The greatest danger of copying culture, as a posture, is that it may well become all too successful. We end up creating an entire sub cultural world within which Christians comfortably move and have their being without ever encountering the broader cultural world they are imitating. We breed a generation that prefers facsimile to reality, simplicity to complexity (for cultural copying, almost by definition, ends up sanding off the rough and surprising edges of any cultural good it appropriates), and familiarity to novelty. Not only is this a generation incapable of genuine creative participation in the ongoing drama of human culture making, it is dangerously detached from a God who is anything but predictable and safe (Culture Making, p. 94).
2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2, NLT).
4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4, ESV).
Recently, I have become sensitive to the fact that when I receive, or I overhear someone else receiving, relationship advice—whether solicited or freely given—there rarely seems to be a difference between what is provided by professed Christians and non-Christians. This is extremely concerning to me, because when I read scripture, it seems to suggest that “how” Christians engage in love and relationship distinguishes them from non-believers (John 13:35; 1 John 3:14; Luke 6:31, 35; Matthew 22:37-39).
The relationship advice that I have most often received or heard from others does not align with my understanding of biblical love. In fact, it is extremely secular in its messaging—commodifying love. According to Marx, a commodity is a marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs. More precisely, commodities are typically goods and services that have little differentiation across a market—suggesting high substitutability between its suppliers. Bottled water is an example of a commodity. Another example of a commodity is oil. Given that the quality of such offerings are perceived similar regardless of the supplier, the majority of people typically purchase commodities from the supplier offering the lowest price. Thus, to commodify something suggests that it:
- Is acquired through a transactional process
- Is easy to acquire; therefore, easy to substitute (or replace) suppliers
- Is something that often serves a utilitarian function—often meeting a short-term need
If adhering to a historical materialist’s perspective, we can see how our society encourages us to treat love as a commodity. Historical materialists believes that there is a close and complex relationship between the economic base or foundation of a society (e.g. feudalism, capitalism, and socialism) and its superstructure. A society’s superstructure consists of its “social arrangements and cultural practices” (Prasad, 2005). Economic determinism (when economy dictates society) is suggested to only occur when an economic base reaches an absolute stage of influence within a superstructure.
The United States economy predominantly operates under capitalistic philosophies; though, many of the recent governmental policies reflect elements of socialist thought. I would argue that the inherent nature of our economic model encourages a mindset of commodification. We want to get the most perceived personal value at the lowest perceived individual cost. Thus, in our society, businesses often commodify its workforce and—I would argue—individuals often commodify their relationships. If relationships are treated as commodities, it is a natural progression for love to be commodified as well.
Possessing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, I can conceptually understand how the commodification of people can be perceived an effective business strategy for companies, though morally and ethically disagreeing with its application. Are we but cogs in the machine that when we wear out we should be replaced? Yet, if we are not biblically led in our decisions, then we can easily be influenced to make such depersonalizing decisions in our relationships. Too often, I hear people hesitate to say they love someone whom they are dating, yet immediately follow that comment by mentioning their love of the latest smartphone, tablet, or car. If we are not “taken in” by technology, maybe we instead speak for our love of food. Sadly, we can be more relational with “things” than we are with people. Marketers have done an exceptional job in convincing us that we have relationships with the products we buy. For instance, it is possible that people speak more to “Siri” to solve their problems than they do with other people. In the twisted truth of the world, we are often relational with commodities, and treat relationships as commodities.
A commodification approach to people and relationships is easily adopted when people only make decisions for their own short-term, self-interest. However, my understanding of what constitutes biblical love and Christian relationship is the antithesis of such an approach.
The Law of Love and Its Fulfillment through Jesus – Not Us
Love cannot be treated as a commodity as a Christian because we cannot afford the love of our Savior—and it is His love that we need. Our Lord covers the cost of our salvation because we could not—He having to love us first (John 3:16; 1 John 4:19).
8 God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, NASB).
We are told that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and if we do not love, then we do not know God (1 John 4:7). Given that Jesus is God, we, as Christians, should recognize that to know love, we must know Jesus. Further, if Jesus represents the manifestation of perfect love, then His actions and behaviors are fully representative of loving action. Rationale for this claim is given additional support in that “love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10, NASB),” and Jesus perfectly fulfills the law. Moreover, Jesus tells us that:
20 “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you, 21 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:20-21).
