Dear Church Family,
A good friend is hard to find. Why is that? It’s hard for us to find good friends, because it’s hard for us to be good friends. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon compares a true friend with a biological brother. Here are three examples: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17), “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24), and “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away” (Proverbs 27:10).
No doubt we could tease out many implications here about friendship, but for now, let it suffice to say a true friend is loving, loyal, and local. Here we will focus on the third aspect. In our days of fast transportation and faster communication, we may shrug off the need to be local as being culturally outdated. Of course, technological advances may enable us to feel more connected on the surface, but deep down we know that FaceTime can’t replace faces, and pictures can’t substitute for people. Is it any wonder then that so many identify themselves as lonely even though they have every form of social media available?
My point is not to suggest we can only have friends locally or that all communication must be done in person. Rather, I want to point out the great value and importance of being a friend to those around you—those in community with you. This is not earth-shattering news to anyone, which is part of what makes this so difficult to implement in our lives. We all want true friends. We all want to be true friends. But when we seek to move from the theoretical to the practical, we find that having and being true friends demands being real. Again, I know this seems overly basic and cliché, but let me explain.
All of us have a vision for who we want to be. Some of us want to be independent and strong, or charming and witty, or beautiful and composed. When we aren’t those things, we want people to think we are. In other words, we want people to perceive us in certain ways that are often inconsistent with who we really are. One of the problems with this is we will never have the kind of deep and abiding friendships we all crave, while clinging to falsified self-perceptions in pride. It’s hard to fake local, living-life-together, friendships if there is any depth to them at all.
Christians should be the best friends and have the best friendships—not because we are better than other people, but because we know we aren’t better than other people. Our salvation is not rooted in what we have done, are doing, or will do. Our salvation is solely rooted in what Christ accomplished on our behalf. The vision we have for our lives is Jesus Christ, Himself. In one sense, we know we aren’t there yet, but in another we know that when God looks at us, He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son. This frees us to fight against the fear of man that lurks in our flesh. We are fully and truly known by God, including the sin with which we struggle. Therefore, if God sees and knows us in these ways—and yet He loves us—then what could possibly keep us from seeking to know and be known by other Christians?
Do we air all of our dirty laundry to everyone every chance we get? Of course not. Do we celebrate our sin or minimize its seriousness? May it never be. We show up in one another’s lives and we bring the Gospel to bear in every aspect of our life together. God, in His great wisdom and compassion, has commanded every Christian to be a faithful member of a local church in order that we might be blessed with the kind of genuine friendships for which He has designed us. We recognize we are all still in process. But, by God’s grace, being known by others reminds us we do not make this journey alone. We covenant together with a local assembly of believers in order to link arms with one another and press ahead until we “shall know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).