Every once in a while I hear horror stories about Christians who abandon their friends because of God. “I just need to protect my relationship with Jesus,” they reason.
From a practical standpoint, this is a jerk-move. That’s just not cool. But … I also completely understand. Friends have an ability to influence and affect us. If we have certain priorities in life, friendships can sometimes deviate or distract us from our goals. So how do we walk that line? How do we know when to let someone in to the deepest circles of our lives?
Imagine for a moment that you are one of Jesus’ disciples. You spend three years completely relearning how to see God, religion, life and death. You personally get to see Jesus do the impossible.
He even takes time aside to teach you and a few others. You see Jesus eat food and drink wine (You’ve got a little something on your chin, Jesus.) You see how He interacts with crowds and when He’s just with a handful of people. You hear Him snore at night, and you see Him slip away to relieve himself. You see Him get low blood sugar and can tell when He needs time to Himself. You hear Him praying when He thinks he’s alone. You even see the Master weep in his most vulnerable moments.
But why you? Of all the people on this earth in the first century, Jesus physically interacted with a few thousand. Of those, 72 became followers. Even more narrowly, Jesus specifically chose 12 men he considered His disciples. And among them, the Scripture tell us He had three especially close associates. Lastly, the book of John tells us there was one disciple “whom Jesus loved.”
Jesus had different tiers of relationships.
Now we might have a tendency to correlate “tiers” with favoritism or elitism, but let’s remember the kind of people Jesus spent his time with. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners'” (Matthew 11:19).
Jesus’ choice of company gave Him a reputation—and not the greatest one. But even though He spent time with unexpected groups, he was still selective with the kind of people He allowed to be close to Him. There are numerous stories of people who want to follow Jesus, but can’t manage to do the work involved with joining His inner circles. Jesus was simultaneously incredibly inclusive and devastatingly selective with his relationships.
Sometimes we reduce Jesus to a simple equation—as if people simply know Jesus or don’t. There’s a temptation to call ourselves friends of God without first taking the time to really know His Son. True friendship is complex and layered no matter who it’s between, and the word shouldn’t be thrown around lightly—especially when talking about Jesus.
In John 15, we get a small glimpse into what Jesus really thinks about friendship:
“No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13-15).
Jesus combined His life’s purpose with his closest relationships. To Jesus, His closest friends were the people who embraced His cause.
Maybe that’s what’s missing in our culture today. Our friendships have become shallow and wide.
We’re constantly told that the primary purpose of friendships is to have fun and enjoy life together. But sometimes we abuse this role, discarding people when conflict emerges or when our feelings toward them change. That’s not friendship, is it?
True friendship plays out when it’s hard to stick around. When Jesus is hanging on the cross, His disciples having abandoned him, the Scriptures tell us that there was one disciple left at His feet— “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This is not a pleasant moment. This is not fun. This is a terrifying, hopeless and agonizing time to be a friend of Jesus. Friendship takes risk.
We shouldn’t be cutting people out of our lives because they’re not on the same page as us. But we should also be selective with the kind of people we let into our inner circles. Jesus told us to love our neighbors and to love our friends. Those are two different kinds of relationships, but both deserve our love and care.