Satan is a thief. He takes what’s not his. Be it glory, worship, children, whatever he can get his hands on. He’s also a saboteur, read Genesis 3, he doesn’t form things, he doesn’t do beauty, he can’t create culture, he can only sabotage it, or create counterfeits. He steals, he twists, he warps, he deforms. And we live with the consequences. Our lives so often are impoverished as a result without us even realising it.
One of the treasures that Satan has stolen is friendship. I love the image in the garden of Eden of Adam and Eve enjoying an rich intimacy that is founded on knowing one another without shame or fear. It was a relationship of love and laughter and total safety and joy. And it isn’t just an image of marriage, it’s an image of community, of friendship. What they experience they are to replicate as they multiply until God’s good creation is filled with people who enjoy relationship with God and with each other.
The Bible is big on friendship. It shows us dysfunctional friendships and beautiful friendships like David and Jonathan, or Jesus and his disciples, that leave us longing to taste that same joy filled trust and intimacy. But Satan is always looking to sabotage and steal that joy. And the result of that is that we are a church that is marked in the West by loneliness. And that’s tragic. Loneliness is endemic in Western society. But God calls a people to him in Israel who are to be marked by hospitality and generosity and a tightly woven mesh of familial commitments that are to more than just their flesh and blood. And the church isn’t to abandon that but redeem it, to take it’s best bits and empowered by the Spirit fully flesh out what Israel so often struggled to be.
But Satan is still in the business of sabotage and stealing. We see him doing it in Galatia, Corinth, Ephesus and elsewhere by various means – legalism, racism and nationalism, pride and arrogance. And he has not stopped doing that. He does the same today. He does it as he lies and tells us we’re too busy to have real friendship, or to expand our circle of friends. He does it as he shrinks our expectations of friendship to less than covenantal commitment that forgives and shows grace. He does it as he gets the church to repeat societies mantra that men and women can’t be friends because sex gets in the way. And increasing in our sexually revolutionised world hints that that may be true of same sex friendships too as we hear the whispers of words like ‘bromance’. He sabotages friendship as he seeks us to invest our every longing for friendship in our marriages and our spouse, piling on that precious covenantal relationship a weight it was not designed to, and cannot possibly sustainably, take. He sabotages our friendships as he piles on cultural norms that make it hard to encourage someone or show our love and appreciation for them.
Too many in our churches are lonely. Not just the single, the widow, and the widower, but everyone, anyone of any age, any stage. And the tragedy in the church is that so often we’re too busy to even notice. In fact often those of us in ministry model the very opposite of friendship. But we need friends, those we can laugh with, be honest with, open up to, be comfortably silent with knowing there are no expectations just welcome. We need those who we know and trust love us and will spur us on to follow Jesus. Will we cultivate this friendship and provide spaces for them to flourish? Will we combat Satan’s lies with God’s redemptive truth and counteract his sabotage by working hard to build friendships that flourish in grace and loyal love?