I do not have many friends. I don’t need many friends. But I need, because I am made in the image of God, friendship. One of the things that I try to teach my soon-to-be-teen daughter is that she doesn’t need a lot of friends, she doesn’t even need friends her age (although that’s nice), and she doesn’t need what everyone calls friendship. What she needs is the kind of friendship God made Christians to need and this is perfectly illustrated in today’s Adult Bible Study lesson in the Pilgrim’s Progress.
Pastor Bunyan knew what biblical friendship was and in the section immediately following the Valley of Humiliation he begins his lesson on Christian friendship that will continue throughout the rest of the work. Three vital points are made at the outset of the relationship between Christian and Faithful that I think it are very important for Jesus followers to grasp.
Friendship is about the pilgrimage. “Then I saw in my dream, they went very lovingly on together, and had sweet discourse of all things that had happened to them in their pilgrimage.”
They went on together. They talked about what they had been through prior to their meeting. The questions we must ask ourselves are these: Why do we want friends? What do we expect from friendship? What is the goal of friendship? I want the teens in my church and in my home to understand that if we want friends for any other reason than to help us in our pilgrimage to heaven, we’re self-lovers. If we expect from friendship anything more than what God intends to give through friendship then we have made a god out of friendship. And if our goal for friendship is anything different than the glory of God, and the prioritizing of God first in our life, then our friendship is an idol to us.
Friendship is divinely appointed. “My honored and well-beloved brother Faithful, I am glad that I have overtaken you; and that God has so tempered our spirits that we can walk as companions. . .”
You can’t be friends with everyone. Nor should you. Friendship that is the kind that helps you become a better person and gives you a sense of God’s love is rare. Relationships in mankind are naturally broken and disrupted. And while we seek peace with all men, friendship that helps us along is done by the gracious work of Sovereign appointment. God tempers the spirits of two people in such a way that they can walk as companions. The problem for many people (especially teens) is that they do not want the friends that God has appointed. They want cool friends or more friends. But Christians who love God are usually blessed with a good friendship once they begin to realize what it is that God has designed for them in friendship.
(As a side note, many people think that church is the place to find friends or have lots of friends. This is not necessarily true. Pastors notoriously have few or no friends within their church. I don’t think this is ideal, but I think it is realistic. Church is not a social club and people who enter and exit one church body after another in search of a place where they can really fit in are idolizing an ideal of friendship that is not healthy. God may or may not “so temper” the spirit of a person or two in your local church for you to have a wonderful friendship, but you should not expect to have this kind of friendship with everybody or most everybody even within the confines of your small local church.)
Friendship is contingent on mutual affections. Said Faithful as they first met, “I had thought, dear friend, to have had your company quite from our town, but you did get the start of me, wherefore I was forced to come thus much of the way alone.”
The gist of the friendship that Pastor John Bunyan illustrates in his story is that real friendship is contingent on deeply shared mutual affections. Insofar as one did not love the Lord of the Hill and was not seeking the Heavenly City there was necessary loneliness. Most teens and too many adults do not know how to find good friends because they have not yet figured out what they love most. Until we know what we really, really long for we can never discover true friendship.
Finally, Friendship is temporal. Some friendships are for life. But this is rare. Death takes one before the other. Usually Providence sends the two in different directions. Often one slides back and the other presses forward. We can never fully enjoy friendships until we grasp that every friendship in life is temporal. Marriage is bound together by a ’til death do us part’ vow. But friendships are not held by this authoritative vow. And even in solid marriages, friendship often comes and goes, strengthens and wanes. Simply put, the best friendships, the ones we crave, are the
divinely appointed and temporarily granted tempering of the spirits of two human beings who share the same joys and needs to encourage them in their difficult walk to the Heavenly City.
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