I recently finished reading Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill, a gay, celibate Christian. This is a transcript I gave for a talk at men’s time on Cru Chicago Summer Mission slightly based upon ideas from that book.
Christian poet George Herbert writes “but love is lost; the way of friendship’s gone/though David had his Jonathan and Christ his John.” Herbert lived in the 1600s, but I think these words probably ring even more true today. In the church we make much of romantic relationships, and I want to affirm that these are beautiful and good, and I desire to be married one day, but when these are emphasized without proper attention paid to friendships that aren’t romantic in nature, I believe both singles and those who are dating or married are missing out on what it means for the church to be a family.
Throughout high school and college, I myself have bounced around between many Christian communities and churches and personally have never found that familial feel. Cru Chicago Summer Mission is the closest I have ever felt to this and it makes me extremely sad that I will have to leave. I struggle with deep relationships. I guess I am just kind of socially unaware. I don’t know. As an American male, I am not supposed to admit this. I am not supposed to admit that I often feel alone. I am not supposed to admit that my desires for intimacy are often left unfulfilled. Lust is easy to admit. Everyone struggles with that. Loneliness, not so much. (And for the record lust is a sin. Loneliness is not.)
I basically want to make a sketch of what biblical friendship looks like and then make a few quick observations about friendships.
The greatest example of biblical friendship I have experienced is with my friend Sam. Sure we bonded over our mutual interest in running and fireworks but I have had those interests in common with others as well. Our friendship extends much beyond common interests. Our friendship is centered on our mutual commitment to Christ. This must be the center of our deepest friendships. He has taught me much of the theological knowledge I have and most importantly, he constantly preaches the gospel to me. Like constantly. As I have mentioned, I struggle with depression/anxiety/OCD (I don’t really know which) and often reach points of despair where I feel past the possibility of grace. Every time I send him an emotional text or Facebook message I hope to hear some quick fix and practical solution to my pain, but it never fails that he simply preaches the gospel to me. He points me to the cross and my identity as forgiven and loved in Christ.
Here is a section from a text I received from him after describing the shame I feel over my struggle with lust,
“I feel like sometimes when people are in a similar state to what you seem to be in, they do not need a lot of new information or special, ultra-specific advice. I think you just need someone to tell you stuff you already know. So here it goes. You are loved unconditionally by the God who formed you and knew your sins before the universe was formed and still decided to step on dirt and die on a bloody Roman tree just so He could be with you and give you freedom…Your mental health issues are for sure one of the contributing factors to this – I think recognizing that and naming it will help…I have met with literally hundreds of male Christians in depth at this point and yet to have met one who doesn’t struggle with lust…It sucks. But the only one whose opinion really matters has in love poured out His disgust for you on Jesus. You are justified and sanctified in Christ…Nothing has affected you that is not common to man and you have no sin that God has not forgiven. Lust is bad, but you are free. So be free.”
That is what I know friendship to be. Abraham Kuyper writes “he is your friend who pushes you nearer to God.” Jesus is the ultimate friend, but our earthly friends can point us to that reality. Good friends must be able to comfort in distress and point out sin gently when it comes up. Friends must preach the gospel to their friends.
I am now just going to outline a few things I believe the bible teaches about friendship.
1. Everyone needs friendship. We were created for it.
God is enough, but His enoughness is often found through other people. God did not intend for us to be alone. He did not intend for us to be isolated. Pastor J. D. Greear talks about how loneliness is the one issue that we have due to being created in the image of God rather than as a result of the fall. Because we are created in the image of a triune God, we need friendship. Friendship between the Father. Son and Spirit has existed for eternity. Marriage and family were both created by God. Friendship wasn’t created. It just was because God is God. Living out our life in the image of God requires intimacy and friendship that mirrors the community of the Trinity.
2. Gospel friendship transcends all boundaries
Galatians 3:28 says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gospel friendships will transcend race, ethnicity, age, interests, sexual orientation, political party, socio-economic status, and every other classification possible. We naturally gravitate towards those who are similar to us and it is okay to have friends that we share hobbies and other interests with, but we should also have Christian friends who are completely different than us. I can definitely say that I have become friends with those who I would have never sought out without the gospel through Chicago Summer Mission.
3. Friendship involves radical authenticity.
Matt Chandler writes “love says: I’ve seen the ugly parts of you, and I’m staying.” This is what Christ says to us and it is what we must say to our friends. To comfort and point others to the cross we must know what our friends struggle with. We must know their sin, there fears, and their dreams.
4. Friendship hurts.
Russian Orthodox theologian Pavel Florensky writes “the more friendship there is the more tears there will be.” C. S. Lewis writes,
“to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything at all and your heart will be wrung and possible be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal.”
People are sinful. They will hurt you. Everyone will. I will hurt you and you will hurt me. It is just inevitable. In addition to that, friendship brings you outside of yourself, so that you will feel pain not only when you are hurt, but also when you those who are your friends are hurt. So if you don’t want to feel any pain and heartbreak keep your circle of friends as small as possible and as shallow as possible.
5. Friendship is Biblical.
We are called to love all of our neighbors and even our enemies, but this does not negate the importance of the love of friendship. We see throughout scripture the importance of brotherhood and friendship. Even Jesus had those we would call friends in a way that He wasn’t friends with others. He had his twelve disciples and then his inner circle of Peter, James and John. He was then even closer to John. We are also told of His grieving and mourning for His friend Lazarus. He certainly mourns for the entire world, but there is a certain affection for some that does not seen to include all people.
6. Friends stay.
Catholic author Maggie Gallagher writes about the difference between “you’re mine because I love you” and “I love you because you are mine.” Authentic Christian friendship will reflect the later.. Christian friends will not walk away when a friendship becomes messy or painful. In that sense it is a lot like a marriage.
7. Christian friendship is forever.
The new heaven and new earth will not be a bunch of individual relationships with God. It will be the entire church as a community worshiping together. Marriage and family ties will be cut, but friendship will last through eternity.