[Friendship Gone Wrong] What's the Purpose?
“O, who but the Christian feels such pleasures as are connected with friendship for our dear Lord Jesus Christ?” Samuel Pearce
Friendship FOR Jesus. What a sweet thing indeed. As we discuss Biblical Christian friendship, let us remember that like all other things, it is meant to point us to Christ. Unlike the ingrown friendship model of the world, friendship for Jesus looks outside itself to find its purpose. As John Piper has advocated, it is good that we “have a cluster of comrades in the faith with the mutual agreement that you will continually point each other to Jesus Christ for hope and strength.”
By no means exhaustive, below are four specific purposes that friends should serve in our lives.
1. FRIENDS HELP US FULLY ENJOY GOD
“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” Eph 5:18-19
Things are best enjoyed in community. Your favorite movie is good when you watch it alone. It’s even better with friends. A great meal is enjoyable. But even more satisfying when you share it with friends. God Himself is a perfect triune community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, as those made in His image, we thrive in community. It is hardwired into us to share our joys with others. The best experiences in life are the ones we try to drag our friends into: “You have to see this movie!” “You have to come with me to this restaurant.”
Of all the things we have to enjoy, God is the greatest! We were created to enjoy Him and center our lives on Him! And we enjoy God most fully with other people. Friends help us enjoy God by enjoying Him with us.
Let us not invert this by allowing God to become our means to enjoy people more, only going to Him to ask for more people (husband, friends, kids) to enjoy. He is not the means, but the end Himself.
2. FRIENDS EXPOSE SIN THAT KEEPS US FROM GOD
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. Prov 27:6
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” Gal 6:1
“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal 6:2
“If a brother sins, go and show him his fault.” Matt 18:15
Sin deceives us. It darkens our understanding and makes us fools. So much so that we can be walking in sin and convinced that God is pleased with us. This is why we desperately need friends. We need friends to show us our sin. We need friends to help us see our blind spots. We need others to speak truth in love. (Eph 4:15)
Good friends tell you the truth about yourself. These friends are a grace. But an uncomfortable grace for sure. Who enjoys being told they are wrong? Who enjoys being caught in sin? No one. But on this earth we will struggle with sin. And if we welcome this uncomfortable grace, it will lead us into abundant life, into freedom, and into deeper joy in God.
This is a function of community that few people want. We’d much rather have friends who always tell us what we want to hear, who show us the false grace of excusing sin and give us false hope that we can grow closer to God without repentance. But because sin is a poison to our soul and a thief of joy in God, this is a function of community we cannot afford to forsake.
3. FRIENDS ENCOURAGE US TO OBEY GOD
“Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'Today' so that none of you would fall into the deceitfulness of sin.” Heb 3:13
“Let us consider how to stimulate one another toward love and good deeds." Heb 10:24
While it is true we need friends to help us see our disobedience, we also need them to spur us onto obedience. Without the cheerleading of Christian friends, we can become stagnant, not just by doing wrong things but also by not doing the right things.
Encouragement is giving someone a bigger vision of why her obedience matters in the Kingdom. It is the affirmation that her obedience honors God and the push to keep doing it. Whatever form it takes, encouragement motivates someone to continue running the specific race marked out for her.
4. FRIENDS BRING US TO GOD
“Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” James 5:16
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…” 1 Pet 2:9
“As those who have been chosen of God, … bear with one another and forgive each other.” Col 3:12-13
We are a royal priesthood. Every believer has access into the Holy of Holies with direct access to God. That means each one of us is a priest. Biblically, a priest bridged the gap between God and man by standing in the gap through intercession and sacrifices. While the Final Sacrifice has already been made through Jesus, we are still called a priesthood.
Walking with God in a sin-stained world with our sin-ridden flesh with a hell-bent enemy is too hard to do alone. Alone, we are susceptible to believing the lies of the enemy. Alone, we buckle under the weight of our sin. Alone, we are discouraged and weary in fighting sin. We need the ministry of other believers to bring us to God when we are too weak.
Here are just a few ways friends can bring us to God:
Confession and Prayer
James commands us to confess our sins to other people and have them pray for us so we can be healed. When we confess to others, we feel the weight of our sin to a greater degree and we experience the gracious embrace of God through a friend who reminds us we are already forgiven through the life and death of Jesus.
Bearing each other’s burdens means sharing the load. That may mean regularly listening and praying for a friend who's in a hard season or helping in practical ways. We are called to enter into one another’s suffering and speak truth about who God is and who we are.
Mark 2:3-5 is a great visual of intercession. What the paralytic man couldn’t do for himself, his friends did for him: they brought him to Jesus. Through intercessory prayer, we can bring our friends to God, asking Him to do greater things in their lives than they would have the boldness to pray for themselves.
FRIENDSHIP FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corin 10:31
Did you notice that these purposes all end with the same word? GOD. Like everything else, the purpose of our friendships should center on Him. Let’s stop making God a servant of our friendships and allow our friendships to serve Him and His Kingdom. We cannot glorify God alone, we cannot live for His glory alone. We need each other!
“This is the difference between Christian camaraderie and all other support groups and therapy groups and self-help groups. The whole point of Christian camaraderie is to point each other to Christ, not man, for help and strength.” – John Piper
HEALTHY VS. UNHEALTHY FRIENDSHIPS
We’ve spent a good bit of time discussing unhealthy, codependent friendships and now what healthy, God-centered friendships are. Below is a chart to help simplify these differences and make them easier to identify.
WHO DO YOU WORSHIP?
Hopefully you can now see the difference between a healthy, thriving, God-centered friendship and an unhealthy, codependent, people-centered friendship. One is based on God-worship, one is based on people-worhsip.
We were created to worship a good God and have our lives centered on Him. Our relationships with people are meant to point us to Him. Let’s not reverse the order. Do not let God be a means to an end, looking to Him only to as a vehicle to get a best friend, boyfriend, husband, or child.
Talking about God and doing spiritual things does not necessarily mean you worship Him. Why not take serious evaluation of your relationships and prayerfully ask the following questions to see if you have been worshiping a person, not God:
- Is there anyone in my life I feel like I cannot live without?
- Who do I consistently talk to first about a difficulty before I go to God in prayer?
- Who in my life, when absent, makes me feel incomplete?
Have you realized through this series that you are in an unhealthy friendship? Have you had a wrong view of friendships and their purpose? In Part 5, we'll talk about some steps you can take toward freedom.