In Ephesians 4:7-16 the apostle Paul communicates a vision of maturity that one New Testament scholar has summarized this way, “each member contributes to the growth of the body.”[i] This is the mystery of how God’s Spirit nurtures us as Christ’s body. If we are to mature it will be done in the company of others. It is truly a “life together” that God has in mind.
One of the concrete ways in which we can learn to live this “life together” amidst today’s individualistic culture is through the practice of friendship. Spiritual friendship does not naturally grow out of the fast-paced and competitive lives so many of us live. In reality, our professional priorities, and our household busy-ness many times stand against the cultivation of deep friendship. Yet it is in the conditions of lives shared, honored, and enjoyed—that is, friendship—that something of the Spirit’s nurturing grace is imparted to us. Eugene Peterson writes,
“Friendship is a much-underestimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy.”
In the 12th century classic Spiritual Friendship, Aelrid of Rievaulx remarked “Friendship heightens the joys of prosperity and mitigates the sorrows of adversity by dividing and sharing them. Hence, the best medicine in life is a friend.”
So, with whom are you traveling on this journey of growing up into Christ? Who are the people with whom you are learning to live a life together? Who are your spiritual friends?
[i] Clinton E. Arnold, Frank S. Thielman, S.M. Baugh, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Ephesians Philippians Colossians Philemon, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 26.