“Taking a break from our friendship.” That was the title in the subject line of an email I received from a dear friend. My jaw dropped and my heart sank. It felt weird—like a boyfriend breaking up with me in grade school.
First, she stated how much she appreciated our friendship; then proceeded to explain why she needed to take a break. She expressed her understanding of how busy I was with my daughter, work, etc., but felt that I had been “rude” and “flaky” about planning to spend time together and then cancelling due to other conflicts.
Although I was offended, she was right. At the end of the email, she left open the possibility to continue our friendship “at another time or season in life that is maybe less busy.” It was clear what she needed from me; however, life got busier and I wasn’t able to give to her what she was asking. I received that email a year ago and my heart still aches over it.
Friendships play an important role in our lives. From early childhood, children naturally gravitate toward forming bonds with other children. This tendency continues into the teens years and adulthood. God created us as relational beings. He put the desire for friendship in our hearts. Just as God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, He instituted friendship. However, just as Adam and Eve marred God’s purpose for marriage, the Fall marred God’s purpose for friendship.
A Friend of God
Webster defines friendship as a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard. God’s illustration of friendship goes a lot deeper. He demonstrated a depth of intimacy when He spoke to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). God expressed such grace and kindness to Moses on a deeper level than a master to a servant. He entrusted Moses with a greater revelation of Himself. Imagine having a relationship with God like that! Yet the fact is we do have that kind of friendship with God through Jesus Christ: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection has given believers extraordinary access to the heart of God making us His friend for whom Christ laid down His life (John 15:13). Everything we have in Him, He wants us to give to others. God gives the gift of friendship. This type of friendship is gospel-centered. Our relationship with Jesus Christ is the bedrock on which gospel-centered friendships are based. The gospel is the power of God that transforms our earthly friendships. It frees us to be the kind of friend people need.
Characteristics of Gospel-Centered Friendships
Gospel-centered friendships are centered on Christ. They are chosen by God. Jan was a new employee. When I first saw her, I was immediately drawn to her. I knew I had to meet her. A few weeks later, I approached her to introduce myself. Right away we became instant friends. To my delight, she was a Christian. We both had great love and affection for Jesus Christ. We encouraged each other in Christ, enjoyed discussing Scripture and spoke from a Christian worldview. Our friendship grew based on that common ground.
We became kindred spirits and prayer partners. We took our workplace frustrations and walked the parking lot in prayer. We experienced God’s great power in answer to our prayers. Everyone at work knew we had a special friendship so that when she announced that she was moving, my coworkers approached me with sympathy. Now we only communicate occasionally. God had a purpose for our friendship for a season. Although we don’t talk everyday like we used to, she is my gospel-centered friend for eternity.
Gospel-centered friendships are redemptive. Linda and Nancy had a friendship that was thirty-years deep—until Nancy’s betrayal. Linda was unable to attend the women’s Bible study for several weeks due to personal painful circumstances. Linda found out that Nancy told several women in the Bible study about her situation. Linda dropped out of the Bible study and avoided Nancy at church. They didn’t speak for two years. Linda heard from a mutual friend that Nancy was battling cancer. Linda’s heart was broken for her friend. God used Ephesians 4:32 to convict Linda’s heart—“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Linda laid aside her resentment and chose to forgive Nancy. God restored their friendship.
Gospel-centered friendships are sacrificial. They are an investment of the heart. After my husband left our marriage, I went through a three-year depression. Somewhere in the midst of that depression, I was talking to my dear friend on the phone who lived an hour away. I can still picture it. I was sitting on my bedroom floor sifting through a pile of bills and paperwork. I have no idea what I said or sounded like, but my friend told me that she was driving down to take my little daughter to the Mall so that I can have some time to myself. (I think she felt sorry for my daughter being cooped up with a sad mommy!)
God used that time alone with me to get my attention. Through many tears and wrestling with God, a decision was made in my heart to release the pain and embrace Him. I began to come out of my depression. Thanks to my friend’s sacrificial love and investment in our friendship, I was able to connect with God again. She is truly a friend that loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17).
Cultivating Gospel-Centered Friendships
Gospel-centered friendships must be cultivated. They are like gardens needing continuous attention to nurture the vegetation and to keep out the weeds. In order to keep your friendships saturated with the gospel, you’ll need to pay attention to the nurturing and quality of your friendships. Weeds love to germinate in blind spots and weaknesses.
Gospel-centered friendships live by grace. Unrealistic expectations have no place in this kind of relationship. Friendships cross the line when there are feelings of dependence. If a friend withdraws slightly and you feel like there’s been a death—that is bondage. Grace frees us from having to perform or walk on egg shells to keep a friendship. Grace recognizes that we are sinners who can’t save ourselves. We need to walk in grace for our friends and ourselves because we will fail each other.
Gospel-centered friendships are edifying. They build up one another in Christ (1 Corinthians 14:26). Friends who suck the life out of people are not centered on Christ. That kind of friend seeks to fulfill their lives in relationships. Our fulfillment is found in Christ alone. A gospel-centered friend drives others to God and not to herself. That means making room for her to develop friendships with others. We must encourage our friends to embrace others who are spiritually beneficial.
Speak the Truth in Love
Gospel-centered friendships speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This requires humility. Self-righteousness speaks truth that is demanding, judgmental, and condescending. Friends focused on Christ seek to serve the interest of others rather than their own interest (Philippians 2:4). It is frustrating to see a friend walking in sin. It is unloving not to speak the truth to her. However, this truth must be spoken with much grace and kindness in humility. A humble spirit softens the blow when confronting a friend’s sin issue keeping the love relationship intact.
Remember that Christians are unique; therefore our friendships are unique. We are still sinners, but how we respond and relate to each other is different. Friendships that are gospel-centered demonstrate grace, mercy, compassion, love and forgiveness. Let these truths change your perspective on how you are being a friend. Let the gospel of Jesus Christ transform your friendships.
Join the Conversation
What type of friendships are you cultivating? Do you drive your friends to God or to yourself? How has this blog topic changed your view of friendships?