Chingoos / Friends

I have on my lap top background a picture of three men from my small group last year at as Thanksgiving party. These men, along with one of their wives and I formed what we called a “vision driven small group.”  We met every week, unless I was traveling or some other thing intervened.

I met these gentlemen at a prayer group meeting of Korean graduate students and faculty. They welcomed me in and asked me to lead a Bible study with them.  I gladly agreed.  I did not know how significantly they would change my life over the next several months.


One of them, Jinho, took it upon himself to teach me Hangul, the Korean alphabet, and the basics of Korean grammar.  Seonghwan told me about his time as a missionary in Indonesia.  Giljun and Heejung modeled for me what it was like to be young and in love.  From all of them I learned about community; something I had not truly experienced since my days as a college student at UT.  During the all too brief duration of our small group, these men became my friends.  We were not deeply intimate, and did not go out every week for drinks, but we cared for each other, prayed for each other, and were genuinely interested in one another’s lives. Leaving them was the most difficult part of leaving Knoxville. They were, and are, my friends.


Another friendship I developed in Knoxville was with the pastor of a church.  Pastoring a church was not what he thought it would be, and it was quite lonely for him and his wife.  The day we met for lunch he asked me, much like a shy embarrassed schoolboy, would I be his friend.  As a fellow minister I understood immediately; we needed each other.  We needed friends.

Friendship is something highly valued in scripture, yet strangely underrated and not discussed very much in the church circles in which I’ve been involved.  Sure, there is a lot of talk about community, the kingdom of God, and of course marriage, but very little is taught on the importance or even the need for friends.

David and Jonathan were friends, as were Elijah and Elisha.  I have to imagine that a large part of the reason God gave Aaron and Joshua to Moses was so that he could have friends. The Hebrew boys, Hannaniah, Azariah, Mishael, and Daniel were friends. Naomi and Ruth, Peter, James and John, Paul and Epaphroditus – all of them friends, and so many others I cannot remember. Most of these people were married, some were not, but all of them needed friendship.  They all needed people who became brothers and sisters to them by choice and not by birth.


In the church, I think we need better teaching on the value and importance of friendship. We have plenty of prayer partnerships, accountability groups, and work teams.  What we lack are friends.  People who talk about life, who get together for no reason other than that they enjoy one another’s company, who spend time goofing off just because it’s fun to do.  We need meetings without agendas, and time without a purpose. I think we need occasions were people get to develop friendships and we need a dethroning of the marriage partnership as the place of total fulfillment of human relationship.  Marriage is indeed the highest level of partnership to which we are called, and a good friendship is foundational to a good marriage, but even husbands and wives need friends, both together and separately, to give them perspective on life and on each other.   We need training on how even to be good friends and we need to make space for friendship in our lives.


Enoch walked with God, Abraham was considered God’s friend; Moses talked with him face to face.  And then there is Jesus. Throughout his ministry, Jesus conducted himself as a rabbi towards his disciples.  They called him master and teacher.  They served him, listened to him, and learned from him.  But on the last night of his time with them, he told them that he did not consider them servants any longer.  He considered them friends, not servants, nor even sons, but friends.  If friendship was God’s priority, it should be ours also.


Author: elderj

I was born the fourth child and third son of godly parents in Nashville Tennessee. After leaving home for college I got involved with InterVarsity, then graduated with a degree in finance. After that I got a masters in history. Nowadays I spend too much time reading, writing, thinking, and occasionally doing my job.

13 thoughts on “Chingoos / Friends”

  1. Hi Joshua! I didn’t know you were blogging — but good to see all the Korean stuff still happening, man! I’m excited that you’re learning Hangul too! I’ll see you at Urbana.

  2. Ha, that’s a distinction that needs to be made. Strict hierarchy denotes that we could be friendly, but we’re not necessarily friends, as in equals. therefore, the title of hyung trumps friend. You can be a friendly hyung or a friend, but it’s hard to mix the two. While it’s not a barrier to friendship, Koreans know when that line is being crossed and are conscious of the difference and the distance. Perhaps this is something worthy of discussion in terms of friendship is equality a factor? When can one pull rank? In an increasingly pluralist society, When is it right to pull rank? When is it OK to dismiss equality for seniority?

    In the case that you bring up when Jesus calls us his friends, he is not only elevating our status, but lowering his, which is fundamental to an Asian’s recognition of grace, because he’s relegates the honorific. Strangely enough, this goes all the way back to the knosis passage, “he did not consider equaityl with God something to be grasped.” It is because of this that Jesus will be honored. Instead of taking up the honorific, he laid it down.

    All that to say, I don’t want to call y ou hyung, but if that’s what you want, that’s all you’ll get. 🙂

  3. Hyung or not I have much to learn from you both about Korean culture and the gospel. In the case of the knosis passage you mention, Jesus lays down his equality as it relates to the father and not as it relates to us. In the passage about friendship in John he retains a hierarchical relationship with the disciples because he reminds them that they are his friends if they do what he commands, so it is possible for there to be genuine friendship between persons of unequal status. Perhaps this is a place where the gospel needs to inform and reform both hierarchical (Korean) and egalitarian (American) cultures. The former makes hierarchy inimical to genuine friendship while the latter insists on equality as a prerequisite for friendship.

    Which is to say that I cannot be other than that I am – a hyung by birth & status, but a friend by choice, and that’s the nest kind of friemdship isn’t it? 🙂

  4. Point made. And we should not consider equality with God something to be grasped either re: knossis passage. The Confucian hierchical notions of friendship are due for a reform, and if I were to extend that to those who are not born into that cultural norm, I’m happy to do so. So consider yourself hyung and a friend. But know that I’ll expect a few meals in return.

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