Why are we doing what we doing?
Some sociologists conducted an experiment on behavior by placing five monkeys in a cage with a banana hanging from on a hook. To get to the banana the monkeys would have to climb a set of stairs. But as soon one of the monkeys touched the stairs the other four monkeys would be sprayed with cold water. This would happen time and time again until the monkeys themselves would stop any eager monkey from even making their way toward the steps. The monkeys had become conditioned that the social pressure kept any of the monkeys from even making an attempt to get the banana.
At this stage, they replaced one of the monkeys from the cage with a new monkey. This new monkey would see the banana and make his way toward the steps. To his surprise the other four monkeys stopped him with force. Eventually he knew that if he started for the stairs, the other four would attack him so he gave up the attempt.
The scientists then replaced another old monkey with a new one and the same process continued. Even the first new monkey joined in the prevention process. This continued until all of the original monkeys had been replaced by new monkeys. None of the current monkeys had ever experienced the punishment of the cold water but still they reinforced the social behavior. At this point the monkeys were stopping each other from making an attempt at the banana without even knowing why they were doing it.
Why do we do things the way we do them? Do we do things because it is what we’ve always done?
I cannot think of a more important thing to evaluate than how we do church. Why do we do church the way we do it? Is what we are doing helping or hindering our mission? Is this the way we ought to be doing it?
We cannot just do something because it is popular. We cannot just do something because everyone else is doing it. We cannot just do something because it works. We cannot just do something because it is the way we like it.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
One of the biggest assignments of the Church is the call to transformation. The Church is responsible for transforming culture. We do not conform to the culture of the world but we are called to transform the culture. The mission of the church is to transform the world.
If the Church is not transforming the world, the Church has either abandoned the world or is becoming like the world.
We must soberly and honestly ask, “Is the way we do church a contemporary approach or a Kingdom approach?” Are we reinforcing a Kingdom culture or a contemporary culture? Is this the way the church should do it?
The church must adopt a Kingdom view of such important issues as marriage, sex, finances, education, work, food, alcohol, worship and community.
We have seen how God puts the lonely into families. But what kind of families are we putting people into? Are we placing people into functional families, healthy families where people are growing and maturing in Christ or dysfunctional families, sick families where people are stagnant in their spiritual growth?
All this talk of being placed into the family of God, living life together, spending time together, making memories, taking care of each other, growing in the Lord, being honest, building trust, forgiving one another, loving one another can be summed up in one word – Friendship.
God places people into a family where they love one another, where they care for each other, where they enjoy being with each other. God places people into a family of friends.
The Kingdom of God is about friendship
To say that sounds simple. Not simple as in brilliant; Simple as in childish. What a simpleton thing to say. I can imagine later today, you are asked,
“What was church about today?”
“No not children’s church but the service?”
“Oh. Well I already know about that.”
The fact that this seems simple betrays our misunderstanding of both the Kingdom and genuine friendship.
What is a friend? I don’t know that we can even define it anymore. When we can no longer define a word that we use frequently, the word has suffered decay of meaning. Sadly, many of the important words of scripture have lost their Biblical meaning.
What is love? The Bible speaks of love much differently than our culture uses it. I do not love tacos the same way I love my wife but yet I say the same thing.
The word “friend” has suffered a similar decay of meaning. What does “friend” mean?
And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. James 2:23
What is the Bible talking about when it speaks of being a Friend of God? What does the word “friend” mean in this passage?
Perhaps Abraham liked hanging out with God. Maybe they worked together for a while and grabbed some pizza after work. Maybe God was a friend of a friend. Perhaps Abraham sent God a friend request on Facebook. Maybe he even liked God’s page. I saw you can “like” God on Facebook. What does that mean? Who set up God’s Facebook page? I know one thing Abraham didn’t do. He didn’t send God an invitation to play an online game. Friends don’t send friends online game invitations.
Most people when pressed would be unable to give an accurate definition of genuine friendship. They may be able to describe some qualities found in a friend but many would simply admit, “I can’t give you a good definition of friendship but I know it when I see it.”
What is the status of friendship in our culture?
We are the most socially connected generation in the history of humanity. With hundreds of online friends posting every detail about their days, we know where others ate lunch. We know what music and sports teams they like. We see a barrage of pictures and posts but do we really know these people? The things we post and read are really not very helpful in really knowing each other. As connected as we are, many people are really lonely. We surround ourselves with more people but have no one to turn to in times of trouble. Sadly, our culture values fame and popularity over most everything else. Our culture is not very good at close friendships. The rise in popularity of social network sites reveals that a massive number of “friends” is no indication of closeness.
