Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Close Christ-Centered Friendships

1 Corinthians 13

Teaching t21899

Introduction

We have come as far as chapter 13 in our study of 1Corinthians, in which Paul asserts the supreme value of becoming a love-giver. The Bible declares this over and over again. We’re therefore departing from 1Cor. for a few weeks to explore biblical love more deeply.

We learned that biblical love is different from other forms of love in key ways. It is “a commitment (volitionally vs. emotionally rooted) to give of oneself (sacrificial vs. self-seeking) in every area (holistic vs. compartmentalized) for the good (moral fiber to discipline vs. sentimental softness) of the loved one.”

We also learned that the primarily context for learning to love in this way is CCF’s. Read Jn.13:34,35. Jesus loved His disciples by forming friendships with them (Jn.15:13-15). He is ready and willing to form a personal friendship with each one of us if we simply open our hearts to Him (Rev.3:20). And on the basis of our friendship with Him, He calls us to build friendships with other Christians in which we practice loving them like He loves us (CHURCH AS A GYM vs. MALL).

Last time, we described three levels of CCF’s and three areas of sharing (CHART), and we described what it looked like to build casual CCF’s in these areas. Now we’re going to explore how to build a close CCFfrom a casual CCF. But first, a few important observations about close CCF’s...

Close Christ-centered friendships

This is an extremely counter-cultural calling! Powerful forces (mainly materialism, careerism, and entertainmentism) conspire to make American culture the most friendless culture in history. So you cannot count on societal support for this endeavor; in fact, you must be willing to reject some of its key values, as we will see.

The Bible emphasizes the importance of close God/Christ-centered friendships. It provides examples: David and Jonathan, and Paul and Timothy are the most well-known. Solomon gives us precious insights into close CCF’s in Proverbs, and a classic summary of their importance in Eccles.4:9-12 (read). The “third strand” in 4:12b is probably a reference to God Himself. Look at the wonderful benefits: productivity, restoration, comfort, and protection! Look at the sobering liabilities of life without close friends (4:10-12)! This is a tragic description of most people (including most Christians) in our culture!

The ability to build close CCF’s is critical to a successful marriage, since close/intimate friendship (not romantic attraction) is the foundation of marriage. This is why the ability to build non-romantic close CCF’s is the most reliable predictor of marital success. And spouses need other close friendships for support in their marriages.

Common experience

DEFINITION: Spending time and doing things together develops a base of shared experiences and memories—an important part of friendship.

CASUAL CCF’S: 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 follow Jesus. 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.

Close CCF’s require a significant overlap of our lives, to the point that we miss the other person if we are absent from them for long. How can we do this?

You can initiate frequent contact through the week: phone calls and conversations to keep “in touch,” spontaneous visits, etc. You can “do life” together—doing chores together (e.g., yard work, grocery shopping, playing with the kids), exercise together, take vacations together, etc. Of course, this is much easier to do if you live with one another, or at least nearby. This is one reason why many of us have passed up career advancement opportunities or newer, bigger homes. We don’t want to lose our close friendships!

You can serve others as a team: in home group ministry (e.g., leading a cell group; praying for the home group) or outside home group (e.g., serve in OASIS or Renegade together; volunteer at the same place).

You can commit to meet together one-one-on weekly for an hour or two. Here you can catch up, chit-chat and laugh together. Here you can talk about the other ministries and people you are serving. Here you can also read and discuss the Bible or a quality Christian book, and pray together. Here you can share what is going on in your personal life (see below). I find these weekly meetings to be a must in building close friendships.

BARRIERS:

“I don’t have time for this!” You have to make time for this! And what we make time for is the truest expression of what we value and believe will fulfill us. Keep a time-log of your non-sleep time for two weeks, and you may discover that you believe that your job, surfing the internet, watching your favorite TV shows, playing video games, etc. will fulfill you! How much do you want the benefits described in Eccles. 4? How much do you want to avoid the liabilities?

“I am too overwhelmed with life to have the energy for this!” Actually, it is much more likely that you feel overwhelmed by life because you don’t have this! “Overwhelmed is often under-engaged.” This is not a luxury for people with lots of free time; this is a responsibility that keeps busy people healthy and productive!

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.”

CASUAL CCF’S: Initiating discovery conversations in which we ask appropriate (open-ended) questions, and listening carefully with genuine interest.

In close CCF’s, we work hard to gain a much deeper understanding the other person, and we decide to disclose much more of ourselves to him/her—all so that we can help one another become more mature servants of Jesus. What does this involve?

