Authentic Friendship

My dear friend, Gordon Gower, preaching in Colorado

Nothing hurts more than to have a “pretend friend.” Often we don’t know who our true friends are until trouble comes our way. My dear friend, Gordon Gower, recently reminded me, “Your REAL friends are coming in the door while the others are going out.”

Today let’s look at taking the 7th step up Peter’s Eight Rung Ladder:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love, (2 Peter 1:3-7).

In this passage of Scripture, Peter tells us to take the next step up from godliness to “brotherly affection.” Many English Bibles read “brotherly love” here. So what does “love” mean to you? I love apple pie. I love my grandmother. I make love to my wife and I love my Lord. Hopefully each of those loves has a different meaning, but they are actually related to each other. The love that we learn from our mother and father teaches us to love our friends and the love of our friends teaches us to love unselfishly. Here is another series of stepping stones!

I like to think about 2 Peter 1:3-7 as an eight rung ladder. Each step leads to the next. We began this series with the step of faith which led to excellence (virtue) and excellence led to understanding (knowledge) which led us to self-control and endurance (steadfastness), then godliness and now we begin to learn to love. Here Peter starts with friendship (brotherly love) which will teach us in our last lesson about the greatest love, agape.

As has been said many times, there are several Greek words that are translated “love” in English. There is a word for the love of possessions and there is a word for the love of family, but the two that are most often used in the New Testament can be translated “friendship” (“brotherly affection” in the English Standard Version) and a powerful, transcendent, godly love, Agape. In learning to love, we need to begin with friendship. From there we can climb the last step of our eight rung ladder and learn to love like God loves.

Paul told the Romans, “Love one another with brotherly affection,” (Romans 12:10). This too is an interesting progression for he begins with the word for “family love”* and then moves to “brotherly love.” Notice the Holman Christian Standard Version: “Show family affection to one another with brotherly love.” This is the only place in the New Testament where this word translated “family love/affection” is used. It is the kind of love we find mothers having for their children and then children having this love for their parents and siblings. In this sense, it is the most natural love. The ancients believed it was possessed even by animals. When family love is absent from a person, it is an anomaly – even a tragedy – but its presence is nothing extraordinary, so Paul moves on to describe a higher love that should be present in the Christian family: brotherly love.

One of the greatest losses of our modern age is the loss of friendship. Unfortunately, friendship is no longer necessary for survival. It is nice to have friends, but it is not necessary. C.S. Lewis once observed, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”

Do you remember a time in your life when you had a buddy or a best friend? For most us of, we’ll need to go back to grade school or to our time in the military to remember when we had one. Paul said the Thessalonians were masters of the art of friendship: “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia,” (1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10). The Hebrew writer says brotherly love is a characteristic of all Christians (Hebrews 13:1), but it is in our current context of 1 Peter that we are given the key to learning this virtue:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (1 Peter 1:22).

Spend some time meditating on this text for a moment. Let the Holy Spirit instruct you. What do you see?

  1. Brotherly love must be “sincere.” Literally, it is not-hypocritical. Friendship can be faked. It happens all the time, but it must not be so with Christians! In Christ we become authentic – especially so in our friendships.
  2. The true source of brotherly love must be from a “purified” soul. In days gone by, that required cultic cleansing in the Temple (John 11:55; Acts 21:24, 26; 24:18). Today, figuratively we can cleanse our hearts (James 4:8) and our souls (1 Peter 1:22).
  3. Cleansing comes through “obedience to the truth.” That comes by drawing near to God (James 4:8).

Isn’t that interesting? We become genuine friends by becoming genuine Christians! As we learn to live under God’s rule, we become authentic Christians and thus we can become true friends. By cleansing our hearts and our hands, we rid ourselves of ulterior motives and so we elevate friendship through sincerity. Brotherly love means not seeking friends for what they can do for us, but simply because we sincerely want to be friends.

Christian friends are the best friends!