In part one of this series on Gospel Friendship, I identified four ways to spot counterfeit or lacking relationships.
Now taking a look at Christ, we can see how he navigated friendship. As I said before, friendships are a major factor in our quality of life and discipleship. For a variety of reasons, including mission, influence, care, sanctification, joy, and many more, God cares deeply for our friendships. Whether we are paying attention to it or not, our relational health is affected by how we invest, neglect, or sabotage our friendships.
Below are five life-learnings for me that I’ve seen both in Christ and my own life:
1. Significant gospel friendships aren’t with everyone.
In his humanity, Jesus could be one place at a time, just like us. While Christ is a friend of sinners and loved almost everyone he encountered*, he was still limited by his location. Jesus had twelve disciples and three “inner-circle” friends. This is incredibly profound. In his humanity, Jesus had relational limitations, evidenced not only by his friend roster but also in his patterns of silence and solitude away from the crowds.
In other words, the kind of love and friendship he gave the crowds and they way he loved the disciple John was different. If the only man to ever be relationally perfect chose and heeded limitations, why in the world would we believe that we wouldn’t need to do the same?
Many of us live as though our relational well has no bottom, that we can continue to draw up as much energy and margin as we need to…and that is simply not true. The truth is that we do have relational limitations and ignoring them will cause relational strain and destruction.
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24
2. We can’t have gospel friendship with no one.
While it’s a true that we can only go deep with a short list of people, we also need to go deep with a short list of people. I covered this a bit in my last post, but we can’t thrive when we don’t have friendships in our lives. Jesus made time for this, and we see him lean on them multiple times (even if they didn’t always reciprocate or nail it). To fully experience the love of the Father, we must receive real love from others who know the real us.
3. Gospel friendship always involves risk.
Think on this: Jesus chose his closest friends knowing in advance they would:
lie to him
“But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the other disciples said the same. ” – Matthew 26:35
“ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter.” – Matthew 26:40
“The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” – John 18:17
He was literally left to die. Yet, he still engaged them and invested in them. I am not making a case for subjecting yourself to abuse or ignoring patterns of abandonment or neglect in your relationships. Just because relationship requires risk doesn’t mean you should subject yourself to any form of abuse with someone who calls you friend.
“Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” – Proverbs 26
Any friendship on this earth means opening yourself to another imperfect human. As a result, there is no version of friendship (or any relationship) that doesn’t contain an element of risk. All friendships are work so pick the ones that are worth the risk.
4. Gospel friendship means inviting others into the whole story.
Jesus brought his closest friends into his greatest suffering and most amazing experiences. This shows us that real friendship means access to the good and the bad. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to the mount of Transfiguration Mark 9:2 (which makes the Superbowl half-time show look like a pre-school play) but he also takes them to the Garden of Gethsemane.
In Mark 14 when he’s emotionally and spiritually preparing to be beaten, stripped naked, and suffocate on a roman device of torture, he does something subtle but very important:
“And he took with him Peter and James and John“
Notice the language that “he took”. He actively invited them into the adventures and the suffering. Some of us prefer to only show the wins and highlights of our lives to others. Some of us only reach out when things are spiraling downward towards disaster. This is something we all need to better balance in our lives.
5. Gospel friendships are worth it.
Jesus pursued friendship and spent most of his time with others building relationships. This shows us that real friendship is something to treasure. Being known and loved is one of our greatest needs for human flourishing. There is no healthy discipleship or existence without the presence and love of others in our lives.
If you have friendship like this, continue to feed it. Be thankful for those in your life that have lived these things out. Don’t forget to celebrate the ways in which you have been blessed by your friends. Has someone been there for you in hard times? Has someone said something encouraging that deeply affected you? Thank God and them for that right now. Send a text or make a phone call simply to thank them for bringing such a great gift to your life.
In the last post in the series, I’ll offer a few practical ways to pursue gospel friendship in your own life. Check back soon.