Growing up I had a good friend. Well, he was “good” in the way that a cell phone is “good” for a person: We were useful to each other because we helped get things done (i.e. class assignments), yet we really had no personal rapport with one another. I hung out with him at school everyday growing up, and we knew each other to be Christian which was comforting. He knew my study habits, my likes and dislikes, and my daily routine. He knew my family and saw my lifestyle. Yet our relationship was almost purely Platonic, focused on surface issues like school and sports rather than life and God.
In high school, I remember being frustrated and distraught one day because my parents had a heated fight that morning before school. I sat down with my longtime friend during lunchtime per usual, and began to pour my heart out to him. After my lamenting was over, he stared blankly at my face and delivered four unforgettable words: “Such is life, man.”
Friendship a tremendous blessing in the Christian life, one that brings joy and fulfillment that was intended for man since the creation of the world. After God created man, the Lord placed him in the Garden of Eden and gave an accurate assessment of his fresh creation. “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone…” (Gen. 2:18a). Just stop and consider the implication of those words. We know the result of those fateful words, namely the creation of Eve, but we often overlook the divine evaluation of mankind first. See, God determined that it was not good for man to be alone; that is to say that it was bad if man is alone and good if man is in community. It was detrimental for man to be alone, it was harmful for him to live without others, it was improper for man to toil over the ground without another soul to support him. Man is inherently created in need of friendship. We need friends, and God blesses man with friendships.
Yet there is a gaping hole in the church’s theology of friendship. Some may not know what genuine Christian friendships are supposed to look like, what they’re supposed to feel like. Even more disconcerting is that many people know mentally what good, Christ-centered friendships are supposed to be like yet half-heartedly implement those concepts into their own lives. We often hear stories of Christians who hold grudges, gossip, and take advantage of each other–I’ve seen them and I’ve been a part of them–and often times those associated are the ones who attend church regularly! It seems that too often our friendships are characterized by actions–the giving, the smiling, and the joking–and not enough by our heart for one another. It’s admittedly easy to act like friends on the surface level and it’s surprisingly difficult to be a genuine friend.
Men in the church have an especially difficult time with friendships (of which I am the foremost). I can speculate for days on the different reasons why men struggle–societal conformity, distracted lifestyles, comfort, and shallowness–but ultimately all of those issues boil down to pride. Pride is the laymen term for selfishness stemming from a sinful self-centeredness (try saying that five times fast). Sorry men, but it’s a major issue in any church and one that needs to be dealt with.
So how do we reconcile the two? God created man for community yet our communities seem plagued by selfishness. Do we ignore God’s evaluation and just try to deal with each person’s personality? Or do we lament over bad friendships and hope that God changes our heart toward them? Well, what we need to do is establish a strong theology of friendship that will enable us to live out sacrificial, humble friendships that are characteristic of a Christian. Thankfully, Scripture presents clear teaching on the issue of friendship. It’s just a matter of going and discovering it for ourselves.
Thus, I present this series on the Theology of Friendship. Every couple days I will be blogging about another aspect of Christian friendship that will help us establish strong convictions and understanding about what Scripture says about the topic. The parameters and duration are unknown as of yet, but this has been on my heart for quite some time and will hopefully be as beneficial for you as I know it will be for me. My hope is that after this series we will have a better understanding of our sinful tendencies and have a picture of what it means to be more genuine and biblical friends to those around us the way God intended us to do so. So please, stay tuned!