He is often the subject of whispering.
“Oh, here he comes — better get your Bibles out.”
“No wonder no one invites him out to lunch; he can never just have a normal conversation.”
“I can’t enjoy the game without being asked a million questions about my walk with the Lord and struggles with sin.”
He is serious about holiness, concerned with his friends’ souls, and devoted to helping them to pursue Jesus with all their heart. Although Solomon calls him the sweetest of friends (Proverbs 27:9), he is often left outside in the wilderness of Christian gatherings to eat locusts and wild honey.
He speaks with urgency, he speaks with sobriety, he says things others don’t. He makes Christians bail and jokers ask under their breath, “Why so serious?” His name is Earnest.
A Friend Named Earnest
Although he does the soul the most good, Earnest is often thought to be overly serious, overly direct, and altogether too spiritual. He smells strongly of Christ — a stench to the world and overbearing even to some nostrils within the church. The world is offended by him, and believers will only endure so much of him. Without a place to rest his head, he can be one of the loneliest people on the planet.
But I encourage you, beloved, to embrace the Earnests among you for at least four reasons.
1. Because they love you in ways many won’t.
At times, the earnest friend can be awkwardly direct. He can speak truth without love. He can be out of bounds, or just plain wrong. But often, he loves you in ways no one else will.
Because he loves your soul more than coddling your feelings, because he believes that heaven and hell are real and the time short, he will turn the blade of God’s word against your soul-destroying sin and constantly charge you onward.
He will wound you for your good (Proverbs 27:6). If no one else can be trusted to tell you the truth, he can. He helps you be the man or woman God calls you to be by sharpening you — at times and in ways you’re uncomfortable with (Proverbs 27:17). When all others have told their jokes, had their laughs, and gone home, this friend will stand fast to war beside you — even when it feels like against you — for your eternal well-being.
Remember, the friend who loves you most will care most about your soul. Do not put dark for light and light for dark, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Brothers born for the day of adversity (Proverbs 17:17) are friends who love you enough to be serious with you. Love looks like many things at many times, but the highest form of love, as our Master showed us, is not less than earnest.
2. Because you need them.
Not many in heaven will get there without earnest friends. As I read the author of Hebrews discuss the necessity of earnest fellowship, I dare not conclude that it is optional:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:12–14)
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23–25)
These friends exhort you concerning the dangers of unbelief. These friends check their calendars, and as long as it is called “today,” they call you to repent and believe. They know that only those who continue until the end will be saved (Colossians 1:23), and as far as they can help it, they will not let you perish. They are a citadel against Satan and his schemes: a Samwise to accompany you to Mordor, a Ron and Hermione to battle against Voldemort, a Jonathan to shield you from Saul’s spear.
These friends consider you. Know you. Contemplate you. And they desire to stir up your affections for Christ (Hebrews 10:24).
3. Because they need you.
The body needs Earnest, and Earnest needs the body.
Although everyone should be earnest, not everyone will be Earnest. The church is made up of different parts, and each part needs each other (1 Corinthians 12:14–26). And as the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” neither can the body say such to Earnest — or he to them. The especially earnest needs the especially gracious, hospitable, patient, generous, and hopeful — and they need him. The church would be a strange creature if all were eyes, ears, or Earnests.
4. Because to push them away may be to push away Christ.
Perhaps, if we are honest, we push dear Earnest away because we are comfortable with the amount of spirituality we have and want no more. Our stiff arm and bitter jokes come not mainly from Earnest’s erring attempts at love, but our malfunctioning love for Christ. Perhaps we do not like reminders that we are too worldly. Perhaps we do not want to kill our pet sins. Perhaps we despise the brightness of these friends’ light because it exposes the dimness in us. Perhaps they walk as a contradiction to the little lie that we have begun telling ourselves: I can be a follower of Jesus and a friend of the world.
Or perhaps we do want more of Jesus and we are jealous of Earnest. Why should our Father give more to our brother or sister than to us? He seems so happy, so free from the world. He seems to have one foot in heaven already. Why has he been blessed with deeper levels of fellowship with our Savior than we have been?
So, we can pout on the floor in what feels like Christian hand-me-downs and watch our sibling parade in his multicolor garments. If not a pit and slavery for him, we will have to lay our hands of jealousy upon him through gossip, separation, and sarcasm. Will we prove to be a murderous brother like Cain? Beware, lest sin be crouching at your door.
Love Him Earnestly
Whatever our reason may be, we must not treat those most serious about the things of God with contempt; we must not regard our eternity’s best earthly friend with disdain. Rather, thank them. Apologize to them. Be more like them.
If you do not have these friends (for they can be rare these days), pray for them. And invite brothers and sisters in your life to be more earnest with you. Begin by being more earnest with them. Often, it takes one person to go deeper for others to follow.
True friends, as with true joy, are never less than serious about things worth being serious about. Although they are not always the friends we want, they are always the friends we need.