We have too many connections and too little intentional biblical friendships in life. What is a biblical friendship? How do we start them? How to we keep them and grow them? This week we hear a presentation given by indoubt’s host, Isaac Dagneau, at this year’s Apologetics Canada Conference on biblical friendship.
Biblical friendships clearly reflect who God is. Friendship actually is most clearly seen in God. If we want to know what friendship is, we have to know God himself. I mean, we think of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. C.S. Lewis calls it the dance. Like, there’s this community within God, so we want or should want to do all we can to reflect God as image bearers of God, so we can’t do that on our own. We have to do it with others. That’s why it’s not good for man to be alone. We need to be able to reflect God with other people.
Now, biblical friendship is a topic that’s close to my heart because of the lack of it not only in my life, but I think I could say in the life of many Christians and in the church, biblical strong friendships. When we look around today, we certainly see connections. I mean, they’re all over the place, but the question is, are these connections that we’re seeing and that we’re experiencing in our lives, are they fulfilling and accomplishing what actually matters most in our life as Christians? I would think, and I suggest, that more Christians have way too many connections and too little intentional biblical friendships, friendships that literally reflect our God and speak loudly to our culture in a very defending-the-faith kind of way.
Now, before we go any longer down that road, we have to define and separate in a sense “biblical friendship” from just “friendship,” so let’s start with friendships first. I read this on a blog, and there’s so many ways to define what friendship is and, probably, lots of really good ways, but I really like what they had to say here. Friendship is comprised of three things, association, loyalty, and affection. Those are sort of the three ingredients that come together to make friendship, and it totally makes sense.
A friend is someone you’ve obviously associated with, whether it’s online in our culture today, digitally, or in person to person – you’ve associated with them. You know them, but there’s also loyalty. There’s enough care for this person, but maybe not just for that person, but for what they’re involved in, what they are for, what they are against, so you can go to a rally or you can go to a church service and there’s some sort of loyalty you have with someone that you don’t even really know, but you’re associated with them and you’re loyal to them because they’re for the same cause that you are. There you go, association and loyalty, but it’s not just that. Friendship is also affection. There’s some sort of deeper love going on. It’s deeper than merely just a companion. 1 Samuel 18 talks about the friendship, the beautiful friendship between Jonathan and David, and it says that Jonathan’s soul was knit to that of David’s, and that’s a really beautiful, kind of poetical, mysterious idea to understand this affection. Jonathan had an affection for David and vice versa.
Anyways, friendships are everywhere though. It’s association, loyalty, affection, and they can be experienced by anyone. I thank God for the grace that he’s poured out not just for the just, but the unjust in giving this experience for everybody. It doesn’t matter what race or your religion or what region of the earth you’re from. You can experience friendship, and I think that’s really powerful.
Now, the majority of this workshop though is not just about friendship per se, but we’re talking about intentional biblical friendship. Jonathan Holmes, he’s a Christian counselor-pastor from Cleveland, Ohio, at Parkside Church. It’s the church that Alistair Begg preaches. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. He’s a famous pastor with a nice accent. Anyways, he wrote a book recently, I think back in 2015, three years ago, called, The Company We Keep, or the company you keep, and it’s a book on biblical friendship, and I had him on the show last year because I wanted to talk to him about what is biblical friendship.In his book, this is how he defines it, and it’s a little bit long, but if you want to write anything down, the first sentence is pretty much the main point and then it kind of explains it, but he says this. “Biblical friendship exists when two or more people, bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, pursue him and his kingdom with intentionality and vulnerability.” He goes on to say, “Rather than serving as an end in itself,” which is really important when it comes to friendships. It’s not to serve as an end in itself, “Rather than that, biblical friendship serves primarily to bring glory to Christ, who brought us into friendship with the Father. It is indispensable to the work of the gospel in the earth and an essential element of what God created us for.”
My shortened definition is just biblical friendships are Christians following Jesus side by side so close as to help bear one another’s deepest burdens as they make their way, as Christian would say in The Pilgrim’s Progress, to the Celestial City together, “Let’s go,” so, in a biblical friendship, this is a person or a small group that I’m going to be open with and I’m going to be completely vulnerable with. I’m going to tell them about the hurts that I’ve experienced when my parents got a divorce. I’m going to tell them about all these, my dreams and my joys and what hurts and what’s good in my life. I’m going to be so open with them all for the purpose of running after Jesus and seeking his kingdom, not to be affirmed and not to be valued more. It’s to seek Jesus together.
