How does Calvary shape our friendships?
Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) was among the first Christian thinkers to reflect on the meaning of friendship. For example, toward the end of City of God he writes, “There is no greater consolation than the unfeigned loyalty and mutual love of good men who are true friends” (19.8).
But the gift of friendship, according to Augustine, also gives reason for anxiety. He proceeded to assert, “We become apprehensive… [that these friends] may fail us in faithfulness, turn to hate us and work us harm.” It’s a challenge we all face.
If we were to identity a central reason for Augustine’s apprehension, we might point to “vulnerability.” It is the inescapable fact that genuine friendship always leaves us exposed. Listen to how C.S. Lewis makes the point:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
Unfortunately, this apprehension often keeps us from risking vulnerability, which in turn impoverishes friendships. In light of this challenge, we lift our eyes to the triune God who showcases the contours of authentic friendship.
Now, as in ancient days, men and women pursued a relationship with the divine. In the mythologies of Greece and around the Fertile Crescent, we find religions in which the motivation was animated by human initiative, a movement from earth to the deity. Despite the busy activity of priests working in temples, the gods of the nations were regarded as unapproachable.
This, however, was not Israel’s experience. From the beginning, the Lord of Scripture was unlike the so-called gods of the nations, descending to commune with his people, indeed talking to Moses face-to-face—He showed a supreme love of which our friendships are simply a reflection. The trajectory of this relationship has always been a movement from heaven to earth, from God to men and women. It was according to divine initiative. In abundant grace and mercy, the Lord didn’t simply look down upon the earth; He came down to His people: the Creator with the created, holiness amidst profanity. And although frightening in holiness, God revealed His character in the context of Mount Sinai where he described himself as, “The LORD, the LORD, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Ex. 34:6-7).
Friendship of the Cross
The New Testament reveals a breathtaking extent of love and accessibility. Here the God who spoke the universe into existence became a speechless baby. The embodiment of love from the womb of a teenager, set in a feeding trough. In tears at the side of Lazarus’ grave, on the floor washing His disciples’ feet, and ultimately on the cross where He died for the sins of the world—Jesus showcased divine love through vulnerability.
How does the shape of Jesus’ life define our friendships? Simply put, it rebukes our apprehension to extend love toward one another and it inspires us toward genuine vulnerability. As the Cross of Christ was rejection and pain, so friendship calls us to embrace a sorrow and strain—an ongoing struggle to love another sinful person. We realize that our love will not always be reciprocated; it may even be scorned. Nevertheless, we commit ourselves to love. Why? Because the Savior who calls us His friend has called us to it: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
This is the Christian shape of friendship.
Chris Castaldo is Lead Pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, IL. He is also a member of the St. Peter Fellowship of the CPT. He holds a PhD from the London school of theology and has research interests in Reformation studies. He is the author of multiple books and recently coauthored The Unfinished Reformation (Zondervan, 2016) with Gregg Allison. You can read more from Chris at his blog at christcastaldo.com.