Results tagged “friendship” from Reformation21 Blog

The Friendless Flatterer

One of the most publicly and socially acceptable sins is flattery. That's why it is also such a dangerous sin. Consider this Yiddish proverb: "Flattery makes friends and truth makes enemies." But the friends made by flattery are not worth having at all.

True friendship comes through hard work, but so many of us are too easily satisfied with false friendship, the easy type of friendship that doesn't require too much of us (Jn. 15:13).

There is a game that has to be played in the church in the interests of personal advancement. Very often, a flatterer is a "friend" who, to quote Aristotle, "is your inferior, or pretends to be so." 

Aristotle makes an important point: the flatterer should be your inferior, but almost always the flatterer is simply pretending to be so in order to get something from you. Flattery is selfish. It pretends to give, but in actual fact it takes, abuses, and controls. 

Flattery is also so easily received. We love a good compliment, and will even believe a lie because of our pride. Spinoza said that "none are more taken in by flattery than the proud, who wish to be the first and are not." 

Flattery is complimenting others to make yourself more likeable and perceptive. It is a form of lying. It breaks several commandments, especially the 6th, 8th, and 9th. Flattery is a form of manipulation that has selfishness written all over it. 

Job's friend would not use flattery towards any person (Job 32:21). He'd probably lose his job in an organization where flattery can often not only be expected but demanded by the culture created by those in power.

People even retweet compliments made about them. Imagine that. It really happens. Maybe Ps. 12:3 or Prov. 27:2 would be good devotional reading before surfing the web? 

There are solutions. Ask God to give you a handful of true friends, the types who will take Prov. 27:6 seriously. Ask God for friends who believe the promise of Prov. 28:23, as well as the warning of Prov. 29:5. Because, after all, there's a big difference between these types of friends and the friendships that are made for "political" purposes.

When the going gets tough, the flatterer gets going: he leaves you in your pit of despair so he can prey on someone else who will feed his evil desire. 

I think - and this is very sad - there are many people who just don't have any friends. They may be generally well-liked in public, but they don't have friends who will tell them what they need to hear. They've placed themselves in positions where they simply only hear "yes". 

Christ did not flatter his friends while he was on earth (Matt. 16:23; Lk. 24:25), and he doesn't do so now in heaven (Rev. 3:19).   

Christian love always places Christ between me and the other person. It prevents me from having an unmediated relationship with the other. When I long for an unmediated relationship with the other - a relationship where Christ is is not between us - I always dominate and manipulate. I long for praise and I refuse to receive a rebuke. I manipulate the other and impose my will upon him/her. I use the other for my own evil devices. Without Christ's mediation, all relationships unravel and end up with me as the only one worthy of praise and adoration. This is why flattery is so evil: it severs Christ from the other and prevents the other from addressing me in him.

"My Spouse is My Best Friend"

Answering who is your best friend is a little like answering who is your favorite character in the Bible. The rules of theology (rightly) demand that we answer the latter question with the name that is above every name. And the rules of society today seem to demand that we answer the first question with: "my spouse is my best friend". To deny this is to perhaps cast aspersions on the quality of one's marriage. 

Several years ago, if you asked me whether my wife is my best friend I would likely have been a little perplexed by the question. It seems weird to me, mainly because my wife belongs in a category that goes beyond friendship. How does a man compare his wife with several of his male friends, as if she is first but there is a second, or third best friend behind her? He doesn't. He shouldn't. We take away something from our marriages when we talk in this way, and we take away something from our friendships with people of the same sex when we speak like this. 

For me, I'm content to say: she's my wife (and all that that ought to mean as far as the Scriptures are concerned; see Eph. 5:22-33). 

As my Facebook friend, Peter Wallace, says: "It is only in the last generation or so that you will find people talking about their spouses as their 'best friends.' Until the late 20th century your best friends were all the same gender as you. I fear that the result of 'I married my best friend' is that most people do not have strong friendships outside of their marriage (which is disastrous for marriage -- since we need friends who know us well -- to help our marriage when we are in trouble). I wonder if anyone has studied the correlation between marrying your 'best friend' and divorce rates..."

Is Hallmark to blame? Is our increasingly effeminate culture to blame? I don't know, but I worry that men and women do not have strong friendships outside of their marriage, so their spouse wins by default. I don't want my wife to win because, well, I just don't have much to compare her with. I don't even want her in the "race", so to speak. 

