Friends give life to our living. The bond we have with those we love sets our priorities. Friends offer destinations of heart for our calendars and our pathways. And the man or woman who is rich in friendships has treasure beyond any piles of property, cash, or status that others may hold dear.
For many readers our focus on friendships is a simple truism. But for others—for those who are lonely even in a crowd—it touches a tender spot. We were made for mutual affection—created in the image and likeness of the One Triune God who “is love” and who made us to share in his love.
Sin spoiled the design. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of autonomy—taking on the serpent’s false image—they became self-focused and shamefully aware of their inadequacies. Adam even blamed God for giving him his wife; and in that self-protective moment he despised oneness with both God and his partner.
In a broader reading of the Bible we find a label for this sort of fallen selfness. It’s called folly.
As this ambition for “personal freedom”—actually “spiritual autonomy”—relates to God it reveals a progressive atheism. Listen to David in Psalm 14: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” David noted two characteristics of folly: a lack of understanding, and a growing disaffection for God. The outcome for such fools? “Together they have all become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”
So corruption comes as folly dissolves God’s ways—the relational bonds of life—among those who despise him.
We saw this in the recent American presidential debates. One candidate dismissed his talk of assaulting women as trivial; and the other crowed about her nobility in supporting the slaughter of unwanted infants. By any biblical measure both candidates revealed godless folly.
The folly of dismissing God’s love and a love for others in favor of self-love is the stuff of a utilitarian life. Godless fools treat others as resources to be manipulated, used, and abused.
Turning to the American election again, the one candidate spoke to Evangelical leaders as if he was one with them—setting all lifestyle issues aside. And the other was exposed in her behind-the-scenes talks to wealthy power brokers. They will, she promised, receive real rewards for supporting her, no matter what she needed to say in public to ordinary people. Voters, in both cases, are tools—steppingstones to power—to be manipulated.
Our point here isn’t to chase the politics of the day. We know that ugly politics have a long history; and the current candidates only illustrate the challenges Christians face by being in the world but not of the world. The real goal is to remind us of our own vulnerability to foolishness.
Again, how do we become fools? By treating others as tools to be used. Perhaps by treating a store employee as a mere worker. Or, at our jobs, by failing to build up colleagues. Or in a marriage, by leaving a spouse in order to seek other prospects. Folly is the unleashing of our selfishness: our denial of God’s purpose in us. And the list of applications is unending.
Let’s return now to the promise of friendships. Jesus, in his “upper room discourse” of John’s gospel, told his eleven faithful apostles, “I have called you friends” (15:15). What’s notable here is the context of complete self-sacrifice. Jesus used his impending crucifixion to measure the term: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
This ultimate dismissal of selfishness—of folly—in favor of sacrificial selflessness carries a promise. Listen to Jesus in John 15:11—“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Friendship brings joy. Folly leads to loneliness. One is godly. The other is ungodly. One spreads love. The other looks for those who can be used as tools.
I’ll end with a prayer. May all who know Christ share his love and joy boldly—as his spreading goodness in a fallen world. And may all who share a friendship with Christ grow in his joy in each moment of every day.