Reclaiming Friendship

Ajith Fernando, Reclaiming Friendship (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1993), 160 pages.

A book about Christian friendships based on the book of Proverbs from an astute critic of western culture.

Table of contents

  • Forward by Edgar Metzler
  • Author’s Preface
  • Chapter 1: Friends and Real Friends
  • Chapter 2: Team Ministry
  • Chapter 3: Friendship in a Fallen World
  • Chapter 4: Unselfish Commitment
  • Chapter 5: Commitment in Times of Trouble
  • Chapter 6: Wisdom through Friends
  • Chapter 7: The Wounds of a Friend
  • Chapter 8: Friendship and Uncontrolled Tongues
  • Chapter 9: The Comfort of a Friend
  • Appendix: Organizational Goals and Our Personal Vision

Compiled by Mike Sullivan. Comments after >> are mine.

Foreword by Edgar Metzler

“Created by God, we are born into relationships and destined to fulfill our potential in and through relationships.” (11) >> not in isolation.

Christians are affected by cultural barriers to friendship, just like everyone else.

“Biblical friendship is rooted in Christian community.” (13)

Relationships are a necessity. If you don’t have enough time for friendships, something needs to change.

Author’s Preface

This book is based on a series of seminars that Fernando gave on team ministry based on Proverbs.

Purpose of the book: “What you have here is actually a study of Christian community life, a key feature of which is relationships of accountability—to which we have given the name friendships.” (16)

Fernando is also concerned that “systems which I know to be common in business organizations, but which have no place in Christian groups, have crept into many Christian gatherings.” (16) But he concedes that there is some overlap between effective business methods and biblical revelation. “Systems of management recommended by the Creator of the world should have much in common with systems recommended by wise people in this same world God created.” (17)

Chapter 1: Friends and real friends

Obstacles to Friendships Requirements of True Friendships
“To turn (Christianity) into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it.” (24) Affection.
“Friends who pretend to be friends.” (25) Loyalty.
Being too busy to really listen. Commitment.
Not having enough time for long conversations. Time spend in long conversations that center on truth.
Impatience. A quest for a deeper understanding of truth. “Truth can be enjoyed only if we are willing to linger with it, to ask what its implications are, to ask how it should influence our thinking and acting.” (29)
Hyper-pragmatism. “The activity orientation of today’s society, expressed in its love affair with quick, tangible results, makes truth seeking difficult.” (31) A willingness to endure scheduling inconveniences.
Trying to show how wise you are. Common convictions.
Being too restless to linger. Teachability (Prov. 15:31).
  A willingness to linger.
  A willingness to sacrifice time in exchange for friendship, even if it means losing sleep.

Truth-based friendships are one of the best things life has to offer.

Chapter 2: Team Ministry

A team is a “group of people who have come together around a common goal.” (42)

Team ministry is the norm in the New Testament.

(Ecc. 4:9) “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work.”

“When different people contribute to a project, the gifts of each are used, and the result is richer than if only one person contributed.” (38)

Why is this true? It has to do with how the Body of Christ is meant to function. Each person and gift work together for the health of the whole.

Team members bring the best out in each other.

(Prov. 27:17) “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This process best happens among team members who are not alike.

e.g. Prophets are “visionaries who provide special guidance from the Lord in specific situations.” (39) They tend to be radicals “who suggest change as they see ways the authoritative Word of God applies to specific situations.” (40) Teachers “are usually more conservative in their emphases.” (40) The church needs a balance of conservatively-minded teachers and radical, forward-looking prophets.