How Jesus Loves Others in Relationship – And Our Model to Follow
Realizing that Jesus is the manifestation of perfect love, we must come to also realize that love is not just a warm and fuzzy emotion. Love requires selfless relationship (John 15:13; Romans 13:10), and community that is focused on serving (Colossians 3:23) and worshiping God (Colossians 1:16; Isaiah 43:7, 21, 25; 48:10-11).
What makes Christians different than non-believers, is that we are not focused on our own needs, for we trust that God will meet them (Romans 8:32; Philippians 4:19).
In the following scripture from the Gospel of Matthew, we can see that biblical love requires us to also engage in loving relationship. Love and Christ-like relationship are intertwined:
37 Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Jesus models for us how to love God with all of our heart and all of our soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And as our intercessor with God, He gives Christians a new commandment:
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Thus, to engage in and maintain Christ-like relationship, we must love as Christ loves–exhibiting biblical love. These two aspects of Christian living are interdependent of one another, and maturity in both leads us to progress through the process of Christian sanctification. While we will never reach a state of perfection in this fallen world, the sanctification process helps us better serve as ambassadors for Christ–He becoming more as we become less (John 3:30).
COMPARING A CHRISTIAN APPROACH TO A COMMODIFICATION APPROACH
We have now briefly examined and established an outline of what constitutes commodified love and biblical love. Moreover, we have looked at the significant correlation between exhibiting biblical love and maintaining Christ-like relationships. In this section, I attempt to illuminate points of contrast between a commodification approach and a biblical (Christ) approach to love and relationships. The below figure (click on the chart to enlarge) helps summarize differences between these two contrasting conceptualizations of love and relationship.
While we will not systematically expand on each of the bullets within the comparative lists above, it is apparent that if the above conceptualizations are accurate, then a Christian conceptualization of love and relationship highly contrasts that of commodification. Yet, having noted that we live within a fallen world, full of temptation and sin, it is important to consider some of the various ways we can succumb to a commodification approach of [self] loving and [ruining] relationship.
SELF-DECEPTIONS LEADING TO COMMODIFICATION
As we proceed, it is important to note that there is nothing shared within this writing that I would claim to be exhaustive (complete). There are infinite ways that any of us can succumb to a commodification mentality of [self] love and [ruined] relationship. The below categories have been chosen as examples of self-deception because I have been both guilty of succumbing to these practices, harming others in their applications; incurring pain and grief as a victim from these same practices when adopted by others, and applied in their relationships with me. Not one of us—myself included—are innocent of failing in how we love and maintain relationship if claiming a Christian conceptualization of such things. Self-deceptions motivate us to place faith in ourselves, treating faith as a mirror instead of a window:
Faith, likewise, is about two people engaging in a trust-based relationship. Faith functions in a human life like a window functions in a home. A window is not something you hang on a wall to be looked at like a picture, but a space to be looked through at the beauty outside. A window is not beautiful in itself, and staring at one without looking through it misses the point. Likewise, faith in and of itself is never the end goal. I don’t think of myself as “a person of faith” but as a follower of Christ—and that act takes faith…
…Faith like prayer, should be a way of connecting with God. I have talked with many spiritually seeking people who are struggling to find satisfaction because they are using the window of faith more like a mirror. They have caught sight of their own reflection in the window glass and have forgotten to adjust their depth of focus, to look beyond themselves to see the beauty that surrounds them—the beauty that is God. Today there are many books, seminars, and courses [commodities] available that will only encourage this tendency to use the window of spiritually more like mirror, and many of them are very popular. After all, aren’t we our own favorite subjects? But faith is too precious to be cheapened by narcissism (The End of Religion, pp. 46-47).
Again, as stated earlier, when we consider love and relationship to be short-term, self-serving ends—we treat them as commodities.
Self-Deception: Following the False Wisdom of Worldly Fear
There are numerous passages of scripture that suggest to us that, as children of God, we should not allow worldly fears to lead our actions:
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (Proverbs 23:4, ESV).
11“In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11, NASB)
10 “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB).
Sometimes I think that people misconstrue the wisdom shared from Proverbs 22:3 (ESV), which tells us that “the prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” It seems that people confuse the word “danger” for “fear.” However, if reading another translation of this verse, you can see that this is not necessarily an accurate assumption:
3 “The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naïve go on, and are punished for it” (Proverbs 22:3, NASB).
