Over the course of your life, what kind of relationship do you need the most? Sure, at the beginning, you need the parent-child relationship, but is that the relationship you need the most over the course of your whole life? After all, at some point, your parents pass away, so what do you do then? And yes you have your family, but not everyone has great relationships with their families or may hardly have a family at all, yet they can still have a life of great relationships.
Now you might think, then it’s the relationship of marriage, as we are doing a series focused on that. But you can have a wonderful and fulfilling life of relationship, and yet not be married. After all, Jesus wasn’t. And as much as we might wish otherwise, marriages don’t last forever. Even in the longest lived marriages, one partner will pass away before the other.
So, what kind of relationship do you need the most? You need friendships. It’s why the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle said. Without friendships no one would choose to live, even if they had all other good things in life. Or to paraphrase the preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick; No one is the whole of him or herself. Your friends are the rest of you.
Why are friendships so crucial? It’s because friendships can encompass every relationship in your life. As you become older, your parents even as they remain your parents may also become your friends. And the same can be said of any relationship in your life from siblings to co-workers. And when it comes to marriage, friendship matters most. In the end, what you will most need from your spouse isn’t a lover or a parent. What you will need most is a friend.
Yet too often, not only in marriage, but in life, people don’t grasp the full meaning of what a friend can be. They never experience the full depths of what God intended friendship to be. What makes for profound friendships not only in marriage, but in life? In these words from Ephesians, God shows the way. So let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
Let’s get real for a moment. No matter what any book or movie might tell you, marriage is no Hallmark card. You can say that marriage is a lot of things, but one thing it sure isn’t is sweet. It may have sweet moments, sure, but sweet? No way. Some days, after a hard day of marriage, a couple can fall into bed and the only thing from this passage that makes any sense is those words: behold what I am talking about is a mystery. (Thanks, Tim Keller J)
And if marriage isn’t sweet, you can bet life isn’t sweetness and light either. Sure, it has its moments. But as the famous psychiatrist M. Scott Peck put it, “Life is difficult.” And in the challenges of marriage and life, what you will need most to make it through, to make life great even in the toughest of times is friends.
But what makes a friend in marriage and life? If you look to Facebook, it tells you that all it takes is a point and a click. But we all know. It has to be more than that. So what makes for real friendship, the sort of friendship that can make a marriage great; that can make your life great. In the end, what makes a friendship is what you share. The more deeply the things that you share, the more deep the friendship becomes. And in great marriages, you share the deepest thing of all. You share with each other the same mission that God has for every person on earth. But before we look at what that mission is, let’s talk first about what makes a friend a friend.
The writer C.S. Lewis wrote that the difference between a friend and a lover lies in what you look at. With a lover you are looking at your lover’s face. That is where your gaze goes. But with a friend, you have someone who stands beside you and together you gaze at the same thing. What makes a friend is that you share something. Maybe you share a common interest. Maybe you share a common background. Maybe you share the same ambitions or hopes or beliefs. But whatever it is, you’ve gotta share something. That’s what binds you together, and the deeper the sharing, the deeper the friendship. What do I mean?
What if you have a friend and all you share is the same hobby or the same club? That sort of sharing is nice and all. But that friendship only goes so far. But what if you and your friend have shared more than that? What if you’ve walked together through a hardship or loss? What if you’ve shared life-changing experiences together? That sort of sharing makes a friendship go deep. It bonds you together. It makes for a relationship that can even last a lifetime.
And the deepest type of friendship goes beyond that even. It goes to the friends with whom you shared the same goals, the same purposes; the same mission. Maybe that mission happened in the military or school or in the raising of your children. Maybe it happened because you shared a business together or came together in a joint cause. Why is that the deepest friendship? It’s because when you share a mission together like that it encompasses everything. You are sharing a journey together. In that journey, triumph and losses inevitably come. Life changing experiences just happen. A journey like that holds it all.
And every marriage carries a mission. That mission isn’t raising kids. After all, every marriage won’t have kids, but it will still carry a mission. So what is the mission of marriage? In the passage we just read, God points to it in the instructions given to husbands. He tells husbands to love your wives in order to do what? In order to make her holy. These instructions may be directed to specific partners but the overall vision encompasses both the partners in marriage. So what does God give as the mission? Marriage is given “in order to make you holy.”
