If we miss true friendship, we may be devolving into using people as projects for our own self interests.
In the midst of our discussions or training about building, planting, and growing churches, we must guard against slipping into the realm of theoretical without application. If we speak of “getting to know each others’ stories,” “having neighbors over for a party with the rest of our missional community,” or “praying for my co-worker to come to Christ” but miss true friendship, we may be devolving into using people as projects for our own self interests. I am convicted that apart from deep friendships, we are merely teaching techniques, theories, “playing church,” or even “playing married” for that matter. If I can be so bold as to say, friendship isn’t a nice element in a successful missional community or church; friendship is discipleship, mission, and the gospel.
Friendship is Discipleship
John 15:13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.17 This is my command: Love each other.” (NLT)
Is it coincidental that Jesus would use the “friend” term? Can loving each other be done outside the context of an authentic friendship? Friendship implies intimacy, sharing, and sacrifice. Discipleship requires a laying down of life or priorities to prioritize a friend. Discipleship in the gospels and discipleship today (with those we walk with) happen “as they went” or as life happens. If the discipleship you’re experiencing is only a rhythm of meeting to review some content or learn the Bible, it is a great and important thing, but it is not what Jesus practiced.
Let me add, Jesus isn’t giving an ethereal definition of “love.” He says, “In the same way I have loved you.” No doubt John is reflecting back on this scene as he writes and is implying that the cross scene will be in the forefront of the mind of the hearer of Jesus’ words. The implication is simple; our friendships will prove costly in many ways: time, finances, emotions, etc. Has that been your experience, or has discipleship been confined to a time slot on your calendar?
Friendship is Mission
Col 1 (TLB) 20 It was through what his Son did that God cleared a path for everything to come to him—all things in heaven and on earth—for Christ’s death on the cross has made peace with God for all by his blood. 21 This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were his enemies and hated him and were separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends.
God’s mission is in process all around us, all the time. My point in this isn’t to say all evangelism or service will happen in the context of friendships; my point is that deep friendships aren’t a “lesser than” spiritual activity. Intimate friendships ARE God’s mission. Part of God’s grand restorative mission on earth includes relational reconciliation both to Him and to each other. Friendship is the vehicle for reconciliation and loving friendship is a sign to the world that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). “We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship.” – Harville Hendrix
Friendship is the Gospel
Romans 5 NLT 10For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
Isn’t this an amazing truth? Re-read the three texts from this article if you have a moment. How amazing is it that the God of the universe delights in calling us friends? How undeserving are we? Once we were enemies of God by our sin, and now He communes with us, knows us deeply, and accepts us as He accepts His own Son! Can you take a moment to reflect on this reality? Has Jesus’ nearness and posture toward you hit your heart? He doesn’t just love you; He likes you. Let that settle in to you. What God does to you, He will do through you. Before you venture off to be a good friend, realize you are already friends with the best friend ever—Jesus!
Lastly . . . in walking out my own repentance and faith journey as a “good friend in training,” about six months ago I started a podcast dedicated to helping people thrive in relationships. Unfortunately, we’re all usually pretty bad at them. As you seek in growing as a friend at home, work, church, and play, I hope my show can be a resource as you equip yourself with tools to build relationships. Check it out on iTunes HERE–The Relational Toolshed or for non-Apple users HERE.
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