A podcast listener named Joe in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, writes, “Pastor John, on Facebook you once wrote this: ‘Christ did not die to create saved loners. He died to create Christ-exalting friendships.’ Can you please explain this? A lot of Christians are loners, many of them hurting, perhaps victims of the church, or perhaps they are victims of the lies they believe.” How would you encourage or motivate Christian loners?
There are a lot of Christian loners — some by choice, and some not by choice. And my point was that God’s aim in the death and resurrection and work of Christ today is to move people beyond that stage if they are in it.
Satisfied in Jesus
If you are in a stage where you are a Christian loner because you want to be, or you are a Christian loner because you feel like people have given you no choice but to be, God sent his Son to change that. He wants to move you not just to be a soul-satisfied friend of Jesus, but to be a soul-satisfied friend to friends so that you experience Jesus through others as well as directly.
“God wants to move you not just to be a soul-satisfied friend of Jesus, but to be a soul-satisfied friend to friends.”
And here is where that came from: I preached a few months ago from 2 Timothy 4:16–17 where Paul said, “At my first defense no one stood by me, but all deserted me . . . But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.”
Now you could take that verse and say, “See, he didn’t need people. Jesus was his friend. Jesus will never fail. People will always fail you. I am tired of dealing with people. They are just fickle and they let you down. And I am going to be like Paul and have the Lord stand by me, and if everybody forsakes me, that is their problem. I have got Jesus.”
Not Good to Be Alone
That is totally not what Paul experienced in that chapter, because he said just a little bit later to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me before winter” (see 2 Timothy 4:21). And he said a little earlier, “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). This is Paul’s heart in all of his letters. Paul hated being in ministry alone. When he was forced to go alone to Athens, the first thing he did was send back, “Please, get Timothy and the team down here as soon as you can. I don’t want to be here in this city by myself.”
And so I think it stands that Christ died so that we would not be Christian loners, but would be in Christ-exalting friendships, because there is more of Christ to be known in Christ-exalting friendships.
You know, I don’t want to twist the arm of a loner and say, “You ought to do this,” or, “It is your duty to do this.” I want to say, “You are missing something, really missing something.” There is more of Christ to be known. There is more of God to be known. God said to a happy man, “It is not good for you to be alone” (see Genesis 2:18). And Paul said to a church, “I can’t say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (see 1 Corinthians 12:21). They can’t. And if you are a head or an eye or a hand or a finger or a pinky or big toe standing off by yourself saying, “I don’t need them,” you are wrong. Paul says you are wrong.
More of God Through Friendship
So here is my encouragement — first of all to the loners who think they don’t need others — I would say you are kicking against the pricks. God has more for you — much more of himself than you will have on your own.
And the thing I would say by way of encouragement to the Christian loner who feels that he or she has no choice, that they have been kicked into loneliness, I would say, “I am sorry for what has happened to you. I am sorry that that has been done to you.” And I would say, “Please, don’t give up on the one never-failing Friend because other friends have failed you.” And I would say, “For the sake of Christ, forgive those who have failed you. Unforgiveness is suicidal. It hurts you more than it hurts them.”
And I would say, “Move toward a Bible-preaching church with the prayer that God will guide you. He has a community for you. Trust him for this.” And I would say, finally, “Be for others what you long for them to be for you.”