Friendship Essentials for Men
Tim St. John | SEPTEMBER 16, 2019 | 3 MIN READ
Pastor and author Paul Tripp points out, “Our relationships have been designed as workrooms for redemption, not shelters for human happiness.” Yet if we are honest with ourselves, we are more comfortable keeping our sinful struggles and shameful experiences to ourselves (John 3:19). We would rather protect ourselves than open up and allow God and others in.
Though this is a universal struggle, it’s a particular challenge when it comes to brotherly love between men. The world and our flesh want to stay on the surface and just hang out. But they never want to ask, “How should I love my brother?”
Many of us have grown up in cultures or traditions that might call intentional and transparent friendships between men “strange” at best, and “wimpy” or “unmanly” at worst. Partnered with our already naturally secretive hearts, this cultural stigma hinders Christ-like love between men.
Thankfully, the Gospel offers us hope to have friendships in which we don’t need to fear sharing our lives. Here are five essentials for growing brotherly love in our churches.
1. Create occasions for conversation
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
When we think of what Paul means by “as fits the occasion,” the first thing that comes to mind is probably the occasions when it’s better to be silent than to speak. Though that’s true, we cannot expect these sharing moments to just happen either. Rather, we must pursue creating them. One vital way that we honor one another is by creating and giving space to one another in our lives.
Then, once we’re in the same space, we need to ask ourselves how we can move toward this friend with wisdom and love. Does this context allow me to ask, “So how are you really doing these days? What are some of the battles your heart has been wrestling with?” Will this occasion allow me to be engaged in what I’m hearing and ask follow-up questions to understand someone’s story better? Does the context give me freedom to follow up and ask, “Where do you see God in this? What do you want to see happen going forward?” Let us create those opportunities intentionally.
2. Risk transparency
Transparency is a risk. Think about when you share prayer requests with a friend. You are allowing them in on the burdens and struggles in your life. What if they mishandle that information? What if they take the fine china of your life and drop it on the floor? Of course, it takes discernment and time to build a relationship before you share certain things with certain people, but transparency is always a risk.
Jesus himself set us an example in transparency. The night before he was crucified, he told his close friends Peter, James, and John, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). He even tells them how to partner with him: Watch and pray. What did they do? They fell asleep.
Jesus was honest about his life and he helped other people be honest about their lives, but a lot of people either dropped it or didn’t want much to do with it. Yet it didn’t stop him from sharing transparently about who he is. That’s because he knew that knowing someone well is vital to loving someone well in any relationship.
3. Affirm grace
When we recognize that transparency is a risk, then perhaps the first place to start with someone who has opened up to you is to celebrate and affirm God’s grace in their life rather than to correct or criticize.
Identifying God’s grace in another person’s life is a skill. Our hearts naturally notice the wrong things and the things that bother us. God is accomplishing a supernatural work in your friend’s heart and life. Do you look for it? Can you name not only the difficulties, but also the specific ways you see Christ at work? When is the last time you had a conversation that mainly highlighted the evidence of grace in your friend’s life?
4. Enter into suffering
The brother-in-Christ you’re speaking with suffers. Even if their suffering sounds minor to you, it might feel overwhelming to your brother. Can you pick up on the troubles he’s facing? Do you know how to love those who suffer? Or do you feel like you always have to give an answer? Do you feel compelled to give advice? Here are some simple suggestions:
Look for suffering – As you catch up with a friend, ask questions that allow you to consider where the specific pains and struggles are in their life.
Draw near – Compassion requires proximity. If someone has shown you a place where he is hurting, show compassion and carefully seek to understand how you can be part of caring for the pain he is facing. It can be as simple as asking how you can pray.
Speak words of hope – You don’t always need to say something about someone’s suffering – just acknowledging their pain and being in their life is important. If you do speak, consider praying in a way that not only lifts up their request but helps them focus on Christ as the one certainty in the midst of all the uncertainties of this broken world.
5. Carefully confront sin
In our counseling ministry, we define “confront” as “helping someone see their heart.” I personally love Jesus’ metaphor in Matthew 7:1-5 of sticking your finger in someone’s eye to point out sin. Think of how easily that could go wrong and how carefully it must be done. How well would you have to know someone to let them stick their finger in your eye? Yet, it must be done.
We must confront one another with gentleness and patience. We must carefully remove the specks we see in the lives of those we love, asking questions as we help one another think through our hearts. This type of confrontation is a partnership that looks at people from a place of humility It comes from a posture of “I’m the bigger sinner” (1Tim 1:15) and says, “There is so much grace available to us.”
As men, we have to fight the pressures of the culture and the deceitfulness of our hearts that tell us not to get too close and not to share too much. But if we are truly to love our brothers and look out for their greatest good, then we must create moments where we give grace to one another and grow together to be more like Christ.
Tim St. John serves as the counseling pastor at Lighthouse Community Church in Torrance, CA. He's a graduate of the Master's Seminary (M.Div, Th.M) and completed counseling certificate training through ACBC and CCEF. Tim's passion is to see the grace of gospel-centered counseling grow and thrive in local churches.