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.