A friend loves at all times and a brother (or sister) is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)
So few of these kinds of relationships seem to exist in the world, even within churches. People like to get together and have casual fun, but walk (or run) away if a situation or friendship gets too difficult or might cost us too much. I wonder if many of us have lost sense of what true friendship is meant to be.
How might this Proverb come alive again in the life of the church?
“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,” — like Proverbs 17:17 — “righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31)
These thirteen words of wisdom in Proverbs are fulfilled and personified in the crucified Friend of sinners. Maybe we would begin building these types of friendships if we were able to see each other and our relationships through the lens of Christ. Before we could ever be a good friend, we had to be rescued from our sin. The perfect friend and brother, Jesus Christ, had to save us before we could even begin to love others like he loved us. We become blood relatives of sorts — blood-bought family — through the death and resurrection of this perfect friend and brother.
The family of God runs deeper than our physical families because we are connected not simply by the blood pumping through our veins, but by the blood of Christ spilled on the cross.
Perfect Love Personified
We need to begin defining true friendship and brotherly love not by conforming to cultural expectations, but by looking at the face of Jesus and being changed to look and love more like him (2 Corinthians 3:18). When we look at Jesus, we find a friend who loves when we are unlovable, and a brother willing to die for us, even when we didn’t deserve it. We find and experience a love utterly unlike what we normally find in ourselves, in our own hearts.
We can be such fickle friends, distancing ourselves from difficult people and situations. If someone seems too immature, too demanding, or too inconvenient, we bail. We find excuses (legitimate ones of course!) to distance ourselves from these kinds of friends. Yet, Jesus — the perfect, holy Son of God — went and hung out among wicked sinners who were extremely immature, difficult, and even dangerous (they crucified him!).
Jesus didn’t condone their sin, but he didn’t run from them because of it, either. Instead, he kept entering into the messiness of sinners as a faithful friend, a friend who loved at all times, no matter what they did to him, to his very last breath.
An Unshakeable Family
The body of Christ desperately needs brothers and sisters born for adversity, and yet they are sadly lacking in many churches.
Shouldn’t the church be a place that builds itself up in love no matter the cost (Ephesians 4:16)? Convenient love is not found anywhere in the footnotes. Shouldn’t the church be a place where the children of God, purchased by the blood of Christ, gladly care for each other’s physical, spiritual, and emotional needs?
Our churches should be places where friends move toward pain, suffering, and hardship in love, not away from it in selfish fear. Christ never gave up on us, despite all our sin. Therefore, we cannot give up on difficult people too easily or hold bitter grudges. The gospel families in our churches must commit to walk through the deep pain and sorrows of life together, to be there when things are hard. And stay when things get harder. The love of Christ should control us, helping us endure even when we are sinned against, being willing to lay down our lives for the sake of others, even those who have hurt us.
The Holy Spirit still does this kind of work today, if we will look to Christ as our example of faithful friendship and trust him with the risk of being inconvenienced or getting hurt.
Follow Jesus into Messy Friendships
Jesus left the glory of his Father to enter into our mess. He died on a cross for our sins to win a family of brothers and sisters who would be willing to live for the glory of God, who would love each other enough to die for each other.
We need to learn to see every friendship through the lens of the work of Christ on our behalf. To see that at the cross there is more than enough grace to cover a multitude of sins committed against us. To see the cross of Christ as the depth of suffering a perfect Brother was willing to endure. We need to remember a true brother moves closer when times get harder, and never leaves or forsakes a friend, even when the trial lasts a lifetime.
Friendships like these help us be real with each other, admitting our weaknesses and taking off the Christian masks of “doing okay.” We don’t need to clean ourselves or our circumstances up in order to belong. We simply need Jesus to belong. And instead of running from the church when things get hard, we can be eager to lean in with brothers and sisters around us, those who are eager to bear our burdens regardless of how heavy or hurtful they may become.
No one is okay on their own. We all need true blood-bought friends, brothers and sisters born for adversity.