In an era of stark political division and social-media distraction, genuine friendship doesn’t come easy. Which makes it all the more urgent, says Nashville pastor Scott Sauls. In Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear (Tyndale), Sauls especially advocates taking risks in befriending people unlike ourselves. CT online managing editor Richard Clark recently spoke to Sauls about building God-honoring friendships.

Where do we go wrong in our ideas of friendship?

One of our biggest mistakes is to limit our circles to people who look, think, and vote like us. It minimizes friction and disagreement—but also the opportunity to grow, to learn, and to have our assumptions challenged.

We’ve also substituted digital connectivity for real, face-to-face, life-together friendships. This lets us give edited self-presentations, putting our best foot forward rather than allowing ourselves to be fully known. An essential aspect of community is having people know our best and our worst—our dreams and aspirations, but also our fears, insecurities, and failures.

What if we reach out in friendship to someone unlike us, but the other person resists?

You at least need the commonality of wanting friendship. David and Jonathan are a great example. One is a blue-collar tender of sheep, and the other is a prince. For friendship to happen, both parties have to be committed.

There’s a person in our church who has strong blue-state politics. He asked to be matched to a small group with a bunch of Republicans, because he felt that experience would be valuable. Two years later, he told me that people from that group are some of his best friends. They go on vacations together and do things together on weekends.

How should we approach relationships with people who have different religious or moral convictions?

For followers of Jesus, the way to engage across ethical differences is to love, even if we never get any love back.

A great recent example was what Chick-fil-A did in Orlando, after the Pulse nightclub massacre. For the first time in its history, Chick-fil-A mobilized its employees on Sunday. They showed up with a bunch of free food and lemonade as people were giving blood for the victims. Some received that well, and others didn’t.

But that’s immaterial. You love anyway, because Christ commands it. When he says, “Love your enemy,” he means people who don’t like you, people who oppose you. Look for creative ways to bless those who oppose historic Judeo-Christian convictions.

You question the notion of “deal-breakers” in friendship. Are there exceptions?

Outside of extreme circumstances, the only one who can sever the friendship is the one who isn’t following Christ. [Romans 12:18] tells us, “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” And Acts 2 says that the early Christians “were enjoying the favor of all the people.” Now, the glaring exception is if you’re putting yourself or others at risk of being abused, bullied, hurt, or oppressed. That’s where you draw the line and create some distance.

How can we recognize good friendship?

First, friendship is more like a covenant than a contract. Burden-bearing is part of the picture. You’re going to be supporting one another, carrying each other’s loads.

Second, there’s transparency—self-disclosure on a deep level. You know things about me that most people don’t, because I trust you not to punish me, not to exploit my weakness or vulnerability—but instead to love me.

Our ultimate purpose in connecting with one another is to get ourselves ready to meet Christ. Ephesians talks about the husband washing his wife with the Word of God, so that eventually he will present her “radiant and glorious to Christ.” That’s also one friend’s calling to another. I need to be pushing you toward the best version of what God has created you to be, and you need to be doing the same for me.

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Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear
Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear
Tyndale Elevate
240 pp., 10.43
Buy Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear from Amazon