Monday, January 23, 2012

The Power of Real Friendship

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions. Indeed, you yourselves know that this is what we are destined for.  In fact, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution; so it turned out, as you know.  For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor had been in vain.  But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us-- just as we long to see you.  For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith.  For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord.  How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?  Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.  Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.  And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.  And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

I’m attracted to the affection that is clearly a part of the relationship between Paul and the people in the church at Thessalonica.  There is clearly more going on here than just the relationship between a church leader and a church.  There’s a friendship.  

This is important for us to get, because in a world in which people were constantly separating themselves from one another—when if you weren’t from the same race and country and tribe and family, you were viewed with distrust, suspicion, and often outright hostility, the followers of Jesus were supposed to stand out and be different.
And what was supposed to make them stand out was not their doctrine and their belief, as important as those things may be.  What makes the community of Christ-followers different is the quality of their relationships.  This is so crucial that the apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:20 “Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

Do you really understand what this is saying?  That the real test of whether or not you are truly following Jesus is not doctrinal correctness, or church attendance, or sacrificial giving or serving, but the quality of your relationships.  What is going to attract the world to Christ is the quality of our relationships.  When there exists in a community of believers true love and affection between people who are deeply committed to one another as friends, people will be drawn to that community.

And that’s what I hear existed with Paul and the church.  And not just between Paul and the church, but between Paul and Timothy.  Timothy has only recently come to Paul from Thessalonica, and with great reluctance Paul is sending him back, because he wishes that they had more time together.  Ever had a friend like that?  Where every visit is too short, and you are reluctant to part?

There are few things in our lives more powerful than our friendships. Imagine all of the good things in your life right now. And if the one thing that was taken away from it was your friends, would any of the rest of it mean much?

The quality of our friendships makes all the difference in our lives.  It makes all the difference in our churches.  And it makes all the difference in our world.  The quality of our friendships—the sincerity, the openness, the authenticity, even vulnerability—has a lot to do with the effectiveness of our witness to the world.  After all, how good can our Good News really be if we can’t learn to love one another?

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