“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
‘Friends with benefits’ has become a popular catch phrase in recent years, signifying using someone (supposedly a friend) for personal gain and pleasure. In 2011, the well-known romantic comedy by the same name “became a commercial success at the box office, grossing over $149.5 million worldwide.” Film critics widely praised the lead actors for their chemistry on camera while dismissing the glaring problem with the movie’s premise. Sadly, the world’s concept of love is saturated with selfishness; investing in others is most often measured by one’s degree of personal gain. The phrase itself is remarkably ironic; in reality, the ‘no strings attached’ relationship is not beneficial and the friendship it espouses is one of convenience, reflecting nothing of sacrificial love. It is self-seeking, self-serving and self-abasing.
In truth, it is the antithesis to the friendship Jesus demonstrated on the cross for we had nothing to offer Him. Our hearts were darkened, empty and hostile toward Him. We were dead in our trespasses and sins and helpless in poverty of spirit. But He reached down to save us. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 – italics mine) Indeed, the purchase of our salvation is motivated by and saturated with the love of Christ. This is the heart of true friendship; everything He did was for our ultimate good.
It should not surprise us that the friendship of Christ is widely misunderstood, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die…. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7, 8 – italics mine) This is love the unbelieving world does not comprehend, “for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7,8) But we have received His mercy; we have the mind of Christ.
For this reason, we, the church, ought to be the fore-runner in exhibiting sacrificial friendship and love. Indeed, Jesus said the world would know we are Christians by our particular love for one another. He elevated love beyond the realm of words and sentiment when He laid down His life for us, bearing the burden of our sin and sorrow. And His parting commandment was that we love one another. Love is the umbrella that covers over all ‘one another’ commands and all other virtues. Love is the “bond of perfection” (Col. 3:14) and is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).
At my former church in suburban Alberta, I was blessed with a few close friendships. At a time of crisis in my life, they each supported and prayed for me. One friend in particular expressed her love by setting aside two to three hours once a week to meet with me. She listened, offered wisdom, and prayed with me. She cared for my soul, encouraging and comforting me from the Word. Today, we enjoy a mutually beneficial friendship.
The fruit of true friendship is plentiful, but five things stand out to me. I pray that the reminder of these real benefits spurs us on toward deeper love for one another.
“that we…speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ.” (Eph 4:15)
God gave us His word as a means of our sanctification, to permeate our lives, even our friendships. He gave us to one another to keep us in the truth and keep our paths straight. Left to ourselves, our thinking can become twisted and our hearts deceive us. A godly friend influences us for the better, even (perhaps especially) in rebuke. James says, “Brethren, … he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
“Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16b)
It does our hearts good to bear with one another, both in our sorrow and sin. When one is sick or hurting, the love of a friend is like balm for a wound, soothing and healing. When one confesses sin, the other can hold out forgiveness and encouragement. When our hearts are at rest in the peace of Christ, our strength is renewed, sometimes even physically. And even where bodily illness persists, Paul encourages us with this: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. “ (2 Cor. 4:16) Friends encourage one another with these life-giving words.
“Two are better than one … If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Eccl. 4:9, 10)
In our love for one another, we find help in times of need. It may be financial help, or the provision of a meal; it may be babysitting for someone, or helping with a project. Whatever the case, there are myriad opportunities to be useful and bless one another. Even the smallest acts of kindness, motivated by love for God and others, are significant in the kingdom of heaven.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus … He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2: 5-8)
If we have the heart and mind of Christ, we cannot think of others’ sins as less respectable than our own. Nor should we recoil from bearing the burden of another, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Humility takes the nature of a servant who is grateful for his position, for the opportunity to help another as Christ has helped him. Jesus bore our burdens on the tree; in humbly bearing one another’s burdens, we “fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Cor. 4:17)
When we offer hope, others gain perspective to see earthly trials from God’s point of view. The Scriptures liken this to the soaring of an eagle: “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) How often we need this perspective!
As wickedness increases and the love of most grows cold, it is my conviction that we need the love of one another more than ever. Waiting on the Lord together enables us not merely to survive, but to overcome trials and tribulations, even the world. Because of Him, we are true friends with true benefits.
(All verses are taken from NKJV)