God’s Design for Friendship (Part 1)
I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about balance. As a Christian speaker, I often find myself in periods of life that are kind of crazy, getting ready for a youth conference or trying to complete a book deadline and in these times, balance may be hard to achieve. The more I think about balance in general, the more convinced I am that balance is always tricky. It’s hard enough when you know what goes on both sides. Even then you have to constantly make little adjustments to keep things on an even keel. But when it gets really hard is when you know what goes on one side but you don’t know what’s supposed to balance it out.
For instance, there is a temptation in modern Christianity to think of our faith in almost exclusively personal terms:
1. We define the gospel in personal terms: it’s the good news that I can be forgiven of my sins and I can go to heaven.
2. We think of our relationship with God in personal terms: I need to have my time alone with God. This is what God has been teaching me.
3. We think of church in personal terms: did I like the music this morning? Did I get something out of the preaching this week? Was I able to worship God today?
Now don’t get me wrong. One of the most exciting things about authentic Christianity is that it is personal. We’re not God’s people because we were born into a particular family or nation. We’re God’s people because we have personally responded to Christ’s invitation which was extended to us as individuals. In fact, Acts 2:38 makes a big deal out of this:
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Here, the phrase “every one of you” is placed in a position of emphasis. In Greek, this phrase typically belongs at the beginning of a sentence, but here it’s in an awkward position. Why? Because in Greek, the emphasis of a sentence is often in the center, as is the case here. Peter is giving emphasis to the importance of making a personal decision to follow Jesus. So there’s no question that Christianity is personal. But the question is, is Christianity only personal? Or is there a helpful, maybe even an absolutely necessary balance to the way that we approach our relationship with God? And, if so, what is it?
The first clue that it’s not supposed to be just me & God comes in Genesis 2, but to understand its significance, we should probably start in Genesis 1. And the thing to notice is that after each act of creation, God declares what he has created…good. (Hebrew: tov, as is mazel tov)
Genesis 1:4 4 God saw that the light was good;
Genesis 1:10 10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:12 2 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:17-18 17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:21 21 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:25 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:31 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (meod tov)
Interestingly, the only thing that God creates that doesn’t get an individual declaration of “good” is humankind. Did you notice that? Now, don’t get me wrong, God saw all that he had made and declared it very good, and that obviously includes humans. But it is interesting that everything else get’s called good twice: when it’s first mentioned and then in the summary statement at the end of the chapter. Light is called good and then it’s very good as part of the whole package. The earth and the seas are good and then they’re part of the very good package.
But human beings are only called good once, as part of the package. When they’re first made, they’re not declared good like all the other things. Now why would that be? Well, it’s a story-telling thing. It’s a way of peaking our interest, making us want more. “Wait a minute,” we’re supposed to ask. “Everything else God made got called good twice. Why did humans only get called good in the summary statement?” Obviously they’re good or they wouldn’t be part of the very good package, but why don’t they get the same initial declaration of good that everything else God made does? And the answer to that question is: because you haven’t heard the whole story yet. Genesis 1 only gives us an overview of the creation of human beings. But Genesis 2 zooms in on that day and gives us all the details. But one of the details is startling:
Genesis 2:8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.
Now it goes on and gives some details about the garden and then we come to verse 18:
Genesis 2:18-24 18 The LORD God said, “It is not good…
Now this is jarring. So far, it’s been good, good good / tov, tov, tov, but now something is lo tov, not-good! But what is not-good? He says:
It is not-good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
Now, what’s interesting about this business is the context in which God says that it is not good that Adam be alone. Has sin entered the world yet? Not, it hasn’t, which means that Adam’s relationship with God is perfect. And yet in spite of that, God says that it is not good that Adam be alone.
This is our first clue that, while we were made to be in relationship with God, we were also made to be in relationship with other human beings. Think about it this way: you’ve heard that we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill? Well, there’s also a human-shaped hole that only other humans can fill. That’s the way God made us, this was His intention for us from the beginning and it is only when we are in relationships with Him and with others that it good.
Now, for Adam, God made a wife to fill that human-shaped hole that He created us with, and I believe that this is often how God meets this need still today. I’m not kidding or over-spiritualizing or anything like that when I say that Coletta is my best friend. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be and if you and your spouse look at each other and say, you know, I don’t think we’re best friends…well, I think you should explore ways to shore up that part of your marriage.
However, the Bible is also clear that there are other relationships that God can and does use to fill up our human-shaped hole.
Some of those relationships we find in our family, but some of them we find outside of our families with people that we call friends:
Ecclesiastes 4:10 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Proverbs 27:10 10 Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you– better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.
Luke 16:9 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Each of these verses speaks of the value and the importance of having friends. We are meant to be in a personal relationship with God, but we’re also meant to be in relationships with each other.
(End Part 1: tune in tomorrow for part 2)