A couple weeks ago, we began talking about how befriending the LORD is the founding principle for spiritual friendship. Utilizing “friendship” as a viable title for our relationship with God is how we can understand living under his grace. The relationship is bound by mutual, self-sacrificial love through serving out of opportunity, not obligation. Everything about the vastness of who God is suggests our relationship should be based on how successfully we serve him. But it’s not. It’s based on the grace found in his Son getting on our level, becoming human, and befriending us—ultimately by laying his life down for his friends.
Friendship with Christ is the greatest form of friendship we can ever have. This is the founding principle, because this divine, too-good-to-be-true friendship becomes the template for how we can go about our own friendships—and particularly when we befriend the Church.
Before moving forward, we really should focus on what it means to “befriend.” When Christ’s example is taken into account, the verb “befriend” takes an entirely new meaning. When we think of befriending someone, it typically involves an exchange of names, sharing mutual interests, following up with a desire to hang out. But at the core of it all, the act of befriending is establishing a new relationship bound by grace. Nothing else binds us to this new friendship other than (hopefully) our mutual desire to spend time with the other and commonalities that establish the relationship. Perhaps it was out of a mutual interest shared in spontaneous dialogue, or sharing cubicles at work, or the Lord pressing you to reach out to this person. But no family hierarchy, contract, societal expectation, or social obligation requires us to be friends with this person. They did nothing to earn this friendship. They were simply themselves, sparking a spontaneous interest in exploring the other in a deeper, more meaningful way, beyond seeing them as the regular customer at a coffee shop, a hair stylist, or “close proximity work acquaintances.” It was marked by grace.
Grace was the core principle behind Christ’s befriending. It is evident throughout his entire life. There was nothing that people did to earn their friendship with him. He met these people right where they were, regardless of their righteousness or sin. He didn’t treat them as projects, or sinful people who needed help with their bad habits. He befriended them; he got to know their interests, hear their stories, laugh with them, cry with them, dine with them. But, as we all know by now, the climax of Christ’s befriending is found in the act of laying his life down for his friends on the cross to grant them salvation…. To grant us salvation.
Yet the implications of Christ’s greatest acts of friendship—his death and resurrection—do not only give us eternal salvation, renewed life on earth, and a restored friendship with God.
Christ’s befriending also invites us into his friend group known as the Church.
Joseph H. Hellerman says that salvation is a community-creating event. You don’t just receive friendship with Christ in salvation. You also receive friendship with Christ’s Church. You become a part of the greatest friend group to exist in eternity—the elected body of Christ that represents God’s active presence in the world.
Now this is where things start to get a little bonkers.
When we revisit Christ’s words to his disciples in John 15, he says “Love each other as I have loved you.” (15:12).
Did you catch what Jesus says? Like, really. Think about it.
We are to love each other with the same love Christ has for us. We are to love each other with the same divine, self-sacrificing love that binds the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into One God. We are to love each other with the same kind of love that gives us eternal salvation. We are to love each other with the same love that makes up our friendship with Christ: Laying our lives down for the other.
Our monk friend, St. Aelred, reflected on these very same words of Jesus, and he claims that if we literally take Jesus’ words seriously—to love each other with this same divine love he has for us—then the friendship that results between believers is the greatest joy we could ever have in this life, coming only second to our friendship with God.
And this spiritual friendship between believers bears the power to remedy America’s loneliness epidemic. And maybe even change the world.
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This is where we get neck-deep in St. Aelred’s reflections on this radical, theologically rich articulation of the most basic of human bonds. In coming blogs, we’re going to explore the implications of befriending the Church when we truly love each other as Christ loves us.