Updated: Nov 28, 2021
This essay first appeared in Common: 50 Reflections on Everyday Life, Julie Lane-Gay, Editor, and José Euzébio Silveira, Illustrator . Used by permission of Regent College Publishing, 2021.
Created in the image and likeness of God, we are intrinsically relational beings. Friendship is expressive of the imago Dei; God spoke to Moses “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod. 33:11 ESV). The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is based on friendship, as the apostle John records, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14 ESV).
Created in the image and likeness of God, we are intrinsically relational beings. Friendship is expressive of the "imago Dei."
As I have explored in my book The Transforming Friendship, prayer is living in the presence of a loving God. It is so natural that one deplores the mindset of “how to pray” as much as the idea that one needs techniques for “how to live.” Imitating others can be illuminating and futile.
A Christian community, such as we are blessed to have at Regent College, is a community of friends, whether teacher or student. It is what the apostle Paul exhorted the church at Thessalonica to be when he admonished them to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11 ESV). We, like the Thessalonians, live in dangerous times, within a culture of fluidity. Like the apostle Peter, we may only be “pebbles,” not a big rock that the Roman Catholic Church grew to need. But when all we “pebbles” contribute, we create the “big rock” on which Christ builds his church.
In the Upper Room, Jesus expressed divine friendship as “laying down one’s life for a friend,” as he demonstrated on the cross. When we wear a cross, we are referencing friendship.
Jesus expressed divine friendship as “laying down one’s life for a friend,” as he demonstrated on the cross.
Augustine of Hippo was the first Christian writer to distinguish Christian friendship from the pagan Ciceronian friendship. The latter is “agreement with all things, human and divine,” while Augustine interprets Christian friendship as motivated by grace as affected by the Holy Spirit. Augustine himself grew in the understanding of such a contrastive friendship. For he was led to Christ by a friend; then, as a mature bishop, he in turn led others into the friendship of Christ.
Friendship, as every child learns, emancipates one from natural bonds to explore a wider world of relationships. Eventually, friendship between a man and a woman may lead to marriage. Friendship leads to creative support in one’s professional life, as I have found with great joy in my friendships with Bruce Waltke, Michael Parker, and others. Likewise in bereavement, friendship is a great support in sharing grief together. Friendship is therapeutic, too, in helping to avoid narcissism or depression.
As I explored in Transforming Friendship, prayer is being in the presence of a loving God. An incipient reform movement of the church named the “Friends of God” was started by a Strasbourg banker, Rulwin Merswin in the early fourteenth century. They were the first community to exchange letters of friendship, not just commerce, in acting out the Thessalonian exhortation. This, then, is what the Regent community needs to seriously activate, faculty and students alike. We need to set apart time each day to initiate and respond to emails with each other, for Christian scholarship can become “idolatrous” when it is all for self-promotion. A Christian who has no friends is a poor witness for Christ, who was scorned by the Pharisees as the friend of “publicans and sinners.” Likewise our Christian identity is reduced to nominalism when we simply nod or chit chat after the Sunday worship and not be truly “friends in Christ.”
A Christian who has no friends is a poor witness for Christ, who was scorned by the Pharisees as the friend of “publicans and sinners.”
In the New Testament, “friendship” took on a new identity, a Christian identity. The apostle John closes his third epistle with the words, “The friends here send you greetings. Greet each of our friends there by name” (1:15 BSB). Solemnly, then, we are warned not to be friends with the world, for “friendship with the world is enmity towards God” (James 4:4 ESV). Is, then, the primary motive of the Regent community that we come as graduates and we stay as faculty members to be nurtured as “friends of God”? When we leave the community, we do so to become witnesses of Christian friendship.
James M. Houston, Board of Governors’ Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Canada