You could say that biblical friendship is an intentional form of the basic friendship we talked about, so it’s association, loyalty, affection for the purpose of you and the other person or a small group seeking Jesus together.
The famous theologian, Augustine, he quotes Cicero’s definition of friendship, which is awesome, and then he adds to it, so Cicero says, “Friendship is agreement with kindliness and affection about things human and divine,” and then Augustine adds, “In Christ Jesus, our Lord who is our real peace,” so you’re not seeking after friendship because you guys both want to have peace with one another. You’re actually seeking something together and you’re coming alongside one another because you have an agreement with something, and then Christ is your peace, so you’re not using your friend to gain this sense of peace.
C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, he says this, that lovers are face to face in the sense that they’re just in love with one another and there’s no seeking for pleasure other than the other person’s presence. Those of you here that are married, you get that. There is this sense that I only want you and we’re looking at each other here, but friendship, Lewis says, is shoulder to shoulder. It’s side by side. You’re not looking at the other person because the other person isn’t your end goal, and they’re not your end goal. Something else is both of your end goals and you are traveling with one another so close to that one thing.
I don’t know if you’re starting to catch on here the idea of biblical … It’s really simple actually, biblical friendships, but it’s important that we just think about it very simply so that we can help us be more intentional about it, but this is why strong bonds are formed in players on sports teams or soldiers in war and, hopefully, Christians in church. These three examples, they show us multiple people who are sacrificing themselves. They’re showing mercy to one another. They’re showing compassion to one another. They’re rebuking and correcting one another for a purpose, which is so important.
Unfortunately, when I was thinking about this, it hurt to realize this, but, unfortunately, I would think that, many Christians, they don’t gather on a church … on a Sunday at a church gathering or at any kind of Christian fellowship, they won’t gather like that of two Canuck players would gather on game day. They gather, the Canuck players would, because not only is the game fun, but, more importantly, there’s a desire and an intent to win together and, in many cases, strong friendships are born from the team because the players are compelled to sacrifice for one another. They are compelled to forgive one another.
I couldn’t imagine being a goalie on some team constantly having to ask for forgiveness, “I’m so sorry, you guys. I let another one in. It’s terrible,” and pushing one another, correcting one another, like pushing them so hard. You see, for many in the church and at Christian fellowship, they feel like it is boring. I certainly did in grade 11 when I was not going with a purpose.
A good chunk of us, we’re not going with any purpose rather than tradition, religiosity or for some sort of selfish enjoyment. We’re not going for this purpose of seeking Jesus, of glorifying Jesus and, therefore, we’re only connecting with others that meet our needs, and that’s why so many churches and young adult groups have so many cliques and why many feel alone in the church and, even if they’ve been a part of the youth group or the church for years, they still feel alone because they haven’t been able to come alongside someone and seek Jesus together, because people are going to seek for their own satisfaction.
That’s why this study is so important. Even in the realm of defending the faith, oftentimes, people experience church and Christian gatherings in the exact same way that they experience everything else, and they just feel so alone afterwards, so biblical friendship truly is the remedy that brings true Christian unity and God’s glory. It’s a really beautiful thing, so that’s sort of the introduction. Let’s get into some of the practical things here.
How do we start a biblical friendship? I hope in that introduction I was able to pique your interest and you’re like, “Okay, I’m in. Let’s do this,” so how would you start a biblical friendships? Two things, the first thing is this, be wanting Jesus. Excellent grammar. Be wanting Jesus. We have to realize that biblical friendships, this is almost obvious, they can’t be started or kept unless we want Jesus. That is the prerequisite for biblical friendships, a genuine desire for Jesus, and it could be small. It can be you want to want Jesus. I wake up many morning and I’m like I really want … I have to pray, “Lord, I want to want to you.” I’m just being honest with myself. Some of you probably feel the same way sometimes.
Tim Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage, he writes that, “Christian friendship is not simply about going to concerts together or enjoying the same sporting event,” although it’s not not that, but he goes on, “It is the deep oneness that develops as two people journey together toward the same destination, helping one another through the dangers and challenges along the way.”
