Many years ago when I lived in Baltimore, a guest preacher said something that’s continued to stick with me: “Community and friendship is vital to our mission.” This was something that echoed through my mind in our sermon series on “The Household of Faith.” Many times, instead of using a giant neon sign or internal megaphone to speak to us, the Holy Spirit uses the personal study of His Word, sermons, pastors, and friendships to encourage robust spiritual growth. The Lord does meet each of us individually and works in our individual hearts, but he does not do this in a vacuum! This is part of the reason we need to be careful who we listen to, because who we listen to often directly correlates to our spiritual health.
Have you ever been hurt by a false friendship that neither honored God nor cared for you well? If so, you know how true friendship is balm to the soul! Proverbs 18:24 says that “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Notice how the Word says true friends like these can be closer than our flesh-and-blood family!
The apostle Paul knew a great deal about the value of gospel-centered, Christ-loving, convicting-but-sweet friendships. Acts 15:36–41 describes a “sharp disagreement” Paul had with Barnabas, resulting in these two men splitting ways and continuing their ministry with other partners. This doesn’t mean the two men had no relationship at all after that, because in Christ there is forgiveness and reconciliation. However, the changed relationship between Paul and Barnabas lies in contrast to the relationship Paul developed with Timothy. This relationship (first seen in Acts 16) is one of the best examples of a Gospel Friendship. As Paul mentored Timothy, these brothers were encouraged in their walks with Christ, even enriching the growth of the Church at large, stretching to present day!
So how do we foster and live out this kind of Gospel Friendship? One of the verses that jumped out to me was 2 Timothy 2:2, which says “and the things you have heard me say entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Paul reminds Timothy to use the model of their relationship and mentor others. So, let’s be encouraged to invest in friends who can speak into our lives and also look for others we can pour into.
This kind of commitment is a scary prospect, but it is a good one. All of Scripture is filled with examples of godly friendships (David and Jonathan, Peter and John, Naomi and Ruth, Moses and Joshua, Jesus and his disciples, etc.). Right now, are there friends pouring into your life with whom you can be open, honest, and vulnerable? Can you listen well to the lessons they’ve learned in their own walk with Christ? And can you take what they’ve learned, apply it to your own life, and turn around to share the Holy Spirit’s work with others?
Fostering these Gospel Friendships is a way to partner with the Holy Spirit as he encourages the church community and shows the world the richness of friendships in Christ!