Christian Friendship

True North - Part 4

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Chris Oswald

Feb. 4, 2024
True North



Introduction: I heard about a local church who sent out postcards to the neighborhood saying, “Come to church, we won’t lick you!”

Come to church, you won’t be lonely.

But is that true? It must be more and more true. And in order for that to become more and more true, we must teach about friendship.

This little letter is full of information about friendship. The letter itself is a function of a friendship. I want to explore that theme this whole week.

On Monday, Angela is going to speak with the ladies about friendship.
On Tuesday, there will be a podcast
On Wednesday, community group
On Thursday and Friday, more podcasts!

As we will see, growing in the art of friendship is a leading indicator in one’s sanctification. And it is also a leading indicator of a healthy church.

Friendship Defined:

Firstly, let us take some time define our terms. Friendship is like marriage in the sense that it is a common grace that God extends to both regenerate and unregenerate humanity.

We will focus on Christian friendship because that’s what we see in 2 Timothy. But it is helpful to start with a broad definition that applies to all people.

We don’t have a bible verse that provides a neat definition of friendship. We do have a lot of verses that describe particular friendships and we also have a lot of verses that tell us the kinds of things that friends do for one another.

After reviewing that data, here’s my definition.

A friend is someone who is willing to invest himself in your good.

Investment of time, mental energy, resources, etc…

Now let’s differentiate Christian friendship from all other forms.

Broadly speaking, the distinction between Christian friendships and non-Christian friendships is spelled out in verse 7: “For God gave US a spirit.” And again in vs. 14, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within US.”

Christian friendship is to be broadly distinguished from non-Christian friendship by the shared presence of the Holy Spirit.

Two forms of friendship: Friendship in the flesh and Friendship in the spirit

Three markers of Spiritual Friendship

  1. Defined Goodness (as Godliness)

We’ve said that a friend is someone who is willing to invest himself in your good. What is our good? Is that left up to the individual? Do you define what is best for you and ask me to invest in that?

In non-Christian friendships, goodness is either individually or culturally defined. But in Christian friendships, there is an agreement on what is best for me and what is best for you.

Namely, godliness.

So in a Christian friendship, each one invests himself in the other's growth in godliness.

  1. Delayed Gratification (and eye toward eternity)

A Christian friend looks out over the horizon of history and aims to invest himself in the other’s eternal good.

  1. Dependence on God (to supply what we need to be a good friend).

A third distinction — non Christian friends have only their own immediate resources to invest in your happiness. A Christian has, in addition to their own immediate resources, the power of God and the promises of God (the word) all moving by the spirit to invest in you so that you can invest in your friend.

Last Wednesday, Kate Wilhoft share some thoughts on the book of Ruth. Which is a prime example of friendship. Ruth takes responsibility to care for Naomi. But basically has no resources to accomplish that responsibility. And what we see in that little book is God working through providence to give Ruth the resources she needs to care for Naomi.

At first, it is pretty hand to mouth. She is gleaning in the fields.
But very soon, Boaz (the Christ figure) starts furnishing Ruth with more resources.
And then of course, it all ends with Naomi being a wealthy grandmother type — all of that came through Ruth — but very little of it it involved Ruth’s resources.

I want you to remember that story when caring for a friend requires more of you than you have to offer. You serve the God of providence. He will help you and give you what you need.

Application of these principles:

Let us imagine that neither Paul or Timothy are Christians. But that we have a letter written from one non Christian friend to another non Christian friend. How would that letter differ from the letter we have?

Pagan Paul would still be investing himself in Timothy’s good. But the goodness in view would be something less than holiness or happiness in God.

And Pagan Paul would be aiming mostly at Timothy’s short-term or near term happiness.

And then of course the resources that pagan Paul has to invest would be less substantial. He might share his advice, his insights, etc… but that’d be it. He certainly wouldn’t have any kind of supernatural power to bring to the table when things got tough.

You would wind up with a letter heavy on self-esteem. On a pragmatic view of happiness. A lot of opinions. So forth.

Now, I think this is helpful for two reasons:

Firstly, because sometimes even Christian friendships walk in the flesh.

Even among two Christians, the friendship that actually happens can sometimes be rather worldly. Christians have the capacity for and the responsibility for a higher kind of friendship, but plenty of Christian friendships spend very little time doing explicitly Christian friendship.

Secondly, we can now understand why friendships fail.

We have introduced enough clarity to help explain why some of Paul’s friendships have failed and others have succeeded.

2 Timothy is a book littered with relational wreckage.

On the front end of the book:
1:15 — “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.”

On the back end:
4:10 — “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.”

4:16 — “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!”

Everything we’ve stipulated up to this point provides us with some clarity about why these friendships have failed:

Generally, they failed because one of the parties stopped being willing to invest themselves in the other’s good.

More specifically, these folks likely abandoned their friendship with Paul because the price of that friendship was more than they could pay. In which case, they had a resource problem. They got to a point where they lacked the power of God, spiritual courage, etc…

Christian friendship is fueled by faith.

Both parties have to believe God exists and rewards those who seek him.
They must believe that the highest good is godliness.
And that the majority of human happiness will be harvested on “that day.” They must seek one another’s eternal good.
And they must believe that God will supply them with what they need to be a friend to the other.

All of this requires faith.

If you marked the date when a Christian friendship failed, you could go further back in the timeline to see that well before the friendship failed, one of the friends faith had begun to falter.

If you want to be a Christian friend, you must seek to strengthen your faith in God. The stronger your faith in God, the better a friend you will be. The weaker your faith in God, the worse of a friend you will be.