While we should hide from evil, evil is not inherently “fear.” Instead, hiding ourselves in fear can lead us towards evil, by moving us further away from good. There are times when opportunities are afforded us to welcome blessings into our lives, and we are fearful. These opportunities could be new relationships with loving people, career opportunities that allow us means to better provide for our families, etc. Yet, there is fear because there is always a level of risk in change. For me, fear has made me overly cautious at times; leading me to hesitate in embracing opportunities my Lord has led me to pursue. When failing to trust Him, and looking to my own means, these opportunities were temporarily taken away; delaying the blessings He has for me much like He did the Israelites—punishing me for my lack of faith to trust in His good gifts (Deuteronomy 1:25-40). We are to listen to His Word (2 Timothy 3:16; Joshua 1:8), Trusting in Him with all our heart:
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Worldly fear is not from God, and being indwelt with the Holy Spirit, we possess the power to overcome its influence:
7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).
Therefore, based on the above, we must be focused on the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ; placing faith and trust in His love for us. Without hope and trust in his love, we will assuredly focus on the fear instead. When focused on God, Peter was capable of walking on water in the midst of a massive storm. Yet, as soon as his focus changed to his environment and circumstances, he began to sink:
22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. 23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. 24 But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matthew 14:22-33).
John Ortberg, in If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat, provides more commentary on Peter’s experience with Fear, and expands on it:
While Peter’s mind was focused on Jesus, he was empowered to walk on the water. But when his focus was on the storm, his fear short-circuited his ability to receive God’s sustaining power.
Hope got Peter out of the boat.
Trust held him up.
Fear sank him.
Everything hinged on whether he was focused on the Savior
or on the storm.
There is a condition of the mind that is essential for us to live the kind of lives we are longing for. Call it hope, trust or confidence. It is the single greatest difference between those who try and those who give up. When it is lost, like Peter we are sunk. Don’t look down. …When we become more focused on the overwhelming nature of the storm than the overwhelming presence of God, we are in trouble. The Bible speaks of this often in terms of “losing heart.”
Whenever Jesus calls someone to get out of the boat, he gives the power to walk on the water. Remember St. Jerome’s words: “You command, and immediately the waters are solid.” He never calls people to sink. It will surely happen sometimes—but it is not his intent; his call is never a set-up for failure.
Moses sent out twelve scouts to explore the Promised Land, to look at their enemies—people who defied God. Ten came back and said, “The people there are giants. We’d better turn around and go home.” Two—Joshua and Caleb—said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
All twelve looked at the same land, faced the same situation, and reached two diametrically opposed conclusions.
A young shepherd boy brought supplies to his brothers, who were serving in the army. The great champion of their enemies, a giant named Goliath, a character out of the World Wrestling Federation, was taunting them. All the soldiers saw him and were too terrified to challenge him; they lost heart. David saw him and went after him with a slingshot.
Jesus and the disciples were in a boat when a storm came up. The disciples were so frightened, they were convinced they were going to die; crying out in panic, they lost heart. Jesus sat in the same boat, rode out the same storm—and took a nap.
In all these stories, two sets of people faced exactly the same situation. They scouted the same Promised Land, faced the same enemy, endured the same storm. Some responded with peace, some with panic. Some lost heart, and some took heart. Don’t look down (pp. 157-158).
This is a common self-deception—we all succumb to it at one time or another. Fear leads us to look inward when we do not trust in the love of our Lord. If Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, then we should trust in His perfect love. And if trusting and resting in His perfect love, we shall not fear:
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18, NASB).
Thus, as we continue down the path of sanctification, growing in our ability to engage in biblical love and relationship, fear will lose its grip on our hearts and minds. We will abide in our Lord, desire what He desires, and receive His blessing:
7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7, NASB).
If you would like to read more focused and thorough examinations on fear, feel free to read these prior blog postings:
Self-Deception: Creating a Cocoon of Comfort
Let us consider the story of David, his act of adultery with Bathsheba, and his complicity in the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11:1-27, NASB):
1 It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
2 Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. 3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house. 5 And the woman conceived; so she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.”
6 Then David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 When Uriah had come to him, David asked how Joab was doing, and how the people were doing, and how the war prospered. 8 And David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah departed from the king’s house, and a gift of food from the king followed him. 9 But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10 So when they told David, saying, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Did you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?”
11 And Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.”
12 Then David said to Uriah, “Wait here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 Now when David called him, he ate and drank before him; and he made him drunk. And at evening he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
14 In the morning it happened that David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die.” 16 So it was, while Joab besieged the city, that he assigned Uriah to a place where he knew there were valiant men. 17 Then the men of the city came out and fought with Joab. And some of the people of the servants of David fell; and Uriah the Hittite died also.
