We all make decisions, weekly or even daily, that mold us into people who are either well suited for deep, spiritually satisfying relationships…or not.
The degree of our own spiritual and emotional health has incredible impact on our friendships or marriage. Our willingness to address sin issues in our own personalities and unhelpful habits we’ve developed is almost always directly proportional to our success in relationships.
Obviously, there’s a degree of responsibility on the other side — you can’t make a partnership work with someone who’s unwilling to put in the effort on the other end —but by and large, the old adage holds truth: Be a good friend, and you will find good friends. Strive for spiritual maturity, and you will find spiritually mature people who will care for you and entrust their own care to you.
Don’t get me wrong. Good mentors, friends and spouses are always a gift from God. We have our part to play, though, in becoming people who can be trusted with these gifts. It’s a pattern that’s found more than once in the Bible too.
“After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David…. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself” (1 Samuel 18:1,3 NLT). This friendship would save David’s life more than once as Saul tried to kill him; but more importantly, Jonathan played a key role in encouraging David to trust God’s promises.
“One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ Jonathan reassured him. ‘My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware’” (1 Samuel 23:15-18).
This is an astonishing moment of friendship. Jonathan believes in God’s word to David so strongly that he’s taken a stand against his own family who are fighting this promise and does everything he can to see it come true.
I wonder if Saul ever looked at his son and David with a kind of wistfulness or wounded envy.
He was warped after years of entertaining jealousy, nurturing fear and ignoring God, and yet he had known the Holy Spirit’s power. He knew what it was like to see the Lord of heavenly hosts go ahead of him. He had prophesied in the grip of the Spirit. He had known true glory.
After all that, he chose his own security, ease and public image. He chose these things over and over, and each time he lost the one relationship that matters most and, as a result, every other personal connection in his life suffered.
Pastor Mark Dever, president of 9Marks and council member of The Gospel Coalition, wrote four incredibly important steps to discipleship and building strong Christian relationships.
1. Talk Truth
Growing in God only happens in the context of biblical truth. This means having spiritually meaningful conversations with each other that are based off the Bible or books and sermons from leaders whose teachings have a reliable basis in the Bible.
Obviously, it’s important to connect over everyday, personal stuff; but a relationship won’t grow into a spiritually solid one without intentional focus on God.
2. Correct Errors
Not all answers are the right answers, and we all make mistakes, no matter how far along we are in our Christian walk. Lovingly pointing out errors or poor choices will help someone learn how to avoid making the same mistake or how to handle a certain situation better next time.
Also, keep in mind that Paul’s instructions in Colossians 3:16 describe a journey of mutual growth. If you’re offering correction, you need to be willing to receive it as well (even — perhaps especially — if you’re a little more spiritually seasoned than the other person).
3. Model Godly Living
This is a call to check yourself regularly. Are certain issues cropping up in your life that you know you should address but haven’t gotten around to doing so yet? Do you have an addiction or reoccurring sin that may require an accountability partner? Chances are good it’s impacting your buddy, even if neither of you is specifically aware of its effects.
We’re not perfect, and part of continually building each other up is acknowledging this fact and actively allowing the Spirit to address those issues. Let your trustworthy people in on the process. It’ll be a blessing to both you and them.
4. Love Well
This step is a pivotal part of the command, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
We have to love the person we’re walking alongside because deep, meaningful relationships are never easy to build. They require lots of thought and energy and care to keep healthy. In a nutshell, that’s love.
Reflecting on the biblical command in 2 Timothy 2:2, Gary Thomas wrote, “This priority to put our first and best efforts into reliable people is a biblical call, not a personal preference.
“Of course, as God’s followers we are always open, twenty-four hours a day, to divine appointments to love. The good Samaritan didn’t check whether the beaten-up traveler was reliable. We want to be generous to all, but focused on a few as Jesus was. He healed and served and then often sent the recipients home.”
Gary Wilkerson also mused in a sermon how God uses other people to provide for us when we are in desperate need. “Sometimes we need someone in our life who believes there's a way when we see no way.
“Sometimes we need somebody to pick us up when we can't pick ourselves up. Sometimes, when we don't believe anymore, we need somebody in our life who believes for us. When we've lost hope, when we've given up, when we say we're not able anymore, when we’re paralyzed, God will send somebody into your life to say, ‘It's time to move. It's time to go. It's time to get up’, and they’ll pick you up.”
It stands to reason that God gives these commands not to burden us but for his glory and our own benefit. Good spiritual friendships are great blessings in our moments of triumph and our journeys through the valley of the shadow of death. Often these are the people whose voice the Spirit uses to remind us of God’s promises.
Often these are the hands that comfort us when we’ve traveled beyond our own strength, beyond any hope we can see, beyond the reach of anyone else. They keep us forging forward when all we can see is an impassable mountain ahead.
In his classic Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne wrote a line that I always think of when I am with my best and closest friend, one who makes me laugh so often and has faithfully walked alongside me through some of my most difficult trials.
“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.”