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Today we start a three-part episode all about friendship. And I hope discussing this topic on this podcast makes all the sense in world to you.
The Year Long Celebration of God is all about worship. And there are two applications of all worship — we can worship God directly as we relate to Him, but we can also worship God indirectly as we relate to everything else around us.
The Scriptures command us to love God and love others, and every facet of our personal celebration of God must include evangelism and discipleship. And — even though we haven’t yet defined what it means to be a friend — I’m pretty sure you will agree with me that a person who evangelizes and disciples is being friendly.
So, yes, the friends we have in our lives and the friend we are to others are massively important parts of our yearly celebration of God.
And, speaking of friends, I want to invite you to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. We can get to know each other better on the socials, and — hopefully — one day we can actually meet in person. That would be awesome! But until then, the socials will have to do. Feel free to like and share and comment. I try to interact with everyone who takes the time to participate.
And also, don’t forget that we have free episode notes, transcripts, and one-anothering resources at CelebrationOfGod.com. You can find the link for that in the description.
And now, let’s look at the single most important topic in the cosmos.
“Really, Aaron, are you suggesting that friendship is the single most important topic in the universe?”
In a way, I am.
More specifically, friendship is a facet of the single most important topic in the universe. The most important topic itself is influence.
1. Influence should be your biggest concern.
My favorite Merriam-Webster definition of the verb influence is “to have an effect on the condition or development of” someone or something.
Now, believe it or not, the English word “influence” doesn’t show up very often in the Bible. In fact, in the NASB, it shows up one time in the Old Testament, and one time in the new.
The one time it shows up in the New Testament is II Thessalonians 2. Verses 8-10 show us that the context of the passage is the tribulation period, and then in verses 11-12 we read, “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
The word translated “influence” should sound familiar. It’s energeia, and it refers to an operative power. Though this is the only time this particular word is translated “influence,” it shows up 7 times in total in the New Testament, and it’s rendered “activity” once, “exertion” once, and “working” 4 times.
I love how all of those words beautifully show how influence works on something to accomplish a goal. And in the II Thessalonians passage, the energy being exerted is from God, and it’s designed to lead people away from truth so that they will believe a lie.
That reality should definitely give us all pause to think. That’s a powerful and scary influence.
But even though the word “influence” doesn’t appear much in Scripture, the entire cannon deals heavily with the subject.
Let’s start very broadly in our consideration. We’ll get more specific at the end of today’s show.
Think about it. All humanity is born into the world dead, blind, and lost. Without the direct influence of God, we would all be separated from Him for all eternity in the Lake of Fire.
The very Bible itself was given to us to influence us. In addition, the Holy Spirit works in us to convict us — that’s a specific kind of influence. And God’s people are called to be a salty and bright influence in our lives. And it’s all designed to bring us to a place that we recognize our need for a Savior and King.
But when we submit to the truth we’ve learned and are born again, the influence doesn’t stop there.
Have you ever wondered why doesn’t God take a Christian to glory immediately when he or she is born again? God leaves us here for an indeterminate amount of time because He has a job for us. And what is that job? That job is for us to influence the world for Him as others did for us. And — as was already observed — the sum of that influence includes evangelism and discipleship.
But God is not merely using us to influence others, we’re still being influenced in order for us to mature in Christ.
And the really cool thing is that as we submit to the discipling influences in our lives and progress in our sanctification, our influence in others’ lives is to become more influential because it’s more and more conformed to the image of Christ!
So, we can easily say that without proper influence, there is no hope for anyone. Therefore, the question of what we will allow to influence our thinking is absolutely paramount in all things.
Now, hopefully, you are already born again; so the necessary evangelistic influence in your life has already had its effect, and you need to praise God for that. But what about the continuing discipleship influence? How is that?
You see, the biggest problem you’re going to face today is not merely a lack of good discipleship influence; every person who has ever lived also receives a ton of bad discipleship influence every single day. While the good influences are working hard to draw you to God’s truth, the bad influences are trying to drag you as far away from truth as possible.
And — as we’ve already seen — in addition to the good and bad influences pouring into your life, there’s also the question of the quality of influence you’re pouring into others’ lives — are you being the evangelistic and discipling influence you should be?
So, as we look at the various influences surrounding us, we will quickly discover that we have given the people we call our friends a significant influential role in our lives.
Therefore, it is of paramount importance that we understand the nature and consequences of influence in general, but also the influences of friends in particular.
So, let’s start by recognizing that . . .
