My church community talks a lot about friendship – and wanting to extend the friendship of Jesus both within our little community and into the wider community.
But this can quickly seem draining – we think of our best human friendships and we think we haven’t possibly got the time and energy to replicate those – even with the people we like, let alone those we don’t instantly hit it off with.
So can this be what we’re asked to do?
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
Here, Jesus’ friendship is granted in response to obedience. But rather than a crude if…then, I see this as more a descriptor: if you love one another, then you will discover my friendship. This takes the pressure off us as humans trying to be the perfect friend in the name of Jesus. We just have to do our best to serve – “bearing fruit is to let ourselves become gift for others” (Stanley Hauerwas quoting David Burrell in The Peaceable Kingdom, p151).
In laying down our lives for each other, we each discover the friendship of God. And who knows, in the fullness of time, a genuine mutual friendship with others that enriches our lives as opposed to draining our energy, as we imagine it might.
Note to self: Friendship takes time – don’t stress about it.
PS I’m aware that some of these questions are looked at by Steve Summers in Friendship: Exploring Its Implications for the Church in Postmodernity, which I’ve read bits of and intend to return to, and I hope I’m not accidentally plagiarising. H/t Jonny Baker for the recommendation.