Regarding the "effeminate" culture, I think we are almost becoming afraid to say we have close male friendships because that could be construed too easily as "gay." Little wonder that pro-gay apologists have read this into the relationship between David and Jonathan. There is such a thing as a wife-centered home, whereby the wife is doted upon hand and foot, and where men simply don't spend enough time with other men. Likewise, there is a man-centered home where the husband gets to spend (a little too much) time with the boys, but the wife is constantly left watching the kids. Both are harmful situations. 

In this world you are a blessed person if God gives you several friends, the type that stick closer than brothers (Prov. 18:24). Friends are gifts given by God to bless you, challenge you, support you, laugh with you, and counsel you. But they often do this in a very different way than your spouse. We're talking apples and oranges when we speak about how our spouses are friends to us and how others are friends to us.  

When I think of spending time with my best friends a quote from C.S. Lewis comes to mind: "My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs - or else sitting up till the small hours in someone's college room talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea, and pipes. There's no sound I like better than adult male laughter."

Or, similarly, Carl Trueman: "Drinking beer with friends is perhaps the most underestimated of all Reformation insights and essential to ongoing reform; and wasting time with a choice friend or two on a regular basis might be the best investment of time you ever make."

There's something else that strikes me as I think about this topic: when I'm around some of my closest friends, there is a sense in which my wife doesn't quite get how we talk and act the way we do. From her perspective, we're sometimes like immature kids, laughing our heads off about things she either doesn't understand or in which she fails to see the humor. Or she just isn't interested in some of the things we love. But, you see, that's the point: because of the radical differences between men and women, my wife isn't supposed to fully understand the nature and dynamic of my friendships with men. I only expect her to appreciate that they can give me something that she can't - and she can be content in that because God designed matters that way. I am more than happy to admit that her friends offer her something I can't. 

We also need to consider the context in which this "my wife is my best friend" comment is made. Usually it is on Facebook for others to see. I tend to get a little worried when some people feel the need to tell the world constantly they have a good marriage. I don't go on Facebook and talk about how my best friends are my best friends. We simply live and act in a way that displays that reality. Likewise, with my wife, if I need to tell the watching world she is my best friend, then perhaps she should get worried. Or she will think I'm up to no good ("what do you want?" or "what have you done?"). 

As a close friend said to me recently, "It is even odd to say that your wife is your best female friend. She belongs to a category entirely her own. She is sui generis! We have various kinds of friends with women, but we only have sex with our wife. That is a deal changer. We are far more guarded with other women, and rightfully so. Thus, the husband-wife relationship cannot be compared to any other human relationship. 'An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.' To speak of your wife in categories that apply to other relationships is to denigrate both her and others."

Let's try to remember, the issue isn't about the phrase itself; the issue is about the underlying issues and the problems in our culture. Men and women need best friends of the same-sex. I find it a real pity when the spouse takes the place of those necessary relationships. 

So if you ask me if my wife is my best friend, I would answer, "Of course not. She's my wife. Most of my best friends are balding."  

I Think I See a Bear


I've been AWOL again, and after only a few posts at that.  Our family moved.  It was just next door and downhill at that, but it was still a move.  I feel I should post about the obligatory things one posts about when moving:  too much stuff, lots of work, etc.  Instead, I'm reminiscing of my friend Derek Thomas.

We were in Fresno last year speaking at the California Conference on Reformed Theology.  Derek had the last session late on Saturday afternoon, then I whisked him away from his groupies--they can actually quote his sermons back to him from listening to so many MP3s.  We headed to Yosemite National Park in our rental PT Cruiser.  I was at the wheel and Derek was on the lookout for a bear.  We made it the park, forked over a significant amount of money just for an hour's drive, with Derek muttering about the merits of socialized leisure.  (Not really, he actually paid.)  We made it to Glacier Point just at sunset.  Both of us agreed it would have been better to have shared the moment with our wives, but as two theologians together we managed to enjoy the moment quite a bit.  Then we hopped back in the PT Cruiser and set out to find a bear.  We failed.  I finally suggested to Derek that he wrap himself in bacon and head off through the woods.  He pondered it for a moment before deciding against it.  We made it back to the hotel for dinner at ten, just in time to prepare for the Sabbath.

Moral of the story?  Whisk Derek away from one of the umpteen conferences he speaks at, telling him you know where he'll be able to see a bear.  Trust me, you'll have the time of your life.