While connectivity may be increasing at an enormous rate, the actual number of close friends people have remains the same. The quality of friendships often drops as quantity increases. People report little to no change in feelings of loneliness and depression as the number of “friends” increase. More than ever our relationships are a mile wide and an inch deep. Most people really know very little about a lot of people. It is not necessarily the quantity of our relationships that determine our success but the quality.
Statistics show that most people have no one to call when a serious problem arises. Most of us face our greatest problems alone. But God said that it is not good for us to be alone. We are social creatures. We are built for community. Humanity is built for interdependence and yet our culture values independence. No wonder we feel empty at times. We exchange important covenantal relationships for a mask to trick people into believe that we have it all under control.
We live in a culture of self-reliance. Nearly everything we do or consume reinforces a culture that promotes independence. We are taught early to handle things ourselves. We are told that a person who needs help is weak. This is why most people do not what to bother other people with their problems. When we constantly try to impress others and maintain a positive image at all times we isolate ourselves from real relationships. Many people fear other’s finding out who they really are. So we create hundreds of shallow relationships to fill the void but unfortunately this only seems to increase the problem.
One might expect to see feelings of loneliness decrease when we surround ourselves with more people but in fact the opposite is often true. It is startling to see how loneliness and depression actually increase with greater population density. People most often feel more alone in a crowd. Thousands of people move to big cities chasing the sitcom dream of meaningful friendships and good times but find themselves lonelier than at any other time in their lives.
Studies suggest that the same is true even inside the church. We might think that church is the last place to find loneliness but sadly even in church people report a lack of true friendships and real closeness. This trend increases as the size of the congregation increases. While churches struggle to build an image of Biblical community, people are feeling less and less connected. The modern church model is not working.
Coming to church on Sunday. Sitting in a seat. Listening to a sermon. Going home is not working. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see anyone doing church the way the modern church is doing it. There is no such thing as going it alone. Church is not a theater. Church is not a classroom. Church is a family of friends, the body of Christ.
One of the church’s jobs is to redeem culture’s view of friendship because The Kingdom is about friendship. How can we change the way our culture does friendship if we are conforming to the culture? We are not solving the problem, we are adding to the problem.
The symptoms of a lack of genuine friendship are obvious but the solution is not so clear.
Having friends is not enough. We need the right kind of friendships Where are the books on friendship? Where are the teachings on Biblical friendship? Where can we go to find what real friendship looks like? Don’t tell me. Show me.
The Bible is full of verses, passages, and stories about friendships. We could go to the proverbs and learn some good wisdom about being a good friend. We could turn to passages in the Old Testament and see the friendships between Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, David and Jonathan.
Even Jesus always sent out the disciples in teams. This is why the apostles continued the practice of traveling in pairs because Jesus commanded partners in ministry. Peter and Mark, Paul and Barnabas and later Paul and Luke all modeled the importance of godly partnering. The early church understood the importance of covenantal relationships. They did not do life alone.
Jesus taught on friendship just before his arrest and crucifixion. He could have sat the disciples down and taught them anything he wanted. He could have taught the prosperity gospel, the social gospel, he could have even pulled out His “end times” fold out illustrated prophetic timeline but yet Jesus teaches his disciples friendship. These guys had been together for three years and yet He returns to this basic, this simple, this very important lesson. What did Jesus teach about genuine friendship.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.
Friendship originates with God
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. John 15:9
Love begins with God. The love of the Father toward the Son is perfect love, perfect fellowship, perfect friendship. This is the highest love of all. And with the same kind of love, the deep, tender, unchanging love of God, Jesus loves us. The greatest love is given to us.
Without God we could not love. Sin has made us hostile toward God and positioned us to receive His wrath. But God made a way. God chose us. God extends His friendship toward us while we were enemies. God invites us into fellowship with Him.
The first thing we must acknowledge is that real friendship is Christ centered. Christ is at the center of all genuine friendships. Christ makes a way for us to receive the love of the Father but He also makes it possible for us to love one another.
The epistle of 1 John is one of the most amazing books in the Bible. It was written at a time when most if not all of the other apostles of Christ had been martyred or imprisoned. In fact, all of them were killed for their faith except for John. The epistle was written by John at the end of his life. Surely his words to the young church were treasured and received with great anticipation. They must have thought to themselves that this is the last of the apostles of Jesus, the one who was so close with the Lord. He has lived a full life and has much wisdom and experience. John could have written any measure of instruction to the believers. He could have filled the pages of his letter with great spiritual mysteries or wisdom about godly living but yet one instruction is repeated throughout his letter, “Love one another.” Above all other commands, we are called to love each other, to really love one another. He did this because he understood the heart of Jesus his master and friend.
