Generous Friendship: The Embodiment of Uncommon Love

The Longing for Friendship

My son is at the age where he excitedly points at everything just out of his reach. He doesn’t have too many words yet. So right now everything is, “that!” I’m impressed by how much he can want something that is just out of his reach. When it comes to friendship, most of us can relate. We don’t always have the words to describe our longing for friendship but we know we want “that!” And frustratingly, it seems like it’s just out of our reach too. 

Culturally, the trend line for friendship has seen better days. Since 1990, the number of people that turn to a friend for personal issues has dropped from 26% to 16%. On top of that, almost half of the population has 3 or fewer friends, with over 1 in 10 people reporting to have no close friends. In a recent poll I asked our community if they had a degree of longing attached to friendship. The response was an overwhelming yes. The current state of friendship is discouraging. We’re more “connected” to one another than ever before in history yet loneliness rates continue to soar. We’re desperate for meaningful, generous friendship

We may not be satisfied with the state of friendship, but we’re not unfamiliar with the concept — and that’s especially true for the local church. For nearly every century apart from the one we live in now, the church has sought to faithfully embody the life and love of Jesus Christ through meaningful, patient, enduring friendships. Strangers, foreigners, and outcasts knew there was a hospitable welcome waiting for them in a church. The lonely, hurting, and needy knew there was kindness to be found in the home of a Christian. Today? Those expectations largely do not exist for churches and Christians — and the magnitude of that loss is felt deeply. But what if we returned to this old path? What if we became a community that joyfully stepped into the satisfying, and profoundly restorative practice of generous friendship? It just might be how we enjoy God a little more, cultivate a touch more beauty, and learn to love more courageously…

“The power for loving comes from knowing that Jesus first loved us, and entering into an experience of his love.”

— Scott Sauls

Designed for Friendship

The longing for friendship is embedded into our design. The first couple chapters of Genesis emphasize that it’s not good for us to be alone because we’re created in the image of a communal God. This “community” of God (The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is vulnerably invested in the work of one another (Mark 1). For these reasons, it’s no wonder we suffer in loneliness. We’re designed for deeply meaningful and vulnerable friendships

But not all friendship is the same. Digital friendships lack embodied experiences and accountability. Hobby-related friendships are mostly held together by convenience. Work-inspired friendships are constrained to a work week. These types of friendships can be the start of something great, but on their own they are shadows of the real thing. We’re designed to thrive in generous friendship that’s tangibly committed to the good of one another.

The good news is that generous friendship is not out of reach, in fact, it’s reaching out to you! In John 15, Jesus describes his generous love as something that’s “choosing us” and making us friends with God. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul would go on to describe this as Jesus moving us from enemy to friend. We’re designed to thrive in generous friendship that begins with God. 

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”

— Henri Nouwen

Catalysts for Friendship

Generous friendship doesn’t just happen. It takes work, time, and lots of grace. There isn’t a perfect formula for befriending, but there are historical catalysts that have helped shape and enrich friendship for centuries. The source for these catalysts? Jesus himself.

Learn to Receive

Reset your expectations. Yes, friendship demands giving, but to be generous givers we must learn to receive generously — and that begins by receiving the generous friendship of Jesus. Wrapped up in receiving are threads of trust, affirmation of another’s dignity, and the simple gift of knowing more deeply. Receiving from Jesus demands resting in his grace that meets our needs, and that grace prepares us to receive from friends.

Embody Curiosity and Hospitality

In nearly every conversation that Jesus had with strangers (who often became friends), he embodied curiosity and hospitality. He wanted to know what motivated people, where they were going, and the longings beneath the surface (John 5). That curiosity was coupled with profound relational, physical, and spiritual generosity (John 4). Jesus’s hospitality was uncommon and uncomfortable, yet always generous .

Embrace Mutual Responsibility

If we went backpacking and I asked you to carry all the gear, I can guarantee you will not want to backpack with me again. When backpacking, each person carries their own load and we share the burden of common supplies and resources. Paul might not have understood alpine backpacking when he talked about “carrying our own loads, but sharing the burdens of others” in Galatians 6, but the principles translate. Our friendships will thrive in as much as we mutually embrace our responsibility for their thriving — and learn to walk alongside one another and support the things that are just a bit too much for one person.

Invest in Slow Time

The stories of Jesus and his friends are remarkably unremarkable at times. There’s a significant amount of walking and just wasting time together (fishing, plucking heads of grain, lounging at meals). There’s also an unhurried richness in the ways Jesus would delight and weep with his friends. These are “slow time” moments, affectionately referred to as “the lost arts” of friendship. In these spaces we are perhaps most human and most honestly befriending.

“The typical expression of opening friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’

— C.S. Lewis

Road Map for Friendship

All meaningful friendships are marked by movement. As we aim to step into generous friendship, lean on the below movements for support:

Movement 1: Take an Inventory

Write out where you’re at with friendship and where you’d like to go. If you’re not sure who to move towards, start by identifying people (literally) right in front of you. An inventory is especially helpful for naming your longings around friendship.

Movement 2: Waste Time With Jesus

Jesus offers us the most meaningful and generous friendship. Growing to enjoy friendship with Jesus will increase your capacity for friendship with others. Not sure where to start? Take a sabbath and/or try on prayer.

Movement 3: Prioritize Time With a Friend

What catalysts do you need to lean into with a current friendship to make it more meaningful and generous? What catalysts do you need to embed into a new friendship? This might look like moving towards an old friend with whom you’ve lost touch or taking the first step with a new friend. Pro tip: Don’t underestimate the spiritual power of fun!

Movement 4: Dream and Share

After embracing the above movements, dream about generous friendship to come (next week, next year, next decade). Write a letter to a friend sharing your longings and/or appreciation for the friendship. You may or may not send the letter — but perhaps you do? Or maybe it’s a simple coffee conversation where you each share your longings and appreciation.

Friendship Resources

Sermon Audio

(We apologize for the audio quality. We hit a technical glitch recording so the quality is poor and missed the introduction. It begins with Justin unpacking his first point: the foundation of friendship is friendship with God.)

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