Supernatural Friendship

BIBLE-VERSES-ABOUT-FRIENDSHIPloyalty

Hey TD!

With so much formerly-unquestioned institutions, definitions, relationships, etc. being redefined and made hazy in our culture today (i.e. marriage, gender, sexuality, etc.), the idea of true friendship hasn’t been immune; and neither has Christian friendship.  As with everything else, we need to go back to God, the Author of friendship, for the right and proper idea and intention for friendship.

I read a great article on Christ-driven friendship this morning in Tabletalk magazine by Ryan Townsend (Executive Director of 9Marks in Washington D.C.) and thought that it would be good for the rest of you to read and consider for yourselves and for God’s honor. – Arthur

Supernatural Friendship

by Ryan Townsend

One of my favorite songs in high school was U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

It captured my youthful angst and dissatisfaction in this world and its friendships. Now, I had a great childhood, and I’ve always been a happy extrovert. But I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, and never experienced the full joy of Christian fellowship until I found Jesus—in a local, evangelical church on Capitol Hill, when I was twenty-three years old. God used friendships in this church to bring me to Christ (Matt. 5:16). Then, the Lord used (and is using) these relationships to help me grow in Christ (Col. 1:28). This has been the greatest existential joy I’ve experienced here on earth (Ps. 34:8). It makes my heart long for heaven, where we will have unending, joy-filled fellowship with God and all believers (Rev. 21:3). So, friendship is deeply important for the Christian life and ministry. And the church is foundational in all this. Here are three reasons why.

Blood-Bought Fellowship

The Apostle John tells us, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This verse captures the relationship between the gospel, the church, and friendship. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins, and we have genuine, joy-filled fellowship with God and with one another—if we walk in the light, that is; if we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus. This means that the church is a blood-bought community that grounds us in real relationship—with our Creator and with one another. It gives us real friendships that are unlike any other.

Biblical friendship, then, is a committed love that unites us in fellowship and allows us to finish the race and fight for faith together, through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). And a local church is the gospel setting in which these friendships take place and allow God’s love to reverberate into the world. The church is the community where we serve King Jesus and learn to walk in a manner worthy of Christ—together, with friends. This community thereby allows us to encourage and exhort one another in the faith through the friendships it creates.

Encouragement and Exhortation

During high school, I visited England. We were driving one afternoon in the country, and I remember seeing a flock of sheep for the first time in my life, stumbling down the road right in front of us. I had never seen sheep so closely before. I thought sheep were white, but they’re not. Up close, they’re dirty—and messy and stupid. Some were falling into the ditch by the roadside; some were going the wrong way and biting at each other. But after ten minutes or so, with the help of the shepherds and the sheepdogs, they all made it home safely to the sheepfold.

In the same way, stronger and weaker Christians need one another—for love, discipleship, and encouragement. You see, we’re often like those sheep. We snap at one another and are easily swayed off the path. We fall into ditches and go the wrong way, but, by God’s grace, by being together in a flock, we can make it down the road.

This means we’re better stuck in the middle of the flock, even if it inconveniences our lives now. Why? If you know your own heart well, you know that it is actually more dangerous to be alone or on the edge of the flock because we’re prone to wander. Older men and women in the faith are commanded by Paul to disciple and encourage younger Christians (Titus 2). Younger Christians are also called to care for and love older Christians. That means that in the church, there is no such thing as an individualistic Christian. God has bound us together as one body in Christ and commanded us to care for one another (Heb. 10:24–25).

By joining a local church, stronger and weaker Christians make their love for Christ definite by loving others in a committed fashion. These friendships become the instrument that enables us to:

Encouragement is a powerful antidote to unbelief. And friendships are a great gift of God that bring us together in covenant love.

By God’s grace, they enable us to carry out the countless “one another” commands and make disciples who image His holy, pure, unified, and loving wisdom (Eph. 3:10). This brings us to the third reason why friendships are important to the Christian life.

A Display of God’s Glory

When Christians covenant together in genuine fellowship, these friendships image God well and put His character on display as the gospel unites people across great barriers amid great diversity.

In his book Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson tells us:

Ideally . . . the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common ancestry, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. . . . In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

We sacrifice our comforts, preferences, resources, time, and habits to help foster unity in diversity, and serve as a picture of supernatural, God-glorifying friendships that image God in our communities, commend the gospel, and bring joyful satisfaction and blessing in our own lives.

So, ultimately, friendships are important for the Christian life and ministry because they create a supernatural, compelling community that displays and protects the gospel, transforms lives and communities, and shines as a beacon of hope in a dark world. This is God’s plan for the local church (Eph. 2:13–3:21), and He carries it out for our good and His glory.

© Tabletalk magazine. For permissions, please see our Copyright Policy

Ryan Townsend is executive director of 9Marks in Washington, D.C.

TD Friday: Ohana Means Family and Family Means …

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Hey TD’ers!

My family returned recently from the most externally beautiful and the most internally and familially beautiful trip we’ve ever had together.  In a word, it was … Narnia … for us.  My heart was so full of richness, it hurt (and still does).  There was a  mutual loyalty and friendship felt that’s hard to describe. “Heaven” was an oft used word. One phrase my boys uttered a few times was, “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.”