We seek a deep understanding of their overall make-up as a person, including their life-history, other key relationships, personality, potentials, and besetting sins. And we share these same things with them.

We practice transparency by disclosing our current sins, fears, temptations, hopes, disappointments, confusions and frustrations, etc. And we ask about and bear these same things for them (Gal.6:2).

We spur each other on toward spiritual maturity by praising and encouraging progress, and by correcting and challenging regression (Heb.3:13). We give each other the “green light” to give this kind of input. This is healthy accountability, a crucial aspect of close friendships.

Much (though not all) of this happens in our weekly time together. We also think and pray about our friends when we are not around them.

BARRIERS:

One common barrier to this kind of sharing is simple self-absorption, which makes us inattentive when we are interacting with our friends and negligent in thinking redemptively about them when we are apart. Christians can ask God to help them in these areas as we practice them (LAST WEEK). You can develop a taste for this!

Another common barrier is self-protection, which retards our own transparency and willingness to confront. This fear of rejection is universal in fallen people, but it is greatly exacerbated in those who have been shamed or abused (especially in childhood). Self-protection is seeking personal safety unbiblically, and it results in a lonely and superficial life. But Christians know that God knows us fully, with all of our faults—yet He has fully accepted us because Jesus bore His rejection for us. So we can choose to trust God’s acceptance by disclosing ourselves to our friends, and by challenging and confronting them for their good.

Emotional communication

DEFINITION: Understanding our friends’ feelings, sharing our feelings appropriately, and communicating love in ways that get through to them emotionally are necessary for full-orbed friendship.

CASUAL CCF’s: Communicating gladness when you see them, warm attentiveness during conversations, and appropriate concern if they share a struggle.

In close CCF’s, one key goal is helping our friend consistently feel loved by us, as much as possible. Of course, we can’t guarantee this, since even loving discipline often feels painful (see Heb. 12:11). But we can do this to a great degree. How?

We can periodically express our appreciation and gratitude for the friendship itself, not just for favors done. It is a great error to assume that since you expressed this a few years ago, there is no need to express it again (MEN!). It is easier to do this by expressing it as you pray together.

We can express loyalty to our friend, both by our words and by our actions. This involves standing by them through difficult times, defending them when they are wrongly attacked, etc.

We can learn what expressions of love speak to our friend’s heart, and choose to communicate them. Gary Chapman calls this “love languages,” and names several of them: WORDS, GIFTS, DOING THINGS FOR, DOING THINGS WITH, APPRECIATING THEIR WORK, UNDIVIDED ATTENTION, UNEXPECTED CONTACT, PHYSICAL TOUCH, etc.

The problem is that we naturally tend to express love emotionally to others in the way(s) that make us feel loved. Instead, we need to learn their love languages, and then find ways to communicate love on those “frequencies.”

This was a real revelation to me! It explained why my wife didn't feel loved when I invited her to split wood with me! It also explained her response when I called her from work (for the first time in seven years of marriage) to ask how her day was going (“Who is this?”)!

BARRIERS:

One common barrier is (like LAST WEEK) believing the lie that unless you strongly feel the above at the time, it is fakey. This is not fakey; it is faith in the truth. And it will feel more natural only by practicing it even when it feels unnatural.

Another common barrier is demanding that your friend make you feel loved before you are willing to do this for them (EXAMPLE). We may choose to confront our friend on this for their good, but we should be willing to give this to them even when they do not give it to us. Biblical love does not keep score.

Conclusion

“This is work!” If you aren’t reacting this way, you weren’t listening! This is the most challenging work you will ever take on. Nothing will expose your selfishness more clearly, nothing will humble you more, nothing will show you your need for God’s love more than this!

Yes, but it is rewarding work! This is what brings your relationship with Christ alive. This is what makes life rich, brings increasing joy and satisfaction, etc. This is what builds a good marriage and raises children well. This is what makes Christian community life-changing and compelling to outsiders.

Yes, but God will help you to make progress and you practice (1Thess.4:9,10). He will personally tutor you so that you can improve and even excel in time. Therefore, the only person who can prevent you from becoming a better love-giver is you! Have you given yourself to learn how to do this—or are you holding back? Can you see progress over last year—or are you stagnated or regressing?

See Matt.22:36-40; Rom.13:8-10; 1Tim.1:5; Gal.5:6; 1Pet.4:8; 1John2:9-11.

Recent research indicates that the average American adult male has .62 friends (including his wife).