Kevin DeYoung once wrote that, “Almost anything bad can be wonderful with friends, and almost anything good can be terrible without them.” Although over-stated (I’m sure there are plenty of circumstances that are still far from wonderful even with the presence of a good friend), there is a truth to that. There is a deep longing in most of us to have a friend who stands with us through thick and thin, who laughs with us and cries with us. “I’ll be there for you” was the theme song for the popular ‘90s sitcom ‘Friends’ and summed up the friendship that those six rather quirky characters shared with a lot of jokes along the way.
It’s not a surprise that we long for and feel the need for friends who will be with us through life; it’s in our very make-up. The Lord knit into each of us a desire to be in relationship with others. We aren’t designed to be alone because we’re made in His image. He is three persons in one God-head, not alone but existing in perfect unity and love, enjoying one another for eternity. He made us to thrive like Him, in relationship with others. Go back to Genesis 1-2 and you’ll see that working perfectly.
And yet sin entered our world. All relationships ever since then have been tainted by it. They can be a source of great joy, but they are never perfect. Who’s never felt disappointed or wounded by a friend? Who’s never felt the shame and discomfort of having hurt a friend? All of us who are open to close friendships have. These relationships are where we experience the brutal reality of sin for ourselves...and I don’t know for sure, but it’s possible that making friends is now harder than ever. Travel and technology mean we’re extremely mobile these days, moving from place to place, church to church, often not settling down for more than a few years. We collect acquaintances, but working hours are longer and work responsibilities more consuming. The result can be shallower relationships. Add to this the sprawling metropolis of London; it can be very alienating. We don’t live near our friends or bump into them in the local shop. We have to exert effort to get to know others, schedule in time and travel to see them. It takes the time and energy we often lack. Instead, we are the ‘Facebook’ generation, encouraged to believe we have hundreds of relationships via our profile page, when actually we have lots of well-wishers and acquaintances but few flesh and blood friends.
But beware of giving up just because making friends is hard. In God’s plan, real friends play a crucial part. Rather than being independent of others, the Lord has designed us to be inter-dependent and if we allow them to be, our friendships can be a wonderful tool in His hands to sanctify us and encourage us! As we heard yesterday morning, Proverbs 27:6 says: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Someone who actually knows us well enough to challenge us and rebuke us when we behave or think wrongly is better than superficial friendship where the person only ever tells us what we want to hear.
This is good, but it can be uncomfortable. Philippians 2v3 tells us to: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit… In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” How many of the problems we face in friendship would decrease if we took on this Christ-like mind-set? How often do we allow selfish ambition to stop us serving friends because we are too consumed with how they should be serving us? How often do we withhold forgiveness because our pride tells us we deserved to be treated better? How often do we meddle or gossip out of a selfish ambition to be at the centre of things rather than humbly looking to their best interests?
Consider what this might mean in your life. Maybe it would mean spreading yourself less widely and thinly across numerous people and being a faithful friend to just a few. Maybe, rather than condoning sinful attitudes in one another and ourselves, it would mean being prepared to be both ‘iron that sharpens iron’ and iron that is sharpened by iron. (Proverbs 27:17). Maybe it would simply mean initiating friendships with others instead of waiting for them to come and find us. When we serve others in this way, friendship can become a wonderful blessing to us, a precious gift from God that spurs us on and refreshes us for the fight. (Cos’ let’s be honest, who doesn’t feel better after an evening laughing with friends??)
So what can you do, practically, to build friendships at Christ Church Mayfair? The most basic thing, I think, is that you simply show up on Sundays and participate in a midweek group. It's easy to get downhearted and lonely in London, but if that leads us to closing ourselves indoors and away from our brothers and sisters, we'll naturally be left out of things as true friendships require time face-to-face. Other really practical steps include joining a prayer triplet (you can e-mail me if you're interested in finding out more about this) and, less 'officially' simply following the CCM Socials Facebook group and e-mailing the church administrator to register for Timeout so you know what's going on in our church community.
Finally, we must beware of forgetting that however wonderful and difficult our flesh and blood friends can be, the perfect friend we crave is already with us. The Lord Jesus is our most faithful friend and the one who enables us to be a better friend to others. He sympathises with us and comforts us in all our troubles, but more than that, He has delivered us from our greatest trouble: Sin. He has paid for all our failings as imperfect friends. Jesus is more than a friend, but not less. With our eyes and hearts fixed on Him, we won’t just become better friends now; we will one day all be made new.