By / Dec 8

You may have seen the video that’s making the rounds through the internet after the Dobbs arguments. A group of presumably pro-choice women, vehemently protesting on the steps of the Supreme Court, recently took part in a demonstration wherein they each swallowed what were purported to be “abortion pills.” 

Did we just witness the intentional killing of four pre-born babies?

In our pro-life circles, there were, and continue to be, plenty of commentators. Some called it a form of religious worship; others, a sort of sacramental ceremony. And they’re right — this demonstration was without question an act of worship. But instead of merely pointing our fingers and diagnosing the problem — quote-tweeting from a safe distance — isn’t there a better way for us to engage with the issue and the people involved in it?

As those on both sides of the debate grow further apart and the conversation grows more militant, a piercing question hangs in the air: how will this divide ever be mended? 

Many don’t believe it will be. Some don’t even believe it can. Others just aren’t willing to do the work involved in rebuilding what’s been broken, preferring instead to wag their collective fingers and comment from afar. But how should Christians approach and seek to answer this question?  It’s really not all that complex. And we don’t need to look any further than the ministry of Jesus for our marching orders.

Jesus, friend of sinners

In the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, readers are introduced to a supposedly derogatory phrase used to describe Jesus. Speaking to the crowds around him, Jesus repeats to them the charge that’s been levied against him: he is a “friend . . . of sinners” (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34). While Jesus offers no immediate or explicit comment either for or against this accusation, Luke wants his reader to understand that this Pharisaic charge is true. But what the crowds and the Pharisees saw as evil, Jesus embraced as good (Gen. 50:20).

In the very next scene recorded by Luke, after being invited into one of the Pharisee’s homes, Jesus was approached by “a woman in the town who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37). While he was reclining at the table, presumably sharing a meal with “upright” and “clean” religious men, this woman — this sinner — descended on Jesus, fell before him, and spilled her tears and a jar of perfume on his feet. In response, the Pharisee who had invited him reiterated in his mind, with seeming disgust, that she was a sinner (Luke 7:39). Responding to this man’s thoughts, Jesus proceeded to tell a story, eventually commending this woman, declaring that her sins were forgiven, and charging her to “Go in peace” (Luke 7:50). 

While all the men around the table were clamoring for a spot in Jesus’s inner circle, it was the most unlikely character who left the table as his friend.

Christians, friends of sinners

In his book, Friend of Sinners: An Approach to Evangelism, Harvey Turner opens the first chapter with a powerful question: “Do you like sinners?” He goes on:

“I hear many Christians talking about personal holiness. They talk about being like Jesus, walking like Jesus, and following Jesus. But most Christians I know don’t love sinners like Jesus did. They don’t hang out with them, they don’t share the gospel with them, and they just plain don’t like them. But could it be that the process of becoming more holy includes hanging around those who are considered unholy?”

Jesus loved sinners, and still does. And not just that, but Jesus liked sinners, and still does. How else would we have been welcomed into the kingdom of God if Jesus hadn’t befriended us? 

So, what does all this have to do with the group of women standing on the steps in our nation’s capital, swallowing abortion-inducing pills for public viewing? After watching the video and surveying the large number of comments being offered by men and women who I greatly respect, and whose comments I mostly agree with, I couldn’t shake (and still can’t) this single question: what amount of progress might be made, in this conversation and others, if, instead of making an example of these women with our clever and incisive comments, we simply walked across the street and sought to befriend them?

Would the culture change overnight? Certainly not. But, little by little, as friendships are born “across enemy lines,” maybe the temperature of this heated debate would begin to lower, maybe pre-born babies lives would be saved from the prospect of abortion, and maybe, when confronted with the kindness of God’s people, “sinners” would be made disciples and be welcomed into eternal life with God. It is God’s kindness that leads men and women to repentance (Rom. 2:4). May God’s people go and do likewise.

“Our mission from Jesus,” Turner says, “is to make disciples of people who are not currently disciples (Matt. 28:18-20) . . . If we are not friends to sinners, we are not following him [Jesus].” 

Christians, befriended sinners

I suspect that part of the reason we find this so difficult is because we’ve forgotten some crucial things about our own pathway into God’s family, namely that Jesus has come and made friends with those of us who follow him (John 15:15). The “hound of heaven” chased us down, sinners though we were, and slathered us with lovingkindness.

Where were you when Jesus came and befriended you?

