What is a proper relationship or friendship between two Believers or a Believer and an unbeliever?

As so often happens, when one person asks a question, others say, "I've had that same question for a long time." Some even say, "Now I am beginning to see why we've been having such-'n-such problems in our relationship, etc." The subject of friendship seems to be a hot button with several. In the light of the comments and other questions, I am going to add some material that I was not going to cover this time over. All the questions and comments that have been brought to me, have been covered at one time or another in the systematic teaching of other subjects.

Friendship is a peripheral doctrine, or a teaching that is only found on the edge of some other major teachings or doctrines. If we would learn to study the Word of God systematically, and then apply the truths found in the peripheral doctrines, as well as those truths associated with the major doctrines, many of our Spiritual questions would be answered as we go.

Learning and Living the Truth

A basic Biblical principle is:  
First: live in and by what we know right now.    
Then: what we do not know, will take care of itself in the process of study and living what we study. 
John 7:17 If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.

Notice some important responsibilities and actions on our part. We must "want to do His will" if we are to really know the doctrines. The NIV has this translated as: "If anyone chooses to do" Both translations are right, but neither is able to give the flavor or intensity of the Greek in this passage by simply translating one word in Greek to one word in English. The Greek structure here refers to continuous or repeated action, and that action is subject to certain conditions.

wants (Greek)
to both will or resolve to do something and to press on with continuous action to accomplish what was willed.

There are several words in the Greek for our English word want. Some of those Greek words mean: to decree; to purpose to do; to design, etc. However, the Greek word used in this context has to do with desire and purpose within the volition of the soul, along with continuous action of the mind and body to accomplish the thing willed.

If someone simply becomes a professional student of the Word of God, they will know a lot of facts, and possibly think of themselves as a super Christian -- which they are not! But after all, they do know a lot of Bible stuff, and sad to say that may be what some are - stuffed Christians. You know one of those plaster saints?

We must study and continue to learn Biblical information, because if we don't, we can never have the power of His divine nature released in our lives. However, facts are not enough! If you are to know the doctrine or the spiritual truths taught by those facts, you must have a desire, will and determined purpose to do what those facts reveal, and then continually be about doing what you have willed.

Ressurection Power Living

Philippians 3:11-18 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

In this passage, Paul is telling us the same thing that Christ said in John 7:17. Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit adds some details to the basic truth. Those details will help us understand and act on that truth.

Don't worry! This has a lot of do with our subject of friendship and a lot of other subjects. Let's walk through this passage and hit some of the highlights. Please keep in mind the words of our Lord Jesus from John 7:17 as we walk through this passage.

Paul says that we should attain to the power of the resurrection in our daily living, no matter what it takes. In the NKJV it says "by any means". Paul is not saying that we need to do something in order to be a part of the resurrection from the dead at His coming. Our part in the resurrection was assured because we are in Christ, and He is the firstfruits of the resurrection. The resurrection here refers back to the preceding verse.

Philippians 3:10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,

The power of Christ's resurrection can and should be ours as we live day by day and face temptations, failures, heartaches, joys, accomplishments, etc. To experience the power of His resurrection in daily living, there are several things we must do, according to Philippians 3:11-18.

Don't forget, Philippians 3:11-18 is an amplification of what Christ said in John 7:17. Even at this late stage of Paul's life, he had not fully attained or experienced the complete power of Christ's resurrection in his day by day walk. He goes on to list some of what he is practicing in order to continue this upward climb to the full measure of the resurrection power. It would be good to carefully analyze this portion, but for this lesson, let's skim over the surface.

There is a very important little word in v.11. When we know the meaning of this little word, it will help us see the import of the passage. That little word is translated to English by the word "to" in the NKJV translation.

