Here are the practical steps Bro. Jeff mentioned Sunday during his sermon on Christian Friendship. They are excerpted and lightly modified from Joel Beeke and Michael Haykin’s pamphlet How Should We Develop Biblical Friendship? Please don’t miss how the helps on Biblical friendship inform the relationships we form in the covenant community of church membership.
Cultivating Christian Friendship
- Talk together. Most friendships begin when one person starts talking to another person whom he does not know. Jerry and Mary White write, “New friendships demand a first move from someone. They don’t erupt spontaneously, nor do they grow without words and communication. New friendships depend upon one person’s willingness to step out and approach another.”33 Don’t wait for someone else to talk to you. Go up to someone, ask a few questions, seek a common interest, get to know the person, and share a little about yourself.
If you feel shy around other people and find it hard to start conversations, remember what the Bible says is true about you. As the Whites have said, the Bible teaches that “God has lovingly created every person with valuable qualities—that includes you!” (Gen. 1:27), and, “We have a responsibility before God to extend our lives to others” (Eph. 2:10).34 You have something to give to others and a stewardship from God to share it.
Build relationships through godly conversation. Don’t talk about your life as if you were a practical atheist, but as you talk about life, constantly acknowledge the Lord of life. Sprinkle your conversations with the salty truth of Christ. And share with your closest friends your spiritual experiences, exercises, sorrows, and joys. Richard Baxter wrote, “The most necessary direction for a fruitful tongue is to get a well-furnished mind, and a holy heart, and to walk with God in holiness yourselves: for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.”
- Listen together – We must pay attention to the person speaking with our eyes, ears, and mind… Listen for more than information. Listen to know a person. Try to understand his or her point of view. Open your heart and let your emotions answer your friend’s. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15). In so doing, you will become like Jesus Christ, the sympathetic High Priest who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” for He too is human and has suffered (Heb. 4:15)
Remember A good friend listens, with care, much more than they talk. This is true at all levels of friendship and is true also within the church.
- Serve Together – Christian friendship carries an elevated nobility when it rises above merely personal aims and seeks the good of humanity and the glory of Christ. Holmes writes, “Biblical friendship exists when two or more people, bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, pursue him and his kingdom with intentionality and vulnerability.”38 Serving lifts our eyes from our natural selfishness, and in a common cause we come to know each other more deeply in both our strengths and weaknesses and to love each other with greater loyalty.
- Enjoy Life Together – Friends multiply their joys by sharing them. One of the most basic ways is by eating together. Don’t overspiritualize Christian friendship; two of its most important tools are a fork and a spoon (or chopsticks for some friends). As Christ’s ministry shows, eating together communicates powerful messages of love and social acceptance. When we invite others into our homes for a meal, the acceptance, vulnerability, and self-disclosure of hospitality deepens the joy even further. Friends become as family.
- Think Together – Discussing the truths of God is an important way that friends sharpen each other… Help each other to love the Lord with all your minds.
Also, don’t be afraid to debate ideas with brotherly and sisterly love. Have the humility to admit that you are often wrong and need to learn more, and have the courage to speak up for what you believe. Cultivate the kinds of friendships that allow you to disagree, learn from each other in the process, and end the conversation with mutual respect and affection.
- Be together. Never underestimate the power of personal presence. When it comes to friendship, there is no substitute for time together. It certainly involves communication, but it aims for communion —sharing life together. Friendship has been defined as “the personal bond of a shared life.”
True friendships take time: it takes time to build into each other ’s lives. The transparency and trust essential to true friendship cannot be established overnight. Other things, lesser goods, need to be sacrificed to develop and maintain genuine friendships.
In life’s crises, the best gift of friendship is just being there. Hobbies, sports, and entertainment mean little at the graveside. When someone suffers profound loss, we sometimes are tempted to stay away because we don’t know what to say. We forget that in the moment of greatest suffering people do not need words as much as companionship. One man recounts,
“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.
Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, ans answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”
- Trust Together – Build trust gradually by proving yourself faithful and giving opportunities to your friend to prove himself faithful to you. That requires you to make yourself vulnerable by revealing your weaknesses, needs, and flaws. Don’t dump your life story on a new friend all at once, but take small steps over time. By developing a history of mutual faithfulness, you develop a foundation of trust on which to build for the future.
- Pray Together – Christians often say to each other, “I’ll pray for you.” Why not say, “Let’s pray together right now”? Few things comfort the heart as powerfully as listening to your friend cry out to your God to obtain grace for you in your time of need. Don’t be intimidated about praying out loud. It does not need to be a long, theologically eloquent prayer, just a sincere prayer offered with love for a friend and with faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes a simple, “Gracious heavenly Father, please be near to my friend and help her because she’s really hurting,” is all that it is needed.
- Repent Together – We need to speak both law and gospel to each other. Robert Kelleman says that true spiritual friends “are like the Puritans who practiced the art of loading the conscience with guilt. Like them, we know that to break the habitual web of sin’s deceit, people need to experience the horrors of their sin against God and others.” At the same time, such friends must be skilled in “the art of lightening the conscience with grace,” for, “forgiveness by grace is the dynamic God uses not only to cleanse our lives, but also to change our love. Christ woos us back to God by grace.
- Hope Together – One of the blessings of Christian friendship is to encourage each other to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the coming of His kingdom. After Paul described what Christ’s coming will mean for believers, he wrote, “Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). Whether we are old or young, healthy or diagnosed with a terminal illness, we all need to be reminded that this world is not our home, but we have a place in the Father ’s house. We are to be “exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Hope gives us patience, perseverance, and joy.