I have five friends I call my “Pentaverate” (an homage to an early Mike Myers movie). These five guys are the ones I bare my soul to. While some have never met, they all share things in common: they know me, they love me in spite of decades of seeing the worst part of me, and they don’t see themselves as any better than me. We all got this way through a humility that grows exponentially as we get closer to Jesus.
When I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown and needed clear, honest, and quick feedback about a vocational decision I needed to make, these were the guys I trusted. They would not suffer B.S. from me, and I felt no need to pretend anyway. Skirting the truth would be an insult to their friendships – they would wonder why I didn’t trust them.
Gospel Drenched Relationships
I know my genuine friends love me because they proved it over the course of the last three decades. Even if they told me something I didn’t want to hear, I would receive it because I’m confident they have no axe to grind. Nor do these guys want anything but my best. If what they said would painfully alter the course of my life, they would work overtime to assure me God was in that process, too.
Genuine friendships are one reason I’m still in ministry. These are the kind of friendships where you can confess your worst sins to someone and they don’t blink or wince. They may offer difficult counsel or reprove you in some way, but because of the depth of friendship, you are obliged to receive it. The nature of the friendships brings the “theory” of the Gospel into the experience of real life with people.
Paul Says, “Do as I Do!”
How does one get these kinds of friends? Well, it takes courage to go first, but often that’s what is required. More than that, it takes a growing confidence in God’s love for you. If you’re secure in the Gospel, you’re willing to risk others thinking less of you for your struggles. Often you will find that people are just waiting for you to make the first move. If you’re confident in the Gospel and desperate enough for genuine friendship, you’ll launch out and risk others seeing you as broken or weak.
The Apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). In context, Paul is talking about serving others and sacrificing personal freedom so others may find Jesus. In the end he’s challenging us to imitate Christ.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul rounds out the picture of what it means to imitate Christ by saying we should imitate his humility:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”– Philippians 2:5-7, RSV
Perhaps my favorite notion of Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit) is that we are to be people who make little of ourselves so the power of God may move powerfully in and through us:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Sounds to me like imitating Paul means imitating the humility of Christ. In the case of human beings, that means living without pretense in an effort to serve others and experience the power of the Holy Spirit.
A Genuine Self Leads to Genuine Friends
Being genuine in light of our confidence in the Gospel is how we develop “Genuine Friends.” What is it that keeps you from having friends to whom you can confess your deepest struggles? Is it pride and the desire to be seen differently than you really are? Do you have distrust of others? Do you need to grow in the knowledge of who you are in Christ? Pray for insight for who you can start a journey of genuine friendship with, reach out to them and in faith open yourself up to receive God’s love for you through friendship.