Friendliness and the Gospel

Best FriendAs I write this article, I must ask myself, “Am I a good friend?” There are many of you reading this who may say “No!”.  I confess and repent to you now: I don’t keep in touch well with people from the past; I am often too busy to give individuals the time we need to maintain a good friendship; I don’t take every phone call, nor do I always return messages quickly. I don’t mind sharing my opinion, sometimes just because I have one. Seriously, don’t ask my neighbors about me, I haven’t spent enough time with them. In many ways, I am a bad friend.

Still, I take friendship seriously, and I see it as an important area of growth. As far as it is with me, even given my own sinful proclivities towards selfishness, arrogance, and pride, I desire to be friendly towards everyone I meet. Certainly my personality traits clash with others’ from time to time, making this endeavor difficult, but I find it a virtue to pursue friendliness with everyone.

This does not mean that I must have friends to feel good about myself, nor does it mean that I’m desperate for friendship. Also, this does not mean I can’t disagree with someone, or even admonish another person. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that every person has the same level of friendship with me (though I do trust that any one person can become one of my closest friends). However, I recognize that sin leaves us all broken, living in painful broken relationships. Friendliness is one way in which we mend one another.

Friendliness is an attitude, an approach to other people.

As a Christian, I find that friendliness is rooted in the love and grace of the gospel. God, through the propitiatory death of His Son Jesus, has made us who were once His enemies into His friends. I didn’t deserve that, for I was born in active rebellion against Him. Since this is true, I ask myself three questions: who am I that I cannot be friendly towards another person? Who is there that I could not make my closest friend? Do I trust the gospel wisdom James gives us: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1)?

So, why is it that so many Christians are as about as friendly as a rabid porcupine?

I have heard Christians say in public meetings that it is okay to choose one’s friends in the church. I have seen Christians who think way too highly of themselves pour out their deepest affections for the powerful and influential and neglect others. I’ve seen cliques form within the very same local church. People don’t say hello; they walk around with a scowl on their face as they scurry along to their bible studies. As if treating other Christians this way wasn’t bad enough, they show little respect or affection for nonChristians as well. Honestly, I’ve been equally as guilty of these actions and attitudes.

No wonder that, according to David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in their controversially entitled study unChristian, nonChristians consider Christians to be hypocritical, sheltered, and judgemental, among other things. Not only is it theologically obvious that unfriendliness is contrary to the gospel, it is pragmatically obvious–nonChristians don’t want to become like us–they’ve known us all too well. We need to repent, and turn away from our ugliness.

Unfriendliness, though, is not like immorality. Immorality you stop doing, you run away from it. Unfriendliness you work at, because you see, friendliness is a skill that can and should be developed.

Contrary to what some may think, friendliness is not necessarily dependent upon you personality type. Some of the more friendly people I know are introverts, whereas some of the biggest jerks are extroverts. Introverts, on the one hand, notice the needs and feelings of others and are more dedicated to others. Extroverts, on the other, are themselves needy of attention and people and can easily fail to care about others. Yes, these are generalizations, but they are intended to get you to see that friendliness is a skill, not a personality trait. Nonetheless, depending on which traits you have, there are certain skills you will have to develop. This does not necessarily mean talking more (introverts) or talking less (extroverts).

How can I be more friendly?

On a practical level, being friendly means looking people in the eye and smiling, being willing to engage them as image-bearers. It may mean talking less about yourself and asking more questions. In technical terms, it means pursuing receptor-oriented communication skills–how is what I’m saying and doing being perceived. Biblically speaking, Christians would do well to meditate on the attitudes behind considering others better than yourself, and in learning the spirit behind the biblical command to “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:21), even “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” (1 Thess. 1:26). I believe from these verses we find that, among many other things, friendliness transcends mere cordiality and moves into loving others (and not a select group) as people.

Thus, friendliness, while a skill, is also a spiritual fruit, because if you love, are joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, and faithful, you will be a great, great friend! As much as you work on developing the skill of friendliness, you more so rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to transform you into a good friend. It is fitting in Romans 12 where believers are commanded to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, that Paul goes immediately into spiritual gifts followed by a beautiful section on love. The gospel is intimately tied together with the way we treat other people. At its very heart, friendliness is best exhibited in Christian love (see also 1 Cor. 13). The beauty of the gospel is that we can trust in God, through the Holy Spirit, to make us more friendly. Let us ask Him in faithful prayer for friendliness!

A Missional Disposition

As a concluding thought, since friendliness is a gospel-centered disposition, one important implication is that it means you cannot live missionally and at the same time be unfriendly or fail to make friends. Sharing the gospel missionally must by necessity include making deep, abiding, genuine friendships. And when we are friends to our neighbors, we are loving them and meeting them where they are. Christianity is shown to be a universal faith in the inclusive disposition of believers towards other people who are created in the image of God.

My friends, please don’t take from the post that I’m saying “Be more friendly!” That would be just plain legalism, though it may make us all more pleasant people! While I have highlighted the skillful pursuit of a friendly disposition, I know that being a friend is only possible because God first made me His friend and His Spirit resides within me and exhibits Himself in love. Rather, the most healthy application of this post is the following: repent of your unfriendliness, look to the death of Jesus as the moment God made you His friend, and turn to God in prayer, seeking Him to transform you into a more friendly person, and ask Him to give you the courage to make more friends for the sake of the gospel.

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