This Is a Friendship
Reading adapted from a message by Bill Hybels
There is a great story that dates back to the early
1960s when Vince Lombardi took over the reins of
the Green Bay Packers. Most likely you've heard it
before. It's become legendary. The Packer franchise had
been losing for almost ten straight years. They were at
the bottom of the standings, and morale was sagging.
Enter Vince Lombardi as the new coach. He is charged
with the challenge of turning this franchise around, and
he's all pumped up about it. He began leading practices,
inspiring, training, motivating. But at one point in a practice,
he just got so frustrated with what was going on
with the players that he blew the whistle.
"Everybody stop and gather around," he said. Then he
knelt down, picked up the pigskin, and said, "Let's start
at the beginning. This is a football. These are the yard
markers. I'm the coach. You are the players." He went on,
in the most elementary of ways, to explain the basics of
Every once in a while, we all need a breathtakingly
basic talk about something-a "this is a football" talk or,
in this case, a "this is a friendship" talk.
The Right Idea
The Bible says that friendship-community-is one
of the richest experiences you can have in life. It makes
your heart bigger. It helps keep you steady in a storm. It
ends your aloneness. It is key to personal transformation.
God wired us up to know and be known, to love and be
loved, to serve and be served, to celebrate and be celebrated.
If community is so wonderful, how, in painstakingly
basic terms, do you move from where you are now
into deep relating patterns that would fit the definition of
this thing called community?
You have to start by making sure that you have the
right idea about the nature of friendship. Do you want to
wreck the possibility of a relationship? Then go into it
with the idea that there's someone out there just sitting on
a park bench waiting to nurture you, affirm you, comfort
you, envelop you with round-the-clock care-and all
you have to do is show up with 150 pounds of need. If
that's the expectation you are bringing into friendship,
you'll probably find potential friends making themselves
The right idea of friendship involves the
mutualexchange of knowledge, kindness, service, and celebration.
It is a growing commitment among peers to seek the
well-being of each other. That very radical concept is the
central message of Philippians 2:1-11. The core of biblical
friendship is seeking the interest of the person you
have befriended. It is the joyful sublimation of your own
agenda once in a while for the sheer pleasure of meeting
a need or bringing a smile to the face of a friend. It is the
consistent resistance of the urge to be independent and
Is it self-examination time? How much do you bring
to the relationships you're building? How much do you
expect to receive? What is your self-preoccupation factor?
If you are even five or ten percent off from a balanced
view of friendship, you'll probably find your relationships
aren't working all that well.
The "Want To" Factor
The next step in moving from aloneness to community
is to face a sobering reality about the friendship-building
process. Selecting and building friendships is an inexact
and often lengthy, frustrating endeavor. It requires energy,
risk, and, quite possibly, hurt. That is the plain truth.
When the Bible says that certain friends bring words
that are comparable to silver and gold, it is certainly
underscoring that friends are valuable. They have worth.
But in addition to this, the friendship-development
process itself might be compared to panning for silver
and gold. You've got to work at it. Sometimes when you
are mining for silver or gold, you think you have found
it and you get all excited about it only to find out it's
"fool's gold." Then you're let down and hurt.
There is a price to be paid up front for the eventual
discovery of the mother lode-this thing called community.
We would prefer a drive-up window. We would
much rather pull up to the deep friendship window and
say, "I want two, with change back from my dollar." Most
of the time life doesn't work that way.
Community building is not easy. Very seldom can you
just get plunked into a premade group and immediately
experience community without some awkwardness, some
trial and error. There has to be an internal "want to" factor
that is strong enough to be able to push you through
the false starts and stops that are going to happen as you
Moving toward Authenticity
The next challenge you'll face in your quest for community
is to move beyond the level of superficiality. When
you start developing a relationship, you generally start out
with conversations that are a bit shallow. And that is as it
should be. Trust has to be built. The basic knowledge-base
concerning one another must develop. But if you stay stuck
at the superficial level-where all you're talking about is
the weather, the stock market, and what movie you rented
last weekend-you will probably start to say, "I was created
for more than this."
Most of us get tired of surface relationships and wish
we could move on. But how? The single best tool I have
discovered to move relationships beyond the level of yawning
superficiality is the asking of a carefully thought-out
question and the urging of an honest, sincere answer.
What question do we ask almost everybody whenever
we see them? "How are you doing?" The standard
answers usually are, "Fine," "Good," or "Not bad."
What if you asked the question this way, "How are
" "How are you doing, really-because
I have a few moments and would love to listen to whatever
it is that you'd like to talk about. How are things at
work, really? How are things at home, really?"
I've asked that question and have sensed people say
inside, "I think he means it." And they get tender. They want
to open up. They just need to be given permission. That question
has prompted hundreds of soulful conversations.
There is another question that I'm beginning to use-it's
the simple question, "How did you feel about that?"
For example, you are waiting impatiently to start your
golf game. Your friend is late. When he shows up you say,
"Where were you?"
