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What Happened to Spiritual Friendship?

• Greg Boyd

Historically, intimate friendship was valued in the church and in the broader culture. This sermon provides a basic overview of why spiritual friendship is so important and why we need to build it into our lives today.

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This sermon provides a historical understanding of how “friendship” has changed over time so that we can see how it has been lost and how we need to recover the practice of spiritual friendship. Greg begins by taking us back to the philosophers of old, including Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. These ancient thinkers valued friendship the way we tend to view romantic love today, as the experience that makes life worth living. This view held until the 17th and 18th centuries.

For instance, Aristotle wrote:

  • “Misfortune shows those who are not really friends.”
  • “Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.”
  • “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.”
  • “What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”
  • “A friendship that ends was never a true friendship “

Aristotle observed that there are three types of friends. First there are friends for pleasure and entertainment. The second type of friends are those who are purposeful, like those on a sports team or co-workers. The third kind are friends of virtue, those who love each other as persons. For Aristotle, virtue friendship is the foundation of other virtues because these friends care about each other enough to want to help them to be the best selves they can be.

The church took over Aristotle’s three categories of friends, as virtue friendship came to be known as “spiritual friendships.” They even had official covenant ceremonies where friends bound themselves together. These spiritual friendships were modeled by the relationship between David and Jonathan. David said of Jonathan after he died,

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women. —2 Samuel 1:26

We need one to four spiritual friends in our lives who can walk with us to inspire us and to challenge us to be the kind of person that God has called us to be. We cannot live this life alone, without others who know us and point us in the right direction. We are made to be known and loved as we are.

In our culture, such friendships are uncommon. They are considered nice but nonessential. If we are going to move in this direction, we must be intentional because we are pushing against cultural trends that belittle committed spiritual friendships. This means that we will need to take specific steps toward forming spiritual friends.

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Topics: Community, Love

Sermon Series: The Lost Art of Friendship

Downloads & Resources

Audio File
Study guide
Group Study Guide
The MuseCast: September 21

Focus Scripture:

  • 2 Samuel 1:26

    I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.

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4 thoughts on “What Happened to Spiritual Friendship?

  1. Matthew says:

    Dear Greg,

    I hope as a veteran pastor of a mega church you are able to be reflective enough to consider just how much the mega church model inhibits close relationship building. I have been a Christian since 1996 and I have to say that the kind of friendships you seem to imply as being so integral have never materialized for me. Now this may have something to do with me (I´ll admit), but I also think that it in large part it has to do with the program oriented, event driven, mid-week small group, “Sunday-as-central” nature of most mega churches (heck … most all local churches of any size for that matter). Such an infrastructure is a real obstacle for the kind of intimate friendships you are describing and I really think that needs to be addressed first and foremost at the leadership level. Genuine, spiritual friendship and real community cannot take root when the seeds of such relationships are sown on such thorny, organizational ground.

    1. Greg says:

      Hi Matthew,

      Thanks so much for your feedback. I totally agree that spiritual friendships have been hard to come by in the contemporary western church, and I agree that part of the problem is that churches tend to pack people’s schedules with events and thus don’t leave much time for discovering or cultivating spiritual friendships. Even more fundamentally, however, I think people haven’t made time for spiritual friendships because the western church, along with western culture in general, stopped teaching on the importance of spiritual friendships over two hundred years ago! People literally don’t know what they are missing! I agree with you, and am not inclined to think that the size of a congregation/podgregation has anything to do with the loss of this important category of friends. As you said, unfortunately these friendships are just as absent in smaller churches as they are in larger churches, and this is because spiritual friendships at the current time are absent everywhere.

      We’re hoping to change that over time by not only teaching on this topic, but facilitating opportunities for people to meet and possibly forge these types of friendships.

      Again, I appreciate you caring enough to write.

  2. Matthew says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond Greg.

  3. Kevin says:

    Being now 67 years old and out of church – I have only one somewhat close friend and zero ‘spiritual friends’. (God is working in that one friend but he’s not a true believer) The online zoom groups help and I do believe they have importance – they are not, however, as meaningful as a friend who is present and accessible. I do not feel lonely but as for my Spiritual walk, I feel left behind.
    My dream has always been to live in a Christian community – my fear is that I’ll just die alone.
    It takes so much time to find and develop Spiritual friends and my time is running out.

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