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:3
John understood what Jesus was saying the night before His death. John got the message on the importance of friendship. If we don’t get this we miss friendship entirely. John understood that God the Holy Spirit, God the Son and God the Father were in perfect fellowship, the perfect love of covenantal relationship and as we come into the love of Christ we get to partake in this fellowship. As we come into Christ, we are invited into covenantal relationship with God that already exists within God. We do not create new community. We are invited into an existing community, perfect community with God. This is why the world cannot replicate the quality of friendship found in scripture.
We can only experience the true love of friendship because we are in fellowship with God and He is the one who holds me to Him and you to me. Any other devotion or commitment is going to fail. Loving one another is evidence that we are disciples of Christ.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
What Jesus is literally saying is that all of you together remain in my love. It is in this love that we remain. It is in this love that we abide or dwell. He didn’t say we just enter through this love or that we visit this love. We don’t just come to this love once. We don’t just come to this love when we feel empty. No, we remain in this love. We live our entire lives out of this place where God loves us and we love others. This is our life. It is in this place He wants us to be, everyday.
How do we remain? We remain in His love by obeying His commands. What is His command? That we love one another.
Joy is another word we have so watered down. We don’t even understand what joy really is. We use joy and happiness interchangeably as synonyms but joy is much more than happiness. Joy is much more than pleasant feelings. Happiness is often dependent upon our circumstances but joy is much deeper. Joy is dependent upon God and not the external circumstances in our life. This joy that is implanted in the soul overflows into every area of our lives. This is why the joy of the Lord is our strength. Because where happiness is fleeting in times of trouble, joy strengthens us when we need it most. Joy is life giving.
Jesus came to give life and abundant life. This is much more than biological life, more than existence. See Christ came to bring Zoe. Full life. Life to its fullest. Life giving life. And this is the type of life we share in Christ. Not just my life in Christ but my life in Christ’s body. This is where genuine friendship comes in. As we are sharing this life in Christ together, we are overflowing with joy, we are overflowing with life. This comes out of Life giving friendships.
Jesus wants us to participate in Life giving friendships.
Our Joy is complete when we abide in Christ, when we receive His love and when we love one another. In these friendships, we experience renewed life together in Christ. In these friendships we are receiving life and giving life and receiving life again. This is sustainable life.
We all need and desire great friendships. Friends help make life enjoyable. People with great friendships report higher levels of joy, happiness and satisfaction in their lives. People without meaningful relationships find it hard to enjoy life, even if they have achieved a measure of success in other areas. Our lives are designed to be shared and enjoyed with other people. The truly wealthy in this world are those who are rich in their friendships, marriage and family. Marriage is about friendship. Family is about friendship. Church is about friendship. The Kingdom is about friendship.
Quantity can never substitute for quality. You do not need more friends you need more from your friends. You can be real friendly with everyone but you cannot be real friends with everyone. It is actually freeing to know that we cannot have deep covenantal friendship with everyone we know. Most of our frustration comes from unrealistic and undefined expectations. We call people friends when they are really acquaintances and we get frustrated when they cannot give us the brotherly love that we need from true friends. We do not need friendships of convenience but of covenant.
These are the friends that last a lifetime. We live in a disposable society where it is easier to buy a new blue-ray player than repair an old DVD player. Our country throws out more furniture, clothes, appliances and food than any other. We used to reuse cloth towels and wash them to be used again but now everyone throws away paper towels after a single use because no one wants to go through the hassle with cleaning a dirty rag? Have our relationships become single use? Are people any different than paper towels? Once they get used up and are dirty, we throw them away for something new. But you see, we cannot just go to the store and buy a great friendship. Great friendships must be built. Great friendships must be maintained.
Lay Down your Life
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13
We can’t just love as the world loves. We must love as Jesus loves and that requires us to lay down our lives for one another.
No higher expression of love could be given. Life is the most valuable object we possess. When a person is willing to lay down their life it shows the utmost extent of love. We are reminded that this was something Jesus demonstrated. Not just to love in word but to love in deed. Christ’s life was not a common one. It was not just the life of an innocent person but the most valuable of all lives. Christ was the price more valuable than the sum of all creation.
