By Juan Jose Barreda, pastor Iglesia Evangelica Bautista Constitucion, Buenos Aires, partner of WMF Argentina, and member of the Red del Camino network in Argentina
Article originally posted on the Red del Camino blog, “Signposts.”
“‘Now that it seems like all is coming to an end, I have to tell you that there is nothing greater than the love that has come through our friendship’, Jesus said to his disciples…’Friendship isn’t an objective, nor is it a mission. It isn’t about working together on something to accomplish a goal. It is all about us together, the collective “I”, lives shared. Do not forget this essential foundational truth. Let me give you a new command: Love one another in the same way I loved you. Love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34-35 (The Message)
“I no longer call you servants because in reality we are friends. You know everything about me and I have given you all of my love. I do not need to explain to you that the same love should flow among you: Hope for the best for each other, cultivate a love that leads you to lay down your lives for one another. Be true friends among each other as I have been a true friend among you.” John 15:13-15
What things or circumstance could possibly cause us to forget the importance of friendships? Do we forget because of our responsibilities? Is it the drive to be effective? Or could it be our understanding of the church’s mission and the way we see our Friend as a distant boss? Maybe we forget about friendship because of the way we place value on “our” time? Or do we devalue the importance of “presence” in the body?
“Leisure” has gained a bad reputation, even to the point of being seen as a negative use of time by those who seek results from human relationships. What we do find during our days off are the large groups of people who gather every Sunday for a couple of hours. These groups of people have the gall, by consensus, to call themselves the “church”. They even use the term “brother” and “sister” to address one another, oftentimes to hide the fact that they do not know each other names, their histories or life circumstances.
“But it should not be that way among you…”
The church and the relationships shared among Christ’s followers are Christian when they are founded on the love born out of true friendships. There is no greater priority for the church to be the church.
More than her mission, it is her reason for being, and from there it is only possible to practice the evangelization as a lifestyle that truly reveals the Good News of reconciliation. In friendship we build connections, which move us towards transformation by the Holy Spirit, in that our commitment to the other becomes a commitment to oneself. When Jesus told us to love one another and become friends, He was breaking with one of the pillars of the world’s system that ushered in the domination of the empire – indifference.
Indifference in the empire wasn’t just any kind of indifference. It was a calculated form of indifference that was very useful to its own existence. Slavery, hierarchies of power, and the attributions of divinity to those who held power were its best expressions. And so, in the context of the empire, Jesus proposed love and friendship as an alternative way of living that would bring down the inhumane ideology of those worldly structures. Servility doesn’t exist among friends. There are no impositions or intentional harm among those who love one another as themselves.
Christ-centered friendship shook the very foundations of the empire. A social inversion of values ensued where people could see one another with admiration and appreciation. Slaves became leaders of the churches and women became pastors. Foreigners became family, and the sick and rejected were embraced and accepted. Time ceased to be a commodity and a sense of wonder and meaning returned to the unexpected encounters and contingencies of the day. Friendships happened.
“So it shall be among you…”
There shouldn’t be a more sacred time than one spent sharing a cup of coffee with a friend. Nothing is more Christian than celebrating a birthday, raising our children together in community, listening to each other’s concerns, or sitting at the bedside of one whose health is failing. There is nothing more Christian than to know that we are loved and that we allow ‘love’ to happen. In friendship, we change practices and ideologies for the love of another.
We cannot wait for everyone to understand exactly as we do, as indifference crosses over and is a part of all social and religious groups. It is through friendship and loving one another that we grow together in this understanding. Unfortunately, there will be some who attack us and oppose us for simply loving one another. This is possibly one of the most negative implications of friendship in Christ. But at the same time, it is one of the greatest ways in which we will appreciate the love of others.
In the Red del Camino, we seek to be friends first. We join our lives and ministries and families together to the point of being all tied up in knots, like a net. We run the risks that friendship carries, as most of the time our friendships end up making our lives more complicated as our relationships go deeper and become more entwined. But, when we are bound together by the Spirit, we learn, we grow.
We learn as we walk together on the Way, which unfortunately has very few reference points. I’m not saying that our friendships achieve fullness at all times and in all circumstances, but we try as we collectively desire to follow Jesus and His way of being. In these present times, when friendship is a condition that is questioned and suspect, we need to motivate one another to love one another through these God-gifted friendships; and not as a should, but as a right.
No one should be able to doubt that our churches have the right to attempt it. We have come this far after a lot of effort, struggles and times of loneliness. But, we have been sustained by the unconditional love of our companions along the Way of the Lord. For them, there is no ideology, and not even a testimony, that justifies the abandonment of loving one another as Jesus loved us in friendship.
“And so we began… and so we must continue on…”