Now if you find that confusing, it’s because you don’t understand what holy actually means. Holy means wholeness. Holy means completion. In marriage you come together to make each other whole. That’s your ultimate mission, to shape in each other the greatness God created each of you for. A good marriage will not only show you your broken places, it will give you a partner who can help you mend them. A good marriage matures you. It refines you. It challenges you to become more than you thought you could be. And that process can be hard. And in that process, you don’t simply need a lover, as powerful as that role is. For that to happen, you need a friend.
And over the course of that journey, through heartbreak, through triumph, through good times and bad, that friendship grows deeper and deeper. Your partner doesn’t simply become your lover. He or she becomes your best friend.
But that friendship doesn’t simply happen. For any friendship in marriage or in life to become great, you need to do three things First, you need to show up. Or as Proverbs puts it, a friend loves at all time, and especially during adversity.
Many years ago, when I served a church in Long Island, we had gathered after worship to plant a tree for Earth Sunday, and afterward, we circled together for a prayer. That’s when it happened, when George collapsed. We all saw George, one of our elders, a man I was close to, die of a massive heart attack within minutes. I spent the afternoon with his devastated wife and children at the Emergency Room. As I got home later that day, I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I called a fellow pastor, Stephen, and told him what had happened. An hour later, we were sitting sharing a beer in a local watering hole. I can’t remember one thing he said to me that night. That didn’t matter. What mattered is he showed up.
But beyond showing up, you need to show yourself. Real friends don’t simply not let you down, they also let you in. What forged that friendship that night is not simply that Stephen showed up, but that I showed myself, my hurt, my vulnerability. And in life and in marriage, if you never let your friend in, if you keep things on the surface only, then that friendship will never become what it could be. Is that risky, even dangerous? Yes, but there is no way to take the danger out of human relationships. And in the end, the more dangerous option is to shut yourself off. For when you shut yourself off from the vulnerability, you also shut yourself off from the final thing a great friend gives you.
Even as a faithful friend will not ignore your flaws and shortcomings, a friend will see far more that. He will see who you can be. More importantly, he will show that to you. As the Bible describes it, a good friend blesses you. In the Bible a blessing isn’t something you give after a sneeze. No you give a blessing to give someone a vision of what they can be. Often fathers delivered them to their children as they died. Why? They wanted in these last words of blessing to inspire their children with a beautiful vision of what their future could be. And a good friend will do the same. They see in you what often you can’t see.
Someone once asked the artist Michelangelo how he created his magnificent statue of David. What did Michelangelo say? He said. “I looked inside the marble and just took away the bits that weren’t David.” That’s what a great friend does for you. He shows you the David that you can’t yet see.
And when that sort of friendship happens in your life, and in your marriage, oh, the wonders it will work. As the writer, G.K. Chesterton put it. There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.
But let’s be honest. This side of heaven, this vision of friendship, as inspiring as it is, is still not fully possible. Even as you and I strive to be such friends, we will have moments that we will fail. We will fail our friends, and our friends will fail us. So, why do human beings hunger for it so? It’s because that hunger points to the One who is the friend who will not fail you ever.
Why did God in Jesus come to you? Jesus came to make you holy, to make you whole and complete. And in that mission, Jesus would not stop at anything. When your fears and darkness captured you, Jesus showed up. He didn’t just show up in that darkness. He went down into that darkness to deliver you. On that cross, Jesus became utterly vulnerable to that darkness, to your darkness. Why? He saw the light within you that you couldn’t see. Jesus saw what you could be, and he died to make it so. And if Jesus did not fall away from you on that cross, he will never fall away from you. Even when you are faithless, this friend will be faithful.
And in the power of his friendship, you will discover the power to become more and more the friend God created you to be. In the security of his love and grace, you will find relationships that go deep, friendships that grow into greatness. And you will find them not only in your marriage. You will find them in this place, in this family of faith, in this community of the friends of Jesus. And in those friendships, you will find a greatness in you that you did not know even existed. You will discover that two is indeed not twice. Two is two thousand times one.