Friendship is one of the extraordinary blessings of God, probably the most profound aching of the spirit, however it can likewise be a troublesome thing to explore in the nearby church. A significant number of us have some sort of implanted picture of what Friendship should be. Regardless of whether it is molded by past friendship, films, or even our companions, we will in general bring this image of kinship into the congregation. Being a veteran of the U.S. Armed force, I had the incredible benefit of living with different folks for a considerable length of time. These were not companions I picked, yet huge numbers of them turned into probably the closest companions I could ever have.
I brought my own picture and experiences of friendship into the church and have a few close friends. Yet, to be honest, I often feel alone. I can be in a room with a bunch of blood-bought sinners—all of whom love Jesus—and still feel absolutely alone. Part of this may be due to my introverted leanings and insecurities, but most of it comes from my own expectations and what I think friendship should be. The question we have to ask is, “How do we navigate friendship in the local church?”
Lofty versus Realistic Ideas of Friendship
I have brought lofty ideas of friendship into the church, oftentimes in a way that is unfair to others, causing me to neglect the body of Christ for not meeting my unreal expectations. This is sinful and keeps at arm’s length those whom Christ has made to be my family. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exceptionally helpful book Life Together, he warns of these kinds of expectations:
On multitudinous events an entire Christian people group has been broken in light of the fact that it has lived based on a pie in the sky picture. Absolutely genuine Christians who are placed in a network just because will regularly carry with them an exceptionally clear picture of what Christian shared life ought to be, and they will be on edge to acknowledge it. In any case, God's elegance rapidly baffles every such dream. An incredible dissatisfaction with others, with Christians as a rule, and, on the off chance that we are blessed, with ourselves, will undoubtedly overpower us as without a doubt as God wants to lead us to a comprehension of certifiable Christian people group.
One of the great ways God shows his grace to us in our expectations and desires for friendship is to expose where we may be simply dreaming. Yet, as I have been a pastor of the same church for six years now, I can earnestly say that I have seen these grand illusions either draw people nearer to Christ and his people or create a root of bitterness as some demand the dream while forsaking the reality. Bonhoeffer continues by helping us see the seriousness of this.
God loathes this starry-eyed imagining on the grounds that it makes the visionary glad and self important. The individuals who long for this glorified network request that it be satisfied by God, by others, and without anyone else's input. They enter the Christian people group with their requests, set up their own law, and judge each other and even God in like manner… .When their romanticized picture is broken, they see the network breaking into pieces. So they originally progressed toward becoming informers of different Christians in the network, at that point informers of God, lastly the urgent informers of themselves.
Bonhoeffer’s assessment is a call for us to lay down our lofty expectations and wake up from our grandiose dreams. But does this mean we should completely let the desires for friendship die? Is this a call to become pessimists in regard to friendship in the local church? No, I think it’s a call to set sail with those Christ has sovereignly placed in our local congregations as we walk shoulder to shoulder (Phil. 1:27) on the way to our eternal home.
True Friendship Involves Disappointment
Before we begin walking with those in our local church, we must first remember that there is a Person who relates with us when our dreams die and the reality of what we do have is not all that we desire.
“The Lord Jesus Christ entered into friendship with twelve other men. There could not be a greater difference between him and the twelve disciples. Yes, he was fully human like them, and he was also fully God. Where they lacked faith and perfect obedience, Jesus never lacked faith and always obeyed his Father. Where they were born in sin and ungodly, Jesus was holy and sinless. Did this cause him to demand them to be something they were not and isolate himself because no one understood him? No! On the night of his betrayal and false arrest, Jesus asked his friends to pray for him. Yet, his closest friends slept rather than prayed (Matt. 26:36-46). Imagine the loneliness and heartbreak as you realize your dearest friends are choosing their own comfort over your greatest needs.”
How did Jesus respond? After criticizing them for their weakness and then exhorting them to watch and pray, he went to the cross and gave his life for them. For all the times the twelve had failed at being friends, Jesus suffered a horrible death alone in their place. He died for their sin and misplaced dreams. This is true for all of us who have let our subjective dreaming hold more weight that the objective community God has placed us in as well.
True Christian Friendship Is Bound in Blood, Not Dreams
On that same night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus had his last meal with his disciples. He looked around the table, knowing they would deny him, sleep rather than pray, and leave him hanging alone on the cross. Rather than shaming the disciples, Jesus said to them,
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Jesus is making clear that friendship is real, but true Christian friendship is bound in blood, not dreams. Bonhoeffer picks this up when he writes,
Since God as of now has established the framework of our locale, since God has joined us in one body with different Christians in Jesus Christ well before we went into regular existence with them, we go into that existence with different Christians, not as the individuals who make requests, however as the individuals who fortunately get. Subsequently, won't the exact second of incredible thwarted expectation with my sibling or sister be especially healthy for me since it so altogether instructs me that the two of us can never live by our own words and deeds, yet just by that single word and deed that truly ties us together, the absolution of sins in Jesus Christ? The splendid day of Christian people group sunrises any place the early morning fogs of marvelous dreams are lifting.
The uplifting news of the gospel is the compass that explores Christian fellowship. It liberates us from seeking others for what no one but Christ can give. However, it likewise spurs the adoration important to cherish others with the affection we have first gotten (1 John 4:19). Multi day is coming when we will never again feel alone or request a particular sort of companionship yet will be within the sight of our True Friend, while likewise strolling in the superb truth of a home with no jealousy, no pride, and no transgression—simply unadulterated Christian people group.