This should force us to ask a couple of questions. Are the steps of the Supreme Court off limits for Jesus to come and birth a new friendship? Are women with abortion drugs under their tongues too unclean for Jesus to welcome them, forgive them of their sins, and offer them the shalom of God? The answer to these questions is clearly no. So, why would we not follow in the way of Jesus and invite them into friendship with God by making friends with them ourselves? Can we expect to win them, and the persistent debate on life, any other way?

The people of God, regardless of where we find ourselves, have been given a new vocation: we are fishers of people, charged with going and making disciples of men and women, teaching them what it means to follow the one who says to them, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We, imitating the God we worship, have been called to make friends with our enemies.

So, whether on the steps of the Supreme Court or the cubicle across the hall, may we, for the love of God and neighbor, have the courage to put down our commenting devices and go befriend someone into the kingdom of God. And, in the stead of our Savior, may we wear the label “friend of sinners” with joy.

By / Nov 8

In the 2008 comedy, Step Brothers, Brennan (played by Will Ferrell) and Dale (played by John C. Reilly) are newly established step siblings after their single parents marry one another. The movie shows the antics that ensue when two grown men who have never left home are forced into sharing their lives together. The goofy, and admittedly irreverent, tricks they play on one another come to a point when they discover that they have much more in common than they realized. Brennan asks, “Did we just become best friends?” “Yep,” is Dale’s quick and assured reply. Their friendship then develops through common interests such as velociraptors and Steven Seagal movies. 

Friendship in this way is mostly about common interests. So long as there is agreement on favorite movies, fast-food restaurants, and 80’s rock bands, friendship is possible. Common interests are certainly avenues for establishing relationships, but can true friendship be sustained on Taco Bell runs and the latest superhero movie franchise? Is it as simple as declaring someone as your best friend? 

What are the ingredients for true and meaningful friendship? We can learn much about deep friendship from Augustine of Hippo (354–430 AD).

Friendship as a school in Christian love

Paul Waddell, scholar of friendship and Christian ethics, describes Christian friendship according to Augustine in his book Friendship and the Moral Life. He explains it as a “school in Christian love.” Augustine described a similar “Step Brother” friendship in book 4 of his Confessions. They shared common interests and pursuits, and while they didn’t settle-in for a Steven Seagal direct-to-home action flick, Augustine assumed this friendship was genuine. He soon came to realize that this friendship could not be a friendship in its truest form because it was not centered on Christ. 

Reflecting on this friendship after the fact, Augustine stated, “But in childhood he was not such a friend as he became later on, and even later on ours was not a true friendship, for friendship cannot be true unless you [God] solder it together among those who cleave to one another by the charity poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us.” Thus for Augustine, true friendship occurred when one loved the good in another, with the good reflecting God in that person. 

While he wrote about specific relationships in his Confessions, we see specifically how he viewed friendship in his numerous letters. Augustine was certainly not the first to discuss friendship. The topic of friendship had occupied the minds of philosophers centuries prior to Augustine. Unique to Augustine, however, was his view that friends and friendship were a gift from God. 

Whereas Aristotle would assert that we choose friends based on the virtue we see in them, Augustine viewed friends as those who are placed in one’s lives for the purpose of seeking God together. Friendships that have their genesis with God must find their source in God. It originates with the Spirit and propels friends toward friendship in God’s eschatological kingdom where all will be friends as they share in true friendship with God.

Friendship as a work of the Spirit

The key for Augustine was love granted by the Holy Spirit through grace. God-initiated love is the binding agent for true friendship. Also important for Augustine was that friendship be rooted in the triune nature of God. Whereas the Roman orator Cicero (106–43 BC) defined friendship as “agreement in all things human and divine,” Augustine refined the divine character of friendship to depend upon the inner relations of the triune God. Human friendship can only begin from the perspective of trinitarian love. The center of Christian friendship is the Spirit, that trinitarian bond of love. This love both connects friends together and serves as the means of mutual transformation. 

Grace is also essential for Christian friendship according to Augustine. Agreement on best pizza toppings does not make for a true friendship. One needs transforming grace focused toward God’s kingdom. Friendship, for Augustine, is the context where this kingdom love is learned and practiced. Therefore, Christian friendship is vital if one is to grow in kingdom-focused eternal love. 

