Discipleship Requires Friendship
In my family’s decade of vocational ministry, we have had to work to find a balance in spending time with both our unbelieving and believing friends. Time with nonbelievers is obviously important to our call to the Great Commission, but so is our time with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In Anne of Green Gables, orphan Anne Shirley uses the term “kindred spirit” to refer to others with whom she shares a unique bond. In Christ, we have a whole brotherhood and sisterhood of kindred spirits. Sinners saved by grace have a special fellowship with each other because of our shared fellowship with our Heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3). This fellowship comes with responsibilities to care for one another.
One weekend in January, when the temperatures had dropped into the single digits, our heating system went out. As our house’s temperature dropped into the 50s and then 40s, we found that local stores had sold out of space heaters. Scrambling to find heaters to borrow from friends, I was overwhelmed by the kindness shown to our large family as we received many invitations for us to stay at friends’ homes. Our family did not have to carry the burden of our physical need alone as friends took on our need as their own problem.
The kindness shown to us that weekend reminded me that friendship is not convenient. It often involves sacrificing your resources for the good of others. And while tending to the physical and emotional needs is a great calling of friendship, there is another call for Christian friends to care for each other spiritually.
One way we can do this is by following Paul’s example of appealing to friends to live a holy life (Romans 12:1, Ephesians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians. 2:12). Unrepentant sin breaks our fellowship with God and consequently with each other. Christian friends are a safety net that should draw us back into that fellowship. Our call to one another to repent of sin is a loving call that is concerned with the eternal. With humility, we confront a friend’s sin “on the basis of the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way that Christ bids us go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our common destruction, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s severity.” We do this to our friends not because we think we are better than them or because we think we are above their sin, but because we know when we have sin festering in our own hearts that the most loving thing someone could do for us is to confront us with our sin.
Christian friends are to love each other enough to hate one another’s sin. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” When that path a friend is taking leads straight to hell, a faithful friend must beg them to get on a different path! When done with humility and gentleness, Christian friends can help each other persevere to the end. For this purpose, we are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
The writer of Hebrews makes it very clear that these exhortations have to happen frequently – every day! Time spent with other believers reminding one another of who we are in Christ because of what He did for us is vital to our perseverance in the faith. These exhortations are meant to remind us of our hope in the cross (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). There is no better friend than one who testifies to our hope in what God has done through Christ Jesus, his Son.
A few weeks ago when I shared some concerning news with a good friend, she directed me to Romans 8. In doing so, she acknowledged my pain and fear, but also reminded me that I was free from condemnation, that there is a glory so much greater than my sufferings, that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, that nothing can separate me from the love of God. This truth from scripture was a balm to my soul.
I hate to think of what I’d be if it weren’t for faithful friends like her who have spoken truth into my life. Prone to worry, my friends speak truth to me about my faithful, good Father. When I’ve struggled with discontentment, my friends have reminded me of the glorious riches in Christ Jesus. In seasons of discouragement and weariness, my friends have spoken of the victory we have in Christ.
A dear friend of mine has had a year of terrible suffering. She’s been through serious physical, emotional, financial, and relational trials. But in it all, she has suffered with great hope. Calling her my friend has meant sharing in her sadness and pain, but it has also meant that I have been encouraged in my faith. She has reminded me again and again that God is working for her good, even when everything seems so hopeless by earthly measures. When I am with her, I am reminded that even in hardships, God is good and I am encouraged to share my faith with unbelievers.
When friends preach the gospel to each other, it should increase our love and our desire to do good works for the glory of God (Hebrews 10:24). Faithful Christian friendship equips to give of our ourselves to our families, our churches, and our non-believing friends.
And that purpose of friendship brings me back to my opening: Christian friendship is vital to our perseverance in our faith and our ministry. Our desire to reach our unbelieving neighbors is a good desire, but we cannot neglect our need for deep Christian friendship. Care for others and be cared for. Encourage and be encouraged. Enjoy the grace of the fellowship of believers
 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1954. pp. 106.