Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Christ-Centered Friendships

1 Corinthians 13

Teaching t21897

Introduction

Our study of 1Corinthians had led us into Paul’s description of authentic Christian community. In chapter 12, Paul insists that the church is not a building we visit or meeting we attend, but rather a living body, in which each member regularly receives the contribution of the other members and makes his/her own contribution.

Last week, we learned in chapter 13 that the key ingredient in real church life is relating to one another with what we called “biblical love.” We called it “biblical love” to distinguish this love from other forms of love. It is the love that God has for us which Jesus revealed—“a commitment to give of oneself in every area for the good of the loved one.” It is volitional, sacrificial, holistic, and moral.

There is nothing more important than learning how to love one another (and others) this way. This is humanly impossible, but we can count on God to teach us as we commit ourselves to excelling in this way of life (1Thess.4:9,10). So the church is not a mall which we visit to shop for what we want (with God as our Shopping Guide), but a gymnasium in which we practice loving one another (with God as our Trainer).

How do we start down this path? First, we have to be connected to Jesus (GOSPEL). Then we prioritize building Christ-centered friendships. The whole New Testament emphasizes this:

Jn.13:34,35 – How did Jesus loved these guys? Whatever else may have been involved, it involved friendship with Him (Jn.15:14,15).

We will also see that the ability to build CCF’s is super-applicable to loving our spouses and children, and to loving those who don’t know Christ.

For the next two weeks at least, we want to take a closer and more practical look at what CCF’s look like and how to build them. The first step is understanding the main components of a friendship...

The main components of a friendship

This CHART names three levels of friendship: casual, close and intimate. In a healthy Christian community, everyone has several casual CCF’s, a few close CCF’s, and (hopefully) one or two intimate CCF’s.

It also names three areas of relational sharing within these friendships. The extent of this sharing varies with the level of the friendship. I will define these as we go.

This morning we’re going to how to build casual CCF’s by giving love in each of these three areas. First, I want to make some general remarks about casual CCF’s.

Casual Christ-centered friendships

By “casual,” we mean more than mere acquaintances—people that you see only rarely and/or to which you relate only superficially (e.g., Facebook “friends”). Casual CCF’s are with people you see pretty regularly and with whom you sometimes interact on a fairly personal and spiritual level (see below). Having several casual CCF’s gives us a healthy sense of belonging and connectedness that many acquaintances won’t. Without this, we will be relationally isolated and adrift—and vulnerable (even if unconsciously) to all sorts of temptations to things that fill this void in wasteful and destructive ways (e.g., excessive entertainment, porn, etc.).

35 years ago, you could assume that most new Christians understood how to build these because they already had a network of casual friendships. Today, this is no longer the case. For a variety of reasons, many (perhaps most Americans) have only acquaintances and lack the basic relational skills for casual friendship. So, many of us have work to do here. Let’s consider each area of casual CCF’s...

Common Experience

DEFINITION: Spending time and doing things with Christian friends develops a base of shared experiences and memories—an important part of friendship. Jesus called the 12 to “be with Him” (Mk.3:12) over a 3-year period.

You can get this by regular contact with Christians at work, in a ministry team, even at this meeting. But by far the best context for this is being part of the same home group. Here you come together on a regular basis with a smaller number of people who want to know Jesus better. Over a period of time, as you learn, pray, serve and recreate together, you gradually gain personal familiarity with these brothers and sisters and feel a sense of healthy connectedness with them.

This is what Luke describes in Acts2:42,44,46 (read)—the average Christian had daily interaction with a group of other Christians, both in large meetings and in home gatherings. This does not mean that they were living in a monastery. They had jobs, families, etc.—but they also prioritized these kinds of friendships. And notice the gladness (exuberant joy) they had because of this!

The biggest barrier to the CE needed for casual CCF’s is, of course, the willingness to invest the time. You have to be around these folks fairly often, and for an extended period of time. There is no way around this, and this is one place where we must be willing to be counter-cultural if we’re going to learn how to love. For some of you, this is the step you need to decide to take. But this by itself will not develop casual CCF’s. We also need to gain some understanding of their personal inner working...

Personal Inner Working

DEFINITION: Learning what makes our friends’ “tick” (e.g., beliefs, fears, dreams, frustrations, motivations, etc.) and sharing what makes us “tick” develops a healthy “known-ness” that is also important. Paul shows this kind of understanding with his friend Timothy in 2Timothy (e.g., his family’s spiritual impact on him; his tendency toward fearfulness; key past Christian experiences).

