Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When Satan Attacks Friendships - Friends that Fall Away from Each Other

In keeping with the similar theme of my last blog, it is another human reality (and a tragic one at that) to have friendships that become strained and even come to an end during the course of one's life. Even good Christian friendships slip in this regard, such that all Christians should be on their guard against it. I recently heard a sermon by one of my favorite preachers, Dr. James MacDonald, and in his message he said he has been absolutely stunned by how even Christians “burn bridges” with one another. (See his message series entitled “Balcony People Build Bridges” available on his podcast).

In true Christian circles, the theme should be “once a friend, always a friend.” But personal agendas, fear, pride, critical spirits, inappropriate judging, jealousy, selfishness, hypocrisy, misunderstandings, poor communication, control battles, private sins, and unmet expectations are often the majority of reasons for much of the relationship tensions, withdrawals, and severances that happen today among Christian friends. (I'm sure there are other things that I didn't mention that could be added.)

Now I never thought I would borrow the overused song lyric from the 80’s coined by Michael W. Smith, but it is true that friends should be friends forever “if the Lord’s the Lord of them.” Instead of “bridge burners,” Christians should be filled with such grace that they should be continual “bridge builders.” MacDonald talked about the fact that many times he’s had friends who have distanced themselves and broken off the friendship even though he never did, stating “there’s some people that I wish would be friends with me but they won’t anymore, though I’m still willing.”

Now people change. Let’s be real here. And when that happens, relationships are bound to change. No one is saying that the level of reciprocating affection in a relationship will always remain constant or increasing. I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation. People move away. Interests change. Shared experiences don’t always happen every day. Differences in opinion and preferences occur. But at the baseline level, there should always be an ongoing cordiality, spiritual and relational connection, and a genuine friendly interest in someone else’s life within the circle of all Christians. If we are truly committed to forgiveness like we say we are, then friendships should always stay in tact to some degree. We are family -- brothers and sisters for eternity, equally saved by grace.

It is when “roots of bitterness” take hold, based on any number of reasons, that relationships can crash like the stock market. The writer of Hebrews said, “see to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15) Any of the sins I mentioned above in paragraph two could lead to bitterness that causes relational trouble and defilement. But it’s interesting to note that the Scriptures here give indication that relationships that fail not only affect the immediate parties, but they can affect the whole community of faith. One friendship that tanks can bring many others down with it.

Therefore we must be overly protective and supportive of each other and careful with our friendships in the body of Christ, lest we give the devil a foothold. These are people with whom we will spend eternity, and so we better seek to maintain them here on earth. Thus the emphasis on reconciliation among believers by Jesus (Matt. 5:23-24; Matt. 18:15-17) and even among the Apostles (e.g. Eph. 4:25-32; Col. 3:12-14; 1 Pet. 4:8-9) was meant to preserve what God has chosen to build, namely, his church. Surely there are people in the church that we will like more and relate better to than others – BUT we must be on guard against “cliques,” preferential prejudices, judgmental sarcasm, and stereotyping within the body of Christ. God has meant for all of us to embrace each other as brothers and sisters, being patient and forgiving and friendly to one another. At the heart of such success in relationships is the virtue of humility, the kind of humility modeled by Jesus who stooped down as a servant to wash the feet of his disciples. In fact, I would argue that humility as at the root of thriving relationships among Christians.

Perhaps this is why Jesus is now willing to call each of us his friends (John 15:14-15), because he was willing to abandon status and privilege and embrace a humble life, and in doing so made many eternal “friendships” that are based on the principles of reconciliation and forgiveness, a reconciliation and forgiveness that he himself provided for in his death on the cross.

So guard your friendships. They are precious. Be a person of grace. Seek forgiveness and reconciliation if needed. Protect the reputation and unity of the body of Christ. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought. Embrace an attitude of humility. Seek mutual understanding. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Be the mature one who is never willing to withdraw unless it is clear you have to for biblical reasons (1 Cor. 5:11). And above all, put on love, which always binds believers together for all eternity. These friendships we have in Christian circles have been forged by God, and what God has joined together, let no one or no thing separate.

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