For it is only right for me to think this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are fellow partakers with me in this grace. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7–8 LSB)
As Christians, we have the privilege to partner with our fellow Christian brethren. Unfortunately, many of us do not pursuit these relationships. Instead, we are prone to live as lone rangers. Paul depicts seven features of Christian friendships that can help us properly pursue these godly relationships.
1. Christian Friendship Is Reasonable
When Paul wrote, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all,” he implies some have questioned his wisdom in partnering with the Philippians. In verse 7, Paul refutes his doubters.
The Greek word translated “right” means “fair and equitable.” The emphasis is not moral righteousness. Rather, what Paul is saying is that it is sound reasoning to desire Christian friends.
It is good to want Christian friends. Your desires are reasonable, and they should not be suppressed. Cherish your Christian friendships. Cultivate them. Pursue new ones.
2. Christian Friendship Involves the Heart
Christian friendship begins with our commonality in Christ. But Christian friendship is not solely based on intellectual agreement. When Paul said he held the Philippians “in my heart,” he meant more.
During Paul’s time, the Jews understood the heart as the entire inner being. The heart includes the will, intellect, and emotions. Paul’s affection for the Philippians involves his core being; likewise, our friendships should involve our entire being – mind, will, and emotions.
3. Christian Friendship Calls for Participation
Paul describes the Philippians as “partakers with me of grace.” The Greek word translated “partakers” means sharers or participants. The Philippians were active participants with Paul. They supported Paul financially. They sent Epaphroditus to Paul when he was imprisoned. They responded when Paul solicited assistance for the Jerusalem church.
Christian friends do not merely talk with each other. We share life together. Your friendship is shallow if your only interaction with others are through Facebook likes. You may share pictures and videos on Facebook. Christian friendship warrants sharing life.
Christian friends meet each others physical and spiritual needs. They ask how the other person is doing. Together, they experience life’s biggest victories and trials. They sacrifice for each other.
4. Christian Partnership Endures Circumstances
Difficult circumstances test friendships. It’s easy to be a friend when you are doing well. It’s not so easy when trials come. The Philippians stuck with Paul “both in my (Paul’s) imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
When Paul’s ministry was successful, the Philippians supported Paul. When Paul’s ministry was sidelined by Roman imprisonment, the Philippians remained at Paul’s side. The temptation is to dump your friend when he/she is not doing well. We tend to neglect our friends when we ourselves experience hardship. Our tendency is to focus on ourselves and not on others.
Paul sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi with this letter. Paul could have been overwhelmed in his personal circumstances; instead, Paul chose to consume himself with the welfare of his Christian friends in Philippi. True Christian friendship endures circumstances.
In the modern world, Christian friendship should endure distance too. Christian friendships should overcome geographic distance, church denominations and even changes in our seasons of life. Our friendships begin with this life, but they culminate in our future eternal life in heaven.
5. Christian Friendship Recognizes God’s Presence
An important facet of Christian friendship is the recognition of God’s omnipresence. Ultimately, God’s grace creates Christian friendship. We cannot create these types of friendships; they are a gift.
We may feel we don’t have these Christian friendships. We desire friends, but God does not meet our expectation. Some of our friends may betray us. Others may not decline our invitations. Still others prioritize other people above us.
When Paul wrote, “God is my witness,” he grasped the reality of God’s presence. God’s omnipresence has four important implications:
- Since God is my witness, I should focus on how I can be the best friend to others.
- Since God is my witness, I should have confidence that God is sovereign over all my relationships.
- Since God is my witness, I should trust that God understands my disappointment when I lack the Christian friends I desire.
- Since God is my witness, I should trust God’s goodness, including his perfect provision for all my friendships.
6. Christian Partnership Warrants Strong Desire
Every Christian friendship is a gift from God. It is undeserved. At the same time, we must desire and pursue friendships. Even if we have been hurt by others, we pick ourselves up and pursue new friends. And we need to treasure tightly the Christian friends we do have.
Paul wrote, “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” The Greek word translated “yearn” means having a strong desire and longing for something. The Greek word for “affection” refers to the inward parts and entrails. Culturally during Paul’s time, the inner body parts represent the seats of the emotions. The desire for friendship is intensely emotional. And from our first point, this desire is right.
7. Christian Friendship Models Christ
Our entire Christian life should model our Lord Jesus Christ. How did Jesus view friendship?
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Jesus unconditionally gave up everything for his friends. He humbled himself and took on human form. He lived a perfect life that entailed every type of human suffering. He endured a gruesome death and received the full wrath of God at the cross.
While we were yet sinners, he took our penalty. Not only that, he calls us his friends not based on who we were or our potential. He called us friends because it was his sovereign will to do so.
Modeling Christ in Our Friendships
We can model Christ in our friendship in three ways.
- Love your friends sacrificially. Don’t focus on what you can get out of your friendships. Look on what you can give to your friends.
- Love every Christian unconditionally. Unlike the world, Christ called us friends in spite of our imperfections. Don’t love only select people who are like you or make you feel good. Love every
- Love your friends purposefully. Christ took the initiative to love us first. We love because He first loved us. Take the first step to love your friends.
The objective is not to finish this life with the most friends. The goal is to love all our Christian brethren by modeling Christ. It is one of our greatest privileges.