A debt owed to all people

In his letters, Augustine often described friendship as a “debt” that each one owed to the other. His friend Evodius even wrote Augustine to collect on this “debt” (ep. 158.1). In his letters to the deacon and eventual bishop of Rome Celestine, Augustine described a certain “debt of love” that was owed based on a mutual affection for the other person (ep. 192.1). According to Augustine, love is owed to one another based simply on the fact that one is a fellow human. Love for one’s enemy sought to transform them “whom we truly love to become a friend” (ep. 192.1). Friendship is owed to all people based on a shared human nature, even though its truest and final fulfillment is found between those who claim the name of Christ. 

Despite what some ancient philosophers said, friendship was not for an elite few, according to Augustine. Love is due for all. This ideal of friendship is expressed in his letter to a wealthy widow named Proba. He asserted, “The health and friendship of a human being are sought for their own sake. . . . Likewise, friendship should not be bounded by narrow limits, for it embraces all to whom we owe affection and love” (ep. 130.6, 13). Thus, friendship is a practical way to demonstrate the love that Christians are called to exhibit to everyone. 

According to Donald Burt, since we cannot make friends with every person on earth, Augustine’s encouragement should cause us to “strive to make every human we meet a friend.” This was Augustine’s posture in his engagement with Christians and non-Christians alike. Augustine extended the hand of friendship in order to bring others to the truth. To those who are not yet true spiritual friends, we love and befriend with the hope that they will one day be counted among true friends in the eternal city of God.

The transformative potential of friendship

Augustine believed that the command to love God and love others never ceases but is extended throughout eternity. Our love for others, the foundation of friendship, is grounded in the love of God. In writing to Proba, Augustine framed the universal love owed to all as the beginning of Christian friendship. This was a transforming type of love, which sought to turn enemies into true friends transformed by God’s grace. Augustine concluded, “In him we, of course, love ourselves if we love God, and by the other commandment we truly in that way love our neighbors as ourselves if we bring them, to the extent we can, to a similar love of God” (ep. 130.7, 14).

So while friendship may require more than agreement on favorite dinosaurs and action movies, it can be as simple as asking someone, “Did we just become best friends?” If we consider the example of Augustine, we can show the kind of Christian love we are called to give by extending the hand of friendship to all as we are able. While the truest friendship is only possible between those who have the gift of the Spirit, and while not all of us will be close friends, by seeing everyone as a potential friend we can begin good and fruitful conversations that may lead to one enjoying true friendship in the light of God’s grace and love. 

By / Sep 25

The night Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Russell Moore gave word to what many of us felt, that her passing “signifies an age of transition, a time of uncertainty.” Moore made the comment in a video standing outside his office where, moments before the news would break and change the night’s programming, he was set to join CNN to talk about pastoring during the pandemic.

Reflecting on the moment, Moore tied the night’s loss of Justice Ginsburg with the 2016 loss of Justice Antonin Scalia. He referred to them as titans of the right and the left and reminded us of their endearing friendship, “Let us look to their example of friendship, even as they had deep policy disagreements, as a model for our country moving forward.”

Today, Justice Ginsburg became the first woman and the first Jewish American to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol, one week after her passing. It feels further away because news moves fast these days. Each day closer to Election Day feels like our country has been pulled that much further apart. It’s easy to think of the pace of news in this environment like the ocean’s current, an outside force that tosses us to and fro. But political news moves at the pace its shared. We drive the news faster with our tweets and posts. We churn our collective attention span by clicking from one headline to the next as we lean further in the direction of our priors. Overtime, we’ve created totally different information silos from which we see the world.

The state of our national divide

Much has been written in recent years of our growing national divides. Political scientist Dave Wasserman coined the juxtaposition of “Whole Foods counties vs. Cracker Barrel counties” as a prism to understand how the growing cultural divide affects elections. For what it’s worth, I love dining in both.

Others includes Bill Bishop’s book, “The Big Sort,” chronicling the geographic shuffling of Americans into like minded clusters, and Cass Sunstien’s book, “Going to Extremes,” exploring how people’s ideological beliefs can grow more extreme when they cluster together. Jonathan Haidt dives deep into understanding why good people are divided on politics and religion in his book “The Righteous Mind.” And from an evangelical Christian perspective, David French of “The Dispatch” writes frequently on our national splintering with a new book out this week, “Divided We Fall.” French is doing critical work spotlighting how this “super clustering of like-minded citizens” is a bipartisan phenomenon that’s causing us to lose the ability to even know how to talk to one another when we disagree politically.

