Friendships must be messy

What makes Christian friendships particularly Christian? Is it their ‘other -person centred-ness’? Their focus on love? Or, is it actually their messiness that  makes them distinctly Christian? Recently I attended a  lecture on Paul’s friendship language, by Prof. Laurence Welborn of Fordham University, New York.


Prof. Welborn used 2 Corinthians to show that Paul’s ‘letter of reconciliation’ was ‘an audacious attempt to subvert the Roman paradigm of friendship.’ This is because Roman ideas of friendship were deeply influenced by Greek philosophical thought, with a particular value on firmness and permanence in relationships. Paul’s writings show a vulnerability and openness to messiness that offered a new paradigm in his cultural context. He often uses words like pain, sorrow and grief which reveal much of what he valued in his friendships (see 2 Corinthians 2.1-3, 2.7, Romans 9.2, Philippians 2.27).

The desire to have clean, tidy, neatly defined friendships directly clashes with the language Paul uses to speak about his relationships. Sure, loyalty and faithfulness are key in friendships, buts its when loyalty happens in the midst of pain, sorrow or even awkwardness that makes it distinctly Christian.

Recently, I spoke with a woman who has found herself increasingly isolated from Christian communities. Her friends have all but deserted her, unable to stick with her through various painful situations, perhaps finding her issues too much to bare themselves, too awkward or even too time consuming.

What stops us from opening ourselves up to sharing messiness with friends? Tell me what you think. Because its a total shame when we fail at this point,  its a missed opportunity to show to the world a distinctly Christian belief – that God dives into these moments, getting his own hands messy in our pain and sorrow. Paul might have been offering a subversive paradigm of friendship, but this is precisely because he had experienced the subversive message of a crucified God.

Tell me, what do you think makes Christian friendships distinctly Christian?


7 Responses to “Friendships must be messy”

  1. maybe forgiving our friends when they make mistakes. jesus said that we should love each other as he loved us.

    • stephengardner Says:

      thanks for your contribution. I’m reading a great book on forgiveness at the moment which i might post on soon. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing!

  2. It’s a shame that it seems our Christian relationships have taken on the Roman/Stoic manner that is in opposition to what Paul communicates. You’d probably enjoy reading Gibbo’s doctorate “dearly beloved”, which deals with a similar thing, and says we’ve lost the plot how we relate to one another.

    I’d prolly enjoy it too. Maybe i should read it and find out if the things i said above about it are actually true…

  3. Christine Says:

    Called to be Christian means called to admit our brokenness. This same brokenness then becomes evident in our relationships. (I think it is evident in all relationships, it’s just that Paul makes an effort to come to terms with why allowing ourselves to be open to another leaves us so vulnerable.) On this particular day, all I can say is that God is truly evident in some of my closer relationships! And it is not a comfortable feeling! Dive right in Lord – I’m waiting.

    • stephengardner Says:

      Hi Christine. Thanks for your really helpful insights. Amen to your cry to God, Claire and I are praying for you all. Lots of love

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