In a crowded room my friend sat down next to me, looked me in the eyes, and asked me the exact question I didn’t know I needed to answer.
It was 12am PST (3am EST) and still, without hesitation, I called my best friend to confess sin, to cry, and to seek comfort.
When I endured test after test and still had no diagnosis, my friends laid their hands on me and prayed fervently for answers.
I have countless other stories of friends giving away thousands of dollars, driving for hours, skipping sleep, sharing meals, comforting tears, fighting for truth, praying unceasingly, and doing everything they could to love their friends.
Christian friendships are radically different than the world’s friendships. When you’re in a Christ-centered friendship, people will see Jesus by the way you love each other.
It will be undeniable.
John 13:34-35 says, “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.”
Have you ever wondered if your life shows much evidence that you are following Christ? Take a look at the way you love your friends.
Jesus commands us to love one another just as he has loved us. That feels like an impossible task, but does Jesus ever ask us to do anything impossible?
Yes, He does!
He loves to ask us to do the impossible so that we can rely on His strength, power and love to shine through our weakness.
So, here are four humanly impossible ways to love your friends so that Jesus can display His Gospel truth through you.
1. Put Yourself Second
In John 13:1-17, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. Jesus could have come to Earth to be crowned King. He could have conquered kingdoms and raised up a vast army to take over the world. After all, he had the power and authority to do so.
But instead, Jesus became a servant.
He knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet.
And he commanded us to do the same: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
Loving our friends in this way begins in our heart. If we value ourselves above our friends, we cannot love them as Christ loved us.
Yet, we are often inward-focused when it comes to our friends. We say or think things such as:
“No one reaches out to me.”
“No one listens to me.”
“No one cares to be my friend.”
“No one knows the real me.”
But the reality is, usually our friends feel exactly the same way! We easily buy into the lie that no one cares and we proceed to isolate ourselves. No one ends up reaching out to anyone because we’re living in a lie.
That’s exactly what the enemy wants.
But Jesus calls us to lay down our lives to love one another. This is active. We do this before receiving anything and we continue without receiving anything in return.
Be the first to reach out.
Be the first to listen intently.
Be the first to care.
Be the first to be the real you.
Friendships of Radical Grace
Jesus actively pursued his friends without expecting anything in return. Jesus chose to die for his friends even when they abandoned him.
This kind of friendship is radical. It requires us to forgive before they say sorry. It requires us to love when they don’t deserve it. It requires us to run toward their suffering, rather than away from it. It requires us to sacrifice when the world tells us to keep for ourselves.
The world tells us to take what we can from friendships and ditch them the moment they fail. Jesus tells us to give what we can to friendships and pursue them the moment they fail.
This is a friendship ruled by grace.
The world will tell you you’re giving too much without anything in return. It’ll tell you to stop forgiving that friend who doesn’t deserve it anymore. Yet, it’s precisely that kind of love that comes from Jesus and shows the world his Gospel truths.
2. Know and Intentionally Love Your Friends
My acquaintances think I’m quiet, a good listener, and fairly reserved. My best friends know that all it takes is the right questions to get me to open up and share what’s really going on. I’m not afraid to be known, I just don’t always know how to communicate what’s going on in my head. My best friends know how to get me talking. They really get me.
We must take the time to get to know our friends and love them where they are.
Jesus does this with his disciples. Just a few examples are when he showed Thomas his scars after his resurrection (John 20:24-29); when he called Peter to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33) or when he reinstated Peter after his denial (John 21:15-25). Jesus did not treat his disciples equally, but rather loved them in such a personal way so that they knew they were equally loved.
Take the time to get to know your friends. Learn what questions to ask. Understand their struggles to know how to challenge them. Know what situations or discussion topics to avoid to keep them from temptation. Know the ways they feel most loved.
And then use that knowledge to love them intentionally.
Jesus meets us where we are and loves us completely. He doesn’t expect us to change to be more loved, but he does know that his love will inevitably change us. When we love our friends where they are and for who they are, they will get a taste of the kind of love that Jesus has for them.
3. Speak Truth Into Each others’ Lives
I started crying as I saw apathy in my best friend’s eyes that I hadn’t seen before. She was caught in a web of sin and had no desire to get out. All I could do was boldly speak truth, pray with her, and take away everything that would distract her from seeing the truth. I fought hard for truth when she wasn’t willing.
