Friendship before serving

When you’re down and troubled and need a helping hand and nothing is going right…

You and I need a friend. In the matters of every day, friends matter. A friend – one you can count on, who will “be there” and most of all who will hold out a welcome hand.

Friends are amazing because at the core of friendship is choice. You choose to friend and to be friended. It is the ultimate voluntary relationship. You can walk in or out of it as you please, unlike marriage and family that are complicated by contract and blood.

Some of your friendships have drifted apart over the years and others have ended with divorce, but those that remain are truly amazing. These are the friends who have witnessed your life and yet still remain!

Friendship is witness and withness.

This is an astonishing quality of love that has observed the best and worst of me and yet chooses to be with me!

To witness another person’s life and to be a friend requires constant giving and forgiving.

Of the friends I’ve lost, giving and forgiving did not flow freely between us! Robby Burns, speaks of friendship:

Talk not of love, it gives me pain, 
For love has been my foe;
He bound me in an iron chain,
And plung’d me deep in woe.

But friendship’s pure and lasting joys,
My heart was form’d to prove;
There, welcome win and wear the prize,
But never talk of love.

Your friendship much can make me blest,
O why that bliss destroy?
Why urge the only, one request
You know I will deny?

Your thought, if love must harbour there,
Conceal it in that thought;
Nor cause me from my bosom tear
The very friend I sought. 

There is a kind of love that binds us in iron chains and plunges us in deep woe, (this, of course, is not love at all, but pretends to be so) but friendship is pure and lasting joy.

I’m intrigued by the words of Jesus in a conversation about love, friendship and service.

“My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15)

This verse is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with so many twists, turns and combinations.

Twist: Love cannot be commanded. Love under compulsion is not love at all. Turn: The conversation then moves to the greatest love of all being friendship and then (combination) back to a mix of friendship and compulsion. Twist: but wait, only servants act under a command. True friends cannot be commanded to do anything; friendship is freely given. And then the four words that change everything: “I call you friends” (solved).

How amazing – you and I are called to be friends with God!

Let this invitation seep into your soul. God wants your friendship, not your service. You are free from commandments because as a friend you will know what to do. A friend will even lay down their life for their friend. It is what friends do.

Before you busy yourself doing God’s work, trying to save the world, be a friend, for only a friend will know what to do. That is what love looks like.

Friendship comes before service.

Today, the Church (you and I) is rightly being called to engage in the mission of God. Yet sadly, sometimes mission is being confused with the busyness of service rather than friendship. What would happen if we stopped serving and started being friends to our neighbours and community? You would not have to ask what we should do because a friend knows what to do; be a friend.

The mission of God is the act of making friends.

Blessing for Friendship

May you fall into friendship;
a blessing of withness and witness.
May your friends hold out a mirror so you can see your blind spots,
And a hand of grace extended in forgiveness.
You know you need both.
May you experience the laughter of friendship and may you weep till tears run dry, that you my may laugh again. It’s what friends do.
May you find your soul’s Anam Cara.
And may you hear the smile in the voice of God
“Will you be my friend?”

Andrew Norton

The Rt Rev Andrew Norton is the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. This is the first in a series of posts titled “Everyday matters” where Andrew considers matters of importance in our daily lives.

3 thoughts on “Friendship before serving

  1. “What would happen if we stopped serving and started being friends to our neighbours and community? ”
    There’s a challenge indeed – how to re – imagine and re-birth the church in this new image. What would it look like?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Bruce,

    It think this one idea could change the church for good!
    What if eldership, pastoral care and welcoming people adopted this?
    We would not need any lists, rosters and a whole lot less meetings.
    AND people would be cared for and welcomed.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Re. Bruce and Andrew & the Church’s ministry as Friendship: That is a good way to impose healthy boundaries as well… there are only so many friendships each person can maintain! A good way also to share the “load” evenly among the people of God.


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