What's that you said? You said that you already know what "to" means! You're way ahead of some politicians. As long as you know what it means, let's move on. On the other hand, I know you know what "to" means, but some others may not. So let's look at it anyway. Ok?

to (Greek)
a preposition that governs, directs or controls the action towards the appointed place or goal

The Greek word for this "to" is a preposition. The Greek has several very important prepositions. One means to let, another means to receive into, etc. The most famous and well known Greek preposition is ek, and means out from or out of. The Greek preposition translated "to" in Philippians 3:11 has to do with governing or directing the motion into the place or thing, or directing the idea or action towards the appointed place or goal. That's just about the opposite of the Greek preposition "ek" which mean out from.

So what? Well, you see, I went to school, got educated and I thought I should use some of the education, sometime. After all I am on the west side of the sunset mountain of life, and headed down hill. So if I'm going to use it, I had better get with it. That's really not the answer to the, "So what?" These facts will make a world of difference in our understanding of this passage.

Paul says by any means v.11. That may throw us for a loop when we read it in English. However, if we can look a little closer at the Greek structure, I think it will help.

First, the English phrase "if by any means" is one word in the Greek, and it's an adverb. All good students know that an adverb directs, controls or modifies the verb or the action of the verb. With that in depth study of Greek syntax, I think the truth of the passage will be much clearer as we apply that information. Remember, the phrase "if by any means" is one adverb in Greek, and the Greek preposition "to" means moving the action towards the appointed place or goal. Let me re-phrase the first part of v.11 a little differently, but perfectly justified by the Greek text. I think it will throw a little light on the subject

Philippians 3:11 (expanded C.W.) These many means move and make it possible for me to attain the resurrection power in my living.

Philippians 3:11 (NKJV) if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

What are those means mentioned in Philippians 3:11-18 that make it possible to move us towards this goal?

Please, pause and re-read Philippians 3:11-18, again.

All of these means, mentioned by Paul here and expanded elsewhere in the epistles, are important! Paul says in v.16, nevertheless, or besides these others, here is one I want to call to your attention in a special way. So, let's do the same. This particular means starts with our new found friend the preposition that we met in v.11.

Use It or Lose It

to (Greek)
preposition that governs, directs or controls the action towards the appointed place or goal

This in no way indicates that the other mentioned means are not important, but the Holy Spirit through Paul wants us to see that this aspect is very important, often neglected and difficult to maintain. However, this one truth, applied to the lives of all Believers (consistently), would change the face of society more than any other fact in history except the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ.

The phrase "to the degree" introduces us to a means that will enable us to, or direct us to this goal of knowing experientially the resurrection power of Christ in our lives for our daily walk in holiness. Many Christians are loaded with Biblical information, but have not allowed that knowledge to have much affect on their daily living and/or friendships.

One of the main reasons for this spiritual failure is the lack of using what they know Biblically in their daily walk. This fact has a domino effect or sometimes a domino effect in reverse, depending on if we are living what we know, or ignoring the truths we've learned.

If you live by the Biblical truths that you now have, you will continue to know the doctrine.
If you don't live by the Biblical truths that you now have, 
you will lose some of what you already have, according to.... 
Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
You will either use it or lose it!

Spiritual Maturity Needed

These people should have been in a position of knowledge and experience so they could teach the things of God. However, these people needed someone to teach them again the very first principles. These Believers had regressed in their walk, and had come to need milk.

In any relationship, if you are not living according to the Biblical knowledge you have, you are immature and will act and think in a childish manner, spiritually. That is true, even if that relationship is:

Spiritual maturity is an absolute necessity, if a Biblical friendship is to be successful.

The spiritual maturity of a Believer is based on:

Spiritual maturity is not based on:

John 7:17 If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.