Friendships are fun, but realistically, they often look like this.
As I said before, Jesus loves us where we are, but he knows that his love doesn’t leave us the same. We cannot give our lives to Jesus and remain the same.
Because of this reality, sin is still an everyday battle for every one of us. We are still capable of sin. Our flesh is weak, so we will fall into sin. And so will our friends. The question is, how will we handle it?
Galatians 6:1 calls us to “carry each others’ burdens and in this way fulfill the law of Christ,” and 6:2 goes on to say that we are to restore each other gently when our friends are caught in sin.
But why is it so much easier to gossip about a friends’ choices than it is to confront them with their sin? Why is it so much easier to judge a friend falling into sin than it is to restore them gently? Why is it so much easier to avoid hard conversations than to talk about what really matters? There’s three main reasons:
- Speaking truth into each others’ lives requires us to know truth.
- We avoid conflict because we think it will ruin our friendship.
- It’s easier to give out judgment than it is to give out grace.
So how do we combat these things?
- Spend time in the Word by yourself and with your friends. Know the word well and make it normal to study it with your friends. Process it together, ask questions, and grow each others’ love for it. Then you will start to recognize when sin creeps in and you’ll know how to fight it with truth.
- Conflict is not a bad thing. Practice confronting conflict. Do this with small things. One time my friend and I were joking around over our Bible Study group text. I ended up saying things that I didn’t realize were hurtful to her and we realized we hadn’t set a good example for our 8th graders in the Bible study. She confronted me right away, I apologized, and we openly addressed it in the group. Let your friend know right away if they said something hurtful. Be open about the time you felt left out. Confront your friends when they start to gossip. The more frequently you do this, the more it becomes normal in your friendship and you’ll be ready to handle the bigger issues.
- Preach the Gospel to yourself. We will only give out judgment in the place of grace when we aren’t filled with grace. You can only give out grace if you know how much grace you’ve received. Repent of your sin to Jesus daily and repent to your friends when you’ve sinned against them. Preach the Gospel to yourself every day to remind yourself of the grace you’ve been given. Then you will give it out when your friend falls into sin.
Lastly, make a practice of speaking truth in your friendship. Pray together. Share what you’re learning about Jesus. Ask theological questions. Be in a Bible study together. And encourage each other daily (Hebrews 3:13).
If we lead friendships that are steeped in truth, it will come naturally when you or your friend have to speak the truth in a hard situation.
4. Be on Mission Together
Christian friendships are different from worldly friendships because Christian friendships have a mission. They aren’t meant to exist for themselves. Our friendships are meant to take us out into the world to fulfill the Great Commission.
Acts 2:42-47 reveals a beautiful picture of what Christ-centered friendships look like: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,” to fellowship, to eating meals together, to sharing all of their possessions, to meeting needs, and to praising God. The coolest part about the way they were living was this that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (47b).
Be a friendship that devotes yourself to the teaching of the Word. Meet together often. Share meals together. Meet needs. Praise God together.
The followers of Christ in Acts 2 were living in such a way that people were being saved every day. What would it look like for you to do hard things with your friends so that the Lord adds to your number those who are being saved?
You could invest in your church kids’ ministry together and even take extra time out of the week to spend time with the kids.
You could write about your faith on your blog and create a space where other people can be real and ask honest questions about Jesus.
You could purposefully sit with people at lunch who need a friend.
You could join a club or sport to intentionally love the other people who are involved.
You could invite lost friends to your Bible study or to a hang out with your friends.
You could reach out to people who are different than you and form real friendships.
Find out where the lost people are. Go to the hurting and oppressed. Be a friendship on mission. As you head into this unknown school year, who will be your mission?
If you can’t physically be on mission together due to distance or COVID restraints, how can you encourage and come alongside each other in mission this season?
It’s easy to hang out with your Christian friends without engaging in any sort of mission. It’s comfortable. It’s known. It’s simple.
Yet Jesus calls us to be uncomfortable. To head into the unknown. And to willingly trust him in the complex. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. He calls us to lay down our lives for one another. And he calls us to make disciples of all nations.
That starts now in your friend group.
Your Christian friendships are a tool to be used in the Kingdom of God right now, right where you are.
Start using it.