In the last post, I examined the mutuality of Christian friendships, a foundational idea that has set the table for the rest of these posts. Next, we’ll look at love. Please watch this short video (approx. 3-minutes) as an introduction–or you can skip it if you please:
Joe is running. Actually he’s hauling, committed to a full on sprint. The woman he loves is leaving, about to fly to Paris for a new job, but he’s since realized that she is the love of his life and he can’t live without her. He chases her down with a plan to stop her, to confess his love to her–presumably down on one knee–and to keep her from ever boarding that plane to France. As he runs he imagines their life together, their marriage and subsequent family: four children, no more and no less; a house by the lake; the sun setting and the two of them holding hands as they wander through the nearby forest. These thoughts make him run even faster. But wait a minute. Since when was Joe’s love about his dreams?!
I never understood this about airport love scenes. A man purposes himself to swoop a girl from her dreams just so he can fulfill his own. And at the end of it everyone gives a collective sigh, their hearts melting at the “love” that this man has for the woman when all the while his love is really for himself! This is what society has conditioned us to define as love: that as long as you state that you love someone or something, it’s ok to be selfish. In fact, this selfish attitude has plagued us since the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden. When Adam was interrogated about his sin of eating the forbidden fruit, he replied defiantly saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen 3:12). Adam loved himself above Eve in that moment, and mankind has struggled with this sinful tendency ever since.
Yet we see that the bible’s description of Christian love is wildly different. It’s a reconciled love, a redeemed love that we’re able to tap into only because we know the Father and his example of love toward us first (1 John 4:19). We know that love as defined by God “does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13:5), and we see perfect love displayed in the life and death of Christ. First Corinthians 13 is a go to chapter on love–though it’s used more often in wedding homilies than in addressing friendships–and it describes the kind of love we should carry into our friendships: a patient, forgiving, truth rejoicing love.
Now, we know all this in our minds but what keeps us from living it out in our actions? We know we should be patient in love but why do we brood in bitterness while waiting for our tardy friends? We know we should keep no record of wrong, yet it’s only logical that we remind our friends of their mistakes so they don’t make them again, right? Our minds know what love should look like but we often second guess the practicality of it in our lives; it is in these moments that we justify our lack of love for the sake of feeling comfortable with our sinfulness. The root of a lack of love is ultimately sin, which is then manifested in various ways. Every time we decide not to love a friend rightly, we sin against God because we’ve placed our own standards on a relationship that can only be defined by God’s standard. Paul Tripp, in his book Relationships: A Mess Worth Making writes, “Since relationships are about being other-centered, the self-centeredness of sin will inevitably subvert God’s design.” We’re telling the Creator that he made a mistake in how he designed us and that, in fact, we know better than Him. This, my friends, is the epitome of arrogance.
For men, this sinfulness might not be manifested in blatantly selfish thoughts or actions but you’re not excluded from the group. Perhaps you might think that you’re a pretty generous guy, that you are willing to be flexible and not cause conflict among your friends. First of all, don’t mistake passivity for love: just because you’re too passive or too lazy to make a decision doesn’t mean that you’re loving. Your inborn personality hasn’t made you more or less loving from the get-go. You still need to work on loving your friends better, and in most cases, you might have to work harder.
Secondly, have you considered the fact that not being involved is equally unloving? Men often give in to their own comfort and fail to develop friendships that are worthwhile and encouraging. We’d rather talk about sports and girls than actually have to think of advice for a brother struggling with sin, so we just don’t talk about serious issues. Our conversations go as far as sports talk radio and we assume that our friends will come crawling through the doggy door if they ever needed help. So we load up on “manly” conversations that act more as an indictment of our love for ourselves rather than our love for others.
Is this the biblical picture of love? Did Paul ever write about superfluous issues–like the economy or his favorite sports teams–to Corinth or Philippi? Was John oblivious to the state of the churches in Revelation 2 and 3? No. In fact Paul knew the struggles that his brothers and sisters were going through, even to the nitty-gritty (1 Cor. 5), and John was able to accurately assess sin within each of the churches. Not only that, but Paul wrote an entire epistle on behalf of a fellow brother, Onesimus, knowing his situation and what needed to be done (just read the book of Philemon)! These men were intimately involved in the lives of their brothers because of their love for them; they considered their brothers even more valuable and precious than their own lives. Paul was clear when he wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:2-3).
Loving a friend takes work, but it is what we’re called to do. Relationships this side of eternity are going to be messy and require a lot of work, but there are immense blessings in loving others, and love has an irresistible drawing power. We need to work on our love in our friendships. We need to be aware of our brothers and sisters. We need to ask questions. We need to place ourselves in situations where friendships can be established and nurtured. Don’t deprive yourself of the rich relationships that can be developed after a Sunday worship service or small group meeting by leaving early. Instilling a habit of love toward friends will require effort, but don’t lose sight of the fact that our loves comes not from ourselves but rather from the glorious God who has set the standard.
Next Friendship Fundamental: Commitment