18 Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war, 19 and charged the messenger, saying, “When you have finished telling the matters of the war to the king, 20 if it happens that the king’s wrath rises, and he says to you: ‘Why did you approach so near to the city when you fought? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? 21 Who struck Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Was it not a woman who cast a piece of a millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you go near the wall?’—then you shall say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.’”
22 So the messenger went, and came and told David all that Joab had sent by him. 23 And the messenger said to David, “Surely the men prevailed against us and came out to us in the field; then we drove them back as far as the entrance of the gate. 24 The archers shot from the wall at your servants; and some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.”
25 Then David said to the messenger, “Thus you shall say to Joab: ‘Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another. Strengthen your attack against the city, and overthrow it.’ So encourage him.”
26 When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. 27 And when her mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.
David is referred to in scripture as being a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), yet, he commits adultery with Bathsheba; compounding the sin by murdering her husband—and his loyal servant—Uriah the Hittite. As fear can turn one away from focusing on God, so too can comfort. At this time, David has been blessed with success after success. The Lord has placed him as King of Israel. While David receives this authority because he will do all that the Lord commands (Acts 13:22), he begins to focus on his blessings rather than his God who provides his blessing. Rather than see the challenge and responsibility that accompanies the authority granted Him by the Lord, he begins to abuse his authority. First, he does not lead the Israelites in battle. Second, while his kingdom’s soldiers are away, he succumbs to the temptation to commit adultery with the wife of a soldier (Uriah the Hittite).
Based on what is communicated in scripture, David’s actions suggests that he initially views Bathsheba as a commodity, lusting after her physical beauty. He seeks physical pleasure during that moment, and seizes it—treating her as though she is an object to be used. Similarly, he treats Uriah as a commodity—a soldier that was expendable so as to hide his shame. It would be safe to claim that David was not abiding in the Lord (John 15:7) during this time. His focus was on His wants, rather than needs. He began to listen to the call of the flesh, of the world:
15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world (1 John 2:15-16).
Commodities make life more convenient; serving a specific purpose [Bathsheba]. If a commodity becomes inconvenient, or no longer serves a useful purpose—or can be replaced—then we dispose of it [Uriah]. How does this resemble the love Jesus shows for us? (John 15:13):
8 God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, NASB).
Jesus also commands us to “treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31). If I was a loyal servant such as Uriah, I do not believe that I would want to have my king commit adultery with my wife, then send me to the front lines—intending, and succeeding, in my death. This leads us to consider the following question:
Should we treat others as commodities to bring ourselves comfort, when we would not wish for others to treat us as commodities?
While this sounds as if it is an argument for love to be transactional, it is not. What this suggests is that we should always focus on doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord; loving Him and others—following Jesus’ example. We can only control our own actions towards others—not their actions towards us. That is our responsibility. Further, if we believe in our Lord, then we can take solace in the following promise:
32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
39 And He also spoke a parable to them: “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? (Luke 6:32-39)
The Lord is a loving God, and a forgiving God; yet, He is also a just God. The unrepentant receive the punishment deserved because they deny the love of the Lord to take on the consequences of their sin. Further, they fail to walk in His ways. As suggested by Christ’s parable above, whether they follow their ways or the ways of another, they are both blind to the light of His way. We all need to beware the temptation to become complacent, and allow comfort to lead us into a self-serving mindset—one where we commoditize love and relationship; taking what is not our’s from avarice and greed, rather than accept the blessings given.
Self-Deception: Establishing Social Networks over Social Communities
As perceived blessings can quickly transition into legitimate curses, let us consider the various social networks that are available to those living in the United States and other technologically developed countries. Social and business network sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ are tools that allow us to remain connected with people we meet across the globe. The communication capabilities provided by these tools make the world smaller. Though, in expanding our reach, many of us fail in properly investing in those intimate relationships we possess with a select few—spouses, family, and friends.
These social networks are the epitome of effective marketing that targets our favorite subject—us. Many of us assume these networks are free to use, as we do not need to pay monthly fees for access. I would argue, however, that based on how many people utilize these tools, there is a significant cost attributable to them. I would suggest that many people sacrifice intentional relationship for superfluous “social diversion.” Further, much of that social diversion serves as a band aid for the insecurity that resides in every one of us. Let me explain.
Before the age of social networks and email, people needed to be more intentional with their relationships. There was a time when it cost some serious money for a long-distance phone call. Moreover, people would actually sit down and write letters to one another—using a service that is now referred to as “snail mail.” As communication over distances was more time intensive and costly (financially), I would argue that people reserved such investment for those people that were family, or fell within their legitimate circle of friendships. Based on time alone, our social circles during those times were assuredly smaller; however, I would argue that they were also more personally invested.
