Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Friendships with Other Christians Must be of Primary Importance



Last Sunday I preached the sermon at Waseca Congregational Church where my friend Chris is the lead pastor. I gave a message from the assorted texts in the book of Proverbs on the topic of friendship. This is a subject I have been thinking about and studying for a long time. Friendships centered on Jesus Christ and demonstrating the Biblical characteristics of humility, love, faithfulness, edification, rebuke and encouragement mean a lot to me. I am deeply convicted that God calls his people to walk through life in close community with other believers.

Not everyone shares the same conviction as I do. There are people in every church who hold to a very loose view of the importance of Christian friendship. These people think church attendance is enough to satisfy the demands of God, and they spend the majority of their time outside Christian fellowship and friendship. I believe this kind of thinking and acting has major ramifications for that person's spiritual growth and development.

And as God would have it, just a day before I was to preach on this topic, my friend Bobby shared with me a story his pastor has told in a sermon recently. It is a story whose origin cannot be determined with certainty, but the idea it illustrates is unarguable. It goes like this,
The story is told of D.L. Moody as he visited two of his congregation who had been absent from the church services. Previously, they had been zealous in the work ... Recently, though, they had stopped going to the meetings, and Moody went to see them. They told him they believed it’s not necessary to come to church ... You can worship God in the privacy of your own home. The pastor said nothing, ... but he leant forward and carefully lifted two pieces of coal out onto the hearth. Nothing was said for a couple of minutes ... and then they realised the lesson Moody was showing them. ... The coals burnt well when they were in the fire, - along with the other coals; but when they were removed from the rest and set on their own, they quickly extinguished.
The point of the story is obvious. When Christians stay in close community and fellowship with one another their spiritual fire burns the hottest. When they overlook, ignore or intentionally disregard foundational friendships with other believers, their spiritual fire with be exhausted. Sadly I have seen this way too many times. People get saved and are passionate about Christ and his mission, so they plug into churches and small groups, and they maintain their zeal for Christ by their close proximity with others who share the same worldview and attitudes. Then, for a variety of reasons, these same once hot people begin to drift away from the church and their friendships there. Over time, because they are like a coal removed from the fire, their spiritual heat cools until it is extinguished altogether.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not calling for all Christians to pack up and move to Idaho. We are to be salt and light in the world. We are called to go into all nations (making friends) and preaching the Gospel. We are to maintain a good reputation with those outside the faith. But, these relationships mustn't be primary in our lives.

The easiest way to determine where you are at in this is to evaluate how you spend your relational energy and time. Are you surrounding yourself with others who are on fire for Christ Jesus, or are you like a piece of coal removed from the fire and slowly burning out?
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