Occasionally I meet Christians who are reclusive. It’s not that they hide away in remote mountain cabins. On the contrary, many times they live in neighborhoods and are employed in busy workplaces. The problem is not their location, but their attitude. They have built walls around themselves to prevent other people from getting too close. But this is not how God wants us to live.
The Lord created us for Himself, but He also made us for each other. After each phase of creation, God said it was good—except for one. When He created Adam and placed him in the Garden, He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). So the Lord fashioned Eve as a helper and companion for Adam. Only then could He pronounce His entire creation “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
The Lord created us for Himself, but He also made us for each other.
Our culture makes it easy to keep other people at arm’s length. Instead of unhurried face- to-face conversations, we often opt for quick texts or emails. Electronic media may enable us to accumulate many “friends” on Facebook, but a truly intimate friendship requires deeper communication in which we hear the other person’s voice and see their facial expressions. Instead of just knowing information about one another, true friends know each other’s heart.
I believe Christians, of all the people in the world, have the greatest potential for developing authentic relationships. We have the Holy Spirit, who enables us to cultivate satisfying and sanctifying friendships with each other. When we honestly and openly relate to fellow believers, we become partners in building each other up in Christlikeness.
In the final instructions before the crucifixion, Jesus gave us a pattern for friendship (John 15:12-15). And the foundation for this kind of relationship is found in verse 12: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” In order to love others as Christ intends, there are four essential qualifications.
First of all, we need sensitivity. Instead of being preoccupied with ourselves and our own interests and responsibilities, we must learn to become aware of others’ needs, desires, burdens, and heartaches. Too many people today feel like David when he wrote Psalm 142:4: “For there is no one who regards me.” We all long to know that someone else cares and senses when loneliness or burdens weigh heavy.
The Lord taught me the importance of sensitivity when I wanted to show appreciation to a couple who had done something nice for me. My first thought was simply to buy them a gift, but a friend of mine helped me understand what they really needed. He suggested I give them my time by sharing my heart and listening to their concerns. If I had let my busy schedule dictate my response, I would have missed a wonderful friendship that grew from our time together.
The second quality required for authentic relationships is submission. Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” True friendship never develops when one person dominates the other. We must be considerate of our friend’s preferences, temperament, and outlook because we are each uniquely created by God. Instead of trying to change the other person or control the relationship, we need to learn to love and accept one another without being critical.
Third, genuine friendships involve sacrifice. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). We may not have to die physically for someone, but there will be occasions when we must sacrifice our own desires and plans in order to bear a friend’s burden or to help in times of adversity. Friendship is not always convenient, and sometimes it requires the death of our pride. True friends are willing to admit when they are wrong and ask for forgiveness.
Genuine friendships involve sacrifice.
The fourth essential quality for intimate relationships is sharing. Christ called His disciples His friends, saying, “All things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Jesus lived with these men for about three years, sharing His life, His heart, and His Father’s words. That’s the kind of openness required for true fellowship with another person. We must risk being vulnerable in order to reveal who we truly are. One of the benefits of this is the effect it could have on our personal relationship with God. You see, since our own thinking often shapes our perception of ourselves, a wise friend may be able to show us more accurately how the Lord sees us. And if we’ve tried to keep God from getting too close, learning that we can trust a friend may encourage us to open up to the Lord as well.
Building barricades may keep people out, but it also obstructs the blessings that come with God-given friendships. Instead of constructing barriers, why not begin practicing sensitivity, submission, sacrifice, and sharing in order to build a spiritual friendship that displays Christ’s love and shapes you—and your friends—into His image?
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all the moms a happy Mother’s Day. The Lord has given you the awesome privilege of shaping the next generation and passing on your faith to them. I thank God for you and pray that you will be truly blessed on this special day.