Friendship is vital to our growth and endurance as Christians, but friendship is the type of relationship we do not often learn about in the church. Perhaps friendship is seldom at the forefront because we assume it should develop naturally and happily, whereas brotherly and sisterly love require much supernatural forbearance and practical skill. In the absence of biblical thought and teaching, we tend toward a distorted and often self-oriented understanding of what friendship should be. Therefore, it is important not only that we have and instill in others a deep understanding of biblical friendship but that we also ensure our friendships are centered on Christ.

What Is Christian Friendship?

We will, of course, engage friendships with non-Christians in our everyday lives, but we must first consider the health of our Christian friendships, those relationships that fulfill Jesus’ command to “love one another” in such a way that “all people will know that [we] are [His] disciples” (John 13:35). These are our friendships within the church. How, exactly, should we define Christian friendship?

An understanding of Christian friendship starts with God Himself. The first friendship in creation began when God extended His hand toward humanity. In the beginning, He sought out the company of those He had created. From eternity past, the triune God enjoyed perfect friendship within the Godhead. He had no need of our friendship, but He wanted His creaturely image bearers to share in that fellowship, so He created man and woman, and He walked with them as friends. Adam and Eve, as we know well, destroyed that friendship through sin, but God responded by extending friendship to us again in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And He did lay down His life so that the hostility that had eradicated our intimacy with God could be eliminated and that intimacy restored. Now we have fellowship with God once again if our faith is in Christ alone.

Why must we know redemptive history in order to define Christian friendship? Because God’s initiation and demonstration of friendship are the foundation of brotherly and sisterly love: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Without this knowledge, or sometimes even in spite of it, we exchange God’s love for people’s love and look to them for what only God can give—unconditional love, all-knowing intimacy, perfect provision, and soul security.

So many of our friendship issues arise because we think people should respond as God does, or we assume that God responds to us as imperfect people do. When we attempt to find our security and value solely in human friendship, we become idolaters: “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

One way we can know that our friendships are centered on Christ, then, is if we are consistently enjoying the friendship of God. When we know His daily companionship, we also know that His ability to love, know, and care for us is limitless and flawless, and human friendship can be enjoyed in its proper, secondary place because we are not putting pressure on it that it was never meant to bear.

So, biblical, Christian friendship entails securing ourselves to the sure, steadfast anchor of Christ and, while holding to that anchor, giving and receiving the gift of friendship to others as He gives us opportunity. The goal is to enjoy God together with other Christians and, as we move through life, to sharpen our friends and to allow ourselves to be sharpened by them.

When we attempt to find our security and value solely in human friendship, we become idolaters.
Giving and Receiving the Gift of Friendship

As we hold to Him and look to Him for ultimate friendship, we can extend love to others in imitation of how He first extended Himself to us. Biblical, Christian friendship not only starts with God and is modeled for us by Christ, but it ends with Him too. God is the object of our love toward others.

Keeping Him as the object of our love and worship is the only way we can extend friendship toward others without constantly looking for something in return or having demanding expectations of others. A Christ-centered friendship will not demand more from friendship than God intended it to provide. In other words, we mustn’t demand perfection from imperfect people, nor seek some ideal version of Christian community that will always elude us on earth. Christ-centered friends remember that the gift of human friendship, though from a perfect Gift-giver, comes to us in the form of imperfect people who will disappoint and hurt us, as we will them.

When we demand our visionary ideal of what we think friendship ought to be, we become self-seeking. Consciously or not, we start asking questions such as Who is serving me? How is the church providing me with community? How are others making me feel? Who is inviting me? What’s in this relationship for me? This focus stands in contrast to Christ’s example, who came to serve rather than to be served.

Christ-centered friendship is about serving others, asking ourselves how God might use us in our friends’ lives and how He might want to use them in our lives. We serve others as more important than ourselves, believing Jesus’ words that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We also trust that initiating, serving, and loving another invites friendship, but we don’t expect or demand a reciprocal response.

Where Does Our Friendship Point?

Finally, Christ-centered friendship always considers how we might point our friends toward Christ rather than back toward ourselves. John the Baptist, when many wanted to elevate his ministry and set him up as a competitor to Jesus, said plainly, “I am not the Christ” (John 3:28). Instead, he rejoiced in Christ as the Bridegroom and himself as the Bridegroom’s friend.

We do well to think rightly of our place in friendship: we are not the Christ. Do we imagine ourselves as a type of savior to our friends, people who must have the right words to say, the answer to every problem, and the solution for all that is wrong for them? Do we hope to be revered, admired, in control, or validated in some way in the friendship? To set ourselves up as their Christ distorts and ultimately destroys the friendship. We are not the Christ, but we know the Christ, and our goal in Christ-centered friendship must always be to point our friends consistently to this perfect Friend as their true hope.

Consider Your Friendships

It is right and good to consistently consider our friendships, to allow God to search our hearts, and to taste and see that He is in fact at the center of our friendships. Are we daily enjoying the friendship of God? Are we seeking to serve rather than to be served? Are we unwrapping the gift of friendship with others as He gives it—through imperfect people? And are we pointing our friends to the hope that is found in Christ? If so, our dearest Friend is blessed and honored, our friends resemble family more than anything else, and we are rich indeed.

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on March 21, 2018.

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