Book Notes: The Company We Keep by Jonathan Holmes

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the_company_we_keep_jonathan_holmes_cruciformFriendship. What comes to your mind when you hear that word? You might be painfully aware of your lack of friends. Or you may be grateful to be thriving in healthy, biblical friendships. Most likely, you find yourself somewhere in between these two options. You probably have some friends, some you might even consider close. You’ve experienced some of the challenges and joys of friendship. If you are anything like me, you’ve felt the need to be a better friend and have wondered if your friendships are all they should be, all that God desires them to be. If any of this fits your experience, The Company We Keep by Jonathan Holmes will help you better understand, pursue, and cultivate biblical friendships.

More than Fellowship

Holmes presents biblical friendship as something more than fellowship. It is certainly more than the general fellowship that describes almost every gathering of believers, especially when food is present. It is also more than that special sense of companionship and love believers share because of their unity in Christ. Biblical friendship is fellowship “taken to the next level and applied more personally…given added depth, refinement, and detail through active investment in one another’s lives.” (18)

Our understanding of friendship often lacks a biblical framework. Holmes provides an accessible biblical theology of friendship that fills in this gap. Our need and desire for relationships is rooted in the Triune nature of God—one God in three persons. We were designed to live in relationship with Him and with others. However, things are not the way they are supposed to be. The breakdown of humanity’s relationship with God in the Fall resulted in relationships that have become increasingly self-focused and that fail to reflect the glory of God. The only hope for our broken relationships with God and others is Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death brings about restoration and reconciliation in our relationship with God, which allows us once again to enjoy friendship as God intended in the beginning.

This is what makes biblical friendship distinct from the world’s sentimental approximations [of friendship]: Jesus at the center. For not only is he the center, he also gives us the power to follow his example and befriend others. This embodied friendship, centered on Jesus, flows out into every area of life. Friendship ceases to be primarily something we do, and instead it transforms into something we become as we follow Christ. (25-26)

Biblical friendship, according to Holmes, is fundamentally Christ-centered. He provides the following definition:

Biblical friendship exists when two or more people, bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, pursue him and his kingdom with intentionality and vulnerability. (27)

If Christ is not at the center this vision for friendship falls apart. But when He is at the center, we can enjoy friendship as God designed it and experience His purposes in it as we befriend and are befriended.

Biblical Friendship as a Spiritual Discipline

Biblical friendships do not happen by accident, they must be pursued and cultivate over time with intentionality. Furthermore, biblical friendship must keep the proper focus on seeking the good of others and the glory of God. In this way, biblical friendship is a spiritual discipline. Rather than pursuing the spiritual discipline of friendship, Holmes reveals how we often settle for relational substitutes. He points out three prominent ones: social media friendships, specialized friendships, and selfish friendships. It is key to realize that these substitutes can be enjoyed on some level for some period of time, but they always fall short of God’s design for our friendships. Far too often they produce friendships that are temporary, shallow, and self-centered. The problem with accepting substitutes is we eventually become like them—shallow and selfish.

Rather than dismissing social media and share interests, Holmes argues that these can be “helpful contexts and tools to help facilitate friendship.”

Truly biblical friendship is embodied in the Trinity, empowered by Jesus Christ, and intended as a spiritual discipline among God’s people for the purpose of glorifying him. (41-42)

Holmes gives a refreshing and realistic picture of what it means to develop biblical friendships. It takes time, patience, intentionality, vulnerability, and grace. For many this develops around a shared interest—sports, literature, background, work, etc… However, friendship is more than just proximity to another person and shared interests. Holmes argues that biblical friendship is a discipline that requires investing time wisely, having the right attitudes and goals, and creating contexts for having redemptive, sanctifying conversations.

One of the most encouraging and challenging aspects of this book is its call to pursue more redemptive, sanctifying conversations. Biblical friendship is simply not possible without them. Speaking truth in love—candor—is an indispensable mark of friendship. While proximity, shared interests, and friendly conversation are important in building friendships, they do not go far enough. If our goal is to glorify God and to seek the good of our friend, then we must go beyond the surface-level, happy talk that defines many Sunday morning conversations. In essence, Holmes is arguing for friendship as a means to our sanctification—becoming more like Christ.

Biblical friendship is forged through willing sacrifice, a desire to go beyond a habit of happy talk into a culture of caring confrontation, a place where sanctification can flourish. (70)

Biblical Friendship Within the Church and Before a Watching World

Another valuable takeaway from The Company We Keep is its vision for the role biblical friendship plays within the purposes of God. Holmes draws from Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 to show that biblical friendship is the enjoyment of the unity Jesus established for us by his death on the cross. In Christ we share in the unity of our Triune God.

Our unity is a reflected unity, an image of the Trinity’s perfect and eternity unity. And our unity is a redeemed unity, a unity granted to us through Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, by which he brought sinners like you and me into his family. (95)

In short, biblical friendships flow out of the gospel and, in turn, bears witness to unity within the body of Christ and the power of the gospel before a watching world. Within the church, biblical friendships are a means of gauging the health of the church. Before a watching world, biblical friendships expose the relational substitutes of the world and reveals the power of the gospel that reconciles us to God and one another.

There is much more that Holmes provides in this short, yet rich book on biblical friendships. He covers the marks of a biblical friend, provides sound wisdom to guard against stumbling blocks in building friendships, and answers a number practical questions in the appendix.

Biblical friendship is more important, difficult, and rewarding than you probably think. But don’t take my word for it, pick up a copy of The Company We Keep and see for yourself.

Jonathan Holmes, The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship (Minneapolis: Cruciform Press, 2014).

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