Team Meetings
Business model Body-life model
A ritual opening prayer and closing benediction. When engaged in their shared ministry, team members concentrate on those they minister to, not on each other.
Robert’s rules of order are more influential than the Bible. Spiritual union: being of one mind and one accord.
Not structured to accommodate “love fights.” Common purpose of advancing God’s kingdom.
No time to talk matters through. Not an absence of conflict. Heated “love fights” over issues can occur. These can happen when we let our schedules cause team members to drift apart. Fighting through to resolution takes time, which brings them back together. The result is deeper unity.
Lack of frankness. Worship and frankness.
No unanimity (e.g. “Fine, we’ll do it your way.” or “If you want to do it that way, then you do it.”). People on the team are your friends. “Outside friendships must never be a substitute for close friendships with colleagues.” (48)

Some leaders think it’s a mistake to have close friendships with their followers. Fernando says, “this seems to be an area where the world has unduly influenced the church. The testimony of scripture is that the great biblical leaders were open to intimate friendships with those they led.” (49) Jesus and Paul were both close to their teammates and considered them friends. F.F. Bruce said, “Paul attracted friends around him as a magnet attracts iron filings.”

Why are we so reluctant today to associate friendship with leadership?

  1. “As friendship seems to cause one to drop a few rungs in the status scale, it is viewed as a hindrance to effective leadership. We must never forget that the model for biblical leadership is servanthood. That has little to do with status and much to do with responsibility.” (50)
  2. People don’t know how to integrate holiness and love. “We respond to God’s holiness with respect... we respond to God’s love with intimacy... the relationship between a leader and those led is characterized by respect and intimacy.” (51)

Ways to win the respect of people we lead:

Holiness: Living an exemplary life (1 Tim 4:7,12) and commanding others to do the same (1 Tim. 4:11). “The leader’s hatred of wrong will build respect if backed by exemplary living an loving concern for wrongdoers.” (53)

Being a competent teacher.

Ways to lose the respect of people we lead:

Off color jokes and unedifying conversations with members of your group will cause them to lose respect for you.

Chapter 3: Friendship in a Fallen World

Proverbs has a realistic perspective on friendship. We read that friends are there for us in time of trouble, but also that not everyone is trustworthy.

Trusting people:

  • Don’t go into business deals with people you can’t trust.
  • “Avoid being a guarantor for someone you don’t know well enough to trust fully.” (57) If someone sticks you with a financial obligation, settle it quickly. If you can’t pay, humiliate yourself and ask the creditor to release you from your obligation.
  • Unsettled financial obligations sap your energy and hinder your effectiveness. Attend to your debts before engaging in any discretionary spending. “Willingness to sacrifice freedom from crippling financial obligations for the passing pleasures of materialism is a dangerous trend.” (59)
  • Give freely and be generous, but don’t foolishly trust people you don’t know.

Be sensitive to others’ schedules:

  • “Don’t make a pest of yourself.” (Fernando quoting Kenneth Aitken, 59)
  • We can go to friends with legitimate needs, but some of us stay too long in another’s presence without any good reason.

Sinful sexual relationships:

  • There are strong warnings in the Bible to avoid tempting situations. Proverbs details how lack of judgment leads to seduction, passion, and slaughter (Prov. 7:22).
  • Fernando recommends:
    1. Flee youthful lusts (2 Tim. 2:22).
    2. Be doubly careful in situations that might arouse sexual passion.
    3. Keep the word of God close and seek to obey it.

The vulnerability of friendship:

The word “allup” is used to describe friendship. It means “bosom companion.” (63) Sometimes our allup lets us down and hurts us. But we should continue to pursue close friendships.

The primacy of friendship with God:

“All human friendships are limited in their scope and reliability. Always our most important relationship must be with God.” (64) We can handle the battering that comes when friends disappoint us if our friendship with God is strong.

“For children of God, all wisdom springs from our relationship with God.” (65)

“Putting God first does not hurt human friendships. It only strengthens them.” (65)

Jesus was willing to endure the suffering of temptation in order to be our brother. When we go to him with our struggles, he comforts us.

Be prepared to be hurt in relationships. But realize the hurt will drive you to God and through it you can become closer to God.

Let the love of God replace the bitterness you feel in your heart towards others.

Chapter 4: Unselfish Commitment

Good friends stick with you. But “commitment is out of fashion today. Many of our relationships are selfish.” (69)

Symptoms of selfish relating:

  1. “We remain committed to an organization or person so long as we think it benefits us.” (71)
  2. “While talking to an ‘unknown saint,’ persons may break off the conversation in the middle of a sentence and start talking to a famous Christian who has just appeared...” (70)
  3. “A key way to test people’s Christian character is to observe the way they treat insignificant people when they think no one is watching.” (70-71)

Leaving a group

Group leaders shouldn’t drop people when they move on from a group. They should treat them well, even if they are departing after undergoing discipline.

