In the last two posts (Part 1, Part 2), I began to outline that the Friendship Recession involved a kind of learned loneliness that required that we undertake a revaluing of friendship as needed and discovered. However, friendships are more than this. We looked at the biblical account of friendship as the apostle Paul went on his missionary journey to Jerusalem from Tyre as recorded in Acts 21 and 22. Yes, friendship is discovered, but it is also made.

Spiritual friendship is made, not just discovered

Somebody says, “Isn’t that a contradiction?” No. It’s a tension, but if you look here, you will see these friendships take a tremendous amount of work. In a sense, the gospel gives you the raw material. You sculptors know this. God gives you the raw material, but then you have an awful lot to do with it. If you look carefully, the word koinonia, that Greek word that is always translated fellowship in the Bible actually means, “to share.” Look with me and see … If you want friendships, you have to share. First, they share their feelings. Look at on the beach the first time. They wept. They kissed. They embraced. These are guys, guys. You cannot have spiritual friendship unless you share your feelings. Secondly, they shared their things. You notice Paul was staying with people. Hospitality. People opened their homes. People fed him. You can’t be friends, unless you’re willing to share your things. Thirdly, they share their faith. They’re constantly talking about the Lord. They’re constantly talking about the gospel. They’re constantly praying. There’s this great place in Hebrews 3:13, that says, “Exhort one another daily; lest ye be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The word exhort is one of the Greek words for preach. It says you have to have people in your life who are so close to you that you can preach the gospel to each other. You have to have friends to preach the gospel to you, or you will be deceived. Your heart will automatically harden. “… lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” It’s not spiritual friendship, unless you’re preaching the gospel to each other, unless you have some people in your life you authorize to press you sometimes. Fourthly, they’re sharing the decision. Here’s what’s fascinating. They say, in verse 4, the Spirit had given them enough insight as to say, “If you go to Jerusalem, that’s going to be the end of your missionary career,” and they urge him not to go. If you go back to 20:22, you’ll see Paul says the Spirit told him to go. Some people get very confused about this, but only for this reason. What is fascinating is if you read along a little further (I guess I’d better read it to you a little further), they keep arguing with him. At one point it says, “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.” This is verse 12. Verses 13 and 14 say, “Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’ ” Notice they didn’t say, “The Spirit told us you shouldn’t go. You are disobeying the Spirit,” and he didn’t say, “Look. The Spirit told me I have to go, so why are we having this discussion?” Any view of the Spirit’s guidance in your life that is so mechanistic it leaves out the process of friendship, of iron sharpening iron, of really being open to each other … Anybody who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand the power of Christian friendship. We are never allowed to make our decisions by ourselves. There is no unilateral decision making going on. Paul never says, “Mind your own business.” He doesn’t even say that to Christians he hardly even knows, like in Tyre. You’re not a friend unless you will let people into your business and unless you stop being self-accredited. You’re not a friend if you continually come and say, “The Lord said, and you have to obey what I’m telling you.” You’re also not a friend if you refuse to let people come and say, “I just think you’re absolutely wrong.” You have to listen. You have to share decisions. Lastly, you have to share your time. Every other kind of love, besides friend love, will push itself on you, because it’s a biological or sociological necessity. Romantic love will be pushed on you by your hormones. Family love will be pushed on you by your family. Citizenship love will be pushed on you by your country. Nobody will force you into friendship. Friendship love, because there is no biological or sociological necessity, would take a lot more time. It’s being squeezed out. You have to share your time. You have to share your heart. You have to share your life. There’s one more thing. When I read this passage in Acts I had to read this thing 20 times before I saw it. Look at the word we. Who are we? Paul has said, “If I go to Jerusalem, I’m going to probably be executed.” Everybody else says, “If we go to Jerusalem, he’s probably going to be imprisoned and executed,” but Luke goes ahead. He’s going to Jerusalem with him. Why would you do something as stupid as that, especially, when you had some doubt that he was right? Because that’s friendship. As Aelred says, in worldly friendship, you really aren’t loving people for their sake; you’re using them. See, whenever you find yourself loving somebody because it makes you feel good about yourself, because it’s a rise in social status, or loving somebody because this person is giving a lot of approval, or loving somebody because they’re listening to you and they’re eating out of your hand, but then when the person becomes stupid in your mind-set or stops approving of you, or becomes actually more of a drain … If you say then, “I’ve had it with you,” you never loved them to start with. You loved the love you were getting. You were using them. If a person who always seems to need you suddenly starts to get strong and you don’t want to be their friend anymore, you needed their needing of you. Luke is committed. A friend shares commitment. A friend shares life. A friend says, “I’ll be there thick or thin.” If you do all these things built on that original covenant God has there in Christ, you will have the most powerful, the deepest friendships and relationships you could possibly ever have.

