“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,”
Friendships in scripture: hopeful from the first surface reading, harder still when we clunk into each other as broken humans do, and precious beyond natural human glory when we find this kind of unity that comes from hearts bound together in Christ Jesus. The gospel sparkles with the glory of God in oneness and diversity against a backdrop marred by separation, conflict, apathy, and distance.
Society, too, hopes for diversity, what makes ours any different? In helping give some framework for my church family’s core value of Biblical unity in the midst of diversity, a helpful explanation is this: “What Biblical Unity in Diversity means, I think it provides the best starting point. No surprise, but the idea finds its source in God. God is one in essence (unity) and yet three distinct persons (diversity). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share full equality as the eternally infinite God and yet they are different in their operations or activities. For instance, the Father sends the Son, the Son saves us through his work, and the Spirit sanctifies us.” -Dustin Crowe (1).
Nowhere in Scripture do we see all-glorious Father belittling the Spirit’s work or the Son distancing Himself from the Father. They work in perfect and sincere oneness, though they’re functions are vastly differing. We see our hope for diverse friendship in the Triune God.
We also look ahead to what will be one day, our final victory sealed.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10
If our holy archetype is the Trinity, our current call standing side by side firmly in one heart, and final outcome secured in diversity of worship before the forever Throne, how I hope I throw off complacency in the sameness of my circle! There is beauty to be had in cultivating friendships across the spectrum of people!
Unfortunately, our sin-poisoned world means we gravitate toward sameness and inadvertently (or even worse quite purposely) marginalize those who are not like us. Women gravitating toward others that make the same choices, congregations of worshippers who all look the same in age or race, small groups designed for one life stage dynamic: in each of these using shared jargon, jokes, resources, perhaps intended to draw close to each other and closing the gate on being the welcome to others that we have received in Christ Jesus. I imagine you’ve felt it too. How we long to experience friendship with those who follow Christ like He sets forth in His word!
I still remember the sound of my dear friend’s voice on the phone when conversation gravitated toward kindergarten choices for our daughters. I braced myself for an awkward silence and told her, “I’m afraid to tell you what we’re doing for school because I don’t want it to cause a rift. I really want to be your friend.” Sound intense? Perhaps, and lesser things can cause distance between women, but she responded with what I knew she had been memorizing in 1 Peter. “Megan, that’s awesome. Live as free people.” Jesus informed her response, and it wasn’t lip service either, I see the oneness of the gospel eclipsing our variances in education choices because Jesus is greater.
I’m intimidated by a friend getting her PhD when I can struggle to finish one book in a month. I exchange video messages with an older woman of color who openly tells me her experiences and walks with me through the Spirit’s work of residual racism for repenting. My single sisters are aunties to my daughters and show them what it is to love Jesus and people in ways so different from my own. My Bible study for several years was full of ladies with glorious gray and white hair. Yet, I still need help not to sink into sameness with friends I still wonder who God might be calling me to befriend that will bring a richer and fuller understanding of Himself, beautifully different from myself.
Jen Wilkin wrote in a blog post bringing Biblical perspective specifically to the propensity toward exalting one way of motherhood over another, and I really feel it applies to all areas of variation in friendship and life stage: “May the church be a place where mothers are ministered to and equipped regardless of their employment status. May it be a place where all women are welcomed and supported, and where the only role we exalt is that of Christ as Lord,” (2).
How does the rubber meet the road when it comes to applying cosmic sweeping hopes from Scripture to the nitty gritty of our daily interactions?
Perhaps we fill our working conversational topics with more questions than anecdotes? Get with a friend who asks killer open-ended questions and write them down. Ask God for ears to hear a door being opened where you aren’t familiar or comfortable and go ahead!
Perhaps we leave a little wiggle room in our Sundays to walk right up to someone we’ve never interacted with at church, introduce ourselves and strike up a conversation.
We should ask others what’s hard about their work or family, what brings them joy, how God got ahold of their lives, how they love to serve His people,what He’s speaking to them in scripture these days and how they like to relate with Jesus. These questions aren’t cul-de-sacs back toward our own fences, but invite wide-open friendships where Jesus is the very best thing.
Consider turning down the volume on our own committed opinions – I don’t mean laying down our resolve to hold on to truth, but if we sprint out of the gates with our heated and committed opinions, we risk alienating dear people who are not like us. Yes, I’m happy to chat about how I brought babies into the world and what’s working for us in ministry and parenthood, but if I have only arms to carry a banner of my life’s message, let it be this: Christ Jesus and Him crucified.
1. http://www.yourchurch.com/the-college-park-blog/race-and-grace-through-the-lens-of-our-core-values/ by Dustin Crowe, March 21, 2013.