Covenant love and discipline

“Hesed,” a word used to describe God’s covenant love for Israel, is used in Proverbs to describe friendship. Hesed doesn’t ignore sin (Prov. 15:10). Churches should practice discipline. But they often do this poorly or fail to do it altogether. Common errors in discipline include:

  1. Neglecting to discipline because the cost is so high.
  2. Attacking the problem too late.
  3. Disciplining the person and forgetting about them, because they can no longer help us. Fernando qualifies by saying we should avoid people who have hardened their heart. “Refuse association with such sinners in the hope that the pain of our rejection will provide a redemptive jolt.” (76)

Commitment to pray

We should have a special commitment to pray for the people we are close to. Praying for someone can help maintain spiritual closeness.

This was a big priority for the leaders of the early church, who asked if they could be relieved from serving tables to devote themselves to prayer and teaching (Acts 6:4).

Ask your friends to pray for you, too.

Chapter 5: Commitment in Times of Trouble

“It is when a person is in trouble that we can really know whether the commitment of a friend is real.” (79) See Prov. 25:19; true friends are faithful.

“Why do we forsake people who are in trouble? Because it costs to love at such times.” (80) “We need to help people realize it is a dirty thing to forsake a friend for their own convenience.” (81)

A common excuse for not helping is, “I have no time.” But the busiest people always seems to be the ones who have time. “We somehow find time for our priorities. For Christians, the needs of friends are a priority. So we will make the time.” (82)

A balanced life doesn’t mean “everything in moderation.” This is often an excuse for taking it easy. “The Christian living a balanced life is obedient in every area of life. So one who helps others is committed to finding time for family also.” (82) This can be hard, but God’s strength will sustain you. “Those who play it safe by living for themselves will never know the excitement of having the power of God work through them.” (83)

The balanced life can be a cross to bear. “If you lose sleep because you helped a person in need, then you are responsible to use your creativity to get sleep another time. People point out that you can never recover lost sleep. True, but there is a price to pay for a life of service. Here we labor and toil (Col. 1:29). We have a whole eternity to rest from our labors (Rev. 14:13).” (83)

“We must not let the abuses of the principle of sacrificial service deter us from involvement in it.” (84)

For better or for worse:

Prov. 17:17 “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.”

Good romances are built on the foundation of commitment.

“Incompatibility is a popular word today. I believe that is a symptom of the devotion of this age to self-fulfillment.” (85)

“Christian commitment in marriage comes out of the belief that, when the marriage vow to be faithful to the end was made, being faithful to the spouse became God’s will.” (86)

“Biblical Christianity says commitments are worth sticking to even through suffering.” (86)

“The attempt to have pleasure without commitment dooms people to shallow emptiness.” (87)

Remember, “commitment in a friendship is not just an obligation we must dutifully perform. Friendship is a help to us... those who lose their life for the sake of the gospel will end up finding it.” (88)

Chapter 6: Wisdom through Friends

Increased wisdom comes to us through friends.

Seek advice when making plans (Prov. 15:22; 20:18). This is needed because (1) we sometimes form emotional attachments to our plans that blind us to pitfalls and (2) “selfishness can influence us to act in ways unbecoming to holy people.” (91) “Team members... will see when our decisions which have been influenced (often subconsciously) by our selfishness are wrong, and help us to correct them.” (94)

Why do people ignore advice?

  1. They regard recourse to friends as a violation of their independence.
  2. They do not want to hear a negative word.
  3. They are too confident about the rightness of their motives and actions. See Prov. 12:15. This often follows a period of success.

