By Caleb Jones
This week’s St. Blogustine post is about our “homework” as Christians living on mission. In missional community, sometimes we focus on our friends that do not follow Jesus, and sometimes we focus on the people right here in our own church. We do this because we know it is fundamental to the way we pursue the people outside of our church.
I don't think I would have had an easy time getting along with the Apostle Paul. There, I said it. I’ve been thinking this for over 15 years, and I don't know that I’ve ever expressed it to anyone. I feel like our personalities would have clashed. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that if he and I existed in the same time and space as Christians in the same community, I’d have spent a lot of time sighing to myself as he moved through our social circle like a juggernaut! I do however think I would have been his friend, and the best indication that that might be true is that I have close friends in my life today that I don’t have the easiest time getting along with or agree with all of the time. But we have chosen to be friends and constantly smooth other the rough patches where we differ in tone, temperament, and convictions. I think we see this displayed beautifully in the friendship we see between Doctor Luke (author of the book of Luke and the Acts) and the apostle Paul. Reggie Kidd recently made the observation that “the last thing the New Testament says about Luke....is that he was with his imprisoned friend Paul (2 Timothy 4:11) as Paul anticipated probable execution at the hands of Nero. As Paul brought Christ to the nations in their lostness, Luke brought Christ to Paul in his loneliness.”
I believe that there were Christians in the 1st century church who were totally offended by Paul’s personality but knew for a fact that he was a sinner saved by grace being used by God to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. There were people who remembered the things he had orchestrated to see the early church persecuted. I believe (and there is not much biblical evidence of this) that there were people who knew exactly what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was and STILL decided to be his friend! In other words, he was just like us. I believe the writings of Paul and Luke were inspired to be the inerrant word of God, but that didn’t change the fact that they were both men who struggled with the exact same things that we do. The scriptures are perfect; these guys were not. Don’t let the divine element of their tasks as disciples and apostles overshadow the everyday elements of them having to actually live out the fruits of the Spirit. These men and other people in their lives realized that as God chose them, they had to then go about the business of choosing other Christians to befriend, no matter the outcome.
Friendship is a gift of grace that is to be freely given without the expectation of getting something back in return. There is no guarantee that we will even get friendship in return! But, in an act of grace where we are following the example of Paul and Luke (and ultimately the example of Jesus), one can simply choose another as a friend regardless of any consideration of social benefit. Brian Connor puts it like this, “Christian Friendship demands that we follow God in electing the other as friend by grace and that will allow room for their response. Of course, just because I open myself to friendship...does not mean that he will receive my friendship! He can choose to reject me. There is both a choosing and being chosen in friendship. Electing another as a friend can lead to some unlikely alliances.”
What an unlikely alliance we see between Paul and Luke! Yet out of it, God bloomed Christian love on display for the ages. John 13:35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When we choose to love others in friendship, no matter what the outcome, no matter if we ever get anything in return, it is something countercultural to our society that regularly tells us to find your tribe and surround yourself with those who will help you succeed. This tells a better story, THE story. The one where the God of all creation made a way to reconcile his fallen creation back to himself.
“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)