We're taught that friendships are based on compatibility. But that's not at all what the Bible teaches. A truly enduring friendship arises from a joint effort - a common enterprise that often entails great sacrifice and emotional trauma. The plain and simple truth is that compatibility often has little to do with some of the most enduring friendships.
Building Enduring Relationships
by Pastor Douglas Shearer
Let's turn to John 15:15.
Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
Notice what Jesus is saying here in John 15:15: he's telling his disciples why they're his friends. And why is that? Because he has shared his heart with them - the wellsprings of his life - its purpose and direction. That's what makes them his friends. They've labored with him - and have proven their faithfulness. Whatever hardships he's undergone, they've undergone too; whatever persecution he's suffered, they also have suffered; whatever joy has touched his heart has touched their hearts as well. He has brought them under his mantle; his mission has become their mission. And that's why they're his friends. They are his partner/companions. The one, partnership, has given rise to the other, friendship.
It's so vital to catch sight of the importance of partnership in establishing friendships. Friendship, as such, is never instantaneous. Two persons enjoy companionship - meaning friendship - only to the extent that form a genuine partnership.
The Philippian church was closely linked to the Apostle Paul - and very dear to his heart - perhaps more so than any other church. His epistle to the believers there is suffused with tenderness and a touching sense of camaraderie. The Philippians are Paul's friends - his companions. And why? Because the Philippian believers were so much attuned to Paul's mission - and had so ardently made themselves a part of it. Their hearts resonated with his: they had become his "sugkoinonos" - his "partakers" in ministry. When the support of other churches began to wane, the Philippians stayed true - and remained steadfastly committed:
And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only;
for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need.
Verse after verse speaks of Paul's thankfulness - and testifies to the fellowship he enjoyed with them. A few are unusually poignant:
In Philippians 1:3-5, Paul thanks the Philippians for assisting him in the furtherance of the gospel.
I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you,
always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy,
for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now...
The word "fellowship" in verse five is the Greek word "koinonia." And it's sometimes translated "fellowship" and sometimes "partnership." Often, it's difficult to determine which translation is best - and that's because of the dynamic we've been examining - that the two, partnership and fellowship, go hand in hand. Fellowship is found in partnership. In the case of Paul and the Philippians, it's their partnership in spreading the gospel.
Just two verses further on, we have Philippians 1:7.
...even as it is right for me to be thus minded on behalf of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as, both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers with me of grace.
Here again the same dynamic is revealed. Paul is saying that the Philippians abide in his heart because they have stood with him in his defense and confirmation of the gospel. The point here is not simply that Paul is grateful for their help, but, rather, that their partnership has produced a shared experience out of which genuine "koinonia" - "companionship" - has evolved. Verse eight is emphatic:
For God is my witness, how I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.
This isn't simply a declaration of gratitude on Paul's part; it's much more. It testifies to his friendship - of longed for companionship. The word translated "tender mercies" in verse eight is the Greek word "splanchnon" - and the literal translation is "bowels." The Greeks believed that the "bowels" are the wellspring of human "affections;" therefore, the translation "tender mercies" is far too restrictive. Paul is pointing to more than merely the sentiment of mercy as such; he's declaring that he's linked heart and soul to the Philippians. It should be noted that the phrase "tender mercies of Christ" is not meant to indicate that it's Jesus, not Paul, whose affections are at issue here. It's simply a common idiomatic ploy that Paul frequently uses whenever he wants to authenticate the veracity of what he's declaring.
Let's be explicit: a joint venture - a common mission - provides two factors critical to the development of an enduring friendship between two persons:
There it is: the seedbed of genuine companionship! It doesn't guarantee the development of friendship; but it makes it possible.
THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS AND THE DISCIPLES
Turn now to Luke 22:28.
But ye are they that have continued with me in my temptations...
Jesus and his disciples, like Paul and the Philippians, were joined together in furtherance of a common mission. There it is again:
The word "continued" translates the Greek word "diameno" - which conveys the sense of "steadfast loyalty." The word "temptations" is, of course, "peirasmos" - and is better translated "trials." What we have, then, is steadfast loyalty in pursuit of a common objective. But it's the emphasis on trials that makes this verse so significant - the role suffering serves in building a friendship. And it's to that issue that we now turn our attention.
JESUS INVITES THE DISCIPLES TO SHARE HIS TRIALS
It's not just that the disciples have, on their own, decided to join Jesus in his trials; it's that Jesus has invited them to join him. He wants them at his side. Even in Gethsemane, Jesus is found reaching out to them. Why? Because companionship conveys solace and comfort. And that's what friendship provides.
Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
Don't we want our friends close by our side during tough times? Yes, of course - especially during tough times! Friends join hands when trouble comes knocking. And it's not just because we need their help to resolve whatever ordeal is besetting us; it's much more than just that. We need their encouragement. We need their comfort - their consolation - their reassurance. We need an attentive ear - a sympathetic heart. We want to bare our soul - and to know that someone cares.
Jesus, in all likelihood, began his ministry in January or February of A.D. 27. John's baptism marks its initiation. And immediately Jesus called his first disciples: Andrew, John, Peter, Phillip, and Nathanael - whom, later, Jesus would make Apostles - along, of course, with seven others.
The original call was simple and straightforward - and the intimacy it established was minimal. During much of the first year, Jesus ministered in Judea, near the Jordan River. Only John's Gospel records that first year - probably because he alone followed Jesus south to Jerusalem for the Passover Celebration that Spring. Shortly after John the Baptist was imprisoned, however, Jesus journeyed north again to Galilee - and renewed his call to Peter, Andrew, James and John. It marked the beginning of the second year of his ministry; and his popularity began to soar.
Nevertheless, even while the crowds continued to grow, opposition to his ministry began to crystallize. Luke 5:17-26 marks its beginning. Jesus himself prompted the "face-offs" leading to the opposition: first claiming the right to forgive sins; then inviting Matthew, the hated and despised publican, to join his ministry; and, finally, calling into question the Sabbatical rules enjoined by the Pharisees. The Pharisees were enraged - and began to plot his death. It's no coincidence that at precisely this point Jesus selected The Twelve. The foundation of the church is laid at the very moment opposition to Jesus' ministry begins in earnest.
Jesus calls the church to suffer with him - because suffering together in furtherance of the kingdom builds, deepens, and solidifies her relationship with him.
Let's use a series of graphics now to spin out some of the truths we've been studying - truths we need to not only acknowledge but consistently apply every day in building any kind of an enduring relationship.
We all agree that a concrete, existential friendship between two individuals should consist of fellowship, camaraderie, and companionship; that the link forged between any two individuals should be defined in those terms - and that if it's not, an abiding friendship, as such, doesn't really exist.
But we've also concluded that a friendship develops from out of a shared vision - a vision which both reflects and helps to define a specific "mission." A friendship, in other words, is two dimensional: it consists of companionship on the one hand and mission on the other:
We've examined as well the dynamic underlying Paul's companionship - his friendship - with the Philippian believers - that it arose from out of the Philippians' willingness to become Paul's partners in the spread of the Gospel. Their Partnership established the foundation for their friendship.
No relationship - including a marriage relationship - can endure for long unless it incorporates both companionship and mission. Personal compatibility does not assure an enduring relationship - including, once again, a marriage relationship And marriage counselors are forever missing the mark here. Their almost exclusive focus on personal compatibility and conflict resolution serves only to exacerbate underlying tensions - and generate even further frustration and despair. Any kind of relationship - to be effective and joy-filled - requires a center - and that center, then, provides the basis for genuine, long-lasting companionship.