Not long ago in cell group, my cell leader reminded us that our most important goal was “growing in Christ”, rather than growing closer in relationships with each other.
That caught my attention. It reminded me of a comment a friend made years ago, that “church was more than just a social gathering.”
What did that mean? Honestly, I was a little disturbed by my cell group leader’s comment. Was he saying it was acceptable if I did not grow closer to my cell group mates in the coming year? If so, what was I to make of growing in community with my cell group?
If there is such a thing, what does a Christian friendship look like?
THE BASIS OF FRIENDSHIP
Reflecting on my cell leader’s words, I think this is what he meant: The more we love God, the more we will love our neighbours.
How does that work? Well, the principle can be found in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” God demonstrated His love for us by taking the initiative – dying for us even while we weren’t friends!
That’s agape love. It’s unconditional and sacrificial. It is God’s kind of love. It’s the same love we are to show others, since we ourselves were once graced with it.My friends have shown me that same kind of proactive love. In the days when we weren’t close yet, they took the initiative by meeting my needs without me even asking – sending me home or sitting with me when I need a moment away from the crowd.
What they did for me went deeper than just a nice feeling or a good deed. Their agape love for me engendered phileo love (brotherly love) between us – our hearts were drawn closer as brothers and sisters.
Can you imagine what the world would look like if agape love was shown to our enemies more? We could put down battles and pick up brothers instead.
THE PURPOSE OF FRIENDSHIP
We are meant to grow in every way into Christlikeness (Ephesians 4:15). It’s a lifelong thing, not just a decision you make at the beginning. But the heavenward journey is helped along when undertaken with a fellow pilgrim (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
I have a close friend with whom I regularly read the Bible. We do this outside of time spent in scheduled church gatherings. We meet regularly to read, discuss and pray through the Bible together.
This helped us both because we were previously struggling alone with reading the Bible regularly. Not only do we edify each other, we look forward to the time we have together because we treasure each other as sisters.
Lay aside the weight of fearing rejection or self-sufficiency: There is no such thing as a “lone wolf Christian.”
If you have wonderful friends, note with caution that they cannot bring true and lasting satisfaction. They are not your Forever Friend.
Consider Jeremiah 2:13, where God speaks of how His people had forsaken Him to find fulfilment in other things. Although Israel was God’s covenant people, they failed to fulfil the covenant they had made.
Jeremiah likens them to having forsaken the fountains of living water for broken cisterns that hold no water. Instead of having the best water, their water leaked and only sludge remained.
God demonstrated His love for us by taking the initiative – dying for us even while we weren’t friends!
Friends must never be the greatest source of fulfilment for you – don’t make an idol out of them. Search your heart: You cannot prize your friendships above Christ.
In contrast to broken cisterns that cannot bring lasting satisfaction, Jesus tells us He is the source of true living water (John 4:10-14, 7:38). Those who drink from the water He gives will never thirst again (John 4:14).
So, my friend and I are conscious that as we seek to build each other up – we should not inadvertently become each other’s source of fulfilment.
We should never take God’s place in someone else’s life.
I’m still learning how to have a friendship built on Christ. But I think it’s about first being a friend – a child – whose life is built on Christ.
He is the First Friend I draw my strength from, to love others. Because Christ first loved us, let’s follow His example (Ephesians 5:2), taking the initiative to love those around us.
I fail at this more than I’d like to. But when I am weak, He is strong – and His grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
He’s my friend forever.