Recently I spoke to the women at our church on the topic of gospel friendship, a term Susan Shepherd used at the Women’s Ministry Leadership Training in Atlanta. Before I could show our ladies what a gospel friendship should be, I had to uncover what keeps us from it.
In the image of God we were created to revolve our lives around each other. And by doing so, we reflect Jesus and make Him more real in each other’s lives. But along with the Fall our desire for transparent and reciprocal friendships is often thwarted by fear – the fear of being known and living transparently. This fear is what leads us to mask our true selves from others.
Our fear may be driven by insecurity that leads us to pretend we have it all together and/or to judge those we compare ourselves to. It may be fear of others judging us if they knew our past or ongoing sin. Or, fear of disappointing someone or creating conflict that prevents honest communication in lieu of sweeping things under the rug in order to keep the peace. And out of fear we fail to initiate entering in to the lives of others. So we withdraw, stay guarded, isolate ourselves – or the opposite – busy ourselves and wear masks that keep us from true gospel friendships.
So it seems then it is fear we must overcome in order to get to gospel friendships. But how?
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18
John tells us whoever fears does not love. That may sound extreme, but the truth is fear keeps us self-consumed and inwardly focused. On the other hand, love unites. Love reaches out to people, brings them in and draws them out.
In the Greek, the word “perfected” means “full, grown-up and mature” or “to be complete.” Therefore, if the opposite is true of fear, we are empty, immature and incomplete; unable to give to others because we demand others give to us when fear rules us. This is true of all of us at times. We are all in the same boat. But don’t despair!
“In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily and you have been filled in him…” Colossians 2:9
If all of God is embodied in the person of Christ this means for those who are in Christ we have all of Him. We are complete, not empty. We have no reason to be insecure. Everything true of Christ is true of us. We wear his righteous robes and God looks at us as he sees his Son.
What then is there to fear?
When we know we are full, complete and perfect in Christ…
* We don’t have to pretend to be anyone other than who we are
* We can take the mask off
* We can be honest about our sin
* We can stop worrying about what other people think
* We don’t have to be strong, because we know in our weakness He is strong
* We experience freedom.
And when we are free of self and free of fear, we will be free to enter into the muck and mess of others’ lives, and allow them to enter ours. But what Paul says next is what I think really sets gospel friendships apart.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is…” Colossians 3:1
Gospel friendships are about mutually entering each others’ lives for the others’ good (not our own) and seeking to draw each others’ affection to Christ (things that are above). This means we seek to encourage not by throwing platitudes at them or speaking of God in superficial terms, but in reminding them who Christ is and of his promises.
Being a gospel friend means ironing sharpening iron. That may mean you challenging a friend to see something from a more Christ centered perspective or a friend helping you see a ruling idol in your life.
Can we handle a friend helping us see our sin? Can we be this type of friend to another? What about our willingness to go to her when something she said hurt you or for her come to you when you’ve hurt her?
By God’s grace we can because we value gospel friendship and being right relationally more than we are willing to let fear drive a wedge. I can only imagine how different our churches, marriages, families, neighborhoods and communities would look if these are the friendships we were about. If we were people who…
* Speak truth without fear of rejection
* Sacrificially enter into other’s hurts
* Ask the hard questions to draw others out
* Lead one another to rest in Christ
* Naturally drift from small talk about the things of this earth to the things of God because our minds are so set on above
How we relate vertically to God will correlate to how we relate horizontally with others. And to the degree we find fullness in Him is the degree to which fear will subside and gospel friendships cultivated.