Longevity of the Christian life and knowledge of Biblical facts should and can have a bearing on spiritual maturity. However, Philippians 3:11-18 and John 7:17 indicate that those factors only have a beneficial effect on spiritual maturity when we are doing what is commanded in the doctrine. As we will see in this study, to have a proper Biblical friendship demands that the parties involved in the friendship be mature growing Believers void of the tell-tale traits of spiritual immaturity. With those truths in mind, let's once again look at our subject of friendship.

friend (Webster)
  • one that seeks the society or welfare of another whom he holds in affection, respect or esteem or whose companionship and personality are pleasurable
  • one who is not hostile or not an enemy
  • one that is of the same nation, party or other group and whose friendly feelings are assumed or from whom sympathy or cooperation is expected
Almost without exception, friendships are started and based on something or someone other than the ones directly involved in that relationship. Some very simple things are often the common denominator that bring people into a relationship called friendship. Some of the attractions that bring people together for friendship are: The list of start-up factors for friendships could go on and on. Quite often, the factor that started the relationship is different than the factor that maintains that relationship and can also destroy a friendship! Three of those in the list above are the most prominent starters and maintainers of most friendships: I'll even concede and say that golf can also be a factor. However, it does give me much mental anguish to make that concession. The two most prominent factors that start relationships of the friendship nature are: One of the major reasons for this is that sin and problems bring great internal pressure and distress. When we have major personal and/or sin problems, we have a tendency to gravitate to others who have similar problems. We are looking for someone who will understand and sympathize with our situation. We have the false notion that a little sympathy will make the load much lighter. However in the long run, receiving only sympathy will have the opposite effect. None the less, at the moment of stress, we still think that sympathy will lift the burden. After all, when we were a child, mother's kiss made the ouchee go all away. But in the real grown-up world, a kiss or a pat on the head will not solve the sin problems or the deep seeded emotional problems, etc. A kind word, a caring look, etc. can bring relief for a short time. No question about it! We all need the caring looks, the kind words, and we all need those moments of relief. However, it is not just those simple kindnesses that most people with sin and problems are looking for in a friendship. They are looking for more than a short respite of relief. They want someone to make it all go away.

False Expectations

One of the major problems with such a friendship is that both parties bring their excess of problems to this relationship, and they are expecting this friendship, through some unknown means, to un-chain them from their burdens. Or at least, they expect their friend to take some of the burden, thus lightening their own load. The problem is that both parties in this friendship have for more burdens than they can personally bear, even before they entered this relationship. The reason they are in this friendship in the first place is that they are looking for someone to take some of their burdens. If you are looking for someone to share your load, don't look to human friendships as a load bearing vehicle. If per chance you find another who truly shares and will bare your load, consider yourself blessed above most people, because it very seldom happens.

The True Friend

People are so pressed down, and over burdened that when most of them do something for someone else, it is with the hope that the favor will be returned, many times over. Most people just cannot handle any more pressure or social baggage. However, there is One Who can lighten your load. That One, and the only One Who can, is Christ.
Proverbs 18:24 A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
First of all this Friend, Who is God incarnate, made the payment for all sins, yours, mine and the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
When we sin as a believer, this Friend will not only forgive us, He will cleanse us from the filth and guilt of that sin.
1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
There is a Friend Who can really take care of your sin problems!
1 Peter 5:6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
This Friend does not want to share just some of your problems, He wants all of your problems, your joys, etc, and He can handle whatever you have to give.
Psalms 34:14-18 Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace, and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. 16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. 17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
As in any friendship, this friendship with God is not a one-sided relationship. Christ wants to, is willing to and is able to do great things that no other friend can do or even think about doing. However, to know the fullness of this friendship there are personal responsibilities: These are the opposite of self-seeking pride and self-sufficiency.
Matthew 11:28-30 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Remember, if we are going to enjoy this friendship there are responsibilities. We saw some of those in the last passage, here are some more:

There are other interesting facts concerning this friendship, most we will not examine at this time. The yoke is used to team two oxen or horses together so they can share the load. In this case, the load belongs to God. We find our rest by entering into God's work. Isn't it strange? Here you are. You have been struggling with your own load for so long that you are exhausted, or as v.28 says, heavy laden. Totally exhausted from struggling with your personal load, you come to God, so God can take your burden, and God says the way to lighten your own load is to accept His burden and yoke. Do His work. "But God", you protest! "I have more than I can handle now!" God responds to the cry of despair and frustration by saying, "You don't understand, My child. The way to be first, is to be last. The way to find your life, is loose it for me. The way to be great, is to be the servant of all. The way to rest, is to take my yoke."