These social clusters and information silos are the soil in which tribalism develops and eventually can devolve into negative partisanship.

Writing for our Faith and Healthy Democracy report, an ERLC and Lifeway research project on evangelicals and the state of public discourse, Paul D. Miller describes this predicament, “Political tribes turn us from democratic citizens into mindless culture warriors. Simply put, we are making ourselves stupider and meaner.”

A different way 

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way. Justices Ginsburg and Scalia were icons for ideologically opposed corners of the electorate but their lives proved that friendship is an antidote for the contempt that too often accompanies political polarization.

The two lawyers served together as judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the early 1980s and then for nearly 14 years together on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court. They were rarely on the same side of a ruling and would often dissent in fiery language to one another’s opinions. So how is it that she would say of him, “we were best buddies,” and he would say of her, “she was the best of colleagues, as she is the best of friends.”

Justices Ginsburg and Scalia were icons for ideologically opposed corners of the electorate but their lives proved that friendship is an antidote for the contempt that too often accompanies political polarization.

Christopher Scalia, one of the late justice’s sons, wrote of his father’s friendship this week in an opinion piece for Fox News. The younger Scalia recounted that their friendship seems so unlikely to some people that they ask him bluntly, “I hear they were friends – is that true?”

This wasn’t the kind of expedient friendship everyone knows is forced for appearances or agendas. They were family friends, vacationing friends, holiday-celebrating and hobby-sharing friends. Their spouses, Marty Ginsburg and Maureen Scalia, were close friends as well. They loved to cook and would do so every New Years Eve as the Ginsburg’s and Scalia’s made a tradition of dining together to celebrate. Christopher, in his piece, remembered those nights fondly, “This set of old-timers could stay up into the wee, small hours of the morning every year, out-partying their children.” 

It’s evident in the recollections of Scalia’s son and others who knew them that their personal friendship was secure enough to sharpen their professional work as well. Christopher notes how Justice Ginsburg helped correct his dad’s typos and strengthen his arguments. Richard Wolf, writing in USA Today this week on this storied friendship, recounted a story Justice Ginsburg shared in her eulogy at Justice Scalia’s funeral, “When she was writing the court’s majority opinion striking down the Virginia Military Institute’s ban on admitting women, Scalia showed her his unfinished dissent. ‘It was a zinger,’ filled with ‘disdainful footnotes,’ she said. But I was glad to have the extra days to adjust the court’s opinion. My final draft was much improved, thanks to Justice Scalia’s searing criticism.’”

“The point is,” Christopher writes, “they didn’t let differing and deeply held convictions undermine their dear friendship.”

Our nation clearly admires the Scalia and Ginsburg friendship, but do we aspire to such friendship in our own lives? Do we have it within us to try to love that one neighbor of ours whose politics we find dreadful? Can we find the time to invest in a relationship with a co-worker outside the office? Are we willing to reach out to find shared interests with the person whose worldview seems alien to our own? Building friendship with people whose politics you don’t share takes effort, but there is so much more to life than politics.

Too often during the heat of an election year we choose not to just disagree with the way people vote, but to assume the worst about why they might vote differently than us. That’s tragic, especially within the church. In following Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves, we may discover that we share more in common with our neighbor on the other side of the political aisle than our tribe would tempt us into thinking.

In his reflection Christopher Scalia shared a moving story to illustrate how he believed these two titans of the law mastered the balance of forceful political debate and a peaceful friendship. It’s a lesson we would all do well to consider in 2020.

“Judge Jeffrey Sutton, one of my father’s former clerks, tells a story about visiting my father at the Supreme Court on what happened to be Justice Ginsburg’s birthday. My dad had bought his old friend two dozen roses for the occasion, and Judge Sutton started teasing him, joking that there was no point to a gift like that when Justice Ginsburg had never sided with him in an important 5-4 case.

My father replied, ‘Some things are more important than votes.’”

Photo attribution: Karin Cooper/Getty Images North America

By / Aug 19

Aristotle said that friendship is “an absolute necessity in life.” And from a Christian perspective, I think that is on target. “No one would choose to live without friends,” the philosopher wrote, “even if he had all the other goods.” Indeed, if we think back to the opening pages of Scripture, we see this same idea in the life of Adam. After God completed the rest of his work of creation, he placed Adam in the garden of Eden to “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). In the midst of a perfect creation, there was one problem: Adam was alone.

