Friendship: You Were Made For It and It Makes You

Recently, J. D. Greear discussed the nature of friendship, how it is rooted in God’s identity, and how it defines our identity. Here’s an excerpt:

Every other relationship we experience had a genesis. Marriage was created. The parent-child relationship was created. Work relationships were created. But friendship was never created. It’s part of the eternal nature of God. Ponder that till your brain hurts: there has never been a time when there was not friendship.

Read the full post here.

Ant Greenham: Friendship and the Great Commission, Part 3

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Ant Greenahm is Associate Professor of Missions and Islamic Studies at Southeastern. A specialist on the Middle East, he is author of Muslim Conversions to Christ: An Investigation of Palestinian Converts Living in the Holy Land (WICU, 2011), and co-author (with David Black and Allan Bevere) of The Questioning God: An Inquiry for Muslims, Jews, and Christians (Areopagus, 2012). He is also passionate about helping students see the breadth of the Great Commission. To that end, he writes below about the nature of friendship in the Great Commission. This is the first post in a three-part series. Come back next Monday for part two.]

I end this brief series with suggestions on how to move friendliness in the direction of true, Great Commission friendship. Doing what’s right must go hand-in-hand with stopping what’s wrong. I’ve explored the limitations of activity-based friendship and the inadequacy of friendliness in previous posts. And here I have one more friendship inhibitor to consider before I close. It’s the enduring tendency to categorize people.

Miriam Adeney provides telling insights on categorization at the end of a discussion on overseas missions:

We Americans tend to view people in other countries in three categories. They are exotic. They are problems to solve. Or they are good business contacts.

We bring these views into the way we promote mission. Exotic? We make other peoples into an adventure. But they are not exotic, they are sinners, just like us.

Problems? We present internationals as spiritually, physically, and socially needy. But they are not only needy. They are also made in the image of God, with a great deal to give as well as receive.

Business contacts? Internationals are not machines to be treated pragmatically. They are whole persons, as complex and common as we are.[1]

Her focus is on outsiders, but Adeney’s insights apply here in the US too. And if you’ll allow me to slip into a personal mode, I’ve experienced each of her three categories myself.

I’m certainly exotic. As soon as I open my mouth, I’m asked where I’m from (South Africa) and get the friendly assurance, “I love your accent!” I don’t mind this at all, but there are times when folks seem more interested in hearing me talk than listening to what I have to say. I also admit I can be a problem (ask my wife!). However, what if my annoying suggestions that we do things differently proves useful, with some tweaking and deeper consideration? Third, I provide my skills and resources (and you provide yours) to benefit the Seminary as a whole. In other words, much of our interaction in an institutional context is business-related. Business though it is, the Seminary’s imperative to further the Great Commission is ultimately God’s business. And this means that doing Great Commission business must transcend utilitarian pragmatism.

Such pragmatism may be seen when two Christian men express interest in South Africa on separate occasions, get answers from me they say are helpful, then ignore me the next time I see them. Or when a young woman shares lunch with me and her prospective student husband, spends an evening in our home once he is accepted, but now lacks the courtesy to greet me when she passes by. In the same vein, I was saddened when I bumped into “Ricky” at the ETS meeting in Baltimore last year. He asked if I remembered him. Of course I did—we mentored him and his wife, in our home, for over a year. Unfortunately though, his uncertainty rightly shows our culture’s doubt that a long-term friendship might emerge from a past set of activities, regardless of how meaningful they were at the time. So, let’s not leave people in the dust once the business is done!

Finally, here are a few ideas on how we can do better. As before, Jesus is our example. In addition to being with his disciples, over time and across a range of activities, Jesus told his disciples they were his confidants, not his servants, and as such, his friends (John 15:15). As his friends, he would love them by laying down his life for them, but they were to love each other the same way (John 15:12–14). In other words, doing Great Commission friendship (i.e. truly making disciples) means being a vulnerable, sacrificial friend, like Jesus, to others. Ultimately, this enduring demand is always higher than anything we can attain. But we can take a stab at it in the following ways:

  1. Focus on a few. Jesus did. His closest relationship was with just three disciples. I think this is a good guideline; you can’t have deep friendships with everybody.
  2. Be deliberate in establishing close relationships. Eva and I did this with “Dick and Karla.” It started with a few shared meals right before they took a trip to the Middle East. But we agreed we shouldn’t throw the relationship away once the activity was done. And so, seven years later, we are still spending quality time with each other, pretty much on a monthly basis.
  3. Finally, ask Jesus, the Friend of Sinners, to help you as you put his way of discipleship into practice.

