I love easy friendships. The kind where you get along and rarely butt heads. The kind where conversations flow because of shared interests, and you both feel passionate about the same social issues and theological convictions. I love friendships where you just “get” each other.
Such friendships are certainly gifts to be cherished! But if Christian friendships are only the product of ease, they fail to display the supernatural work of the Spirit. The church is called to more than what comes naturally.
If we allow the gospel to radically infiltrate our friendships, our love for one another will amplify our witness to the world. Through our friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ—even those brothers and sisters who seem unlike us—we can demonstrate the unifying love of Christ, the rescuing love of Christ, and the reconciling love of Christ. This hard-won love spotlights the transforming work of our Savior.
1. Demonstrate His Unifying Love
We tend to seek friendships with those most like us, building “tribes” around similar personalities, backgrounds, and interests. But unlikely friendships testify to the unifying love of Christ. When a teenage boy reaches out to a new kid at youth group he doesn’t “click” with, when a married couple presses into a friendship with a couple they clash with, and when people of various races and cultures commit to worshiping alongside one another, it demonstrates the supernatural love to which we’ve been called.
Jesus didn’t save us to hang out in exclusive tribes; he saved us from different tribes to be his people (1 Pet. 2:9–10). We aren’t united by education, political affiliations, personalities, or interests. We’re united because the blood of our Savior has purchased us to be his own (Gal. 3:28). And because we are his, we are called to love those who are his (1 John 4:7). Our friendships shouldn’t always make sense to the world; they should grab the world’s attention and make them wonder why in the world we love each other.
2. Demonstrate His Rescuing Love
Friendships within the church are essential to our spiritual protection. We face many temptations and don’t always see our sin clearly, so God works through godly friends as a means of rescue. Biblical love calls us to help one another in the battle against sin and the fight for holiness. We can’t do it alone!
Practicing such rescuing love is hard, but “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). Over the years, many friends have wounded me. They’ve confronted my selfishness, rebuked my self-righteousness, corrected my critical and complaining heart. They’ve spoken into my life when it would’ve been easier not to, and they’ve been met with anger instead of humility more times than I’d care to admit.
But because of their faithful wounds, the Spirit has chipped away at my excuses and defenses to expose my hard heart and soften it with his sanctifying grace.
Sometimes we’re tempted to withhold speaking truth in love because we fear conflict. We’d rather rescue ourselves from discomfort than demonstrate Christ’s rescuing love to a friend struggling with sin. Recently, I did this. I feared (and judged) that a friend would resent me if I challenged her about her fading commitment and love for the local church. Sadly, I stayed silent for several months, actively putting my selfish interests above her spiritual well-being. Eventually, God overcame my resistance and helped me speak up. After confessing my sin toward her, I shared my concerns. In the Lord’s kindness, she was both humble and gracious, and we had a fruitful discussion.
Sin entangles us all. We need friends—and need to be friends—willing to speak the truth in love, and so display the rescuing love of Christ.
3. Demonstrate His Reconciling Love
The more we build friendships with those different from us, the more likely we’ll encounter conflict. We may be insensitive to those who struggle in ways we don’t understand. We may go into hard conversations in a spirit of grace and leave them in a spirit of self-righteousness. And when conflicts arise, we’ll often be tempted to withdraw and feed bitterness rather than press on and pursue reconciliation.
Our Savior calls us—and the Holy Spirit empowers us—to be peacemakers. And the only way to make peace is to fight sin. We must fight against pride, which always inflates others’ sin, shrinks our own, and assumes we’re in the right. In situations where we are in the right, we must fight to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving, just as Christ has been to us (Eph. 4:32).
Covering a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8) comes at a cost. When a friend forgives us for our harsh words or uncharitable judgments, it costs them. When we forgive a friend who gossiped about us, it costs us. But just as Christ died to reconcile us to God, he enables us to die to ourselves so that we can reconcile with our friends.
They’ll Know Us by Our Love
Jesus is our unifier, our rescuer, and our reconciler. He knows—more than we ever will—the great cost of love. And because he loved us first, we can love one another. This love is essential to living as the family we are, and it’s essential to our mission in the world.
Jesus instructed his diverse band of followers: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another: (John 13:34–35).
He summons us to the same today.
Author’s note: This article was first published at The Gospel Coalition