Adam at that time had every kind of good. He lived in a perfect world. He experienced none of the pain or hardships of life. There was no sickness nor affliction nor strife. And above all of that, he had a relationship with the Living God, who walked with Adam in the garden in the cool of the day (3:8). But even though Adam had a seemingly perfect existence, being at peace with God and the creation that surrounded him, his life was incomplete. And recognizing this, God made for Adam “a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18).

Friendship is indispensable

Friendship is something common to humanity because it accords with our nature. God created us as relational beings. As we live our lives, we crave relationships. That is one of the reasons the lockdowns of this season have been so devastating. People are not able to experience the benefits of in-person relationships at nearly the same volume or frequency that they are accustomed to. And, like Adam, we are not meant to live alone. Few of us are able to thrive in extended periods of isolation. 

Think about the indispensable role that friends play in our lives. We find happiness in the company of friends as we share time and experiences together. We find comfort in our friends as we experience hardships and trials in our lives. And we find ourselves turning to our friends to celebrate the joys of life. True friends are companions that stick with us through the best and worst times of our lives, which is why Proverbs speaks of the friend “who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24). Friendship is something we are not supposed to live without.

Friendship is valuable

Our friends serve us in many ways. And one of the most important ways they do so is by helping us see things more clearly. Recently, I posted on social media about the value of having friends across the ideological spectrum. My point was that having friends who disagree with us about important issues can keep us from arguing against caricatures or straw men because we can put the face of a friend with the position we are speaking against. Honestly, I was surprised by how deeply that message seemed to resonate with a lot of people. 

None of us are prepared to withstand all of life’s challenges, at least not on our own. But the good news is that for Christians, we not only have the Holy Spirit within us, but the church around us as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

I was thinking about this aspect of friendship because a friend from work recently pointed me toward their.tube, which is a website I had never heard of. But if you visit the site, you’ll discover that it models how different types of people experience YouTube. Like almost every form of social media, YouTube is driven by an algorithm. It shows you more of what you want to see and screens out things you don’t like so that you will spend more time on the platform. 

It only takes a few minutes on their.tube to size up the impact of these algorithms. To keep you on the platform, they create a giant echo chamber. From the moment you log on, YouTube (or Twitter or Facebook) creates a feedback loop that is designed to show you things you want to see—not necessarily things that make you happy, but whatever keeps you engaged. I suppose that is fine if we are talking about videos of kittens or comedians. But social media is actually where many people turn to gather information about much more important matters, like politics and culture and even religion. 

Those are critical areas of our lives to hand over to an algorithm. And that is why it’s helpful to remind ourselves that what we see on social media doesn’t always correspond to real life. More than that, it’s one of the reasons we need relationships in the real world. Meaningful friendships serve as a kind of moral anchor; they can help us keep our bearings whether we are encountering echo chambers, ethical dilemmas, or other kinds of challenging circumstances.

Friendship and faith

Our craving for relationships not only accords with our nature, but it also aligns with God’s plan of redemption. Through Jesus, God reconciles us to himself. But he also brings us into a new family, the church. As we read through the New Testament, what we see is that the church is supposed to be a loving community made of people who serve and sacrifice for one another (John 13:34; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 5:21). In fact, it is a community that was, as Jesus taught us, created by friendship: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And in the church, we not only find brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity, but friends to walk alongside us as we follow after him.

None of this means that friendship is always easy. Sometimes we experience periods of loneliness. Sometimes our relationships are filled with discord (even Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest followers). But when we encounter such things, we should remember that friendship, like every good gift, comes from above. Pray. Ask the Lord to bless your pursuit of  deep friendships or to bring reconciliation and peace when your relationships become contentious. He is faithful. He cares for you. And he will provide all that you need.

Jesus’ earthly ministry took place in the context of friendship. He chose a group of 12 men and loved, taught, and served them. He modeled the kind of commitment and patience and grace that friendship requires. And in his example, he showed us how friendship is a critical part of the Christian life. None of us are prepared to withstand all of life’s challenges, at least not on our own. But the good news is that for Christians, we not only have the Holy Spirit within us, but the church around us as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

By / Apr 30

With states beginning to announce plans for opening local economies back up amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are going to be faced with difficult decisions. When should we start going out again? Where will it be safe for us to go? When we go somewhere, what precautions should we take? Once looser restrictions are put in place, decisions that were made for us by our government leaders will be placed in our hands. While these choices are indeed difficult ones to make, they will be even more difficult when you consider that people will inevitably disagree about what is best when re-engaging the public on a day-to-day basis.