Facebook plays to our desire to have “community,” by calling those individuals we formally connect with on our network “friends.” There are individuals on Facebook with over 1,000 “friends” in their networks. How invested can anyone be with 1,000 other people? Are all of those people really friends? Is it even possible to maintain relationship with double-digit friends, let alone hundreds or thousands? As the Greek philosopher Aristotle has been credited to say, “A friend to all is a friend to none.”
For most people, I would suggest that most of their Facebook “friends” are, at best, friendly acquaintances. At some point in time, their lives intersected, and they were cordial—maybe even “hanging out” for a period. Some people may even call such people “friends for a season,” though I am not so sure that I agree with what seems an application of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 toward friendship—such an interpretive application seems to encourage the commodification of friendship to serve our needs. Rather I think the worldly definition of friends is extremely broad when compared to what scripture says regarding friendship.
From a biblical context, friends “love one another with a brotherly affection,” honoring one another by giving them preference (Romans 12:10). Friends (biblically) love at all times, including times of adversity (Proverbs 17:17). A friend will sometimes “take one for the team,” and conceal a transgression against them (Proverbs 17:9); though, confronting us when we engage in habitually destructive behavior (Proverbs 27:6), for “iron sharpens iron, as one man [friend] sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). And considering examples of loving friendship from the bible, such friends love one another as if they are from the same soul (1 Samuel 18:1-3), refusing to abandon one another (2 Kings 2:2), to the point of death (John 15:13).
Before his crucifixion, Christ refers to the disciples as his friends. These are men whom he invested in, providing them greater access in His life than others (Mark 4:34; Luke 9:18; John 13:1-20), rebuking [confronting] them when their actions warranted correction (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33; Mark 16:14; Luke 9:54-55), and died for them (John 15:13; Romans 5:8). And ultimately, as He died for them, many of these disciples became martyrs out of their love for Him. Are we willing to die for those on our Facebook “friends” list? Do we have the bandwidth to develop such deep and meaningful relationships when we focus on increasing the number of “friends” in our social networks? Proverbs 18:24 cautions us not to sacrifice close relationship for many superfluous ones, for “a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Facebook functions to provide a false sense of loving community when none exists for an individual. As more and more people fail to invest in meaningful relationships—surfing idly on the Internet rather than sowing loving relationship—Facebook is successfully becoming more entrenched in the lives of the majority. The network has embedded itself as a social structure within our culture, and it is oppressive. And we are thanking these companies for oppressing us!
These sites make revenue from advertisement sales. Given that sites like Google and Facebook have access to so much of your personal information, they can target these ads more effectively to potential consumers when compared to other services. We are telling these companies what we want—and they are accommodating it. Though, again, this is part of the problem. Needs are replaced by [selfish] wants, and relationships with others are neglected as we rest in the “virtual selves” we have manufactured on our Facebook (or other site’s) pages. Though much of the information out there suggests that depression is on the rise, we suppress that reality with thousands of pictures of ourselves smiling with “friends.” We post photos of ourselves (selfies) or random questions on our “wall,” counting each respective like and comment as “love” from others. Implementing a similar strategy as bloggers will do to increase their blog traffic, we respond with the hope that when we seek their “affection,” [likes/comments] these individuals will reciprocate [transactional].
That is the problem with “networks” versus “communities.” A network is centered on the individual—it promotes the individual as the center of his or her universe [profile page/wall]. Others can visit [as long as the individual allows them], but it is still that individuals universe. It is a false utopia of content control and manipulation—where we can convince ourselves that everything is well—even when it is not.
A business network tool, such as LinkedIn, is more overt about its self-serving intentions. People want recognition for their careers. They want to be associated with other ladder climbers—with “connections” usually serving as contacts. When a connection is made, the individuals perceive one another as valuable resources for career advancement [transactional/self-serving].
Often, when in a social or business network site, it seems that people will “defriend” or “disconnect” from those who are no longer viewed as an advantageous relationship. Basically, people function as parasites—feeding off of others—yet, do not wish for others to do so in kind; especially once those people secure for themselves position, power, or influence. This is the hypocrisy we indulge when we choose to solely look towards our own needs and not those of others. When we fail to treat others as we would want them to treat us (Luke 6:31), we are the hypocrites—and those achievements, recognitions, and successes that we obtain from being a hypocrite are typically nothing more than white-washed tombs.
