There comes a time in every young man’s life when he looks over at the certain special someone that he’s had his eye on and begins to think about whether he can take things to the next level. He wants to be more than casual friends, so he wrestles together enough courage to text “R U my appendix? Cuz u give me a funny feeling that makes me want 2 take u out.” If things don’t go well, he ends up in the dreaded “friend zone,” rejected. But that’s not what I’m contemplating today. No, I’m going to bastardize the concept of the “friend zone” into a new context—the church.
Who do you love?
Everyone knows we’re supposed to “love your neighbor,” whom we often take to be the people around us who need good news and mercy. But surprisingly, the Bible seems to suggest that the love Christians have for each other is prior to the love we should show to the rest of the world.
- “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
Jesus had said the first commandment was the shema from Deuteronomy 6; “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” According to Jesus, the second commandment was “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 6:34). So the commandment to love one another was truly new—and the implication was clear that there is a certain priority to love of the fellow believers in Christ. This order is echoed in Hebrews:
- “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” (Hebrews 13:1-2a)
What does this have to do with the friend zone? Well, I think a fatal flaw churches can stumble into is getting worked up over service projects and community engagement before they have a foundation of love among the brothers and sisters. If you’ve spent any time in the American institutional church you know this—the relationships can be so superficial that you are closer to your coworkers than the people at church.
There are easy tests of closeness that make this obvious:
- If you needed to borrow $500 with no questions asked, who at church could you ask?
- If you were stuck at the airport at midnight because your ride broke down, who from church would you call?
- If your house had a fire, who from church would take you in immediately? For a month?
- When your marriage starts to tank, who from church are you going to talk to?
- Who from church has the right to confront you without fearing defensiveness and back talk?
Move past the friend zone
I could go on and on…the point is that there are “friends” and then there are brothers and sisters. There are people you kind of know and then there are people who know all about you. There are acquaintances you might lend a hand and then there are people you’d literally die for. In our churches, we shouldn’t just slide people into a “just stay over there and we’ll be polite acquaintances” category. Although it’s weird in individualist America, we need to get past the friend zone and take our relationships to the next level. Haters may criticize, and after all the early Christians were accused of incest for calling each other brother and sister, but ultimately this is the new command Jesus gave; love one another. Right after that he said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I think he has the order right.
How do you push past the “friend zone?”