Moving forward in our discussion on spiritual friendship through befriending the Church, Aelred says that spiritual friendships are the greatest joy we could possibly experience on this earth, coming only second to our friendship with God.
In case Aelred’s articulation of friendship hasn’t been radical enough, he takes this even a step further. He says that when everything regarding spiritual friendship is lived out to its maximum potential—that friends love one another with the self-sacrificial love of Christ, laying themselves down for one another, seeking Christ together, to which their friendship becomes the very means of discipling one another into his image—then spiritual friendships are a visible sign of God’s coming kingdom. It is through Christ-rooted friendships we get a taste of the unity, the charity, the goodness, and the love that will be found in eternity right here on this very earth.
The greatest of friendships is like heaven on earth.
Here’s the thing about heaven. We often get ecstatic about the paradise we’ll experience, and how much we’ll be able to relax, have fun, and eat as much food as we want, all to eternal and divine proportions that are simply unmatched to our earthly capacities. But I’m pretty sure there is more to heaven than that. Heaven isn’t just a divine vacation that lasts for eternity. Heaven isn’t our final destination for us to immerse ourselves in an unhindered yet purified version of our American consumerist ideals of what defines a good getaway from our “troubles” in work and home. That’s not the kind of paradise heaven is about.
Heaven is about God and his Church. It’s about us living in constant worship and edification of the Lord and Savior of the world who brought us to this final destination to begin with. And we get to participate in this glorious act of paradise-infused worship as the Bride of Christ, whom Jesus is so in love with he came to earth and laid his life down so we can spend eternity with him in community.
Salvation is a community-creating event. Heaven isn’t just about what we’re saved from, but what we’re invited to join: Eternal worship in community with the Bride of Christ. The eternal union that will exist with Christ’s Church in Paradise will finally be purified, with no barriers, no sin, no division, no split theological differences, no political debates, no age differences, no music preferences, no dress codes, no grudges, and certainly no overly-competitive church softball leagues to get in the way. We will be so close, so connected with a degree of intimacy that can only be remotely comprehended when we reach eternity because our self-sacrificial love will be so real.
That’s what our friendships within the Church will look like when we enter heaven during the Last Days.
But can you imagine what would happen if our friendships on earth were as those in heaven?
Can you imagine how we would be formed more into Christ’s image by utilizing the power of our friendship?
Can you imagine how newcomers to our congregations will feel when we long to see them connected into the body of Christ, and we reach out to become friends, because no one should be alone in the church—let alone in this life?
Even more so, can you imagine what the world will think of us when they see these unique and genuine friendships, which exist nowhere else outside of the church, at work in public?
We would literally represent heaven on earth.
This vision for what the church could be if we embraced this phenomenal depiction of friendship is what I call the BFFs Church. In fact, it is this point that has birthed the name of this blog and this project. It is in the church where friendships are truly the best, and literally last forever. Aelred says himself that these friendships are the greatest joy we could possibly experience on this earth, and they have eternity attached to them. No relationship gets much better than that.
But not only is spiritual friendship a sign of the kingdom to come. Aelred affirms that it is a sign of God’s loving presence in the world right now. Which is why Jesus says that the world will know him when we, as the church, as spiritual friends, LOVE ONE ANOTHER with the love he has for us.
This is what happens when we befriend the Church. This is the kind of human friendships we receive when we love each other as Christ loves us. This is the greatest connection we could possibly have with anyone in the world. And this is how we can remedy the loneliness epidemic, because how could we possibly want anyone who is living in isolation to not be a part of the community of friends known as the church, both now on earth, and for eternity in heaven?
It is ultimately through friendship people come to find salvation and life transformation. Only in the rarest examples does God choose to save someone in total isolation. Even if he does, it’s only a matter of time before he brings more people into his or her life to become grounded in his church-community. And it is an injustice for anyone to not be a part of this body; of this eternal friend group.
So I can’t help but ask…
When was the last time you sat down with a Christ-like friend and considered the eternal ramifications of your friendship? When was the last time you gathered with a Christian friend and recognized Christ’s real presence there in your midst?
If you’re like me, then probably rarely. If ever.
We don’t think this way. We have become so habituated with our surface level understanding of friendship as a nice benefit to increase our individual lives, or have been burned by so many “friends” who stabbed us in the back, that we can’t possibly wrap our minds around how exceptional, how sensational, how extraordinary friendships can become when we love each other as Christ loves us.
What would happen if we actually embraced spiritual friendship? Just as we need to start owning our relationship with God as a friendship, so we must—we must must must must must—start recognizing the depth and power of the friendships we have with other believers.
When friendships recognize these truths, then the bonds and community that take place will be unfathomable. They will completely obliterate the expectations of modern day friendship, because they’ll be based on a depiction of relationships that goes beyond this world.
But all this goes even further yet. Just as spiritual friendship becomes the visible sign of God’s coming kingdom, it always becomes the very means to reaching our lost and lonely world and inviting them into God’s eternal friend group.
It is to the missional nature of friendship we now turn.