It may come as a surprise for those who know my background how critical I can be of many marketing initiatives. At one time, I was a marketer. My research interests revolve around sponsorship and endorsement, because I am curious about how these marketing tools establish “relationships” with consumers. I seek to understand this “beast” (Revelation 13) of our time. Much of the marketing out there does great disservice to our Lord; manipulating society to overemphasize material goods and services—helping Satan sabotage that which should be sacred. Generally speaking, marketing supports the commodification of love and relationship.
In many ways, I see these social networks functioning in a manner mirroring the Tower of Babylon. Below, an excerpt from Communicating Wisdom speaks to how an enhanced ability to communicate can accelerate the advancement of evil if not focused on glorifying God:
Communication may well be our greatest tool. It can unite us or divide us. It can inspire unfathomable good or unconscionable evil (see Hitler). Communication allows there to be understanding among people. And when focused on the “Word of God,” universal communication (see the Great Commission; Matthew 28:16-20) can bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Is it any wonder that God created different tongues (languages) as humanity attempted to build a tower to the heavens (Genesis 11:1-9), following the “wisdom of the world?” Rather than obey Him, and fill the earth, humanity united to follow the path began by original sin—focusing on self-dependency rather than reliance on God. By limiting humanity’s ability to communicate, He limited its ability to conjoin to evil. The people of Babel had their focus away from God, and on themselves. They were seeking power. And God, like a loving parent, took away what they were not responsible to wield—the power available through a universal tongue—an ability to function as one body, with one mind. This “body,” was not the body of Christ, but the “body” of sin; being led by evil purpose. It did not have the mind of “Christ,” and resultantly failed in glorifying God. In so many ways, the Tower of Babel story warns against the pride and arrogance of self-reliant “group think.”
How we use these social or business networks is predicated on whether we focus our attention on Him or “us” (collectively). I would encourage you to consider viewing these networks as a “megaphone,” where one’s voice can be heard by more people—but what is the message you are voicing? When our worlds revolve around us (or our social network home page), our voice demands the attention from others to be granted access in it; though, our words have no power. If our voice, however, is focused on communal praise for our Lord with others, and meeting the needs of one another selflessly—there is great power in the Word. We can take joy that we bring our Lord glory.
29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29).
Therefore, rather than invest our time into building networks, we would be better served in using that time towards establishing healthy communities with other Christians. What does scripture say about Christian communities? Well, for one, a Christian community requires relationship with other Christians (Matthew 18:20). Moreover, we should embrace a culture of inclusiveness with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 12:16), realizing that while all of us are parts of the same body [of Christ], we often will serve different, complementary functions (Romans 12:4-5). Most importantly, we should love one another as Christ loves us (1 John 4:11; John 13:34-35); attentive to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:3); being humble, exhibiting sympathy and compassion towards one another (1 Peter 3:8).
Another important function of Christian community—and especially friendship—is to keep one another accountable to our claims as Christians, and encourage us to live in the light of our Lord through committed fellowship (1 John 1:7). The following section will speak to this important function of relationship further, as its absence can be promulgated with the next self-deception.
Self-Deception: Relationships without Refinement
Way too often, regardless of whether the person is a professed Christian or non-Christian, I have heard the phrase, “relationships are not supposed to be this hard.” Many times, these people are in the early stages of a relationship. Such scenarios sadden me because many lasting relationships—whether we are speaking about friends or potential spouses—begin with struggle. Should it not be expected that there will be struggles in any relationship? Is it realistic to believe that at some point that there will never be periods of struggle in our relationships with others? What two people are exactly alike? Yet, people “opt out” of relationships before ever taking the time to truly understand one another—or even trying to understand one another. Do we falsely assume that anyone that we allow into our lives should be perfect? If so, prepare for a lonely life…
We are being deceived to believe that everything in life should be instantaneous and easy. There are quick service restaurants when we need fuel on the go. Need insurance? Geico can “save you fifteen percent or more in fifteen minutes or less.” Esurance claims to be even faster. Going somewhere? We can make travel arrangements on the computer while enjoying a morning cup of instant coffee. No wonder we would expect to establish a perfect, loving relationship after a few dates, right? While there are dating sites out there that claim to have powerful match-making algorithms guaranteed to find us all perfect partners—if that were actually true, why would the pricing model for such sites be a monthly subscription?
