The Problem with Gospel Friendship

When we put two beautiful words like “gospel” and “friendship” together, our expectations can skyrocket–making the crash that much more painful.

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Women are good at friendship. Typically more skilled at it than men. That’s why last week’s blog post proposed that gospel friendship among women has potential to strengthen not just us, but our churches.

“Perfect!” we think, “the gospel will guarantee my friendships will be sweet. This is going to be great!” And off we run to make new friends.

But wait. The gospel doesn’t prevent friendship problems, it solves them. In fact our friendships will reveal new problems for the gospel to solve.

The Main Problem

The main problem with friendship isn’t typically my friend, it’s me. I want what I want. It’s not just that my perspective is limited by my proximity to my own wants and needs, either.

My rebellion from God’s kingdom places me at the center of my universe. My internal map of life looks similar to the ones labeled “America from a New Yorker’s (or some other big city’s) point of view”– Manhattan looms large and the Great Plains aren’t so great.

So it is with friendship. I long for connection, but I want it on my own terms. Maybe I want to control it. My new friend might have different terms in mind. She might want the comfort of a friend. So:

  • Person A –wants control, an arm’s length friendship. Why? Maybe for self-protection. Or she’s task oriented. Or she craves productivity. Or she has an idol of achievement.
  • Person B–wants comfort, a bosom-buddy friend. Why? Maybe to immerse herself. Or she’s people oriented. Or she craves connection.Or she has an idol of people pleasing.

What’s it like if Person A and Person B try to form a friendship? Probably it will feel unequal. B is always initiating, A is often busy, B over apologizes, A gets irritated, etc.

You and I might not identify with either of these 2 descriptions. But we will have our own hidden motives that might spar with our friend’s expectations.

The Point of the Pain

Diagnosis aside, friendship problems hurt. Chances are if you’ve had a friendship blow up, it has become a defining date on your personal calendar. Even years later it may still be a tender spot.

Pain simply feels bad. Purposeless. But God has a point in the pain he brings into our lives. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way.

Q. What do you believe when you say “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”?

A. …I trust God so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends upon me in this sad world. …

How does God turn our friendship pain into good?

  1. He gets our attention.
  2. He forces us to seek help.
  3. He reveals our idols–and weakens or topples them.
  4. He exercises us in forgiveness.
  5. He brings us to hope in him alone as Savior.

The pain of a broken friendship drives the gospel more deeply into us.

Sin Isn’t the Last Word

Broken friendship isn’t merely a story of the good, the bad, and the ugly. No, the good news is that sin never has the last word. Even redemption isn’t the final word–restoration is.

That’s because the story line of the Bible ends with a new creation. So will the story line of our friendship. Though we might not see the full and final version now, we do get hints that God is making all things–even this–new.

Take Peter, for example. Peter, Jesus’s failed friend. Peter, who boasted that he loved Jesus more than any of the others. Peter, who publicly vowed to die for Jesus, even after Jesus tried to tell him otherwise.

Of course, he didn’t. Worse, he denied even knowing him, 3 times. Worse yet, he broke the law of friendship:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13).

But Jesus kept the law for him. He loved Peter all the way to death, even death on a cross. He hung on the cross as the “faithless friend” bearing the judgment that Peter deserved.

Then he rose.

The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the new creation. It is the beginning of all things being made new. The day Jesus appeared on the shore of Galilee (John 21) and told them for the second time to “put your nets on the other side” was the day he began to do that work in real time.

Three times Peter had denied his Friend. Three times Jesus called him to affirm his love. He restored Peter as a friend, an apostle, a shepherd of the sheep who would follow the risen Shepherd. But that’s not all.

Jesus also affirmed Peter’s good desire to die for his Friend. And he assured him that someday he would succeed in doing it.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” John 21:18.

Peter would not only die for Jesus, he would be crucified for him. This wasn’t a macabre foretelling, it was a promise.

The gospel restores friendship so that we become the friend we always wanted to be.

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Are you more like Person A or Person B or maybe Person C?

Next week: The Practice of Friendship

What's on your mind?