What do I need to do if those closest to me, including other extended family members and close friends, want to engage with the public is a different way than I am comfortable with for myself and my family? How can I remain loving and kind, even when I disagree with others about how to apply social distancing? While these questions may seem daunting, thankfully, we are not without biblical wisdom on these matters. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Stay informed 

Although the government may begin to loosen restrictions on social distancing, we should continue to listen to the recommendations that are being made by our leaders to protect ourselves and one another. When we take precautions, we are being a loving neighbor to those around us. On the other hand, re-engaging in a prudent way and putting resources back into our local economy is a way to love our neighbor. 

We can find the right balance by deciphering the best information and thinking critically. My family is fortunate enough to be under the care of a family medical practice who has been engaged with COVID-19 and posting regular updates on social media about the pandemic and its public health ramifications. Finding people that you trust, especially local medical and community leaders, can give you the confidence that you are making decisions based on facts and not fear or other emotions. When people disagree with you, you can point them to this information and tell them how valuable it has been in your decision-making process. 

Remember what we can and cannot control

I was encouraged recently while listening to an episode of The Way Home with Dan Darling when he hosted Jesse and Julie Masson discussing the pandemic. Jesse is a skilled Christian counselor who reminded us that there are certain things that we can control, and conversely, there are certain things that we cannot control. When we focus our energy on things that we can control, like how we keep our family as safe as possible, we do not have to fret over the actions of others. Worrying about things we cannot control can bring great levels of anxiety in our lives, but the Lord calls us to bring our anxieties to him because he cares for us (Matt. 6:25-34; 1 Pet. 5:7). The beautiful thing about bringing the cares we cannot control to the Lord is that he can control them, and he is able to work even the grimmest of realities for the good of those he calls his own (Rom. 8:28).

Engage with others about our decisions in an understanding way

Having equipped ourselves with the best information possible, and trusting the Lord with our decisions, we must be ready to talk boldy and lovingly about the way we have decided to practice social distancing without fear or arrogance. If your extended family does not understand why you have chosen not to come to a family gathering, find a way to explain why you have reached your conclusions. Affirm your love for them and your desire to protect others. Even if they do not ultimately understand, your conscience can be clear that you are doing your best to be a loving family member and neighbor. 

Find ways to honor those who disagree with you, whether it’s through continued video calls, letters, cards, and even drive-by visits. Ensure that those who disagree with you do not feel unfairly judged by you, if at all possible. If you find yourself with looser standards for social distancing than those around you, try not to be offended or frustrated with those who disagree. Remember that this is a serious matter that has radically changed our way of living. 

No matter where you find yourself on the spectrum of viewpoints about this pandemic, remember that often the things that divide us are not as great as the things that unite us. Let’s celebrate the love that we have for our Lord and his gospel. Let’s be unified in our disdain for sickness and disease that has broken our world. Let’s all look forward to the hope that we have that God will show himself as good and sovereign even in the darkest of times. Afterall, Jesus said that the unity of the church would be an indicator to the world that he is the one that the Father has sent to be our rescuer (John 17:21). 

By / Jun 12

In the modern world, friendship is a lost art, particularly among men. I sometimes wonder what would have become of Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton if they’d met in a chat room or around a video game console instead of at their local pub. Would the same kind of friendship have formed?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading and rereading C. S. Lewis’s reflections on friendship in the fourth chapter of his book The Four Loves. Lewis observed in his own time what I’ve seen as well. Friendship is rare. As Lewis wrote, “Few value it because few experience it.”

But just because friendship is rare doesn’t mean we can’t experience it at all. Lewis’s chapter reminded me of an important lesson my mother once taught me when I was a child: “You won't find a friend by wanting a friend,” she’d say, “To have a friend, you’ve got to be a friend.”

So, here are five key truths about friendship gleaned from Lewis's chapter that will help us develop our own relationships: 

1. Friends walk side by side.

Their eyes look ahead. Lewis writes, “That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any . . . The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends.” According to Lewis, no friendship can arise unless there is something for the friendship to be about, a common interest such as baseball, or a common commitment such as studying linguistics or loving the poor. Friendship arises when two or more companions have something in common that others do not share.