In casual CCF’s, we are trying to love people by learning about them, including their spiritual lives. We do this mainly through conversations with them, not only about their day, the game, the weather, etc., but also about more personal areas such as:

Their background: family; education & career; married/single; etc.

Their spiritual journey: how they came to Christ, what their walk has been like, what they are currently learning spiritually, etc.

Their goals and aspirations

Their current struggles or challenges (if they choose to chare this)

NOTE: There is no better time for this kind of interaction than immediately after Bible studies. Everyone has been refreshed and nourished by God’s Word, so the stage is set to love each other in this way (GOAL: LOVE ONE PERSON THIS WAY).

The main love-skill we need for these CCF’s is active, other-centered interest—choosing to initiate conversations like these, asking appropriate (open-ended) questions, and choosing to listen carefully with genuine interest. This is what Paul calls for in Phil.2:3,4 (read). The main barrier, of course, is a self-focus —which may manifest itself in different ways:

You may be relationally passive—not initiating these kinds of conversations, and making others do all the work when they initiate with you. We often call this kind of person “shy”—but shyness is not a personality. It is ultimately a spiritual problem. As Christians, we can choose to trust that God’s acceptance makes us secure, and by faith choose against our social fears to focus on others. God will help you as you choose to do this!

You may engage others in self-absorbed conversation, dominating the conversation by talking about yourself, your interests, etc. Ask God to help you as you choose to learn about the other person. Try to have entire conversations in which you only learn about the other person.

You may have a self-important attitude that manifests itself by being easily bored in such conversations. Is it not amazing that God is not bored with you? Ask God to give you His delight in discovering another person!

This is a learned skill. Christians who are really good at this will tell you this did not come naturally to them. They learned it by lots of practice. Watch and learn from them!

This ability is also invaluable in sharing your faith with people who don’t know Christ.

Emotional Sharing

DEFINITION: Understanding our friends’ feelings, communicating love in ways that get through to them emotionally, and sharing our feelings appropriately are necessary for full-orbed friendship. You can see Paul doing this in a striking way with the Corinthians in 2Corinthians.

In casual CCF’s, we want to communicate: “You matter to me.” We communicate love emotionally in casual CCF’s mainly by:

Expressing gladness as you greet them. This is the spirit of the New Testament command to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” A warm handshake and/or verbal greeting communicates your pleasure in being in their presence.

Expressing warm attentiveness as you converse—including eye-contact, responsive facial gestures, body posture, etc.

Expressing appropriate concern if they share a personal burden or struggle. In casual CCF’s, we usually are not the best ones to give help beyond this, but this is an important expression of love.

The most common barrier to this kind of emotional sharing in casual CCF’s is the mistaken view that it is “being fake” to express such emotions unless you feel them strongly at the time. But this is to root love in the emotions (like eros) rather than in the will on the basis of what is true.

Expressing gladness, interest and concern in order to get something from the person is not only “being fake”—it is deceptive manipulation. But to choose in spite of your negative or lack of feelings to serve another in this way is genuine faith in God and love for the person. And the more you do this, the more often you will feel it and enjoy doing it!

Conclusion

The commitment to build and maintain a network of casual CCF’s is the “ground floor” of practicing biblical love.

This is an essential part of a culture that builds up its members and invites/attracts others (Jn.13:35). If you’ve been on the receiving end of this, you know how meaningful it is. Learn to give this same gift of love to others!

This also provides the context for building some close CCF’s (NEXT WEEK).

What step do you need to take to make progress here?

Is it to commit to being involved in a home group? (EXPLAIN HOW)

Is it to begin to regularly love others in your home group this way?

Pray, and then take the next step. God will help you as you move down this path!

“Attending weekly meetings, dropping in and out as one pleases, shopping around for a more satisfactory or appealing group – all of these factors work against the growth of true community.” Overcoming Loneliness in Everyday Life

The factors associated with this lack include the loss of regular extended family contact and stable neighborhoods, and excessive use of electronic media (which takes time and energy away from friendship building).

“The first service that one owes to others in... fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for (others) is learning to listen to them . . . Listening can be a greater service than speaking . . . There is a kind of listening . . . an impatient, inattentive listening, that . . . is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

For a description of passive and active conversational narcissism, see: http://artofmanliness.com/2011/05/01/the-art-of-conversation-how-to-avoid-conversational-narcissism/