Charles Taylor has called these people significant others. They are significant because they two things, they input into your identity in a way which refines it, and they help shape one’s action in ways that are significant. Both our individual identities and our sense of meaning are constituted by these significant others. Without such significant others, we go on as our social selves, doing what we want, so long as we can afford it. We become unmoored – losing our sense of meaning and threatening our own existence. Without friends we succumb to the worldly powers of society (what Walter Benjamin and other critical theorists call “Mass Society”). The logic of contracts becomes the logic of the way we operate. We take on and escape contracts when those actions serve us. And that is a scary logic. It says, I will do my part if and only if you do your part.

  • Friendships are forever.

I’ll tell you where I get that from. You have to read the whole book of Acts. You have to understand the narrative. You have understand the flow. Luke is again and again showing Christians saying goodbye, “Goodbye. You’ll never see me again,” and yet there’s a poise, and yet there’s a peace. Here’s the reason why. No other religion believes friendships last. Do you see? They don’t really believe that. Eastern religions say when you die you go into impersonality. Secularism says when you die you rot. Even religions that believe only in a God (they don’t believe in the Trinity) believe God used to always exist, and then, when he created human beings or angels, then he started having relationships. But the Christian God is triune. If you go back to Proverbs 8, you will see it talks about the Father and the Son, God and wisdom, delighting in each other as they created the world. The Bible says relationships and friendships were the reason we were built. Our creation is the result of friendships, and our destiny is eternal friendship. All creation was about making us friends. All redemption is about remaking us as friends. Therefore, Christianity says, “Life is about friendship.” Spiritual friendships are the social model of covenants; both parties in a friendship say: “I will do my part even if for a time you are not doing your part.  

Concluding remarks

So, like Arendt, I am not trying to solve the world’s problems in these reflections. Instead, I am thinking out some Biblical models for resisting a logic of the social world. I am suggesting a Biblical source for a way of life that builds some lasting subversion to a seemingly irresistible contractual approach to our public lives. Let me finish by recognizing spiritual friendship as model for our public lives:

I have already mentioned that these spiritual principles might inform our institutional lives in the university. King’s University, for example, has existed for more than 40 years now. It has existed before any one person’s entrance into it, and there exit from it. It is a context, a human artifice, that extends beyond any human made contract. If we are to sustain, maintain, and live into the world of King’s University, it’s institutional foundations should not be corrupted by taking on a contractual logic in its constitution.

But spiritual friendship has more to suggest than this: it greatly impacts our tendency to be polarized. By being both discovered and made, spiritual friendship is a model for our mature selves – and this sense of maturity comes from Augustine’s Confessions. We need to continually act in a way that is faithful to this dual characteristic of life, that it is both given and is continually and deliberately fashioned. We don’t create friendships out of nothing – we actually are thrown into them by the existence of common interests and public goods (Arendt’s amour mundi, or the Christ-centred redemptive story). They are given, but they also will not last unless we also act into them. We have heard something like this in regard to democratic life. We need to act into it to sustain it and to experience the thriving it nurtures. In acting into democratic life, we transform it, and it transforms us. My Mennonite communitarian self would shun me for saying this, but Arendt has convinced me of the real value of Civic Republicanism as a procedurally healthy political model.

A model of spiritual friendships will also constitute what Arendt calls action – that we are empowered to act into our contexts in such a way that freedom again appears. After all, there is much troublesome evidence that the social world has indeed overrun the more eternal timeframes of the private and the political – that freedom, authenticity, and human agency are in fact slowly disappearing. The initial love affair we have had with consumerism and for contracts can now be understood as a one-sided relationship. The longer we persist in it the more overrun will our political and private realities will be. Covenantal friendships can at least subvert this latest and widespread example of the colonization of our lives.    

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