Putting the “Christian” in Christian Friendship

Is there anything distinctive about Christian friendship? What’s different about how two fellow followers of Jesus relate to each other, compared with two friends who don’t identify with Christ? Romans 15:2 helps us consider one essential component of what puts the Christian into Christian relationships.

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Who Is Our “Neighbor”?

"Neighbor" can be used very broadly (as Jesus does in Luke 10:29), but in this case, Paul is plainly talking about fellow believers (as he does in Ephesians 4:25). This is confirmed in the verb "to build up" — a word which Paul reserves exclusively for the church. We're talking about Christians here in Romans 15:2 — Christian neighbors, fellow followers of Jesus with whom we share some proximity. So we could say this text carries significance for Christian friendship.

And the imperative is to “please” them, to accommodate them, to make their welfare of higher interest than our own. To please our Christian neighbor is to serve them. Undoubtedly, this will be for our own joy — no one is really served when it’s done in stiff reluctance. But it being for our joy doesn’t mean it’s always (or often!) comfortable. Pleasing our neighbor will take sacrifice. It’s not typically easy — it’s "not to please ourselves.” We’re giving something up for something better and that better is the building up of our brother or sister.

Sacrificially Build Up One Another

The sacrificial building up of one another — this is what makes Christian friendship, well, Christian. It’s Christian both in the adjective (sacrificial) and in the verb (building up).

Sacrificial building up ("not to please ourselves") means it's Christian in its manner. The foundation to our serving, our sacrificial edifying of others, is rooted in the example of Jesus. We're to have the Philippians 2:6–8 mind among ourselves. He didn’t give prominence to his own comfort when he “left glory.” Nor when he prayed in the Garden. It wasn’t easy when he bore our sins and suffered the wrath we deserved. Yet even in the midst of the pain, there was a joy set before him. It wasn’t easy, but it was glorious. And when we walk in that example, it works the same way (1 Peter 2:21). It shocks the world — for the glory of God.

But this sacrificial building up is not only Christian in its manner. It's also Christian in its goal. The friendship goes beyond discussing the latest scores (though it may involve that), or the newest app (though that may be a part, too), or the best book we’ve read (another good one). The purpose is to build them up. This is what the pleasing is about, for their good. It’s about their conformity to Jesus. Our little place in their life is to serve the goal to which God has elected them, Jesus has died, and the Spirit is working. We want to build them up.

For Your Friends

Now then, let each of us, by grace, please our neighbor for their good — count them more significant than ourselves, and their needs more pertinent than our own; to build them up — play the God-ordained role of a means of grace in their lives, investing in their transformation into the likeness of Jesus. Let’s stir this Christian intentionality in our relationships — that we not seek to please ourselves, but that we pursue the pleasing of our neighbor for their good in Jesus.