For us, as Christians, that same destination is Jesus in glory, so notice that this idea of friendship not just being an end in itself has been universally, from 2,000 years ago even up to now, that’s kind of what we understand it to be. Friendship is when you’re seeking something together and you come alongside with one another.
We’re talking about be wanting Jesus. Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8, powerful words that are very convicting. He says this, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”
The question you have to ask yourself if you’re interested and want biblical friendships is, “Do I want to know Jesus? Do I truly want to gain Jesus? Am I willing to suffer the loss of all things for the sake of gaining Jesus?” because our capacity for biblical friendships is only so large or only so small as our willingness to lose all things for the sake of Christ. Does that make sense? It’s powerful.
The next thing that is included in this is this. More than that, there has to be the desire to see others want Jesus. Like most team-based sports, you don’t individually win. It’s not about that. You collectively win. Jesus, and I’m not a heretic, I don’t think, but Jesus didn’t do what he did 2,000 years ago so that you alone would be saved and filled with joy. Jesus did that 2,000 years ago for the collective church, his bride, to be saved and filled with joy. You’re in this together, so to start a biblical friendship, we want to lose all for the sake of Christ and we want to see others lose everything for the sake of Jesus.
The second point to starting a biblical friendship is this. Be unnaturally or awkwardly intentional. Be very intentional. Biblical friendships can by all means happen organically, and they do, and that’s great. Some of you have strong biblical friendships today, and that’s awesome, but many times, at least for me, it takes determined, hard work. We need to do an informal inventory of our friends. This is how practical you got to be and intentional.
Do an inventory of your friendships and ask yourself, “Okay, which of these friends am I going to seek God with?” and then ask yourself, “Who do I want to see and help grow closer to Jesus?” This is a really powerful question. Our culture is a consumeristic culture. We have been taught to just think about us. If you actually sit down and ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand, “Who of my friends do I want to see grow closer to you, Jesus?” that is a powerful question, and the truth will be, if you do honestly ask that, someone will come to mind. Even now, maybe someone’s already come into your mind. Who do you want to see among your friends grow closer to Jesus?
The next step is probably the most unnatural and probably awkward, and that is that you’re going to want to get them on board with you. You’re going to want to be like, “Hey, let’s do this thing together. Let’s go to the Celestial City with one another side by side,” so this is what you want to do.
You’re going to be like, “Hey, I care about our friendship.” Yeah, you’re texting, “I care so much about it that I want to be more intentional with you as we run the race and we fight the fight of faith together side by side. This doesn’t mean I want to stop playing Settlers of Catan with you on Saturdays or I want to stop going shopping with you or I want to stop going on hikes with you,” or whatever it may be that you do, “But it does mean,” I’m still texting, “I want there to be intentional times of sharing our burdens with one another, intentional times of praying with one another, worshiping God through song together, studying God’s word together,” and if all … I’m still going, “And if all our time in one week or two weeks or how often we get together, if all that time is just put towards those former things, then I’m willing,” you’re putting yourself out there, “I’m willing to sacrifice those things so that we can do this together, so we can fight the fight of faith together. Are you in?” and then send.
You can say that in your own words to your friends. This will probably be a little bit awkward, but here’s what I can say about it to encourage you is that those of your friends who are genuinely like Spirit-filled, like Jesus-loving people, born again Christians, their spirit will leap when you ask that. They’re going to feel cared for. They’re going to feel like, “Oh, my goodness, here’s a friend that just doesn’t want to go shopping with me again or just doesn’t want to hike with me again. Here’s a friend that actually cares about my soul,” so awkward, but super important.
I guarantee that your friend, when you ask that, will be very excited, and those of your friends that say, “Sorry. I can’t,” it does not mean they’re not Christians at all. It just might mean there’s so much on their plate right now that it might be hard. I’m having a baby in two weeks, so if a friend asked me that in two weeks, I might say, “I have to focus on some other things right now.”
Anyways, especially at the beginning though, being intentional about literally planning time is really, really important, so if your friends are coming over to watch the game with you, maybe tell them to come over an hour early or stay an hour later so you can actually have time so it’s not swallowed up with the game. You can actually have time to talk and pray with one another.
