Friends. You may know that I’ve moved a lot throughout my life. Yet I’ve been fortunate at each new home to find one or two close friends. Many I’ve lost contact with, but I fondly remember their names and some of the things we did together.
Not every friendship ended well, though. In fact, some splits were downright painful and left me scarred and hesitant to trust again. It’s not that I didn’t want a good friend to watch a movie or go window shopping with. I just didn’t know how to differentiate between the safe friends and the, well, not-so-safe people around me.
Can we really tell the difference? What things should alert us to be on guard?
Gotta burst the friends bubble
I need to burst a bubble that many of us hold dear: While the church is a good place to look for quality friends, it is not full of safe people ready to be great companions.
Disappointed? Yeah, me too. But Jesus warned us that this is the way it would be. Let’s start with a parable He told in Matthew 13:3–9.
A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
A few verses later, Jesus explains the meaning of this parable to the disciples.
Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
This story is often used to describe why some within the church don’t act the way we think they should. But we forget to apply it more generally to the relationships around us.
2. Not all who have accepted Jesus and/or attend church regularly are learning from God, striving to follow Jesus, or listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
The parable is clear. Some of the people around you don’t understand what they hear at church or read in the Bible, and so Satan can snatch the truth away from them. Some only allow God to go a little bit into their lives, and so what they do grasp is easily lost in difficult trials. And some are so consumed with fear, worry, and greed that God’s truth has little chance of surviving their worldly focus.
While those people fill your local church, they are not people that you want to entrust your deepest fears and longings to. The ones you want to be on the lookout for are the good-soil people who take in God’s Word and are changed.
Unfortunately, it can be tough to tell the difference, which is why it’s critical to pray for good friends and proceed slowly into relationships, watching with God’s help for the fruit that only comes from people who allow God to work in their hearts and lives.
But there’s more danger
Unfortunately, we haven’t yet discussed all the people within the walls of the church. After Jesus explains the meaning of the seeds to the disciples, Matthew records another parable Jesus told in verses 24–30.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”
“An enemy did this,” he replied.
The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”
“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”
Satan, the enemy of our souls, has gone through the church and planted weeds. Sometimes these people look and act spiritual. Sometimes they are inspirational and proclaim things that sound appealing.
Our enemy is good at deception. Sometimes the Christians who fall prey to these weeds are new to the faith. Sometimes they lack the discipline to read God’s Word for themselves, or they negate its importance in our lives.
Paul gives us strict instructions to guard ourselves in Colossians 2:8. He says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”
Paul says that these people take all the focus off of Christ. Instead, they focus on “human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world.” What does that mean? Let’s look at other versions of the Bible to help us understand:
- J. B. Phillips New Testament: men’s ideas of the nature of the world
- Good News Translation: teachings handed down by human beings and from the ruling spirits of the universe
- Amplified Bible: the tradition [and musings] of mere men, following the elementary principles of this world
The Message might be my favorite translation of verses 8–10:
Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in Him, so you can see and hear Him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without Him. When you come to Him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.
Some of you are desperately seekly godly friendship, but balance your desires with wisdom. Keep aware of the enemy’s schemes so he does not outwit you (2 Corinthians 2:11).
This excerpt is from the Beyond Warrior’s Bride series.
Other Military Spouses: A Military Spouse’s Biblical Guide to Finding Great Friends
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