3-2-1 Revisited

A brother came up to me after I had preached a sermon on spiritual friendship. He said that he was very touched by the sermon. He had been in ministry for many years and had been friendly with many people. But that day it had struck him that he had no close personal friends. I felt sad. I also knew he was not alone in his loneliness. He said he will make a serious attempt to reach out to friends. I hope so, I pray so.

In 2013 I published a book called 3-2-1 (Singapore: Graceworks, 2013). It was meant to be a simple guide to doing spiritual friendship. Whenever I taught on spiritual friendship, many would agree that it was important, but many said they were too busy or that they didn’t know how to go about doing it. 3-2-1 was meant to help address these concerns. 3-2-1 was a proposal for three friends to meet for two hours once a month over a meal to support each other in their walk with Christ. The book gave the biblical basis for why we needed spiritual friendship and presented a simple model for doing it.

In recent times I have been very encouraged to find folks coming up to me and telling me that they are in a 3-2-1 group and are basing it on my book. I am particularly delighted that folks are applying the 3-2-1 principles in various ways. Some use it for discipleship, with one member of a triad discipling two others. Interestingly, this was the model for discipleship given by Greg Ogden (Transforming Discipleship Revised Edition [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016]). I had adapted my model for spiritual friendship from his discipleship model. Others use the 3-2-1 model in their small groups where all the members in a small group are divided into triads for closer relationships. Other churches have one elder walking in friendship with two deacons or two small-group leaders.

I am delighted that there seems to be fresh interest in spiritual friendship and many are finding 3-2-1 helpful. The need has never been greater. Here is one finding from the World Economic Forum:

 . . . the more digital and high-tech the world becomes, the greater the need to feel the human touch, nurtured by close relationships and social connections. There are growing concerns that, as the fourth industrial revolution deepens our individual and collective relationships with technology, it may negatively affect our social skills and ability to empathize. We see this already happening. A 2010 study by a research team at the University of Michigan found a 40% decline in empathy today (as compared with their counterparts 20 or 30 years ago), with most of this decline coming after 2000. (Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution [UK: Portfolio Penguin, 2017], 101.)

The irony is that this type of close relationships should be the default experience of people in our churches but often is not. Most of us realise that belonging to a church makes us brothers and sisters because we are all children of Abba. Indeed, “brothers and sisters” is the most common description of fellow believers in the New Testament. But I have begun to see how friendship complements brothers/sisters by bringing out various important dimensions of how believers ought to relate to one another. Here are three insights I picked up recently from the writings of John.

1.   Friends love each other

Lord, the one you love is sick. (Jn. 11:3 NIV)

Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; (Jn. 11:11b NIV)

Here, the friend is the one who is loved. Jesus would later tell us that friends must be prepared to lay down their lives for each other (Jn. 15:13). Jesus of course is our model friend.

2.   Friends spend time with each other

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.         (3 Jn. 13–14 NIV)

Interestingly, today we might say that we connect through some social media platform. However, there are levels of communication that can happen only face to face. There is a direct linkage between the strength of a friendship and the amount of time the friends connect in person; perhaps augmented by online connecting.

3.   Friends know each other personally

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name. (3 Jn. 14b NIV)

Friends know each other by name. That presupposes a certain level of intimacy. Love is based on knowledge. I need to know the person I am loving and the mutuality of friendship means that I must allow myself to be known by my friend.

Clearly, we will not have the time to be close to many. Jesus was close to His 12 and spent more time with Peter, James, and John. We may have any number of friends but three or four seems to be the number for very close friendships. Hence, three or four friends meeting for two hours once a month over a meal seems to address many of these concerns.

There is a loud and constant cry for close relationships in a lonely world. Is the church modelling community? Or are we as lonely as everyone else?

Who Are You?

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One of the benefits of being an itinerant preacher is that you get to visit many church communities and meet many church leaders; and learn from them. Last weekend we were ministering at the Chapel of the Resurrection and I heard the vicar, Revd David Lee, ask the...

read more
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There is one thing the synoptic gospels agree on — Jesus spent a lot of time eating with “undesirables”, so much so that the religious leaders of the day were upset that He spent so much time with sinners. (For the record, we are all sinners.) The...

read more
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read more
The Practice of Friendship

The Practice of Friendship

What does it mean to be a friend? In recent times I have been looking to the gospel of John for some answers. John is the gospel where Jesus calls His disciples friends (John 15:14), and then commands them to love each other as He has loved them (John 15:12). The love...

read more
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Ego Management

This year I find myself feeling more tired more often. At the beginning of the year, I thought it was grief from my mother’s passing in Oct 2021. Then I had COVID in May, and, when that was over, I thought it might be long-COVID. But maybe all that it is, is my body...

read more

3-2-1 Revisited

A brother came up to me after I had preached a sermon on spiritual friendship. He said that he was very touched by the sermon. He had been in ministry for many years and had been friendly with many people. But that day it had struck him that he had no close personal friends. I felt sad. I also knew he was not alone in his loneliness. He said he will make a serious attempt to reach out to friends. I hope so, I pray so.