My hope is that one day I will marry my best friend. Based on my understanding of scripture, it would be ideal for a spouse to be one’s best friend, as the word used for marriage in the bible means “fire.” Close relationships, whether it be our spouse or our friends [see prior biblical definition], serve to help refine us like gold tested in the blazing hot fires of a furnace (Sirach 2:5; 1 Peter 1:7), working to remove the dross [impurities/sin] from our nature (Isaiah 48:10; Jeremiah 9:7; Proverbs 17:3, 25:4)—a process of spiritual refinement Christians call sanctification.
If we “buy in” to the worldly wisdom that anything we need can be obtained quickly and with little cost, we shall be committing a grievous disservice to both ourselves, and anyone with whom we attempt to establish relationship. As mentioned earlier, Christians are called to love as Christ loves (John 13:34-35), and should want to grow in their likeness to Christ (John 3:30). Our closest relationships with fellow Christians, lovingly confront us with the Truth (2 Timothy 3:16; Joshua 1:8), so that we can walk in the Truth; following the Way to Life (John 14:6). Our broader Christian community—which includes our friends—should spur one another onto love and good deeds, serving as encouragement for one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). In addition to being an encouragement, our closest and dearest friends—those who are integral in our life and for whom we would be willing to die—are to also lovingly confront us when we need it. Tim Keller speaks to the necessity and value of lovingly confronting our friends in his book, The Meaning of Marriage:
“Christian friends are not only to honestly confess their own sins to each other (James 5:16), but they are to lovingly point out their friend’s sins if he or she is blind to them (Romans 15:14). You should give your Christian friends “hunting licenses” to confront you if you are failing to live in line with your commitments (Galatians 6:1). Christian friends are to stir one another up, even provoking one another to get them off dead center (Hebrews 10:24). This isn’t to happen infrequently but should happen at a very concrete level every day (Hebrews 3:13). Christian friends admit wrongs, offer or ask forgiveness (Ephesians 4:23), and take steps to reconcile when one disappoints another (Matthew 5:23ff; 18:15ff)” (p. 115).
Such friends are a heavenly blessing, for any such friend is lovingly putting the health of our relationship with God ahead of their relationship with us. Unfortunately, we must be receptive to proper and loving confrontation; coming from a place of humility. Otherwise, if residing in a prideful state of self-righteousness, we run the risk of being fools; rejecting both wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7), leading ourselves to ruin (Luke 6:49).
Thus, we must be careful of whom we call friends (Proverbs 12:26, 13:20, 14:6-7; 22:24-25), for “Bad company ruins good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).” And we must take heed not to be the fool when confronted, or be the friend unwilling to lovingly confront (Proverbs 27:5) with the Word of Truth when necessary:
2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction (2 Timothy 4:2).
Such relationship requires us to be accessible to our friends, so that we can speak into one another’s lives. This, however, is impossible when coming from a commodification conceptualization of practicing love and relationship. If we are the center of our universe, lost in our self-righteousness and pride, how can we be receptive to rebuke? If it is our universe, then we make the rules—we are the authority. Rather, we will defend our universe; raising our gates as if a castle under attack—treating those who love us the most as though they are our enemies—believing them replaceable. Though, defending ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ, fighting correction from the Word of God, invites destruction (Proverbs 17:19).
And how many of us take a “high gates” approach to conflict and confrontation? While people are more “connected” than ever before, how often do we “quarrel” behind the “high gates” of the internet? Instead of being accessible, and allowing the Lord to mediate conflict through His Word, are we placing jersey barriers along the information super highway–claiming it to be the lone detour for communication?
If claiming to adhere to a Christian conceptualization of love, then Friendships are not transactional; nor should we attempt to deny access and receive any correction that comes forth from loving and open relationships. Sometimes we are offered love when we do not want it—but need it. At times, we will need to remind ourselves that “better is open rebuke, than a hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5). Let us not be fools and refuse it; for true, biblical love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
It is my hope that what has been shared within this writing serves to encourage those who read it to consider how much our culture influences our behaviors. As mentioned at the beginning of this writing, too often I have either received or heard relationship advice given by fellow Christians that contradicts what I believe is communicated within the Word.
While we must be wise in the relationships we enter, and hold one another accountable to the Word which we profess to follow—we must exhibit better discernment on when it is appropriate to remove ourselves from relationships with others. First, we must make every effort to help our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ stay in right relationship with the Lord:
15 If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17, NASB).
Many Christians seem to apply this scripture to mean that we should abandon this individual—cut ties completely. This is the standard response I typically receive. Yet, given Christ’s interpretation of the greatest commandment—to love God and our neighbor—using the story of the Good Samaritan; are we not supposed to love everyone? And are many of us not Gentiles? My thought is that this scripture does not necessarily suggest we completely cut ties with this individual—especially if they are a friend or a loved one—but rather, that we change the nature of our relationship.
