Culture, Gospel of Grace

On grace and friendships. How the offer of friendship Jesus gives is way much better.

4 min read

Open your voice memo app and ask a 21st-century man or woman to define who a friend is or what friendship is all about, and you will be inundated with many definitions. Make it personal and ask your friends what they think your friendship means to them, and the answers will be varied.

Some answers might sound like these
You are my friend because you make me feel special.
You challenge me.
You make me a better person.
You inspire me.
You’ve seen the worst in me and still stayed with me.
You make me laugh.
You are my normal when I go crazy.
You are the person I can trust with my life.

Notice the common refrain? Me! It’s all about the benefits that your friends get from you. It’s your friend basking in the sunlight and you are the sun.

I’ve listened to countless sermons, talks, and read books that push this idea that you should only be in relationships that benefit you—cut off these bloodsuckers and ticks that suck from you, and hang on to those who make you feel special—who push you towards your destiny.  When we, therefore, set out to make friends, we make friends with ME in view. We enter relationships, partnerships, and even marriage because of how that other person makes me feel. It’s all about you.

The ancient world had a very different view of friendship. This is expressed in the story of Jesus and His friend Lazarus.  (John 11:1-15 NLT)

Lazarus is sick. His sisters, Martha and Mary email Jesus that his dear friend is sick.  When Jesus receives the email, he replies with these words, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” But then Lazarus gets worse and dies.  Finally, after two days, Jesus goes to Judea. He knew Lazarus was dead. He tells his entourage, our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will wake him up.” This utterly bewilders his disciples to the point he has to make it plain to them like, “Duh, Lazarus is dead. OK?” (eye roll).

Jesus the son of God, equal with God, considered Lazarus his friend. This is amazing in so many levels. Jesus is God and Lazarus was human. Jesus is infinite and Lazarus was finite. A greater being took notice of a lesser being. An insider welcomed an outsider. One who has all power, privilege and position embraced one with no power, privilege and position. This is a one-way friendship, it seems. This friendship flows downstream.

Does this idea sound like our modern-day idea of friendship? Absolutely not!

Within the Bible texts, there are examples of human beings who were friends with God. Abraham was one.

Abraham an idol worshipper believed the gospel story written in the stars and was made righteous. (Genesis 15:5-6, James 2:23 NLT)  God, the righteous one made a sinner righteous.

An indictment against Jesus was this, “He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!” (Matthew 9:10-11, 11:19 NLT) A good man hanging out with bad people.

Towards the end of his life, Jesus tells his disciples, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NLT) This is his ultimate proof of love for his friends.

And finally, Jesus posits that his disciples are no longer slaves (John 15:15 NLT)—the idea here is they are not there to only satisfy his whims and obey his commands, but now they are friends. They have VIP access. They are in the inner circle because what Jesus’ father showed him; he told it to them. They now have privy information.

In all four instances, friendship is one-sided. Friendship benefits the other. Abram is made righteous, Jesus loves bad people, Jesus dies for his friends and grants to outsiders access. It is all Jesus. It is all one way. It is all downstream.

This is the nature of friendship with God. Friendship from a cosmic perspective is this. We give him our sin, God gives us his righteousness. We give him our sickness, God gives us his health. We give him our sorrow, God gives us his joy. We give him our emptiness, God gives us his fullness. We give him our doubts, God gives us his certainty. We give him our poverty, God gives us his wealth.

What if we made friends from this perspective? What if we befriended people to benefit them? What if we truly befriended bloodsuckers and ticks? A scary thought, most certainly!

It sounds as if I’m advocating that you have people in your life who are only with you for themselves. Absolutely not! You should have friends who are for you. The truth, however, is this, you should have people in your life who take from you. I bet you already have. People you are forced to give grace to-—what they don’t deserve. I bet there are people in your life who think you are only a taker and yet give you grace—what you don’t deserve.

Jenny and I to the best of our abilities are trying to build our marriage on friendship. A friendship not based on performance—I do you, you do me—but purely because we like each other. It’s harder than you think because we are inherently selfish. I am selfish to the core. I want what’s good for ME, ME, ME! Last night I watched a short video on Facebook and this preacher said this, “You can’t change me. If you try to change me you are violating my rights.” I went like, oh boy. If most couples are resolute about their “rights”, it is no wonder our generation has the highest numbers of divorce compared to all previous generations combined.

Consider this, it cost Jesus his life to reconcile us to the heavenly father. Jesus lost the friendship he had with his father, so we could become friends with his father. Our friendship with God came at a cost. Someone died—God’s own son died. This is grace. This is the gospel.

Jesus’ offer of friendship is way much better than what we offer each other. The thing is we can only do better in our friendships if we receive and enjoy God’s friendship.

Go ahead. Don’t be afraid. Click on the confirm button. Friendship request accepted.

That’s what grace looks like

Photo by Clodagh Da Paixao on Unsplash

This entry was posted in: Culture, Gospel of Grace

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Schulter Etyang leads The Life Place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Schulter is one whom Jesus loves. He loves his wife, Jenny, and enjoys reading, travelling, cooking, running and playing squash. He also enjoys conversations with friends about Jesus and about life.

2 Comments

  1. Wow! Thank you for redefining friendship. Your message is not common. Now, I have to really question myself. Am I willing to lay down my life for those I call ‘friend’? uhnn

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