2. Aside from God, friends are your biggest influencers.
Now, I don’t know how you define what a “friend” is. That’s something really important we’re going to discuss shortly, but — generally speaking — regardless of how we define what a friend is, they are the people whose influence we’re more than happy to accept. And even though we all like to believe that our friends represent the best influences in our lives, we need to hold our friendships up to the light of God’s Word to see if they are what they should be.
Now, if we’re honest, we all can recognize that there have been people in our lives who we knew were bad influences, and yet we still considered them friends. There have also likely been friends who we thought were good influences, only to find later that they weren’t. And there may have even been people who we thought were bad influences who ended up actually being really good influences.
And if none of that has ever happened to you, you probably know people who have experienced it.
So, yes, the question of what a friend is, who your friends are, and whether or not you’re being a friend to others should be of paramount important to all believers because they represent a massive part of the influences in our lives.
So, now, let’s consider . . .
3. The World’s understanding of friendship.
Merriam-Webster has five definitions:
1. a : one attached to another by affection or esteem b: an acquaintance
2. a : one that is not hostile — such as b : one that is of the same nation, party, or group
3. : one that favors or promotes something (such as a charity)
4. : a favored companion
5. : a member of a Christian sect that stresses Inner Light, rejects sacraments and an ordained ministry, and opposes war — called also Quaker
I don’t know if you have too many Quakers in your life, and I don’t know whether your definition of friend is so immature that you consider anyone who’s not openly hostile to be your friend, but the definitions get only more subjective from here.
For example, a woman by the name of Gretchen Rubin categorizes her friends in this way:
First, she has “Just Friends.” She defines this as “a person you see — at a weekly poker game, at your child’s school — who is enjoyable company, but you have no desire to socialize outside a specific context or to get to know that person better.”
Second, she defines “Rust Friends” as people “you’ve known for a long, long time; you’re probably not going to get any closer to [them] unless something changes, but a part of your life” nonetheless.
Third, are her “Trust Friends.” These are people “who show integrity, [people] you feel comfortable with, that you’re always glad to see, but not in your inmost circle; perhaps [people] you’d like to be closer to, if you had the time or opportunity.”
And lastly are is her “Must Friend.” This is your “best friend, a member of your inner circle, a person you count on when something big happens in your life.”
Perhaps some of those definitions remind you a lot of your own.
But I really like Sydneysider Mobinah Ahmad's six stage friendship-acquaintance theory.
I’m sure you can tell just by the name why I like this one so much.
She starts her list with PreAcquaintance and gives the statistic that this group makes up 10% of people she knows. She defines this group as people of which she knows nothing beyond their name.
Her next level is Acquaintance Level 1. She explains this as the “to know of someone” category. She also conjectures that this makes up about 20% of people she knows. She further describes this category as follows: “We know of each other through mutual friends/acquaintances. We met briefly at a party/social event/university. You’re a work colleague or business client (who I haven’t spent much time with). We run into each other now and then by coincidence. We have convenient Interactions. Meeting up is not planned, and only because it is convenient and easy. Details about each other are superficial.
Then she has Acquaintance Level 2. This is the “Liking & Preliminary Care” category. She believes this makes up 30% of people she knows. She describes this group like this: We went to school together, or I have known you for a long period of time. We usually meet in groups, rarely one on one. If you needed my help, I would actively participate in helping them to the best of my ability. I can handle a 20 minute small talk chat with you, any longer and I will get bored.
I love that last part! Apparently, this group doesn’t have a very influential impact on her.
Now, if you’re keeping track, so far her acquaintances make up 60% of Sydneysider’s relationships, but she’s not done with her acquaintances yet.
Her next category is Acquaintance Level 3. This is the “Significant Connection & Care” category that makes up about 25% of people she knows. Now, that description may sound like a “friend” to you, but even though she says that she and the people in this group have a really good connection, have some very meaningful talks, care a lot about each other, and don’t see each other all that much, just now and then when we plan to meet . . . she doesn’t yet consider these people friends.
And — believe it or not — the same is true with the next category. This is the PreFriend (aka Potential Friend) category that’s made up of about 14% of people she knows. She describes these people as someone she wishes were a friend (as defined below and NOT as society currently defines it), and someone she wants to spend more time with and establish a proper friendship with them.
Now, if you’re keeping track, all of these Acquaintances and Pre-Friends make up 99% of the people she knows!
That’s right, she reserves her final category for the 1% of people in her life she actually would call a Friend, and she defines this group as “Mutual Feelings of Love.”
