John 13: 34-35
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
1 Peter 1: 22
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”
The Christian community is a little like boot camp. In boot camp recruits come together from all walks of life. They have nothing in common with each other, except their commitment of service to the army.
At first, there is a lot of friction, but the drill sergeant pushes them and drives them. In time, they become best friends. Their central commitment overcomes all disagreements and they become one.
What the army does through power and intimidation God does by an invitation to selfless love. If we want to love Him, then we must also love one another earnestly and with a pure heart. Jesus gave us an example of selfless love in his life and on the Cross, and then said “follow my example.” We sign on as citizens of the Kingdom of God by committing ourselves to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. This leads to union with Christ and union with each other. In the army, the first command is to “obey.” In the kingdom, the first command is “love.”
But here’s the problem. We don’t know what love is. What passes for love in the church is a pale imitation of what God had in mind. It isn’t grounded in Christ. It is neither self-sacrificing nor trusting. What passes for Christian fellowship is often an inferior copy of worldly friendship. We are less connected with our church brothers and sisters than we are with our work friends or our hobby club. What makes Christian fellowship so phony is our tendency to spiritualize everything.
We say, “I love you in Christ” when what we really mean is “I really don’t like you, and, wish you would go away, but I’m supposed to say ‘I love you,’ because I’m in church.” We share scripture but not our hearts. We don’t listen we preach. We don’t accept, we judge, and think ourselves holy for doing so.
Larry Crabb described this kind of fellowship in his book Soul Talk.
“Churches . . . have become as dangerous to the health of our soul as porn shops. People leave both superficially titillated and deeply numbed. Religious events can be as irrelevant to real life as cocktail parties at country clubs. . .
“Retired folks in coffee shops gripe about expensive prescriptions or brag about their children’s success . . . Middle-agers share stories about their problem teens, pursue whatever dreams are left, and worry about growing old. Younger adults talk about babies, new jobs, exciting churches and ministries, and Grandpa’s inheritance. Adolescents choose heroes, fit in or drop out . . . Through it all, in every age group . . . it’s all the same. Most people tuck their soul out of sight and try desperately to ignore that something is missing they can’t supply. We speak few words that come out of an honest look at our soul, and few words that are spoken to us that inspire the courage to take an honest look that give us the hope and painful authenticity that would lead us to real life.”
Churches aren’t just random collections of people--they are people whom God has called together to be friends. Friendship is where people are knitted together as one mind and heart.
People today have many acquaintances, but few real friends. Forty years ago, the average American had about 3.5 friends. Today the figure is 1.5. Many, many people have no real friends.
Friends in Christ are different from human friendships. Christian friendships do not necessarily have anything in common—not gender, age, or education of any of these things, but mutual love and respect. Christian friends physically represent Christ in front of us. When we love them, we love Christ. Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered, there I am.”
Why is two the minimum? Because human relationships begin as one on one relationships. If we can’t see Jesus in the person in front of us, then we will never see Him in a hall full of strangers. To experience Christian community, we first need to learn what it means to relate to one other person. The presence of Christ creates a safe environment where we can develop true soul friendship in a community of faith.
We don’t need to be just acquaintances—we need to be friends. These friendships are based on mutual, unconditional love and respect. There are 3 kinds of soul friend relationships. We need all three.
We need “Paul” relationships—someone who can mentor us in the Christian life.
We need “Barnabas” relationships—someone who can walk beside us, with whom we can share everything.
We need a “Timothy” relationships—someone we are mentoring in the Christian life.
These relationships are “soul friend” relationships. As such, they have certain characteristics. Here is what they are not.
Users. Worldly friendships are often means of getting something. Christian friendships are best when no one has a promotional agenda. We are with each other to display Christ’s love to that other person, not to get ahead.
Judgers. Christians do not judge. Period. Being a Christian friend is not a license to judge. We should accept each other as God accepts us. Soul friends treat each other with grace.
Talkers. Have you ever been around someone who will not let you get a word in edgewise? Christian friends learn to listen to each other. We are thinking of what we want to say before the other is finished talking. We must learn to be quiet and not dump our chatter on others without permission.
Fixers. We can’t be someone else’s messiah. Before offering advice, we should wait until we are asked. Let your friends hear from God themselves—He will give them to the right answer.
Pretenders. Whatever you do, be real. Don’t pretend to be different from who you are. If people don’t accept you for who you are they are not your soul friends.
Avoiders. Soul friends talk about differences. They care enough to get below the surface. Soul friends are people you can open up to about what is really in your heart.
Being soul friends doesn’t come quickly or easily. It takes time. But the beginning of soul friendship is easy. It starts when we drop our guard and start loving each other unconditionally. Soul friendships begin with these simple words, “I love you—really!” But for that soul friendship to take form, we have to cultivate it. Here are some of the ways we can cultivate soul friendship.
How can we be a soul friend?
--Be there. We start by being where people are. You can’t be a soul friend staying in your room.
The reason we have fellowship activities in the church is for the cultivation of soul friendships. That is their purpose, more than teaching or serving. There are lots of places in the community for expressing our desire to help the poor and even to evangelize. There are many books you can read or websites you can visit that will give you a better education in the Bible and Christian doctrine that we ever could. But there is only one place where you can do this and make soul friends at the same time—within the gathered body of Christ. In order to make soul friends, we have to be where people share our soul.
-- Listen, don’t talk. Once we spot a potential soul friend, we need to get with them. Our first job is to listen. No one will trust what you have to say if you don’t listen to them first. Pay attention to them and hear the voice of their heart.
--Share your stories. As you listen, learn their stories. Then share your own. Tell who you are and where you came from. Friendships are built on a mutual sharing of stories.
--Practice hospitality. There is a big difference between hospitality and entertainment. We entertain strangers, we practice hospitality to friends. If we are worrying about what our house looks like before we have someone over, we are entertaining. We want friends with us even if our house is messy. They aren’t there to see the houses--they are there to see you.
--Do stuff together. Invite them to work and play with you. Go to dinner, a movie or concert together. Soul friendships are usually formed when we are not expecting them to be formed, in the off-guarded moments of life when we are not looking. Share our fun times as well as our serious ones.
--Pray together. One characteristic of a soul friend over a regular friend is what happens when you share a need. A regular friend will try to fix it, or will try to get away. A soul friend listens and pray. He (or she) realizes that your friendship is in your mutual bond with Christ, and will have confidence that Jesus can fix your problem, so they will go to God in prayer about it. Soul friends are comfortable praying together, and pray for each other.
--Stay together. Proverbs 17:17, “A friend is made for adversity. Being a soul friend is hard. It’s like a dance between porcupines. We are constantly trying to get close without being hurt. Having a friend is hard when things are not well. But soul friendships come together in Christ, so they are not put off by pain. They are held together in Christ. Our mutual connection to Christ gives us the freedom to be ourselves, and causes us to endure the struggles of mutual disagreement with humility and grace.
We are the body of Christ, not just to the world, but also to each other. As we obey Christ, we display His nature to the other Christians around us. By showing His grace we bring grace to all people. We Christians are sometimes bad about being friends, but Christ is always our friend. He will never leave us or forsake us, and He will unite us together if we ask Him to.
Take the time to get to know each other, not for your sake, but for Christ’s sake. He can make friends of us all.
If we can’t find a soul friend, don’t worry. Christ is there. He is your friend. He will stay with your forever. Not only that, Christ will find you a friend.