Lewis writes, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’” Until that moment, an individual understands the matter to be his or her own unique interest or burden. But once commonality is uncovered, the friend is revealed as a fellow-traveler, one who walks in the same direction. 

For this reason, those who say you can’t have real friendships at work are wrong. That’s not to say that reporting structures, pay scales, and our human tendency to struggle with trusting authority don’t complicate things. But, in fact, it’s from the matrix of companionship and the common purpose we find working together that friendship can rise.

2. Friendship is freely given.

Friendship is given without any expectation of repayment. As Lewis says, “I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity.” Of course, a true friend will be faithful when there is need for an advocate or an ally. But, in another sense, offering help and care is completely accidental to friendship. 

Friends are always faithful, but faithfulness does not make a friend. In this way, a true friendship is self-forgetting. As Lewis says, “Friendship is utterly free from Affection’s need to be needed . . . The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all.”

 3. Friendship is not jealous.

“The more the merrier” is the old saying. With friendship, it’s true. Each friend in a group adds a little something, and that something brings out the best in the others. C.J. is the comedian. Trey may be a cynic at times, but I need him because he willingly and gently confronts; I can always count on him to speak the truth. Patrick is the spiritual man who always thinks to stop and pray. Clay is stalwart and faithful to plan the next get-together. Jeff’s gift to friendship is accountability. 

Lewis writes, “Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to be a real friend.” The addition of a new friend only makes other friendships stronger. Lewis says, “Sometimes [a friend] wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.”

There is no room for jealousy. On this point, Lewis warns the wife who may be tempted to think her husband’s male friends are a threat her own friendship, affection, and passion with her husband: “A woman of that sort has a hundred arts to break up her husband’s Friendships. She will quarrel with his Friends herself or, better still, with their wives. She will sneer, obstruct and lie. She does not realize that the husband whom she succeeds in isolating from his own kind will not be very well worth having; she has emasculated him.”

On the other hand, he also observes: “Nothing so enriches an erotic love as the discovery that the Beloved can deeply, truly and spontaneously enter into Friendship with the Friends you already had.” Certainly, Lewis’s advice can be abused on this point. There are some men who have codependent friendships and use them to excuse one another’s worst vices. A skilled and properly jealous wife will sniff this out and stand against it. But that’s not every male friendship. And a wise wife knows that the right kind of friends will help her husband to be a better man.

4. Friendship is necessarily exclusive. 

It’s exclusive by definition. Banding together with friends involves a bit of rebellion against the rest of society. Friends unite around what they have in common. As they band together, they are also uniting against the rest of the world. Lewis writes, “The little pockets of early Christians survived because they cared exclusively for the love of ‘the brethren’ and stopped their ears to the opinion of the Pagan society all round them.” In another place, he writes, “Even if the common ground of the Friendship is nothing more momentous than stamp-collecting, the circle rightly and inevitably ignores the views of the millions who think it a silly occupation and of the thousands who have merely dabbled in it.”

Unfortunately, it’s this very resiliency that makes friendship both wonderful and also dangerous. By “becoming deaf to the opinion of the outer world,” a company of “criminals, cranks, or perverts” can survive in much the same way as those who are lovers of good (or simply lovers of stamps). Maybe an even more subtle danger of friendship is the tendency of those who are already attached to become a sort of clique or regard themselves as the elite. Do not be misled; bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33).

5. Friendship is not enough. 

This danger in friendship points us to the last important truth. Friendship is not enough. Lewis writes about how the ancients viewed brotherly friendship, philia, as the most praiseworthy of all forms of love, the cornerstone of our development of virtue. They weren’t completely right, of course. The best of human philia never quite reaches the level of divine agape. In this life, your friends—even the best ones—will at some point let you down. Lewis sees this, and he writes: “Friendship, then, like the other natural loves, is unable to save himself . . . it must . . . invoke the divine protection if it hopes to remain sweet.” As Christians, we know that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). Our best friends here poin us to the True Friend.

What I desire for my own children, as my mother once taught me, is not only that they would be a good friend and thus grow to have friends. More than this, I desire for them to know Jesus, the one who laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13). And, as they grow in their knowledge of Christ, my prayer for them, for myself, and for you is that God would make us better friends—the kind who walk side by side toward the Savior. May we give ourselves freely, throw aside jealousy, and lock arms together, knowing that even when we fail to be good friends, our friendship can be saved by Christ’s greater love.