The benefits of receiving and acting on advice:

Pay careful attention to advice and take pains to benefit from it. Humble, teachable people “reach heights that ‘confident’ people could never hope to reach.” (97)

“True friends deflate the false bubble of success we may have around us. They know us too well to put us on a pedestal.” (98) “People who succeed in public life need close friends who will help them avoid the perils of success.” (99)

Chapter 7: The Wounds of a Friend

See Prov. 27:5-6. “Consider the source of a statement and sometimes let the source override (your) immediate feelings about the statement.” (101)

When you say a hard word out of love, in the short term, you “will appear unkind and unappreciative, perhaps judgmental and even jealous. But in the long run, the risk will prove worthwhile.” (101) See Prov. 28:23.

Unless someone’s sin has had a broad impact, Fernando tries to avoid rebuking a person publicly. But there are cases where this is appropriate (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:20).

“Wait for a time after someone has finished an emotionally draining activity before (you) criticize the activity.” (102) Once in a while, you may need to point out a problem at an inconvenient time to save someone from making a much larger mistake.

How do you know when to tell someone about their flaws and when to remain silent? Let your guide always be a serious resolve to please God.

“Christians who take their walk with God seriously will soon realize that wisdom is a treasure.” (105) They are grateful for friends who have faithfully rebuked them. On the other hand, Fernando has seen “bright people with tremendous potential lose their effectiveness because they did not heed advice.” (106)

Visionaries need advisors.

“The end product of heeding correction is honor.” (107) The results of not heeding correction are disastrous (Prov. 13:18)

>> When we confess our sins to someone, we’re exposing ourselves to being corrected, advised, and helped.

Many Christians’ eyes have glazed over—they are indifferent to the things of God. We, by contrast, should be eager to learn (Prov. 23:12). Being open to the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit is the essence of teachability. It is having a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26-27).

Unwillingness to accept responsibility for a problem is a serious character flaw. When hiring, look for teachability and soft-heartedness.

>> Hybels also strongly emphasizes this point in Courageous Leadership.

But remember, “our primary ambition is not to be teachable; it is to be Christlike and to bring glory to God!” (113) Act on what you learn.

How does a hard heart become soft?

  1. God does this.
  2. God uses the community of believers to do this. “As 1 John 1:7 points out, those who walk in the light have fellowship with one another. The converse is also true. Those who don’t walk in the light cannot have fellowship with one another. If the community of believers is truly biblical, then those not willing to face their sin will soon feel out of place. They must change and start walking in the light or leave the community... It is difficult to know who is truthful and who is not. If biblical community life is practiced, you will find out. Those with integrity will either change or leave.” (111)

Chapter 8: Friendship and Uncontrolled Tongues

Insincere and insensitive words:

Proverbs 27:14 “If a man loudly blesses his neighbor in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.”

>> No one likes a sanguine in the morning.

“In our eagerness to do what we believe is right, we must not forget that the right thing must be done lovingly and in a sensitive way.” (115)

Blessings can also become curses when our service becomes an expression of our selfishness.

“Those who are inconsiderate in helping people will find it difficult to establish and keep close friendships.” (117)

Charles Bridges: “When a man exceeds all bounds of truth and decency, affecting pompous words and hyperbolical expressions, we cannot but suspect some sinister end.” (117)

Gossip

When we’re willing to humiliate a friend for the perverse joy of gossip, this can end a friendship.

Gossip mongers separate close friends by talking with no consideration for accurateness or appropriateness. They can overcome their gossiping habit by: (1) talking less, (2) focusing their minds on what is praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8), (3) lingering with God’s word, (4) being on guard, (5) asking forgiveness when they fall and (6) doing what they can to right the wrong.

Malicious gossip usually originates in people who have not let the grace of God heal their hurts. They are filled with anger which finds its expression in gossip.

Christians betray a confidence when they share with others things someone asked them not to repeat. Proverbs 20:19 speaks against this. It would be especially bad to talk about a secret in your sermon. Keeping a secret is honorable (Prov. 25:9-10).

>> Qualify with DeLashmutt’s chapter on Confidentiality and Conferral in Loving God’s Way.

Gossips often desire to ingratiate themselves with other people, but sadly wind up isolating themselves.

