Having a friend who is a Christian is a great blessing but having a Christian friendship is even better.
I know a lot of Christians. I might even say I have a lot of Christian friends. But, I don’t think I have a lot of Christian friendships. Let me explain the difference. A Christian friend is simply a friend who is also a believer. However, a Christian friendship is actually a relationship where you put into practice what believers are supposed to do.
Christian friendships regularly demonstrate forgiveness, kindness, patience, mercy, love, encouragement, grace, prayer, and sacrifice. When you look at a list like this you immediately realize that three things are required. First, we need more than one person. Second, we need a relationship that is characterized by some level of intimacy. Third, we will often need some type of challenge to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in.
Let’s briefly think about this.
We Need More than One Person
This might seem obvious but the point is missed too often. Christianity was not intended to be lived out alone or even simply in the context of one’s own family. Christianity is a religion of community. In order to apply the lion’s share of its teaching we need people around us. The Bible knows nothing of individualistic maverick Christianity. Therefore, Christian friendships involve other people.
We Need Relationships Characterized by Intimacy
In order to exhort someone day after day so they don’t fall into the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) there has to be conversation that gets beyond the weather and politics. In order to pray for one another there needs to be disclosure of struggles (Gal. 6:1-2). In order to rejoice and or weep with one another we need to know what is going on with each other (Rom. 12:15). Therefore, Christian friendships are characterized by intimacy.
We Need Some Type of Challenge to Display the Gospel’s Power
Think about how you show that the gospel is powerful. You have to forgive an offense, have patience when wronged, not grumble when others are difficult, show grace rather than vengeance, and confront rather than ignore sin. But regrettably what happens so often? People get offended by other Christians and instead of pressing in and applying the gospel they eject and preserve themselves. I am sure you can see how counterintuitive this is. Think about it. Someone has said or done something to offend you. You have a choice to make are you going to withdraw and get bitter or press in and show grace? Too many come to this place and eject rather than press in. They come right up to the wonderful place, that threshold to step over from being a Christian friend to having a Christian friendship, and they don’t step over. Instead, we should in humility take the opportunity that the challenges of sin bring in order to display the gospel’s power to heal and restore. Christian friendships display this gospel power.
Take inventory of your relationships with other Christians. Think about your relationship with your spouse (if applicable), your children (if applicable), your friends, and your church family. Are they just a bunch of other Christians that you know kind of informally or even superficially? Or are they true Christian friendships that showcase the power of the gospel?
Years ago, before I became a pastor I became sick of playing games in friendships. I told a guy that I was convicted about always talking about sports and stuff rather than things that really mattered. I confessed that I was afraid the friendship would suffer if we were real about applying the Bible. My conclusion was that if that was true about the relationship then it wasn’t a relationship worth preserving—at least not that way. The conversation went well and we decided to pursue a Christian friendship that modeled grace and humility. Though work has moved us apart, I do maintain a friendship with this brother to this day.
I would encourage you to take inventory of your relationships and to pursue Christian friendships rather than simply acquaintances. Perhaps it will require some repentance, prayer, and transparency with that brother or sister—but it is worth it. God will richly bless you and your Christian friendships. Friendships are hard to come by, when you find one, consider yourself blessed and nourish it with the Word of God.