[I've been thinking about friendship as a way for understanding the nature of the church for quite a while now. In fact, I believe that Christ calls the church to exist as a community of friends; I first explored that claim in this meditation that I preached five or six years ago. Remember, these are notes for a sermon (and it was a little long); but it may provide some background for some things I may post in the future.]
In his recent book, A Visit to Vanity Fair, Alan Jacobs asks provocatively, “Why are there so few attempts, by Christians anyway, and for all I know by Jews, to formulate a theology of friendship?” Pondering that question the other night, I had to admit that it was a curiosity indeed. After all, friendship was a major issue in classical Greek thought—one writer observed that while it would be false to say that the entire history of Western thought about friendship is a series of footnotes to Plato, yet if we said to Plato and Aristotle, we would be closer to the truth.
In addition, the Christian Scriptures were not devoid of texts that could be used to construct a theology of friendship. Perhaps some of you can think readily of familiar accounts—
We think of Ruth crying out to Naomi, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” (Ruth 1.16-17)
We remember David’s friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan, which led the writer of Scripture to observe that “The soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18.1)
We recall texts like the one we have read in the Proverbs, and one that counsels, “Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin” (Proverbs 18.24).
And yet, though we know that Scripture teaches us on this matter of friendship, most of us have never considered fully what friendship means, what friendship consists in, and what Christian friendship might look like.
Perhaps we think that friendship is something that teenagers should be concerned with, but once we become adults, it is no longer an issue.
Perhaps the most we have ever heard was the text most frequently used in my youth group growing up, 1 Corinthians 15.33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’.”
Perhaps we approach friendship with the consumer and managerial mindset of our generation. We become “one-minute managers” of our friendships—our talk has a minute of praise, a minute of rebuke, and a minute of concern.
Or perhaps we reduce friendship to mere “accountability” on some moral issue so that we might live more “productively” for Christ’s sake.
As Christians can we say more than this? Is it possible to develop a picture, a theology, of Christian friendship? I think it is possible; I think we need to take a step back and attempt to think theologically about this vital area of human relationship.