It made me think of what heaven’s designed to be like.  The external beauty will surely be there … and so will the internal beauty and richness of loyal friendships, with God and His ohana.  And if our friends (Christian and non-Christian alike) are going to get an idea of heaven, it ought to be via seeing or experiencing authentic Christian “ohana” relationships, where life is laid down one for another (like Christ did) and no one in the “ohana” gets left behind or forgotten.

The Christian church isn’t lacking in verbal arguments or defenses, or even in niceness and nice gestures; but it IS lacking in sacrificial Christ-like others-centered commitment in its Christian “ohana” relationships. And that is a damaging apologetic.  Who wants to join a “family” that isn’t even loyal to each other? Even gangs know better than this (see my message).

Jesus said, “By THIS all people will know that you are My disciples …”  What’s “THIS”? He answers, “… if you have love for one another.”  The word used for love there is agape, the most committed, determined, loyal kind of love in the Greek language; the word used for God’s love.

It’s this kind of demonstrative apologetic that we need to develop … and it is HARD.  But it is what we’ll be working on this Friday at TD in our discussion groups.

“Improving Our Impotence” (mp3 – Arthur)

So, in preparation for this vital discussion, please review my last message, “Improving Our Impotence,” as well as the recent blog posts on loyalty and friendship.

Until TD! – Arthur

The Importance of Friendship

Hey TD,

Greetings from the Big Island in Hawaii!  One of the primary goals Sandra and I had in raising our family was to give us the best chance we knew how to become best friends at the heart and friendship levels, and not just to be linked biologically.  No guarantees that it would happen, of course, but we wanted to at least foster the opportunity for it to come to fruition.

It’s also what we’ve tried to grant the opportunity for in ministry – to foster and give the opportunities for people to forge long-lasting, conviction-based, loyal, enduring, edifying friendships that are formed around Jesus Christ, His His values, and His work.

True lasting godly friendships are few and far between, not easy to develop or maintain, but are worth the effort to forge and protect! Proverbs 18:24 shares, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Here’s a good reminder for us on the  importance of friendship by Michael Heykin, a friend of Ligonier Ministries. – Arthur

The Importance of Friendship

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The New Testament knows nothing of solitary Christianity. One of the great sources of spiritual strength is Christian friendship and fellowship. John Calvin, who has had the undeserved reputation of being cold, harsh, and unloving, knew this well and had a rich appreciation of friendship. The French Reformed historian Richard Stauffer reckoned that there were few men at the time of the Reformation “who developed as many friendships” as Calvin. Two of his closest friends were his fellow Reformers Guillaume Farel and Pierre Viret. Calvin celebrated his friendship with these men in his preface to his Commentary on Titus, where he stated:

I do not believe that there have ever been such friends who have lived together in such a deep friendship in their everyday style of life in this world as we have in our ministry. I have served here in the office of pastor with you two. There was never any appearance of envy; it seems to me that you two and I were as one person.

This brotherly friendship is well revealed in the extensive correspondence of these three men. In their letters to one another, not only are theological problems and ecclesiastical matters frankly discussed, but there is an openness in relation to the problems of their private lives.

Here is but one example: On Jan. 27, 1552, Calvin wrote to Farel and chided him for reports he had heard—true reports, one must add—about the undue length of Farel’s sermons. “You have often confessed,” Calvin reminds his friend, “that you know this is a fault and that you would like to correct it.” Calvin went on to encourage Farel to shorten his sermons lest Satan use Farel’s failing in this regard to destroy the many good things being produced by his ministry.

Another example of the importance of friendship for Reformed believers can be found in the diary of Esther Burr, the third of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ eight daughters and a Christian housewife living in Colonial New Jersey. In the mid-1750s, Esther unequivocally declared: “Nothing is more refreshing to the soul (except communication with God himself), than the company and society of a friend.”

The wife of Aaron Burr Sr., president of what would become Princeton University, and the mother of two small children, Esther earnestly sought to know the presence of God in the hurly-burly of her daily life. As she did so, she came to appreciate the fact that friends are a divine gift. Writing in her diary on Jan. 23, 1756, she said she was convinced that “‘Tis… a great mercy that we have any friends—What would this world be without ‘em—A person who looks upon himself to be friendless must of all creatures be miserable in this Life—‘tis the Life of Life.” For Esther, Christian friends were one of this world’s greatest sources of happiness. Why did Esther put such a value upon friendship? Surely it was because she realized that Christian friends and conversation with them are vital for spiritual growth.

Similar convictions are found in something she wrote the previous year on April 20, 1755, to her closest friend, Sarah Prince:

I should highly value (as you my dear do) such charming friends as you have about you—friends that one might unbosom their whole soul to.… I esteem religious conversation one of the best helps to keep up religion in the soul, excepting secret devotion, I don’t know but the very best—Then what a lamentable thing that ‘tis so neglected by God’s own children.

Notice the connection between friendship and what Esther calls “religious conversation.” For the Christian, true friends are those with whom one can share the deepest things of one’s life. They are people with whom one can be transparent and open. In Esther’s words, they are people to whom one can “unbosom [one’s] whole soul.” In the course of conversation about spiritual things, the believer can find strength and encouragement for living the Christian life. In referring to spiritual conversation with friends as “one of the best helps to keep up religion in the soul,” Esther obviously viewed it as a means of grace, one of the ways in which God the Holy Spirit keeps Christians in fellowship with the Savior.

This excerpt is taken from Michael Haykin’s contribution in Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel Beeke.