Redeeming friendship

November 30, 2016

Where would we be without our friends? They bring such joy to our lives and such comfort in seasons of difficulty, great and small. A shoulder to cry on. A couch to sleep on. A hand to hold.

Friendship is deeply important. The book of Proverbs shows the great practical and spiritual benefits that friendship brings into our lives (Prov. 11:14, 18:24, 19:20, 27:17). Whatever our circumstances, friendship offers us innumerable joys.

Since friendship is so important, we must invest intentional care into it. Have you ever spent time thinking about your goals in friendship? We all want and need friends, but have you ever thought why you want them? We have goals for our work, our family and our finances, but do we consider the importance of goals in our friendships? After all, if our friendships are so important to us, shouldn’t we be intentional in how we think about them, pursue them and grow them?

When we look at Jesus’ life and how he interacted in social settings, his aim was that those he came in contact with would come to know the Father and turn from their sin. Jesus was clear on his reason for walking this earth (Luke 5:22-24, 31-32, 19:10; John 8:19, 17:3). We, now his friends by means of his blood, must follow his example.

The art of surrender

In his wildly helpful book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith encourages Christians to apply some much-needed evaluation to the DNA of our friendships. Smith observes the surrounding culture and the aim behind much of what is constantly before us, arguing that many of the activities that promise to build a sense of community, in reality, actually breed a sense of competition instead.

Within the hemisphere of social media and seemingly innocent activities we participate in, the mindset of competition slowly but surely infiltrates the foundation our friendships. We become obsessed over who is wearing the better clothes, whose blog gets the most traffic, whose marriage is healthier, who abides by the most of Dave Ramsey’s principles. The joys of sports become platforms to shame others. Weekend excursions to the mall become secret missions of self-comparison.

As time passes, our friendships become battlegrounds where we fight against our deepest insecurities and maintain our most precious identities, rather than expose them by serving and caring for our friends. We need to take drastic measures against these toxic pesticides that are wreaking havoc within the soil of our friendships.

Scripture is clear that as we become like Jesus, we must lay ourselves aside and seek out the needs of others, finding ways to serve them, honor them, encourage them and bless them before we have thoughts about bringing focus and attention back to ourselves. In Luke 14:7-11, Jesus rebukes a few wedding guests, explaining we should not compete for distinguished status when we’re around others. Instead, we must seek to give others recognition and honor them in the presence of our friends and acquaintances. Seek the lowest place in the room, Jesus says.

Paul writes in Philippians 2:2-4 that we should exert more energy and brain power thinking about others’ interests, preferences and needs than we do our very own. The Christian shouldn’t act with competitive motives, seeking to get ahead or rise above another person. The Christian’s directive from God’s Word is clear: stay low and focus on others. Don’t worry about how you measure up.

As Christians, we are alive because Christ died. Christ alone accomplished our salvation, the most important victory of all time, through an incomparable act of grace. This had nothing to do with our effort or ability. Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear that we had nothing to do with it because we would never be able to save ourselves. In light of this glorious act, we can’t boast in our own efforts, but instead we boast in God’s amazing kindness. If the most important event in history could not have been accomplished by any one of God’s creatures, why tirelessly seek the high ground to boast in anything that’s less important?

Instead of competing with others, raise a white flag of surrender. God himself surrendered his status in order to give it to us. If he did this for us, we most certainly should do this for each other.

The joy of redirection

So much of what our friendships should be is discipleship. We might think of specifics when we hear the word discipleship, such as a once-a-month coffee meeting, Scripture memory, sexual accountability, evangelism, etc. But when we think of each of these, isn’t this what Jesus calls us to on a regular basis in our friendships?

I think we can learn a lot about the end goal of discipleship from what we’ve already looked at in Jesus’ own life: pointing others to the Father and repenting of sin. That’s the goal for us in a discipleship context, and it’s the goal in our friendships. Daily, through every interaction we have, our aim should be helping others get to know Jesus more intimately by getting to know each other more intimately. One of the biggest ways we do this is heeding Paul’s exhortation (2 Cor. 1:3-7) to give comfort to others in their pain out of the same comfort we ourselves have received.

Because we have gone through seasons of great difficulty, we can bring comfort to others through sharing those times and how God has been faithful. When we surrender our need to compete, we’re free to be vulnerable and transparent about our own struggles, sins, victories and defeats. We can do this because as we think on Christ, we remember our mission to point others back to the Father. We can experience friendship in complete freedom when we lose the desire and fight to be better than others because we know Christ is the most glorious of all.

So our goal isn’t to elevate ourselves, but rather to elevate Christ crucified (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Our desire is that others would find hope in the salvation of the Son. That’s our goal in human interaction. That can happen just as well in the car or at J. Crew as it can in a formal coffee meeting at Starbucks.

That’s the nature of true friendship, and it is the antidote to protecting our friendship from the toxic destruction of pride and self-congratulation. We do this through daily acts of humility, both internally with our minds and externally with our actions, and through a constant redirection of focus from ourselves to God. The Son came so that we could know the Father, and now, we live within the context of our friendships in ways that bring others to know the Son.

Jonathan C. Edwards

Jonathan C. Edwards (M.Div, Th.M) is the Director of Curriculum for Docent Research Group where he also serves as a lead writer. He is the author of Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves. He and his wife Katherine live in Durham, N.C., where he is … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24