All right, so you start biblical friendships by wanting Jesus and wanting friends to want Jesus and by being intentional. Let’s move on to how we keep and sustain and grow friendship. The first thing is sacrifice, which is obvious. From your time to your money, to your pride, to your reputation, to anything in your life, you must be willing to sacrifice it for the sake of this other or these other people.
Jesus obviously is our example here. He shows us what sacrifice is to the very highest degree. In John 15:13, a beautiful verse that many of us know, “Greater love has no one than this that someone laid down his life for his friends.” Huge. Sacrifice looks like putting down your will, your wants, your ambitions, even your life at times to better another in whatever form that may look like. I mean, we see Jesus as our example in that he gave himself for us. Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 5:2, Titus 2:14, they all say the same thing. He gave himself for us, and Paul says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” We’ve got to imitate Christ in this, to give ourselves for others. The motive here, you want to selflessly sacrifice. You sacrifice your time, your energy, your money in this biblical friendship because your friend’s joy in Christ is of utter importance. That’s huge. It’s radical.
After Paul says to the Philippians that to live is Christ and to die is to gain, and then he literally says, “Honestly, guys, to depart from this world and to be with Christ is of … I really want to do that,” Paul says. He says, “But to remain with you is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all,” on what basis? “For your progress and joy in faith.” That’s radical. That’s amazing.
Here we have Paul sacrificing his want to just to be with Jesus. He’s sacrificing that so that he can help this group of Christians grow and have joy in the faith, and that is your and that’s my motive in our biblical friendships. This life is not about us. Maybe the most important thing we can know about biblical friendships is that it’s not about us, but about God’s glory and about bettering other people, and it’s this kind of sacrifice, guys, this selfless sacrifice that is such a strong defense to the faith in this world.
Obviously, Jesus says in John 13 that the world will know us by our love for one another, this selfless sacrifice for one another. We also see Jonathan as an example, sacrificing so much for his friend, David, that Jonathan was next in line to be king, but he sacrifices even that because he loves David and he sees the anointing on David’s life to become king. That’s the first thing, sacrifice. The second thing is compassion. It’s no doubt, like I already said, that we live in a consumer culture. We’re trained over and over and over again to get the latest thing, use it for our pleasure for the moment and then, when it stops benefiting us or when other people tell us that it’s not cool anymore, we throw it away.
That’s what we do, and, sadly, our world can culture us into treating people the exact same way and friends the exact same way, and I’m sure that, I mean, there’s a lot of people in this room, that you have done that to a friend or you have been treated by a friend like that. I’ve experienced some of that, too, and it’s because we have this consumerist culture kind of mindset in this.
If there is no compassion in our friendships, then we are not walking alongside of them towards Jesus, but we are looking at them for some sort of fulfilling. We’re looking at them for affirmation. We’re looking at them for this sense of value and meaning and, as soon as they stop doing that, we just leave them, but here is the reality here. Your friends will fail you. You’ve experienced that, and you will fail your friends. I’ve experienced that. There are numerous relationships even in the church that never have reconciled because of one failure that someone has made and the person will not forgive them.
Some of you probably know that. I’ve had that in my family before, too, and it’s so sad to see that there was no compassion on the other. We all know this, but it’s so important. Peter asks Jesus, he’s like, “Jesus, how many times am I supposed to forgive my dang brother over here? Seven times?” “No. Seven times 70. Just always forgive your brother.” All of Jesus’ disciples failed him when Jesus needed him most even after they boasted of their loyalty to him, and yet Jesus forgives them all.
In the same way that John writes 1 John 4:19, which is a beautiful verse, memorize it, it’s the most beautiful verse, “We love because he first loved us.” This gospel-rich verse, obviously, compassion is part of that. We show compassion on our friends because Christ has shown compassion on us. We are Peter, denying Jesus all the time and yet being forgiven by Jesus all the time, so Jesus is our model when it comes to sacrifice, when it comes to compassion. Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times.” Proverbs 18:24, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Through failure, through hard times, friends are constantly there, showing this compassion.
Okay, moving on to fearlessness. This is the third one, sacrifice, compassion, fearlessness. What do I mean by fearlessness? What we’re talking about is that, in your friendship, you are not fearful of rebuking your friend. I think this is one of the most … one of the ones that is lacking most in friendships today. You’re not fearful of their possible rejection of you when you rebuke them or their frustration or annoyance or anger of you, and you’re not in fear of those watching your friendship, so the reputation of your friendship being affected because of your rebuke of them.
