I have heard it said that there are only two purposes in relationship. The first is for you yourself to “become more like Christ.” The second being for you to encourage the other party, “to become more like Christ.”
While I don’t see either option being a bad option by any means, I’m just not sure that these should be the driving force of our relationships. These two options seem more like a stringing together of the “one another” verses, a reduction of commands made into a neat little formula, instead of a living and breathing ecosystem. This kind of thinking demonstrates a huge split between the secular and the sacred. This kind of thinking sees heaven and earth as entirely separate. Not to mention, this kind of thinking (whether or not it intends to) negates the power of the Spirit and instead sees man as the primary force in a relationship.
This friendship formula is man-centered, seeing our sanctification (the process of becoming more like Christ) as a primary focus of the Christian’s life. Man’s purpose is not seen in the creational good, the creation mandate given to Adam and Eve in the early chapters of Genesis. Man’s purpose is seen in getting better than the broken world and getting out of the broken world.
I have seen this friendship formula in action. Actually, let’s be real. I’ve lived out this friendship formula in action. While the radius is wide, the penetration is shallow. In seeking relationship for the sole purpose of sanctification, you miss the relationship. People are not loved holistically; mind, body, and soul. People are loved simplistically, solely as souls that need work. Living, breathing people with complex stories . . . simply become our personal projects. We pry instead of listen. We analyze instead of enjoying. We manage instead of praying.
In an attempt to live in the sacred as much as possible and disengage from the secular as much as possible, we have twisted the gift of friendship. We see music, movies, social media, and art not as neutral things to be enjoyed but as things that need to be redeemed. And we see friendship (aka “fellowship”) no differently.
A few years ago, a mutual friend handed out pieces of paper for us to tape near our mirrors. The paper listed each part of our face that we might apply makeup to and a corresponding verse. For example, “The Eyes: Our eyes look to the Lord our God, To You I lift up my eyes – Psalm 123:1” Makeup was too earthy and it needed our help. We needed to “Christian-ize” it. Here in lies the problem with said friendship formula. We’re trying to Christian-ize what is already good.
God is friendship. He lives in perfect fellowship with His Son and Spirit. He walked in the garden with His creation and He Himself declared that it was not good for man to be alone. We don’t seek the creational good that can be found between two friends, whether they are Christians or not. We don’t see the beauty in the breaking of bread, laughter over good drinks, the peace that comes with crying tears on a strong shoulder. We see projects. We see to-do lists.
Heaven is separated from earth when we see our friends, our family, and our coworkers simply as opportunities. But we can bring the reality of heaven to earth when we love others simply because they are people. Imagio Dei. We can reconcile the great divide we have created between the secular and the sacred when we simply enjoy the gift of relationship. When we simply commune as we were made to do.
I’m not here to say that sanctification doesn’t matter. That discipleship doesn’t matter. That hard questions and confrontation don’t have their place. But I am here to say that they are not our purpose. They are byproducts of time, sweat, tears, laughing, loss, and gain. The people who know me and love me best are not the people that have asked me personal questions. They are not the people to whom I have aired my dirty laundry. They are the people I have watched movies with. Shopped with. Eaten with. Laughed with and cried with. They aren’t the people who have tried so very hard to “get to know me.” They are the people who just be. The personal questions and dirty laundry come out their own. In sweet time. Heaven meets earth in our relationships, in our friendships, when we enjoy it’s created intention. Sweet communion.