Sunday, December 11, 2011

Friendship, pt. 2 (or I Do Not Think an Invisible Cat is Sitting in that Chair, or You've Got a Friend in Me)

{Friendship, pt. 1 here...}
Friendship is universally recognized as a good thing.  Have you ever noticed that? 

As best I can tell, you can find friendships in every culture.  There are even cross-cultural friendships.

You can find friendships throughout time. 

Scripture speaks about friendships, which is not surprising.  Scripture often speaks about the things that are common to human existence.

It is important to note that, even without Scripture, people instinctively know that friendships are important.  Consider a few examples:

  1. If you remember one thing about Homer’s The Iliad, you might think you remember the Trojan Horse.  But that’s probably because you’re actually remembering the movie Troy (the Trojan Horse doesn’t show up in The Iliad).  If you remember anything else, you might remember that a turning point in the story was when Patroclus, the beloved friend of Achilles, is killed in battle.  The grief of Achilles over the loss of his friend motivates him to return to battle where he takes down the champion of Troy: Hector.  Friendship (mixed with Fate) was at the root of the turn of events.
  2. In Book VIII of Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle speculates that “no one would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other goods.”
  3. Cicero once said that “without friendship, life does not deserve the name.” (in Laelius: On Friendship)
  4. “Et tu, Brute?” Julius Caesar gave up his fight against his assassins when he saw his friend Brutus among them.  Caesar no longer saw rule over the Romans, nor life itself, to be worthwhile in light of the loss of so close a friend.  This betrayal of friendship earned Brutus a spot in the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno.

Those are a just a few examples found in the classics.  Many stories told through the ages, both fictional and historical, testify to the value of friendship.

Friendships of the same sort are a little harder to find in the modern era.  C.S. Lewis notes in The Four Loves: “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”

Some in the modern world go so far as to argue that the great friendships of times past were secretly homosexual relationships.  It is claimed that the closeness and intimacy experienced by Achilles & Patroclus, Jonathan & David, and Abraham Lincoln & Joshua Speed (among others) is an indicator that they were all gay lovers.

I tend to agree with the sentiment of Lewis: “Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros [sexual love and/or attraction] betray the fact that they have never had a Friend.”  It is a sad commentary on the state of friendships today when a close friendship is dismissed as a closeted-gay relationship.

Friendships do, however, still show up in today’s world.  A few examples to consider:
  1.  In movies... Forrest Gump & Bubba, Frodo & Sam, Harry Potter and Ron and Hermione...
  2. Google+ has recently tried to exploit the fact that, despite what Facebook might indicate, not everyone you know is your friend.  You really do have friends that you want to share everything with, but they belong in a closer “circle” than your colleagues, companions, and acquaintances.
  3. “Words With Friends” (let me know if you want to play!)
  4. Terms like “BFF” and “frenemy” (and others that I’m not hip enough to know) all reveal an innate knowledge that there is a variety of depth in our relationships.
  5. And probably/hopefully you can think of some friends that you have.

What does this mean for us?  At least a couple of things:

 Friendship must be important. Since it is important to all people.

 The need for a friend is a universal need common to all people.  So be the sort of person that can be a good friend.  Recognize that the people that you meet and interact with each day are longing for meaningful friendships.

 Christian do not need to be friends with only Christians.  Christians can be friends with Christians, but they can also be genuine friends with those who are not followers of Christ.  Such a friendship can be missional for the believer, but it must maintain sincerity as a friendship if it is going to be sincerely and effectively missional.  It is certainly okay for the Christian to desire that the unbeliever understand his or her need for the Gospel.  But the desire to be missional and evangelical cannot come at the expense of being sincere in the friendship.  Don’t seek to make friends just so you can convert them.  Rather seek to be friends because you recognize that friendship is valuable to all.  As you recognize and honor the dignity of your friends you will inevitably desire to see them come to understand the power and love of Christ.  Sincere evangelism will come from a sincere love for others.  A powerful way to demonstrate that kind of sincere love to a person is to befriend them as they are. 

Friendship is a good in and of itself.  It is not a means to an end.  But is is a good that flows down from the Father who is the giver of all good things (James 1:17).  This means that even if a friend is reluctant to the Gospel, you can continue to be a source of God’s blessing by being a good friend.  This may in turn open up your friend to more goodness from the Lord... such as the Gospel.

Friendship is important.  If a world that lives apart from the redeeming and restoring work of Christ can recognize that, how much more so should His Church? 

Be a friend.

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