Last Saturday, I went axe-throwing with a group of men from Pinewoods. It was an interesting experience, to say the least! I managed to hit the target about 40% of the time. In terms of Major League Baseball, that would give me a .400 batting average, and would most assuredly qualify me for the Hall of Fame. When it comes to axe-throwing, however, I think it means I’m not likely to become a lumberjack anytime soon!
At one point during our excursion, we had a chance to meet the owner and his son. They’re both originally from Philadelphia, where the father owns a company that manufactures bingo dotters. (They are also called bingo “dabbers.” Apparently, this is a bone of contention in the bingo community.) The son had an idea for an axe-throwing business, the father invested, and Grizzly Axes was born. As the son said, “Beer and axe-throwing … what could go wrong?!” Thankfully nothing did! (Maybe because we stuck to Cokes, potato chips, and hot wings.)
During our conversation with the owner, he asked, “So what brings you here?” I told him, “We’re from Pinewoods Church.” He seemed a little confused by that answer … like maybe he expected us to be holding a Bible study or something. I told him, “We’re just hanging out, being friends.”
Sometimes, the best thing you can do on a Saturday, is spend a couple of hours with your friends. Why? I think it’s because God made us for friendship. At the very beginning, after God created Adam, he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18) In other words, “Adam needs a companion. Adam needs a friend.”
So what does biblical friendship look like? I spent some time this morning reading the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery and I discovered some interesting insights into the nature and purpose of friendship. According to the author of the article, friendship involves knitting of souls and face-to-face encounters between “equals [who] are similar in class, interests and character, share meals and spend time together, and follow virtue.” In other words, friends are people who, over time, form emotional, intellectual, and spiritual attachments with each other.
Think of the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 18:1, we read, “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” These two friends were so close that they exchanged gifts with each other, embraced one another, wept together, and made vows of loyalty with each other. (When Jonathan died, David kept his oath of loyalty by giving Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth a seat at his table … essentially offering him protection from a group of loyalists who thought David should kill anyone associated with the former king, King Saul.)
Think about some of Jesus’ friendships in the New Testament. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Why? Because, according to John 11:11, Lazarus was Jesus friend. Most biblical interpreters believe that Jesus had a best friend … John, who was called “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (John 20:2) Who can forget the riveting scene in John 19, when Jesus, who was about to die on the cross, instructed John to look after his mother Mary? They were, in terms of their friendship, “one soul.” Perhaps this idea of friends as soulmates influenced John to use the term “friend” as a shorthand way of addressing other Christians. In 3 John 15, he wrote, “The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them.” When two people are in Christ, there’s a sense in which their souls are knit together in friendship. Given that reality, the process of “becoming friends,” for Christians is less about creating something that didn’t exist before, and more about discovering something that already exists because of Jesus.
Probably the most revolutionary thing about Christian friendship is the idea that human beings can be friends with God. Ancient philosophers thought this was impossible, and perhaps even absurd, because of the great chasm that separates God (or the gods) and human beings. And yet, three times in the Bible (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23), Abraham is called a “friend of God.” In Exodus 33:11, we’re told that God spoke to Moses, “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”
We’ve already noted the connection Jesus had with Lazarus and John, but it’s important to note that this was not a mere function of his human nature. Jesus, the fully divine Son of God, told the disciples, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends … No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends.” (John 15:13, 15) Why did Jesus die on the cross for us? Why did he lay down his life as a ransom for sinners? Because we’re his friends, and Jesus is “a friend of sinners.” (Luke 7:34)
Friendship matters! Friendship with God matters, and friendship with other people matters. That’s true generally, but it’s especially true in the church. We should love ALL of our neighbors (Mark 12:31), but especially those who are “of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)
The book of Proverbs famously observes, “Iron sharpens iron, and one friend sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) Sometimes that “sharpening” looks like axe-throwing. Sometimes it looks like a day at the beach or a backyard barbeque. Sometimes it sounds like a long phone call … complete with many prayers, much laughter, and even some tears. In a world in which it seems like isolation is the “new normal,” I want to encourage you to make friends. Join the Men’s Group or the Women’s Group. Go to a Life Group or a Sunday School class. You’re going to have lunch after the worship service anyway, why not invite someone to join you?
There are so many ways to connect with other people. Life is short … make friends!