Friendship that is rooted in Christ, for the purpose of growing in Christ.
We believe that our faith is a relational one. After all, our God is triune — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we are called to love God and neighbour. But how many of us have these vital and life-giving relationships in place?
We need to walk with one another, in the company of Jesus, so that we each can find the strength and encouragement to grow in Christlikeness (see Luke 24:13–35).
Spiritual friendship is friendship that is rooted in Christ, for the purpose of growing in Christ.
The basis of spiritual friendship is a shared relationship with Jesus Christ.
The purpose of spiritual friendship is a common commitment to help one another grow in Christlikeness.
“Every friendship is formed around shared goods that identify the friendship and help the friends understand the life and purpose of the friendship. In spiritual friendship the principal good is a mutual love for Christ and a desire to grow together in Christ. This is what distinguishes spiritual friendship from other relationships. In spiritual friendships the friends are centred in Christ, they seek Christ, and they strive to live according to Christ. Through their friendship they want to help one another live a godly and holy life. They want each other to be resplendent in goodness.” —Paul J. Wadell
But how does one ‘do’ spiritual friendship? How does it work? Does it actually work?
What are the Elements of Spiritual Friendship?
What does spiritual friendship look like in practice? We want to learn from Jesus, the model spiritual friend. From Jesus’ friendship with His disciples we see that spiritual friendship has at least the following components.
1. They love one another
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” — John 15:13
Spiritual friends sacrificailly give of themselves in their care for each other. Jesus as the supreme friend shows us the way. We do all we can to help our freinds not because they demand it of us. We do it because we want to. It’s what friends do.
2. They accept one another
“…accept each other just as Christ has accepted you…” — Romans 15:7A
The disciples were far from perfect. Time and time again they failed Jesus and each other. Yet Jesus continued to accept them and to love them. Spiritual friends give each other the gift of unconditional love. We know our freinds’ faults but we love them anyway.
3. They are loyal to each other
“He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.” — John 13:1B
Jesus was not ashamed to have a feast with Matthew and his tax collector friends even though He was criticised for doing so (Matthew 9:9–13). He didn’t give up on Peter even when Peter had denied Him (John 21:15–17). True friends are committeed to each other through thick and thin.
4. They teach one another
“Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” — John 15:15B
Friends share what they have learned about God and His Word with each other. However, their teaching and learning is not an academic exercise. While holding to the authority of the Scriptures, they share how those Scriptures have been lived out in the struggles of their shared lives.
5. They correct one another
“Jesus turned to Peter and said, ‘Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” — Matthew 16:23
True friends love each other enough to correct the other if needed. The human heart is indeed deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). Our friends help keep us honest. They challenge us lovingly when we are dishonest with ourselves and they keep us accountable to our desire to follow Christ.
6. They share their burdens with each other
“He told them, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.'” — Matthew 26:38
True friends share their deepest emotions and their needs with each other. Knowing that they are loved and accepted, and help accountable, friends find the freedom to be honest and transparent with each oyher. This allows the friendship to be one where burdens are shared (Galatians 6:12).
7. They encourage each other
“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Trust in God and trust also in me” — John 14:1
Friends are encouragers. Following Jeuss in a fallen world means there will be times when we will face setbacks and discouragement. Friends are channels of God’s grace, encouraging us to press on, challengeing us to be our best. When the going gets tough, we draw strength from our friends to press on.
Here then are seven elements of spiritual friendhsip that Jesus models for us. There may be more dimensions to spiritual friendship but these seven are fundamental.
How do I Practice Spiritual Friendship?
Most people agree that following Jesus in the company of friends is a good thing and they want to do it. “But I have no time for it”, they say.
We realised the need for a doable model of spiritual friendship – something that even a busy person in an urban centre can do. And so we came up with the concept, and the related book, 3-2-1 Following Jesus in Threes. Three friends, meeting for two hours, once a month, usually over a meal.
The book lays down the why’s and how’s of spiritual friendship including basic components of a 3-2-1 meeting, what happens during a 3-2-1 meeting, how to begin a 3-2-1, and details about the life cycle of the group. You can preview it here.
Does it Really Work?
The book was written after many hours of practice, many hours of walking with friends in the context of a 3-2-1 relationship, and I have found that it has been very life-giving.
There are many others who have adopted the 3-2-1 model and they have shared their Spiritual Friendship Stories with us. We hope that they will encourage you to begin your 3-2-1 journey. And when you do, please share your story with us so you in turn can encourage others.