When we ask what is friendship, Jesus does not just give us a definition. Jesus gives us a demonstration. This is friendship. This is the friendship that the Kingdom is founded upon.
This kind of friendship is “say-able” but not “do-able” without the power of the Holy Spirit. Covenantal friendships require devotion and selflessness. Sadly these elements are missing in most of our friendships. What we need is the unconditional love of God to fill our deepest relationships.
Thankfully, most of us will never be in a position where we have to choose between physical life and death for a friend. But daily we are faced with a decision of selfishness or selflessness. Jesus sacrificed a life of comfort for the calling of others. He was willing to give up earthly luxuries, comfort and fame in order to live a life of selflessness for the love of others and the establishment of the Kingdom. We too show our great love for our friends by being selfless and laying down what the world considers the “important” things in life for what God considers important. In the Kingdom of God, people are more important than things.
People are more important than pleasures. People are more important than comforts. Will you lay down your own personal comfort, pleasures, and things to put people first? Will you love your friends with this kind of love?
Would you lay down your reputation? Would you lay down your retirement? Would you lay down a career? Would you lay your ministry? These things are often referred to as our life’s work. These things are our life. Would you lay them down for a friend? This is what is really missing in our communities. Most people are only willing to lay down things of minimal importance.
There is no friendship that costs you nothing.
When we give up our life for a friend, we give up all that we have. This is how Jesus defines Kingdom Friendship. So if we say, “I can’t define friendship but I know it when I see it.” We must honestly ask, “Do we see it?” Do we see this kind of love in our church? Do we see this kind of love in our city? Do we see this kind of love in our world? Then let us not de-value the word friendship. To call what happens on an Internet webpage the same thing as what Christ did for us is an insult to our King. Our friendships are not the same. Lets call it something else. But it is not friendship. Friendship is not done with the click of a mouse. Friendship does not watch people we love throw away their lives. Friendship does not let people we love go to hell without a fight. Friendship is laying down my life for my friend. I will embrace the death of self for the life of my friend I don’t care how I look. I don’t care what people think. I love you.
But that kind of friendship means vulnerability. Yes, real friendship means vulnerability. The deeper the relationship, the greater the potential for hurt. But Jesus says there is no other way. Jesus was not just willing to lay down His life. He actually did it. We too cannot just say we will lay down our lives but must actually do it. That is how Jesus loved his friends.
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18
I call you friends
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. John 15:14-17
Jesus teaches us something about good friendships. Friendship requires openness and vulnerability. Jesus is explaining that friends are willing to sacrifice for each other, to lay down their lives in love. In order for true friendship to exist, we must be willing to be vulnerable. He also says that there is an openness and honesty that is required of friends. He is not keeping things from them. He is not pretending to be somebody He is not. He is not afraid to reveal everything about himself to His friends. He has made known the secret things to His friends. Let your friends know what you are passionate about, what you enjoy, and what you are concerned about. Your hopes and dreams are not to be kept hidden from real friends.
Who is the real you? We spend so much time in fantasy and fear that no one knows who the real us is. How can we expect to have deep relationships if we are all just actors? If Shakespeare was right and all the world is a stage then we perform best on Sunday mornings.
In Christ it is not that way. Jesus is saying “I have welcomed you into a state of the most intimate fellowship with myself and the Father.” You don’t have to be afraid of intimacy. You do not have to fear being exposed. Just as Abraham was called the friend of God, now we, the sons and daughters of Abraham receive friendship with God. The wrath of God has been satisfied in Christ and we are friends with God. We can securely rest our identity in who we are in Christ.
God loves you. What a powerful statement. This is not a trite passing comment. “Have a nice Day” This is a profound theological statement. God’s disposition toward you has changed because of what Christ has done. I was an enemy toward God but now I am called friend. Not slave. Not servant but friend. This is a miracle.
So now that the most amazing thing has happened. I do not just get to go to heaven. I am God’s friend. What an exciting thing. I am God’s friend and we are going to change this world. I did not choose God but He chose me. Everything else is possible. He want’s me to bear fruit; to reproduce this love. There is a purpose for this and it is to produce fruit. This is why we know that the modern model of church is not working. The mega church model does not produce fruit, it consolidates it. Each Christian is called to produce fruit as we abide in Christ.
How then do we now live? We love. We love one another.
A simple yet impossible message. This message changes the world. With this message and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church bears lasting fruit and advances the Kingdom of God. A church that transforms cities and disciples nations.