By / Oct 17

We live in a world where issues arise in the news and culture daily. Behind every issue, however, is a person—a person made in the image of God. This new ERLC Podcast series, “How to Handle,” will tackle tough issues for today with the hopes of equipping the church on how to handle the topic, care for those struggling with sin and temptation, and care for those who have been hurt. 

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By / Apr 19

Perhaps you’re one of those people with many friends. I am friends with people like you. You are likable, fun, considerate, helpful, and all-around good human beings. You are awesome. I flock to you.

These friends of mine, upon hearing that I was writing a book on friendship, asked me to tackle these questions: How does one foster intimate, true friendships and remain hospitable without becoming cliquish? Is it even healthy to cut off the number of friendships you have?

The friends that I mention are women using their influence to serve others, honor others, seek out the best interest of others, and love others in a way that brings glory to the Lord. For those who are jealous of the friend-magnets in your midst, to be fair, I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as it seems. I believe these women are a real-life chicken/egg scenario: do people come toward friend-magnets simply because of who they are, or do these friend-magnets consistently go toward others ready to bless and honor? I see my friend-magnet friends working hard at friendship and being extremely others-centered. They are genuinely interested in others, honor others, and listen to others. My friend-magnet friends all have wildly different personalities, so it’s not that they have a charisma necessarily, although I think they are delightful people. They are simply people who consistently go toward others, no matter who they are, and seek to make other women feel comfortable.

If you are a person who attracts friends easily, please know that you’ve been given a gift from the Lord. You’ve been granted a magnetism and a way of making people feel loved. Thank Him for this gift, but please also recognize that this gift is not about you. The gift you’ve been given is the gift of influence, and it’s important to consider how you will use it.

If you are a woman who attracts friends easily, my encouragement to you is to use your influence to serve the outsiders.

If you are a woman who attracts friends easily, my encouragement to you is to use your influence to serve the outsiders. Keep an eye out for the marginalized, the fringe, the new, the lonely, the quiet and unsure ones. Your influence pointed in the direction of an outsider can have great impact. It doesn’t take much—a word of welcome, an invitation to a playdate, a thoughtful encouragement about a job well-done, or remembering her name—and a whole new world opens up for the one who needs a world, any world, to open up.

The truth of the matter is that we all have the ability to be friend-magnets when we enter a room with the words, intentions, and body language of seeing others–There you are!–rather than saying Here I am! Everyone look at me! Everyone listen to me! or the opposite, false humility response, I hope no one notices me. I will feel too self-conscious. We esteem others as more important than ourselves. We keep an eye out for the one standing on the fringe of the circle. We move toward the outside and pull those we find there into the mix. And let’s face it: Don’t we all feel like we live on the fringes in some capacity? Haven’t we all felt like an outsider at some point? We all know the relief of someone pulling us from the outside to the inside. We’ll be their friends for life.

An honoring person who looks for the outsider soon becomes a safe person for many, many women. In other words, her opportunities for friendship are abundant and overflowing. This is why my people-magnet friends are asking, “How does one foster intimate, true friendships and remain hospitable without becoming cliquish?” and “Is it even healthy to cut off the number of friendships you have?” Because a person who honors others will eventually have to navigate these things.

And I say, in response, that part of honoring others is connecting others. There is a special kind of joy in connecting two women we think will hit off or who share a story, interest, or life circumstance in common. We don’t have to be everyone’s bestie, and just because we’ve included someone doesn’t mean we have to become their intimate friend. We can help foster community among women by being a bridge between them.

So, for my darling friends who are worried about having too many BFFs to handle, this is what I would say: honor all and be deep friends with some. Be friendly and hospitable to all and give intimate attention to a few. Welcome all. Keep an eye out for all. Love all. You don’t have to be close friends with everyone, but you can certainly use your God-given influence to bless others and connect women with one another. Be a friend magnet and you’ll attract joy too.

This post is an excerpt from Christine Hoover’s new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships, which explores the joys and complexities of friendship among Christian women. Find out more about Christine at www.gracecoversme.com.

By / Nov 30

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.

By / Sep 8

Lindsay Swartz interviews Melissa Kruger about her new book Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood. They discuss the vital role friendships play in the life of a woman.