Proverbs 27:6 is a beautiful verse. It says this very poetically, but it simply says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friends.” That’s powerful. “Profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” You see, when humble correction takes place, when someone, your friend humbly corrects you in your sin or whatever it may be, your friend is ultimately being faithful. They’re being faithful to the purpose of the friendship, and that is that you and them would see and reach Jesus in his kingdom.
There needs to be more criticism in the church. I’ll explain that a little bit because, in some ways, no, but, yes, in some ways we do. Now, we’re not talking about arrogant, legalistic, sinful judgment. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about honest, truthful and, ultimately, loving rebuke, and it should never just end there. Like you go up and be like, “I rebuke you,” and then just walk away. That’s not what we’re talking about. This is a constant, like continuing on, helping restore kind of rebuke and, when we do this, we’re not unaware of the log that is in our own eye. We’re completely aware of this.
When judgment happens, just as a side note, so often people go to Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount and then say “You can’t be judged” in Matthew 7. No one ever talks about Galatians 6:1, and I think Galatians 6:1 is an underrated verse that we got to bring back into the light, but it literally says, “If you see a brother or a sister in transgression, restore them in a spirit of gentleness.”
That is a command for us, and that, when we don’t do that, we are disobeying our God and father when we don’t restore our brother or sister in gentleness, but Paul warns, “Be careful when you do that because you don’t want to also fall into temptation,” and I would think at that moment you will be tempted to be proud or, obviously, self-righteous at the time when you do this, but it’s in there, and we can do that. Every time we skip addressing a friend’s sin for the sake of love, though it’s actually the fear of men, we’re killing them. “Iron sharpens iron,” this old man says in Proverbs 27:17.
There has to be grading going on in biblical friendships. One of my favourite places to actually see this is the story in Galatians 2, where you have Paul and Peter, I don’t know if you know the story, Paul and Peter are hanging out with some Greek Christians in Antioch, and you know that, in the 1st Century, there was a lot of tension between Jewish Christians and Greek Gentile Christians.
Peter is a Jew, and Paul was now out, bringing in Greek Christians into the kingdom, obviously, so Peter is like, “Yes, I’m all for that.” He had the vision, all that kind of stuff of all the different unclean animals coming down to understand, “Okay, yes, Gentiles can receive the gospel,” so he is here. Peter is communing and fellowshipping with the Greek Christians, but here comes from Jerusalem this super pious circumcised Jew. He’s like, “You need the Mosaic Law and all that kind of stuff,” and as soon as they enter, we know the story. What does Peter do? This is bold Peter. This is Peter after Pentecost. He retreats from the Greeks and the Gentiles because he wants to appease the Jews, and Paul is furious and Paul corrects Peter to his face.
Did Paul go through with that because he wanted the enjoyment of seeing Peter humiliated in front of everyone? I don’t think so. I don’t think that was the intent. I think it was because of the purpose of the relationship, which was the glory of Jesus and that the gospel is for all people. When he saw his brother in sin, he wanted to help … He needs to correct him here.
We also see that with Priscilla and Aquila correcting Apollos when Apollos didn’t quite get the gospel. Right there, they had to correct him to help him, so correction is there, okay? We need to rebuke. We need to correct and restore our friends, but we also need to be rebukable, if that’s a word, correctable and restorable people as well, so whether you see a friend in sin or your friend sins against you, don’t do what we so often can do. We go and talk to other people about it. That doesn’t make any sense. Go to them alone in a spirit of gentleness and talk to them.
Matthew 18 is so clear. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and talk to him alone, and if he listens to you, you’ve gained a brother.” It’s a beautiful thing. We’re so cultured to think that rebuking a friend is offensive and to be rebuked is offensive. We’re trained in the mind to think, “I can’t rebuke or correct a friend because I’m just as sinful as them,” but if we actually believe that, then nothing would get done. Paul knew he had a thorn in his flesh and yet he still called out Peter’s sin, and we have to do that as well.
Again, this isn’t arrogant judgment. This is not anything like that. It’s humble correction motivated by the purpose of you and them seeing Jesus, going to the Celestial City together, and I wouldn’t suggest that you talk to a friend about their sin unless you can get into that mindset first to save you from falling into sin.