You can go on seeking and doing things your way. You can keep on searching for someone, anyone who can give you a moment of relief from the cares of this life. Search as long as you like. Search as long as you can, but you will never find a human friend who can truly give relief, to say nothing of pure rest. The human cry is for a solution, and we think that the solution is to have the burden removed.

God says, "I have a better way. A way that will give you such great joy and peace that there is no way to humanly describe it. I'll give you peace. Not like the world gives, but I will give you My peace. A peace that has no fear of the storms of life." God goes on to say, "If you are to receive all that I promised, you will have to enter this friendship according to My instructions." As we will see in the next lesson, when you are a friend of God's, you will make a good friend to someone else. If you are not experiencing a daily friendship with God, and you enter into a friendship with another human, you will likely become a spiritual and social leech on that relationship. If on the other hand, you are presently engaged in a friendship with God, having taken His yoke, have a broken heart and contrite spirit, then you will have much to give to any friendship.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Until you have experienced God's comfort, you cannot offer others comfort in their tribulation. You may be able to offer sympathy, which is the best humanity has to offer. God is the God of all comfort. There is no other comfort. There is no other source of comfort. Therefore, unless you have experienced God's comfort in your time of tribulation, you will keep reaching for, and trying to get something from some other person that they do not have to give. A human friendship can give you companionship, sympathy, surface happiness, etc., but no real joy or comfort. Only God can give those. If you keep trying to get something from a human friendship that it cannot give, that friendship may go sour, or you and your friend will have to reach out to greater and deeper emotional experiences trying to find what God so desperately want to freely give you. Once you have truly experienced God's gracious comfort, by that comfort, you will be able to comfort others with that same comfort that God gave you.

1 Corinthians 10:13-14 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

It is very natural that when we humans have problems, cares and pressures to want them to just go away. Certainly, if there is an appropriate way to remove the problem, we would be wise and prudent to do so. However, most of the pressures and frustrations of life are non-movable. Our prayer to God is, "Take it away". From our friendships, we expect to receive some relief. Yet, more often than not, our friendships do not bring relief, and in many cases God does not remove the problems. Our passage in 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 says God will make a way of escape. Then why can't I find the escape route? My friend, read on in the passage and you will find the way of escape is usually God giving you the grace to bear that test. Paul found this to be true in his life.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

A story is told that goes like this... A man was sleeping at night, when suddenly his room was filled with light and the Savior appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. Day after day, this man did as the Savior instructed. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down. Daily he place his shoulders squarely against the cold, massive surface of that unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, worn out and feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the man's mind: "You've been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn't budged. Why kill yourself over this? You'll never move it!" This gave the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened him. "Why kill myself over this?" he thought. "I'll just put in my time, giving just minimum effort, and that will be good enough." That was his plan, until one day he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Lord. "Lord" he said, "I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What's wrong? Why am I failing?" The Lord responded compassionately, "My Friend, when I ask you to serve and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. Now you come to me with your strength spent for today, thinking that you have failed, but is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled. Your back sinewy and brown. Your hands are callused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard.

Through opposition, you have grown much stronger and your abilities now surpass what you used to have. Yet, you haven't moved the rock. Your calling was to be obedient by pushing, exercising your faith and trusting in my wisdom. This you have done, and you are a better man for it. I, my friend, will now move the rock.

God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. Don't try to get from friendships what only God can give. If God's way of escape is to push on the rock, then push and rejoice in the strength that will develop. If God removes rock, give God the glory. Then you can share the encouragement with your weaker friends by the comfort that God brought your way.

God would rather make us stronger through adversity, 
than to remove adversity and see our spiritual strength ebb away.
© Clyde White, Austin TX, 2000