“Our eagerness to hear destructive rumors is a sign of our fallenness.” (126) But “good people leave the scene when a gossip talks.” (126)

Confronting sins of the tongue:

“If we don’t have the freedom to confront gossipers with the seriousness of their sin, that indicates the fellowship has moved far from the biblical model.” (127)

Chapter 9: The Comfort of a Friend

Covering offenses:

We are responsible to point out the faults of our friends, but we are also called to “cover” their offenses (Prov. 10:12; 17:9). “Covering” doesn’t mean hushing up someone’s sin or being unwilling to rebuke them. It means forgiving and forgetting their sin, like God does with us (Jer. 31:354. “This does not mean we are unaware of a person’s weakness. It does mean we treat the person as if that thing was past. We don’t bring it up in a way that damages the person.” (131) We don’t bring up their sin “unless there is a biblically-endorsed reason for doing so.” (131)

When we fall:

“Failure makes us vulnerable to attacks which are sometimes worse than the failure itself. At such times friends are a great help in putting things in perspective.” (132)

“Many Christians struggle with moral problems they don’t know how to solve. They are reluctant to tell just anyone about it. They are often caught in a trap of failure that keeps getting worse as time goes by.” (135) A big crash follows and people are shocked and saddened.

“When persons struggling with moral problems share with someone they trust, the usual immediate response is great relief. That relief itself may clear a lot of the air and take away the heavy load persons were living under.” (136) Through confession they often receive the insights they need to overcome their pattern of sin. (Gal. 6:1,2)

Superficial accountability vs. superficial fellowship:

It’s not easy to be honest with people with whom we work with closely. “There seems to be a trend among Christians toward forming accountability groups from people who are not close associates.” (137)

Teams avoid the time-consuming work of honestly working through issues because they don’t want to lose operational efficiency. But when teams are of one mind, they enjoy the power of God and bear spiritual fruit.

Accountability in organizations is usually limited to finances... but all areas of life should be included.

Warmth in times of need:

“Friends... bring the warmth of affirming concern when the cold realities of life in a hostile world hit us.” (141) (Ecc. 4:11)

“People complain that there is no one to help them through crises... but often the reason the church does not know about problems is that sufferers have kept aloof and others have no way of finding out about their problems.” (140)

“Those who choose a lifestyle that includes cultivating close friendships... become vulnerable to much inconvenience and pain. But when they face hardship, they usually find there are people willing to bear their burdens and help sacrificially.” (140) (Mark 10:29-30)

“One way God mediates fulfillment to us is through friends, for God made us as communal beings, and therefore community is a basic ingredient of a fulfilled life.” (141) Some see friendship as an obstacle to fulfillment, but this is just a false philosophy of “self-fulfillment.”

Lone rangers get picked off in a war. They act irrationally when attacked. We’re in a war and “God intends us to carry out our battles against demonic forces... as an army.” (144)

Those few times you must serve alone, make sure you solicit prayer.

Friendship and personal problems:

“When we have personal problems, the best people to help us are people who are close to us...” (146) Problems that are taken to specialists (which are needed in some cases) could often better be handled by friends.

Advantages of friends over professionals:

  1. Friends know the person needing help better than a specialist does.
  2. Friends are usually more immediately available than a professional.
  3. Friends are able to use language the person being helped can understand.
  4. Friends are more down to earth, relaxed, and able to use humor.

Appendix: Organizational Goals and Our Personal Vision

This appendix explores the relationship between commitment to a group and the personal development and fulfillment of an individual.

What do you do when your vision differs from the organization you work for?

  1. Share your vision with brothers and sisters in the group.
  2. Work with them to discern whether your vision is from the Lord.
  3. If the vision is from God, see if the organization can accommodate the vision within its existing structure. This process can lead to new good things for an organization.
  4. If your vision for ministry does not match organizational goals, and you’re convinced you have heard from the Lord, you may have to leave the group.

The organization’s responsibility: to show “concern and sensitivity to the visions and gifts of its workers...” (151)

The individual’s responsibility: to be willing to do things, at times, that he/she is not particularly fond of.

“Good leaders often have ambitions for those they lead which surpass their personal ambitions.” (152)