In 2013 I published a book called 3-2-1 (Singapore: Graceworks, 2013). It was meant to be a simple guide to doing spiritual friendship. Whenever I taught on spiritual friendship, many would agree that it was important, but many said they were too busy or that they didn’t know how to go about doing it. 3-2-1 was meant to help address these concerns. 3-2-1 was a proposal for three friends to meet for two hours once a month over a meal to support each other in their walk with Christ. The book gave the biblical basis for why we needed spiritual friendship and presented a simple model for doing it.

In recent times I have been very encouraged to find folks coming up to me and telling me that they are in a 3-2-1 group and are basing it on my book. I am particularly delighted that folks are applying the 3-2-1 principles in various ways. Some use it for discipleship, with one member of a triad discipling two others. Interestingly, this was the model for discipleship given by Greg Ogden (Transforming Discipleship Revised Edition [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016]). I had adapted my model for spiritual friendship from his discipleship model. Others use the 3-2-1 model in their small groups where all the members in a small group are divided into triads for closer relationships. Other churches have one elder walking in friendship with two deacons or two small-group leaders.

I am delighted that there seems to be fresh interest in spiritual friendship and many are finding 3-2-1 helpful. The need has never been greater. Here is one finding from the World Economic Forum:

 . . . the more digital and high-tech the world becomes, the greater the need to feel the human touch, nurtured by close relationships and social connections. There are growing concerns that, as the fourth industrial revolution deepens our individual and collective relationships with technology, it may negatively affect our social skills and ability to empathize. We see this already happening. A 2010 study by a research team at the University of Michigan found a 40% decline in empathy today (as compared with their counterparts 20 or 30 years ago), with most of this decline coming after 2000. (Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution [UK: Portfolio Penguin, 2017], 101.)

The irony is that this type of close relationships should be the default experience of people in our churches but often is not. Most of us realise that belonging to a church makes us brothers and sisters because we are all children of Abba. Indeed, “brothers and sisters” is the most common description of fellow believers in the New Testament. But I have begun to see how friendship complements brothers/sisters by bringing out various important dimensions of how believers ought to relate to one another. Here are three insights I picked up recently from the writings of John.

1.   Friends love each other

Lord, the one you love is sick. (Jn. 11:3 NIV)

Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; (Jn. 11:11b NIV)

Here, the friend is the one who is loved. Jesus would later tell us that friends must be prepared to lay down their lives for each other (Jn. 15:13). Jesus of course is our model friend.

2.   Friends spend time with each other

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.         (3 Jn. 13–14 NIV)

Interestingly, today we might say that we connect through some social media platform. However, there are levels of communication that can happen only face to face. There is a direct linkage between the strength of a friendship and the amount of time the friends connect in person; perhaps augmented by online connecting.

3.   Friends know each other personally

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name. (3 Jn. 14b NIV)

Friends know each other by name. That presupposes a certain level of intimacy. Love is based on knowledge. I need to know the person I am loving and the mutuality of friendship means that I must allow myself to be known by my friend.

Clearly, we will not have the time to be close to many. Jesus was close to His 12 and spent more time with Peter, James, and John. We may have any number of friends but three or four seems to be the number for very close friendships. Hence, three or four friends meeting for two hours once a month over a meal seems to address many of these concerns.

There is a loud and constant cry for close relationships in a lonely world. Is the church modelling community? Or are we as lonely as everyone else?

Who Are You?

Who Are You?

One of the benefits of being an itinerant preacher is that you get to visit many church communities and meet many church leaders; and learn from them. Last weekend we were ministering at the Chapel of the Resurrection and I heard the vicar, Revd David Lee, ask the...

read more
Eating with Sinners

Eating with Sinners

There is one thing the synoptic gospels agree on — Jesus spent a lot of time eating with “undesirables”, so much so that the religious leaders of the day were upset that He spent so much time with sinners. (For the record, we are all sinners.) The...

read more
Discipleship Meals

Discipleship Meals

I have had the privilege of working with my friends in Wesley Methodist Church, Singapore, to help set up their new discipleship initiative, Discipleship Bands. Here is how they define a discipleship band: A “Discipleship Band” is a group of three or four people, who...

read more
The Practice of Friendship

The Practice of Friendship

What does it mean to be a friend? In recent times I have been looking to the gospel of John for some answers. John is the gospel where Jesus calls His disciples friends (John 15:14), and then commands them to love each other as He has loved them (John 15:12). The love...

read more
Ego Management

Ego Management

This year I find myself feeling more tired more often. At the beginning of the year, I thought it was grief from my mother’s passing in Oct 2021. Then I had COVID in May, and, when that was over, I thought it might be long-COVID. But maybe all that it is, is my body...

read more