When examine biblical history and indeed church history, it is no coincidence that men and women of great faith were also good friends.

Abraham was a man of great faith, and he was a great friend to Lot.
Moses was a man of great faith, and he was a great friend to the people of Israel.
Ruth was a woman of great faith, and she was a great friend to Naomi.
Jonathan and David were men of great faith — and their friendship was great.
Jesus had something we might even extend beyond faith — and he was a great friend to the disciples and others.
Paul was a man of great faith — and he was also a great friend.

Pastor Tony Merida writes,

When surveying the life of the apostle Paul, we see his firm belief in the sufficiency of the gospel and his willingness to suffer for it. But there’s another, often overlooked, feature of the Pauline mission: friendship. As Paul planted churches throughout the Roman world, he didn’t do so as a one-man band.

Paul was relationally wealthy. He traveled with friends; he stayed with them; he visited them. He worked alongside them; he preached alongside them; he was beaten alongside them. He even sang in prison with friends. He encouraged them, and was encouraged by them. At times, Paul disagreed with his friends. And at times, he reconciled with them.

A quick read through Acts shows Paul’s commitment to, and genuine concern for, his friends: Barnabas, Titus, Silas, Luke, Priscilla, Aquilla, Lydia, Onesiphorus, Epapharoditus, John Mark, the Ephesian elders, and more.

In Romans 16, he mentions more than 30 names. The whole list oozes with affection; it also magnifies the gospel, demonstrates beautiful diversity (race, rank, gender), and contains moving expressions of honor.

A quick word about the diversity of Paul’s friendships.

People typically organize themselves in “affinity groups.” Hobbies, interests, seasons of life, etc… But when we look in the Bible, we see many of the greatest friendships were between people who had very little, humanly speaking, in common with one another.

One of the things we will see very often in the scriptures is that Christian friendships develop between older and younger.

What’s going on there is that faith magnifies the gospel in our eyes. It becomes very big, very central, etc…

And as such, a diversity of people find unity around the cross.

I wanted to mention that because I sometimes hear younger people thoughtlessly shrink the pool of potential friendships by looking primarily at lesser affinities — and thinking, I need a friend who understands this aspect of my life or that…

That’s a worldly way of thinking. If you are a Christian. The most important thing about you is that you were purchased by Christ. That is your central story. Therefore expand your pool of possible friendships to include all those who have that same thing as their central story.

Remember that even if they don’t have a particular situation in common with you, they have the resources of God at their disposal. God knows your situation perfectly. And he can and will easily work through a person who has not experienced what you are experiencing.

The particulars of your life are not as important as you think they are. Faith will help you see things in their proper perspective.

Now let’s turn to the text and see a number of ways Paul is investing himself in Timothy’s good.

He spent time thinking and praying for Timothy (2-5)

“To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”

Attention is the currency of our culture. Our mental energy is being solicited constantly. There’s an economic theory called “Attention Economics.” Psychologist/Economist Herbert A. Simon was the first to propose this idea — all the way back in 1971.

[I]n an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

Another thought leader in this field is Matthew Crawford. He summarized the problem quite simply: “Attention is a resource, we only have so much of it.”

Now if someone were to ask me for an explanation of the epidemic of loneliness that so many now recognize as a real problem, I would point to at least two things.

The lack of church attendance and sabbath keeping. You can actually see the data spell this out. As church attendance decreased, loneliness increased. But that doesn’t go far enough. Because as a pastor, I know it is possible to attend church faithfully and still be rather disconnected. So as a secondary explanation, I would point to the attention economy.

People simply aren’t investing enough of their mental energy into thinking about other people.

The solution to both of these is to obey the Bible! Specifically Hebrews 10:24-25

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Take time to think about others. And specifically how you might stir one another up to faith.
And make time to be together. Do not neglect to meet together.

Now remember, “attention is a resource, you only have so much of it.” In order to devote some time to thinking and praying for your friends, you’re going to have to cut something out. Which means you’re going to have to unplug something.

1a. He affirmed what he could affirm

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”

1b. He spoke into his temptations (6-8)

Now one of the things that will happen when you invest mental energy into thinking and praying about others is that God will give you his vision of the person in question. You will begin to see the other’s situation in a way they cannot. You’ll begin to see, not only the realities of their present situation, but also potential temptations that will arise out of their current situation.

That’s what Paul is doing for Timothy in the whole book really, and we see it first brought up in verses 6-8,

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

In previous sermons and podcasts, we discussed what Paul is doing here. He is seeing that in the midst of increasing hostilities toward the word of God, Timothy could be tempted to hide his light under a bushel. He might be tempted to fulfill his ministry in a half-hearted way with an eye to his own immediate comfort.

And so Paul speaks to this. Note again, the result of mental energy expended on Timothy. He is not merely reacting to his present situation, he is able to see the potentialities. Paul knows Timothy is at a crossroads. Timothy may not even realize it. But God has met Paul in his prayers and shown him, not only the realities of Timothy’s current situation, but the potentialities that lie in the next chapter of Timothy’s life.

There’s a great example of this in the letters of John Newton. He writes to a young pastor, taking his first church — mainly to congratulate him. But also adds something to the effect of, “I know your heart, and suspect you may find yourself wishing you had been appointed to a larger congregation. But trust me, on the day you stand before the Lord and give an account for the souls of your sheep, you will feel that this small number was more than enough.

Practically speaking, you’re going to do something like this: “I was thinking about your situation, if I were you, I might be tempted to feel/think…”

The Lord will help you do this.


It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

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