She describes this group like this: “I care immensely in every domain of their life (academic, physical, mental wellbeing), how their relationships with their loved ones are. I also care about their thoughts, ideas, elations and fears. I can easily give my honest opinion and thoughts. This person notices when I am upset through subtle indications. I see this person regularly and feel totally comfortable to contact them for a deep and meaningful talk. Someone who takes initiative and makes sacrifices to work on this friendship. Mutual trust, respect, admiration, forgiveness and unconditional care define our relationship. And if it’s not mutual, then we’re not friends.”
This group clearly has a lot of influence in her life.
Now, perhaps after hearing her definition of friend, you understand what she’s saying. Maybe — based off her definition — you’re having a hard time thinking of even one person in your life who fits that criteria. Perhaps this is why people are tempted to call so many people friends. If we used Sydneysider’s definition, most of us wouldn’t have any friends at all. And — if you’re a child or teen in our culture — not having friends is unacceptable. So we’d rather rename our acquaintances than admit to not having friends.
This is why Sydneysider has additional notes on her six stage friendship-acquaintance theory. She says, “There is no shame in being an acquaintance. I think society has made the word derogatory and that is why it seems offensive. It’s just about being honest. Friendship is not that complicated to me (I know, the irony of making up a theory and calling it uncomplicated). There may be a small few that cannot be categorized because there is history and shades of grey, but I look at my relationship with most people as being black or white, categorized, uncomplicated. The theory is flexible in the sense that people can go up or down the levels and understands that throughout a dynamic friendship, people become closer or further apart from each other. My theory originates from personal experiences. I realize that one of my biggest vulnerabilities is that I’m too sentimental; this theory combats this problem quite efficiently. I understand that this theory cannot be applied to everyone, but it significantly helps me.”
Now, as interesting as all of that is, perhaps you’re wondering why we spent so much time looking at a few examples of how the world makes sense of friendship.
We went through it to prove my earlier assertion that everyone has their own opinion on the subject of friends, but to also show that when we take a moment to really think about our friends, hopefully, we’ll come to some deep and extremely introspective conclusions. And I think that’s missing in most of our relationships.
So, now you need to consider . . .
4. Your understanding of friendship.
It’s too easy to assume we have the same definitions as God, but when we carefully contrast our working definitions with God’s, it’s often too easy to see the dangerous differences.
And it’s even easier to do with such a culturally familiar concept. But have you actually sat down and meditated on God’s definition of friendship? Do you understand that people exist on a relationship continuum? Do you understand that you should interact with people differently depending on how they relate to you? Do you understand the powerful influence your friends exert on your life?
As you give careful thought to the practical outworking of your beliefs about influence and friendship, I encourage you to answer a couple important questions that will help us build a framework for discussing this topic over the next couple of episodes.
In addition to the questions I posed earlier, I encourage you to carefully consider how you define friendship and influence. Some of you may want to write down your thoughts. Perhaps you may even end up creating your own friendship theory.
Perhaps it will help to think about how other people define the word friend. How do your friends define it? You may be surprised to discover that you and your friends understand the concept very differently.
Now, as you consider all of this it will be very important for you to come to a conclusion about whether or not friendship has to be reciprocal. Can you be someone’s friend if they’re not yours? Can someone be your friend if you’re not their’s?
Some say “yes," and some say “no” — we know what Sydneysider thinks — and it has everything to do with how they define friendship.
It may also be helpful to ask, by your definition, how many real friends do you have in your life?
Now, I know that we’ve talked a lot about what the world thinks about friendship, and not a lot about what God thinks of it. But we did this in order to jumpstart our brains.
I desperately want to short-circuit that bad habit we all have to simply assume we’re looking at a concept the right way. Sometimes it takes hard questions and contrary viewpoints to help us honestly understand the depth or shallow nature of our worldview.
But, before we finish today, I do want to look to one more passage.
So far, we’ve talked about the eternal importance of influence. We learned that even the world recognizes the huge influence that friends have. And we saw some specific examples of people who go through great lengths to curate how much influence others have in their lives.
Now, let’s consider a seminal passage when it comes to who we allow to influence our lives.
Psalm 1:1: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.”
Influence is so incredibly important that we not only need to embrace the right kind, we absolutely need to reject the wrong kinds.
In addition to that — God’s personal blessing is tied to rejecting the wrong kinds of influence.
So, as we wrap up today, I pray that we will be thinking long and hard about the kind of influences in our lives as well as the kind of influence we’re having on others.
This is not a passing novelty. These questions are of eternal importance, and I’m honored to be discussing them with you as we learn to worship God better this year than we did the year before.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets so that your friends can learn more about your maturing view of friendship, and never hesitate to reach out to Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com if you would like some personalized assistance in your discipleship.
And join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll continue our discussion of true Christian friendship by considering the biblical nature of friends and enemies — and why we so often get them mixed up.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.