Joy in Friendship
Sitting in a Roman prison with his death looming on the horizon, Paul opens his letter to the church at Philippi with great thanksgiving. The mere thought of his friends fills him with such joy, he continues praising God for them throughout the passage.
I don’t know about you, but my relationships don’t necessarily bring me this level of joy. In my friendships with others, I’ve encountered striving, experienced manipulation, and suffered abuses. I’ve hurt others, been selfish, and entertained bitterness. Not really lift-your-hands in gratitude worthy stuff.
However, Paul addresses the key to finding true joy in our friendships. It’s not about what we get out of the relationship or finding the perfect friends, but keeping Christ as our ultimate focus. This does not mean Christians should only befriend other Christians. On the contrary, we must simply remember this perspective with each and every person we encounter. Cultivating Christ-focused, joy-filled relationships involves three main components.
First, we must see others as Christ sees them. In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis states, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.”
As we forge and cultivate friendships with those around us, we must remember we are not simply dealing with “other people.” We are entering into relationship with uniquely designed eternal beings, created in the image of God Himself, crafted for relationship with God Himself.
Next, we must seek out partners, not projects. For Christ followers, a new work has been initiated which Jesus will bring to completion. It is not up to us to “fix” our friends. We all desperately need the grace Christ so freely offers. Further, if we are to accept the mission of God and the work He is doing in our world, we cannot deny our role. There is much to be done, and it is far easier to shoulder the load together.
Lastly, we cannot use our friendships in place of our own relationship with Christ. We must allow ourselves to be filled “with the fruit of righteousness,” that comes directly through Jesus Christ. If we are not spending time with Him daily, we will come up empty. Emptiness demands filling, and we need to ensure we are filling ourselves in God’s presence.
In the end, there is no substitute for the deep joy knowing Jesus brings. Relationships that are not Christ-focused tend to become superficial and empty. We have to avoid the safety of the shallows with our friends and intentionally seek out opportunities to point them to Jesus. Afterall, our eternity in Heaven together is at stake.