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[1] Miriam Adeney, “The Myth of the Blank Slate: A Check List for Short-Term Missions,” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing It Right! ed. Robert J. Priest (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2008), 144.

Ant Greenham: Friendship and the Great Commission, Part 2

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Ant Greenahm is Associate Professor of Missions and Islamic Studies at Southeastern. A specialist on the Middle East, he is author of Muslim Conversions to Christ: An Investigation of Palestinian Converts Living in the Holy Land (WICU, 2011), and co-author (with David Black and Allan Bevere) of The Questioning God: An Inquiry for Muslims, Jews, and Christians (Areopagus, 2012). He is also passionate about helping students see the breadth of the Great Commission. To that end, he writes below about the nature of friendship in the Great Commission. This is the first post in a three-part series. Come back next Monday for part two.]

As we continue our exploration of friendship, let’s consider an insight from Bernard Lewis, the renowned scholar of Islam and the Middle East. Before he left Britain permanently for America in 1974, “an old friend and colleague” had the following to say: “Here in London . . . you have friends. In Princeton you will have colleagues, neighbors and in certain situations, allies, but you will not have friends as you understand and use that word here.”[1] Lewis shares this conversation at a crucial juncture in his narrative, at the point where he began a new life in the United States. I think that’s significant. Almost 40 years later, it seems he hadn’t experienced friendship in America in the way he had before he came here. The reason, I believe, is the nature of activity-based friendship in the US.

Considering the rest of his reflections, it’s fair to say Lewis was involved in valuable academic and institutional activities with colleagues, got along (for the most part) with neighbors at the office and at home, and found allies to help him in battles fought along the way. But it seems that none of these shared activities led to an overarching friendship. In other words, different elements of life, shared in a friendly way, did not (and do not) translate into friendship for the long haul.

Essentially, friendliness and friendship are different. But they may be hard to distinguish because of our use of the word, friend. Colleagues, neighbors and allies call each other friends. Celebrities pursuing an agenda, who don’t know me from Adam, address me as friend. A favorite bakery has a sign telling anyone at the door: “Arrive as a Customer, Leave as a Friend.” And the problem is enhanced by the explosion of “friends,” people you hardly know, on Facebook. Just about anyone can be your friend.

This cultural notion of friend is certainly far removed from the friendship demanded by the Great Commission. When I discussed it in class last semester, a student, Zach, had an interesting anecdote to add. He had been abroad, met a local he liked and then introduced him to someone else as his “friend.” To Zach’s surprise, his new acquaintance immediately corrected him with the words, “I’m not your friend!” What he meant, it seems, is being someone’s friend goes way beyond initial friendliness. A commitment, proven over time, is required.

So how do we get from friendliness to true friendship? I hope to end with three practical suggestions in my third and final post on the subject. Here though, I’d like to linger over a key difference between friendliness and friendship: I believe that friendly expressions easily mask the absence of a deeper relationship.

How often have you used the words “thank you for asking” when a colleague asked you to follow up on a prayer request you shared publicly? Or when you’ve had a decent conversation with someone you don’t know well, ended with “it was nice talking to you?” Typically, such words are sincere, and I have no quarrel with them as they stand. However, they express an element of surprise that person X cared enough to ask, or that conversation with person Y had meaning beyond the mundane.

In contrast, my wife and I don’t say those words in our relationship. We repeatedly express our love for each other, but it’s established that we care for each other’s welfare and enjoy each other’s company. Of course we do—we’re very good friends. In fact, saying those words in a truly close companionship becomes biting sarcasm if something’s amiss. That’s because they are properly reserved for superficial interactions. My suggestion then, when you use them, is to ask yourself whether the surface level is where you want things to stay. Often that is quite appropriate. We can’t get close to everyone. But don’t kid yourself that the people concerned are friends in any meaningful sense of the word—or that this encapsulates disciple-making in the way of Jesus.

Instead, if you want to explore taking the relationship further (and it has to be reciprocated, of course), enquire after the other person’s welfare (and possibly elicit a prayer request) when you thank them for asking. And at the end of a surprisingly good conversation with a mere acquaintance, raise the possibility of having another, not in general terms but at a specific time and place. Finally, if things are going to develop in the direction of true friendship, anticipate, pray for, and work towards that end.

More about all this next time!

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[1] Bernard Lewis with Buntzie Ellis Churchill, Notes On A Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian (New York: Viking, 2012), 171.