Both Important . . . But Not the Same
We certainly need community. We live in an individualistic age. We have isolationist tendencies that we should flee. God’s purpose from the beginning to the end of history is to create a people for himself: Israel in the Old Testament, the church in the New Testament.
But there’s a difference between community in general and friendship in particular. You can be in community with any number of people but not actually have any true friends. I think it’s important to talk about community. But, as a next step and at a deeper level, it’s also important to think about friendship in particular.
There’s a difference between community in general and friendship in particular.
Recently, I was talking with someone about his 50th birthday celebration. He had a few dozen people with him in that room that knew him—his community. Yet, in that moment, he looked around and it was a turning point in his life because he realized that there was only one person in that room who actually knew him: his wife. He had a few dozen people in community with him and yet he didn’t have any friends other than his wife.
So there’s a danger in talking a lot about community in general and not friendship in particular. We can begin to think about community in relationship to groups and acquaintances.
A Few Good Men and Women
In order for community to be thick, it has to involve overlapping networks of friendships. Think of the “one anothers” in the New Testament. When Jesus called us to love one another, he defined love in the gospel of John in terms of friendship. He said, “love one another as I have loved you,” and then he defined that in terms of laying his life down for “friends.”
To take one example: we are to bear one another’s burdens. When we have great suffering in life—when a family member dies or we plunge into deep darkness or depression—there is a real sense in which many people can share in that burden. But there’s another way in which we need a few, close friends to suffer with us—to weep with us, to be still with us, to listen to us. Fifty people can’t do that. Only a few close friends can do that.
So we need to focus both on community and also true friendship.
Our culture is not one that provides great encouragement for the nurture and development of deep, long-lasting, satisfying friendships.
For many of us, asking for help goes against every fiber of our being.
We can be assured of Christ's love for us because he gave his life to save us. He is a trustworthy friend.