"I got stuck at work. Actually, my boss just raged all
What is the normal response? "Sorry. Rage happens.
Let's go-we'll miss our tee-off time." But what would
happen if your follow-up question was, "Well, how did
you feel about that?"
Another question I use a lot, especially with my kids,
is, "What are you thinking right now?" It's more than a
request for information. It is a statement of love. It's a
way of saying, "Whatever is important to you right
now-whatever is on your mind-is important to me. I
want to know it."
These questions need to be asked at appropriate times
in discerning ways. If people are reluctant to answer, you
probably shouldn't press. But you've sent a clear message
that you care, that you'll listen. They are the kinds of
questions that prepare the soil for progressively deep
kinds of sharing.
The Key to Relational Freedom
Finally, your ability to experience and enjoy the fullness
of human community is directly linked to the quality
of your community with God.
Do you know the truth we never confess to? We all walk
around wishing someone was thinking about us all the time-wishing
that someone would move toward us with love all
the time, be there for us all the time. We wish we were the center
of someone's world. We put pressure on friendships that
they weren't meant to bear. We raise the expectations higher
and higher and people begin staying away.
Enter God. God says, "I have love of another kind. I
have a lavish, uncontaminated, focused affection for you.
I am thinking about you all the time. I am moving toward
you with love all the time. I will be there for you all the
time." When you open your heart up to the love of God
through Christ, that love becomes the bedrock foundation
out of which you move in your human relationships.
If your relationship with God is maturing, it gives you
the inner security to take risks in human relationships. If a
risk doesn't work out, you have not lost everything. You are
not going to die. You have God's friendship in your life. From
that rich point of security and peace you can move more
freely in your relational world. You will grow into a more
consistently loving person. You will develop deep community
because you won't need it in the ultimate sense. You
won't press for it in unhealthy ways or make demands that
it can't deliver. You'll be positioned to experience it as a gift.
"This is a football." "This is a friendship." Let's be
clear about it, move toward it, persevere in it. Let's offer
good gifts of community to one another.
In Scripture we're told that Abraham, the great hero of faith,
was given an amazing title. God called him "my friend" (Isa.
41:8). Even more amazing, Jesus told his followers that he no
longer called them his servants but rather his friends (John 15:15).
His enemies gave Jesus the title "friend of . 'sinners'" (Matt. 11:19),
intending it as an insult. Instead, he wore it as a badge of honor.
Jesus not only wants to be your Savior, Teacher, and Lord, he
longs to be your friend. Devote this week to cultivating a deeper
friendship with Jesus. Consciously seek his companionship. Enjoy
his presence. Share your life, thoughts, and activities with him as
true friends do together. Here are some ideas:
When you wake up, remember that Jesus is present with you as
a friend. You are already on his mind. Invite him to spend the
day with you.
Throughout the day, whenever you are tempted, anxious, or
discouraged, take that emotion as a cue to remind you that you
are not alone. Take a moment to talk to Jesus about your concern,as one friend would speak to another.
At some point during the day, take time out to do something you
love to do. It may be taking a walk, listening to music, riding a
motorcycle, or pursuing a hobby. Invite Jesus to be a part of
this activity. Don't strain yourself to pray or to make the time
be "spiritual." Simply be aware that he is with you as your
friend. Speak to him as it feels natural to do so.
When something good happens-even if it seems small or
insignificant-express your gratitude or joy to Jesus. Take a
moment to reflect that he shares your joy with you, as any good
When someone else's need interrupts your day, seize it as an
opportunity to serve Jesus as you would do a favor for a good
Keep track of how this exercise goes. How hard is it for you to
relate to Jesus as a trusted friend? What difference does it make in
your life as you stretch yourself to experience him in that way?
We can learn much about authentic Christian community
from the apostle Paul. Both his life experiences and his
explicit instructions about relationships have given
believers a wonderful picture of how the body of Christ is supposed
to operate-how important relationships are, how to
strengthen them, and how to work through inevitable difficulties.
But Paul was not always a passionate builder of community. The
first mention of Paul (then named Saul) is in Acts 7. The scene is the
trial of Stephen, who was falsely arrested for allegedly teaching
against Moses and God. At the end of the trial, Stephen is martyred
by stoning. Read the account in Acts 7:54-8:3.
1. What was Saul's attitude about the death of Stephen?
What additional actions did Saul take against Christians?
2. What insight does Paul's own description of his preconversion
condition give you concerning what he was like and what was
important to him at that time? (See Phil. 3:4-6; Gal.1:13-14; Acts 22:1-5)
3. Acts 9 describes Paul's dramatic conversion. Through that singular
encounter with Christ, Paul's passions were forever redirected, his priorities forever changed. From the following
passages (all excerpts from letters Paul wrote to various young
churches), how is that redirection seen, particularly when it
comes to relationships and community?
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, 11-12, 17-20
Acts 20:36-38 (Paul's farewell to the elders of the church at