If we do not understand this important reality we will miss what God is doing. The Kingdom of God is about friendship. The Kingdom of God advances in fruitfulness changing the world we live in.
If I really wanted to eliminate the Church’s effectiveness in the world I would first get people to marginalize the Holy Spirit. I would then get people focused on themselves. I would have Christians always concerned about their own needs and problems. I would turn Church into a theater where people went for entertainment. I would turn church into a classroom where people would go for education. I would turn people’s attention on themselves and make church a hospital where they could go to get healthy and once they were healthy they would return to their usual lives unconcerned about other people’s hurts. I would convince Christians that the Church is a place you go to get fixed or get what you need. While they are still focused on themselves, I would then make people afraid of real friendship because it sounds like too much of a commitment. It sounds like a lot of work all the while convincing them that they already have a lot of friends. I would do this to eliminate genuine friendships.
And if I wanted to prevent real Kingdom friendships in the church, I would make people think they already had real friendships, genuine friendships when in reality they have a bunch of acquaintances they call friends so they wouldn’t want to even try to go deep with people because they would be so busy with all their “friends” and activities. Then when trouble comes people will begin to feel lonely. This loneliness would cause people to focus even more on themselves and then in their self-pursuit they would be truly alone. Once the church is alone and divided, then they become ineffective and easy to manipulate to whatever the contemporary culture says is popular. Then doctrine gets watered down. Then the church is no longer the church and no longer a threat to change anything.
The sad truth is that we live in a world that encourages selfishness, independence, convenience, isolation and using people rather than loving them. We live in a culture whose by-product is loneliness.
However, there are worse things than feeling alone. Jean-Paul Sarte’s Play “No Exit” focuses on three people who have passed from this life into the afterlife. They are escorted into a finely decorated waiting room where they begin to interact. As the play develops we learn more about these characters and how they came to be where they are. Sarte reveals to us that these damned souls expect medieval torture devices to punish them for eternity for their crimes but no torture devices come. Instead the climax and the conclusion of the play is where these people discover is “Hell is other people.”
People can be monsters. Like cannibals, people consume each other. The creatures designed to glorify God and bring heaven to earth have the capacity to bring hell to each other. No other creature is capable of such torment, such destruction, such oppression and such depravity as humanity. The image bearers of God are killing each other.
There are worse things than feeling alone. The worst thing is being truly alone; alone in this world, alone in eternity, apart from God forever. Apart from God we are monsters.
Let us not trick ourselves, if Christ had not first loved us, if He does not continue to love us we could not love one another. Without Christ we would all be monsters. More than ever, we must acknowledge that friendship is desperately needed. We need God. The thing we need right now is God’s friendship. We know we need it. We crave it so badly. We can only do it through the power of God filling our lives.
Loving people is more valuable than any skill, talent, riches, or wisdom. God calls us to love people. People are more important to God than position or possessions.
This is the kind of love that the church was founded upon and this is the type of love we need today. This is the love that people all over the world long for. The world tries to fill this void of true love with all kinds of pleasure, pursuits, passions and counterfeit relationships. But this kind of love cannot be found anywhere but within the body of Christ.
We do not come to church to take attendance. We do not come to church to be entertained. We do not come to church to get information. We are the Church because we are “in-formation.” We are the Church because we are redeemed to God. We are not redeemed from something but redeemed to something. He has empowered His Church with the Holy Spirit to love one another, to be transformed and to transform the world under the rule of King Jesus.
I want this to be the last week you go to church. Next week do not go to church. Never go to church again. Start being the Church. The Church is not where we go but who we are. Yes we still gather corporately but church does not stop when we walk out of those doors.
The world needs the love of Christ. The Church is called to administer this kind of love as ministers of Christ. Every Christian in this room is a minister of Christ. We minister to our friends and family and the world around us. You are God’s solution to the hurting people in your life. The church extends the Kingdom of God through friendship.
Friendship is the means by which we advance the Kingdom. God extends friendships to enemies using real people. How many of you came into the Kingdom because God used someone else?
How do we advance the Kingdom? Not through the sword. Not through compulsion. Not through manipulation. Not through the political process. Not through clever marketing. Not through persuasion or even logic and reasoning. The power of God works through friendship.
How will the world learn friendship? How will it change? God’s solution to this problem is the Church. As the Church, our mission is to change our culture advance the Kingdom. We need to be concerned about the people, families around us. We like John ought to be concerned about bringing others into the community we have found.
This is why we can say with confidence, “The Kingdom of God is about friendship.”