/ friendship / Rut Etheridge III

The Friendship Test

Is your loyalty as a friend being put to the test?  It might be, publicly, and you might have no idea it’s happening.  It could be happening right now as you read this!  Perhaps you’ve seen something like this in your Facebook feed, posted by one of your friends:  “I’m tired of people just pretending to be my friend.  So I’m going to see who among all my so-called ‘friends’ on Facebook really is one.  Whoever cares enough to take a few extra seconds – seriously, how hard is that?! – to read this ENTIRE post, please copy the last line and post it on your page.  Then, I’ll “like” it and know that your friendship actually means something.  Everyone else I’m just going to unfriend. I’ll leave this up long enough for my real friends to notice and to make themselves known.  You have one day.  Go.”  

Whether we post it on social media or not, it seems we’re always trying to confirm people’s loyalty to us, to put their love and faithfulness to the test.  Driven by insecurity, we sometimes devise trials with utterly arbitrary standards of evaluation for our friends and family to endure, though they may not have the slightest clue that they’re being tested.  “I didn’t see the feed! I promise, I really like you!” a true friend tweets, panicked.  We do it in life beyond social media as well, but we might not tell the test subject what's happening.  We think:  If she really cares, she’ll recognize this look on my face right now and ask me if I’m okay.  I mean, if she really knows me, it’s pretty OBVIOUS that I’m struggling right now!  _Hell_oo!!

If we put our friends under this kind of constant, withering pressure, perhaps it is they who have reason to question _our _loyalty as friends.  Our willingness to unfriend them for failing these kinds of tests is much more indicative of disloyalty than their lack of immediate affirmation in the precise form we demand.  Sometimes these tests boil up out of personal bitterness at having been burned in other relationships.  Fear is another factor driving these cruel friendship games.  We’re so afraid of getting hurt that we feel compelled to control all the terms and conditions of the relationship, and our terms go far beyond biblical standards of love and loyalty.  Sometimes, we employ these antics based on the advice of others who’ve been cheated and who are ostensibly trying to protect us.  But really, they’re teaching us a way of life that will only push people away in a self-fulfilling prophecy – "SEE?!  I told you he wouldn’t text within the hour!  You can’t trust anyone but yourself, my friend"  – and which will make any true friends we have absolutely miserable.  Well, we think, if they really love me, they should be okay with that.  Where does it end?!

Why do we employ such unfriendly means of proving other people’s friendship? We’re more likely to treat other people this way if we’re used to treating God this way.  All of the commandments in Scripture having to do with our treatment of other people are grounded in and arise from commandments concerning our love and loyalty to God.  “…The Lord is One.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” is the contextual soil out of which “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” grows and bears lasting fruit (Matthew 22:37-40.)

Don’t we sometimes put God to the friendship test?  God, if you love me, you’ll do this, or you won’t do that.  And just like we do with friends, our sometimes unspoken criteria goes beyond what the Bible tells us to expect of the Lord.  But the more confident believers are that the Lord is always pursuing what is truly best for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:4), the less frantic we are when we fear others are not doing the same.  So often, the problem is that we are not interpreting and applying biblical promises on biblical terms.

The Lord is always faithful to his promises.  He fulfills them on the terms and in the time(s) He appoints.  It is we who fail in being faithful when we try to force his hand by putting arbitrary, “If/then”- laden ultimatums before him.  Ironically, we sometimes label this attempt to force God's hand as faith.  “If I just have enough faith, then God will give me that job.”  Or:  “If God really means it when he says he wants to bless me with prosperity, this X-ray will come back negative.”  But are these biblically faithful applications of God's promises?

In the biblical book of Daniel, young God-fearers Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s refused in Babylon to bow in worship to psychotic King Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.  Enraged at their insubordination, the king threatened to burn them alive in a furnace so fiery that its heat could kill those who merely came close to it. The young men responded:  “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and he will deliver us out of your hand, O King.” Is this the friendship test applied to God?  Not at all.

The faith of these brave young men puts no arbitrary conditions upon God.  What they say next proves it:  “He will deliver us … But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”  That’s the kind of “if/then” that belongs to real faith!  These faithful men know that God is able to deliver them, but they are willing for Him not to do so.  They are confident in God’s power, but also content in his providence.  It is precisely that contentment in the Father’s will which is the essence of biblical trust, which separates substantial faith from subtle, self-seeking presumption.

The Lord Jesus showed this contentment during his temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4).  Atop the Temple, the accuser says to Jesus: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written, he will command his angels concerning you'...."   Satan tells the Lord to take a quite literal leap of faith to incite a spectacular display of God’s power and promise to save.  Jesus flatly refused.  God the Son knew that the Father was faithful to his word.  The Father had nothing to prove to his loving, loyal Son.  And as we think of the Father’s faithfulness to his people, we can calm our fears and soften our hearts with a question the Apostle Paul asks in Romans 8:  “He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”  Shouldn’t that question answer every fear-driven question we have about God’s goodness toward us, and annul any friendship test we might ever be tempted to devise for him?

Trusting others can feel torturous.  Stepping in that direction sparks every fear and insecurity we have into an inferno.  It should be done on biblical terms, with holy wisdom, patience, discretion (often severely lacking in social media exchanges), and with seeking and granting forgiveness as the increasing, grace-wrought instinct of our remade hearts.  Oh how we need Jesus in all of this!  And how we need to trust his promise to be with us as we take those true steps of faith when and as his word leads us (Proverbs 3:5-6, Matthew 28:18-20, James 4:8).It is through a vital relationship to the living Christ that we find the compassion and the courage to trust people on biblical terms, to truly forgive them when they fail God’s standards of love and loyalty, and to sincerely repent when we do the same – John 15, Ephesians 4:32, 1 John 4:7-11.

We’ve all failed to show the love and loyalty other people have the biblical right to expect of us.  Our truest friend, though, has never failed us, and he never will.  We need never doubt his gracious, constant love and loyalty to his people, whom he calls both his family and his friends.

Now, if you cared enough to read this entire article, and you’re a true friend to the GenRef blog, you’ll “share” this post on your facebook page.  You have one day.  Go!

Rut Etheridge III

Rut Etheridge III

Husband to Evelyn; father to Isaiah, Callie, Calvin, Josiah, Sylvia. Pastor and Bible Prof. Loves the risen Christ, family, writing, the ocean, martial arts, Boston sports, coffee, and more coffee.

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