My dearest friends are like my family for me. Being an only child and coming from a dysfunctional family, l guess that's understandable.
My friendships span a period of 16 years. Our bonds have been tested through many seasons: job changes, marriage, sickness and death. When it was time to rejoice, we danced; in times of sorrow, we held on to each other and cried. We have grown up together.
None of my friends attend my church. Most of my friends aren't even Christians: in fact, some of them are atheists. One friend of mine even embraces the Goth lifestyle.
Does that make it ok then, that l am closer to them, than people l know in church?
In 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, it states that we are not to judge those who are outside of the church.
I have tried to make friends in church, but it has proved challenging for me. Moving cities and health problems have admittedly contributed to my inability to connect with people within the church community.
To be honest, they are not the deciding factors that inhibit me. It's my awareness of a superficiality in interactions amongst Christians in church - and l am not the only one who feels this way. It's an issue that is raised on Christian platforms and in exchanges between the brethren themselves.
I don't profess to know the causes of it, but l do observe that we are taught in church to focus on relationships between God and ourselves, our spouses, our children, even our neighbors; yet when it comes to relationship with other Christians, the focus is on service and sacrifice for the sake of others (1 Peter 4:10), but not in how to befriend a fellow brother or sister and sustain that friendship. Having said that, l continue to make an effort to integrate myself and build bonds with people from my church.
Jesus founded the church with Himself as the cornerstone, in order that we love, encourage, and uplift one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I appreciate that my church experience is not defined by one building or gathering of people, but by the life and breath of a corporate spiritual body that is attuned to each other (I Cor 12:25-27).
Yet, l don't think that means that l have to give up my friends just because they're not Christians.
Jesus was diverse in his interactions with people. He not only spent time in discipleship with the Twelve and other Jews, he associated himself with children (Mark 10:13-16), tax collectors (Luke 19:1-10), lepers (Luke 17:11-19), as well as the unclean (Mark 5:25-34) and those considered socially inferior (John 4:7-9). Why then, should we limit ourselves to being involved only with people from church?
Instead of keeping our church life and our "outside world" life separate however, we can combine the two: According to the Great Commission, we are commanded to share the gospel with our fellow man (Matthew 28:16-20).
I invite my friends to church and they enjoy themselves when they are there. I talk about God with them, but l use discernment to determine the right moment when to broach the subject. More so than not, my friends ask questions or talk about God of their own accord. I've discovered that I can sometimes be a more effective ambassador for Christ by bearing witness through the way l live my life as a Christian, than through using my voice.
Jesus didn't make a distinction between people or nations when He set up the church. His intention was that everyone would be united as Kingdom citizens under one temple, filled with the Spirit and blessed by God (Ephesians 2:17-22).
In fact, it was through the inclusion of Gentile proselytes that the movement of the early church gained remarkable momentum (Acts 11:19-21). The church grew to such significant numbers, that the disciples were named Christians for the first time in Antioch (Acts 11:26), meaning "followers of Christ" or "party of Jesus."
Peter was the first disciple to baptize Gentiles and bring them into the body of Christ. He understood the vision that God had shown Him - that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). This emboldened disciples in distant lands to preach to both Jews and Gentiles, fulfilling God's intention that the gospel be received by everyone (Acts 11:17-18).
In addition to ministering to our friends outside of the church, the Bible also shows us the value of friendships within the church community. In a letter to the church in Colossae, Paul lists his dearest friends: Jews, Gentiles, cellmates, a physician, and even a slave (Colossians 4:7-18). This correspondence provides encouragement, advice, and inspiration to nurturing Kingdom friendships and working together towards the glory of God, both within and outside of the church.
Paul's endorsement of gospel friendships motivates me in my endeavors to make friends in church. Whereas in the past l would try and befriend everyone because they were my "brother" or "sister" in Christ, l am now focusing for the meantime on getting to know a few specific people better. I try to keep in mind that they, like me, are also broken people and ask God to help us understand each other. I also aim to be aware of people who are looking lost in church or are on their own, and attempt to strike up a conversation with them.
While l am interested in finding more friends amongst Christians, l am grateful for the friendships l have made outside of the church. What l cherish the most about my closest friends, is that our relationships have a realness to them - the kind of grit and spit that has survived the ugliness of hardship and seen the beauty in each other when we were at our weakest. It is a love that refuses to compromise and selflessly gives and genuinely wants to contribute to the happiness of the other. It's the way that God loves us.
That being the case, l have great hope that my future friendships with church people will evolve into the kind of deep relationship that Jesus intended that we have with one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). In order to do my part, I'll concentrate on loving my church friends as God loves me (John 15: 9-12).
Copyright 2019 Madeline Twooney | JacobsLadderBlog.com
Photo credit: Simon Maage on Unsplash
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