again (John 3:3-7), and raised from death to life (Ephesians 2:1-5). And that is why this point is so amazing to me, personally. If we are understanding Jesus’ words rightly, then the love expressed between God’s people is one of the means by which He does all those things. Friendship is part of the witness of the Christian community that shows the truth of the Gospel. It may not always lead to salvation, but at the very least it can show that there is something genuinely life changing about the message of Jesus.

About a year ago I was meeting with one of my friends who is not a Christian. He told me that he really enjoyed our meetups, and that he loved seeing the Christian community’s relationships with each other. He said that they were different, and that while they weren’t perfect he could see that there was a genuine love for one another. He also told me, somewhat amusingly, that he tried asking one of his friends (who also is not a Christian) to meetup one-on-one, and was met with the reply “Why one-on-one? Is everything alright? Do you need money or something?” My friend was aghast at the suggestion, but told me that it was an example, for him, of how Christians are really committed to loving one another in a way that is different to the world’s.

3. Friendship points us to the heart of reality

In verse 24 Jesus prays in reference to the love that He has with the Father, and says that it is a love that they have had since before the creation of the world. What that means is that the love that Jesus is calling upon His disciples to reflect points to the love that has been shared within the Godhead eternally. At the heart of reality, the very essence of what is ultimate, is a deliberate and committed love between the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit) that gave rise to the creation of the world. There’s so much that could be said here, but just try thinking about what that means for our friendships.

A simple friendship between two people, loving each other in small ways, is a reflection of the basis of all existence.

4. Friendship helps us to understand the Gospel

Here’s a question I want to answer now: what is the goal of friendship? We’ve spoken about what friendship is (namely, deliberately committing to loving another), but why would we want to friend someone? This is a key and crucial question that I’ve avoided so far, except to touch on bad answers to the question eg to use someone for your own benefit. But, here, it is now appropriate to address because of Jesus’ words in John 17:3. Let me set this up.

In John 17:3, Jesus says that eternal life is knowing the Father and knowing the Son. In other words, eternal life is about having a relationship with the Father and the Son. We also know that Jesus laid down His life so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). But get this: Jesus laid down His life for His friends, the greatest act of love that someone can do for their friend (John 15:13). Putting it all together: Jesus’s greatest act of love for His friends was done so that they would be able to have a relationship with Him and His Father.

Have you ever asked the question of why we need to be forgiven for our sins? Yes, we want to avoid God’s wrath. But it’s more than that. Hear what John Piper says:

Forgiveness is good news because it cancels all the sins that keep me from seeing and enjoying the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Removal of wrath and salvation from hell are good news because now in my escape from eternal misery I find eternal pleasure beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ.

In other words, we need to be forgiven because if we aren’t then we cannot be in relationship with Jesus. Forgiveness is important because it removes the barrier that keeps us from enjoying friendship with our Lord. Jesus came to die for us so that we would be forgiven and saved from wrath, so that we would be able to enjoy a glorious relationship with Him. That was His goal in His ultimate act of loving His friends. So here’s my answer to the question of the goal of friendship:

The ultimate goal of friendship is to treasure and enjoy one another. 

It isn’t about using, taking, or manipulating – it is about treasuring and enjoying. And remember that the way in which we do this is to deliberately commit to loving another. This make sense, doesn’t it? We seek to friend people whose company we wish to enjoy. Saying to someone “I want to be your friend” is to say that we wish to personally treasure them and enjoy their company.

What further differentiates this goal from a selfish one are the two last words – ‘one another’. Our enjoyment and treasuring of another is to wish for our friend to enjoy and treasure us. So it also involves a radical self-giving. This sort of friendship may seem too serious to people who are afraid of commitment, or of being hurt. But it is derived from our understanding of the Gospel, in which we see Jesus give up His entire self for those who He was completely committed to loving, so that He could enjoy a relationship with them.

A disclaimer

This is the longest post in this series so far, and it is also the most abstract. That is deliberate because I think that these truths are beautiful and show us why friendships do matter, especially for the Christian. This will, God-willing, give us a sense of the big picture to better understand the posts that have come before it, and also give us a solid foundation to see the practical implications that flow into the distinctiveness of Christian friends in the next post. The last 3 posts are more practical, with the next one clearly laying out how Christians are to relate to both Christian friends and non-Christian friends.

continued in ‘What is distinctive about Christian Friends’

James Chen

James is a Philosophy graduate from the University of Sydney and is currently a teaching and learning manager of a senior high school tutoring centre. James is a member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Carlingford and loves reading and teaching the Bible.

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