If someone claims to be a Christian, yet refuses to follow the Word [Christ] and serve as part of His body of believers, is that person truly a Christian? Christians are supposed to be distinguishable by how we love one another—our fruit (Matthew 7:16-17)—with selfless humility, regarding others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Though, without faith, we do not have a relationship with Christ; thus, we do not know Him; therefore, we do not know love. How then, can we love as He loves, given that we love because He loved us first (1 John 4:19)? Only those with faith will produce fruit. And if a branch does not bear fruit, shall it not be cut off?
2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit (John 15:2).
Therefore, would this not suggest that we treat that individual as a non-Christian, and that doing so is a loving action? To elaborate, we must not allow someone who does not adhere to the Word to remain integrated as part of the Church. If not “pruned,” this affects the ability of the tree [or body of Christ] to produce fruit. It introduces a divisive influence within the community, and we are to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NASB). Does this not make sense, as there is one Word—the Gospel—that allows for relationship, love, and salvation?
In such a situation, we love God through obedience and worship, focusing on His glory. Moreover, we love others, allowing for a stronger delivery of the Gospel message to those who may yet come to believe. Lastly, we love the individual who we remove from the Church.
In losing that community and relationship, it is like taking away from someone abandoned in the middle of the ocean access to a life preserver (Holy Spirit). If they had not truly been a believer—absent of true faith—they may have been holding onto someone else’s life preserver; though, in such a situation, their arms will eventually tire and they will drown. By removing that access early, they will fatigue more expeditiously, and hopefully will realize their need for their own life preserver (Holy Spirit). Thus, they can survive to be rescued from the ocean (Salvation). If one is already dead, though, how can they be rescued? We must allow this person to realize their need by allowing them to struggle.
This analogy suggests that if an individual realizes their need for Christ, and seeks to return to the Church, they will be welcomed back into community. In such a situation, they would once again be considered a brother or sister in Christ.
Though, sometimes I believe that Christians sometimes abandon the “sick or beaten” rather than the prideful or obstinate—those with burdens. We can confuse the two if we do not understand the individual–if we have never attempted to have real relationship with the person. And we are to be available and loving to the sick or beaten–not ostracizing (they’ll often, unfortunately, do that on their own). Instead of helping to carry their burdens (Galatians 6:2), we avoid them—passing by “on the other side” of the road—just as the Priest and Levite did with the half-dead man in the story of the Good Samaritan:
30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same” (Luke 10:30-37, NASB).
The Priest and Levite “passed by on the other side” because they were more concerned about remaining spiritually clean; rather than meeting the needs of the beaten man. They did not understand the “Law of Love” which fulfills the Law of Moses (Romans 13:10). As Christians, we need to ask ourselves if we are following the radical love of Christ, rather than a love of convenience—commodification.
Though, what about us? Do we not have needs as well? What allows us to take on the burdens of others?
For Christians, I believe that our needs are met through our faith in Christ via the Holy Spirit. It is the gift that allows us to love differently than non-believers; to endure and mature in that faith.
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5).
While Christ is enough, we as Christians—indwelt with the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, Ephesians 1:13, 2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 4:30)—function as His body on earth. And bodies function interdependently, as a unit. Therefore, when one part of the body is burdened, another part of the body provides support. And with our Lord as the head of the Church, we function to reflect His mind. We function as His hands and feet, we operate as an extension of His voice—His word—sharing His message of love and salvation with others; allowing those who hear His message the opportunity to accept and be filled with the Holy Spirit (see Figure 1—click on figure to enlarge).
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25, NAS).
And through faith in God’s grace…if pursuit of loving relationship requires us to endure suffering [tribulations], it shall only bring about perseverance, integrity, and hope in the promise of our Lord; knowing that all things will ultimately bring Him glory. Therefore, while the immediate and visible outcome of our loving others may not be noticeable, we can trust that He can use it for His glory. And, for us, in loving those with whom we have relationship—through various trials—we will be refined through the fires of sanctification; conforming to the example provided by our Lord:
1 My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. 2 Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity. 3 Cling to him, do not leave him that you may prosper in your last days. 4 Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient. 5 For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation. 6 Trust in God, and he will help you; make your ways straight and hope in him. 7 You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy, do not stray lest you fall. 8 You that fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost. 9 You that fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy (Sirach 3:1-6).