A group of visiting scholars from China was sitting around a table with me tonight, sharing their thoughts about friendship. We had just finished a meal together, and the topic of conversation was “Friends and how to make them.” We talked about the definition of friendship, and what makes a good friend. Some of us had friends that went all the way back to childhood. Others had made deep friendships that began in college. Still others had met a lifelong friend and partner with whom they planned to share the rest of their lives. As we talked about friendship, we also recognized and agreed that friends share common values and common dreams.
As we finished our discussion, we had the opportunity to read Jesus’ words in John 15: 12-16 :
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
C. S. Lewis once said that “friendship is always about something...whether a common dream, a favorite sport, or shared professional interest.” When Lewis compared lovers and friends he said "Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends side by side absorbed in some common interest" [The Four Loves, HBJ: 1960, p. 61]. Certainly lovers can be friends, and need to be, but friendship is a special kind of love focused on a shared activity, interest, conviction, or taste – whether music or sports, hobbies, food, and especially, beliefs.
While we may tend to circle around those who share common interests...we don’t always consider what every human being on earth has in common: the need of God’s friendship. Friends will come and go, but the circle of Jesus’ friendship is forever. And to prove his love for us he laid down his life and invites us to be his forever friends, bearing fruit that will last.
There is no bond among friends more powerful than a shared experienced of God’s love. I’ll never forget when I first met my friend Jim Rauch in college. He and another friend introduced me to rowing, which was a great bond between us…but I had many other rowing buddies that I have not seen in years. The bond that has cemented our friendship is the common call into the pastoral ministry. More than thirty years later, we are still close friends. Lisa and I have many things that bond us together as friends and marriage partners, but it is our common faith in Christ that has proved to be most valuable as we have faced the joys and challenges of life. Again and again, we have drawn from that spiritual resource like cool, clear water from a deep well.
As our discussion table concluded tonight, one couple stood up and shared with me that this was to be their last meeting and that they would be returning to China next week! As we snapped a picture that may find itself in a scrapbook of California memories, I thought about the brief moment we had just shared together and how important it was that we were able to celebrate not only the friendships that had made here through the International Student Fellowship, but the forever friendship of God that has been offered to each of us through Christ. My hope and prayer is that along with this couple each of you will continue to grow in friendship with Jesus and one another this fall as we study God’s word in our new Fall Series Marked by Jesus, share our lives, and reach out in his name to those who don’t yet know him. May God bless you with his grace, peace – and friendship, in this new season!