Romans, countrymen or friends? By Gary Clayton

Having got to a time in life when I’m beginning to think about my own mortality, I’ve started thinking about my funeral.

Ironically, it’s one of the rare occasions when people gather to say nice things about us but, sadly, we’re not even there to hear it!

It all seems a terrible waste, particularly if you’re the kind of person who’s a little insecure and could probably do with a bit of positive feedback!

So perhaps we ought to be a little better at providing friends and fellow believers with constructive comments while they’re still here to hear it.

I know one fellowship that does this quite well. Those who belong to a prayer group use birthdays as an opportunity to say what they like, appreciate or admire about the person who’s been granted another year of life.

They describe how they see God working in the person’s life, or relate something they’ve done that’s inspired or encouraged them. The aim is to highlight the qualities their friend has been given to equip God’s people for works of service, ‘so that the body of Christ may be built up’ (Ephesians 4:12).

Although this has the potential for embarrassment, it can also be quite moving. (I remember one occasion when someone new joined our group and said to the birthday boy: “I don’t know anything about you but, from what they’ve all said, you seem a nice person…”)

But making friends isn’t easy. Every day after school, I used to chat at the bus stop with a guy called Brian. One day, the timetable changed, and Brian’s bus no longer came before mine. But, when I tried to talk to him at lunchtime, Brian just walked away.

It turned out that the only reason he talked to me was because it gave him something to do whilst waiting for the bus. I thought Brian was my friend, but I was wrong.

To be honest, I’m not really sure how good men are at making friends. We can play sport, discuss politics, and deal with the surface things of life, but how well do we do when it comes to expressing our emotions, hopes and dreams? And yet the Bible is full of expressions of warmth, appreciation and emotion – from David and Jonathan, to the letters of Paul.

So there must be a better way. After all, the term ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ conjures up something a little more intimate than, say, ‘We the People’, ‘fellow stakeholders’ or ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’ – even though Romans is a book in the Bible, and it does make mention of Paul’s ‘dear’ friends, Epenetus, Ampliatus, Stachys and Persis.

And yet, at many churches, there can be a desperate attempt at avoiding any form of eye contact or physical affection whatsoever! A brief smile is sometimes as good as it gets.

On the other hand, if we’d seen some of our fellow believers celebrating an England goal during the 2018 World Cup, by means of shouts, hugs, cheers and much backslapping, we’d have witnessed something that was distinctly non Anglo-Saxon!

That said, affectionate friendships can only occur if we dare to go deeper; try to get to know one another better, and truly view fellow members of the congregation as family (Matthew 12:48-50).

But do we operate on a level deep enough to share our problems or bear one another’s burdens? Or are we only surface-level Christians, who merely discuss politics, religion, sport or work?

The Bible refers to us as living stones (1 Peter 2:5). But the whole point of stones is that, when placed one on top of each other, they remain where they are. They stick together! But are we being built into a solid spiritual structure, with Jesus as the Cornerstone – one that can withstand any storm – or are we more like Lego: brightly coloured bricks forever capable of turning into completely different structures?

So how should believing friends behave? According to Scripture, friends rejoice in our good fortune (Luke 15:6-9); strengthen one another (2 Corinthians 12:19); speak lovingly to one another (Philippians 4:1), and encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

They rebuke and advise one another (Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:9); exhorting each other to abstain from sinful desires, and make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace (1 Peter 2:11, 2 Peter 3:14).

They comfort one another (‘Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you’ – 1 Peter 4:12); stimulate one another to wholesome thinking (2 Peter 3:1) and, in the words of 1 John 4:7-11, ‘love one another’.

So why not give it a try? By doing so, we can build up the body of Christ and may even ensure that there’ll be one more person present to say nice things at our funeral.

Gary Clayton is married to Julie, and father of Christopher (15) and Emma (12). He is Copywriter and Editor at Mission Aviation Fellowship. To learn how MAF’s 131 aircraft serve some of Africa’s remotest and most isolated communities, visit www.maf-uk.org.

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