Wednesday, July 30, 2008

True Friendship

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established—that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. (Rom 1:11-12)

What is Biblical friendship?

Some examples immediately come to mind, of course. David and Jonathan are the first ones I think of, and that's probably true for many of you as well. What made their friendship so special?

  • It was certainly divinely appointed to start with
  • It developed a deep bond (their souls were "knit together.")
  • Their loyalty led them even to risk their lives for one another
  • Their bond was deeper than the bonds of family
You could probably think of more than that. Such qualities are to be treasured, and such friendships nurtured wherever they are found. But the kind of qualities I listed, as rare and wonderful as they are, still need something more before they can fully embody the beautiful ideal of Biblical friendship. And the apostle Paul hit it right on the head in the verses above.

The deepest, truest Biblical friendships have God as their foundation, their feast, and their future. I think David and Jonathan would say that that was true of them.

"I long to impart some spiritual gift to you." It isn't only apostles who can feel such a longing. This kind of gift-giving doesn't spring from superiority, as if Paul wanted to condescend to bless the Roman Christian peons. Far from it. Love gives. That's just what it does. "For God so loved the world, that He gave..." For some people that sort of generosity comes naturally. The rest of us need to work on it, deliberately and very prayerfully, until it becomes natural to ask ourselves, "how can I be a blessing to you?" Oh Lord, help me become the sort of Christian who loves like that, like You!

"So that you may be established." No politically-correct, self-esteem building motivation exists anywhere in Paul's writings. He doesn't say, "So that you can feel good about yourselves," or "So that you can kick back and have a good laugh," or anything like that. Not that Paul was against laughter. He just never would have been content with mere happiness. He set his sights much higher than anything the world could provide. So he didn't just encourage, he encouraged in the Lord. He didn't just point his friends toward temporal happiness, but pointed them always toward the deep, inexhaustible joy of Christ. He didn't stroke anyone's self-esteem, but rather stoked their God-esteem (and his friends were much better off because of it). He rebuked, sometimes harshly, when he saw his friends wandering off on dangerous paths. He wept with them when they wept, and wept for them whenever they began a fruitless search for joy in the passing pleasures of sin. He fasted and prayed for them. He endured beatings, imprisonment, and finally death in his zeal to share the Lord with them and to see them "established in the faith." No wonder his friends wept bitterly when he left them on his dangerous last journey to Jerusalem!

That I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Once again, this was a humble friendship, one that joyfully acknowledged and anticipated the mutuality of the benefits they would receive in each other's company. There was no strained atmosphere of religiosity forced on their meetings. Their shared faith was a feast, a banquet table from which they loved to dine together.

Of course they were just human, like us. They had their foibles and their squabbles. But the richness of this friendship could not be denied, and the love that the first-century Christians had for one another soon became legendary in its day.

Put a bunch of strangers in a room for a business lunch, and the atmosphere will be similar to that in many church socials. Polite manners, small talk, etc. But let two of those businessmen fall into conversation and discover a shared interest, and everything changes. If the commonalities are strong enough, the conversation quickly deepens to the point that no one else even exists. Contact information is shared, and future meetings are planned.

The gathering didn't cause the friendship, it only facilitated the meeting. The mutual interest is what fanned the new friendship into flame.

There isn't a single church program that can make true Biblical friendships grow. There is no formula for producing them. They're simply too authentic for that. Such friendships are the inevitable result when genuinely God-centered, Spirit-filled, Christ-loving people (complete with all of their failures, sins, and "warts") discover their shared passion for the Lord.

Join with me in thanking the Lord for the godly friends He has given us. And pray with me that we might all grow more and more in love with our Lord, so that whenever we meet brothers and sisters in Christ, the bond would cement us instantly, joyfully, and eternally.

(Photo from Stock.xchng by Mart1n)

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