Perhaps you nodded at the suggestion that Christians should apply the Bible in community. Agreement might fire the engines, but it doesn’t get you off the runway. How can our friendships grow so that Bible application is natural? How can we get this plane in the air?
When talking about community, many Christians focus on accountability. But Christian friendship doesn’t start (or stop) there. Let me offer four resolutions toward developing helpful, God-glorifying relationships.
Resolve to Spend Time with People
To apply the Bible in community, you must be in community. This goes beyond becoming a member of a good church. You need to know other Christians and you need to be known by others. When Paul writes about the church using the metaphor of a human body (1 Cor 12:12–27), he emphasizes how the parts of the body need each another (1 Cor 12:21–22).
This need is more than a physical or social dependence. We are to bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2), forgive one another (Col 3:13), confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), love one another (Rom 12:10), and speak truth to one another (Eph 4:25).
These commands point us well beyond handshakes and saccharine smiles on Sunday mornings. We need to pursue deep, honest friendships with other Christians. Relationships with other sinners—though messy—are worth pursuing because God commands them and they are designed for our benefit.
Resolve to Ask Questions
My treasured friends, the ones who have had the greatest spiritual impact on me, are the ones who excel at asking questions. When they see me caught in a sinful pattern or spiraling downward in my thoughts, they adopt a holy refusal to leave me alone. They ask me questions to help me think through my behaviors, thoughts, and relationships in the light of the gospel. Such questions are uncomfortable, but they help uncover my sin and point me toward Jesus. Don’t you want to be this type of friend? I sure do!
The good news is that we can all become friends like this. Start with a tiny question: why? Why was that disappointing? Why did you enjoy that? Why did you respond to her that way? It seems like you’ve been withdrawing recently; why is that?
Answering why questions can reveal your true hopes, fears, joy, and motivation. Even if you are not a verbal processor, you may get powerful clarity by speaking some thought you’ve been storing in your head. Friends can expose wrong thinking, a bent character, and errant behavior by asking these simple questions.
Why questions are not the only questions to ask, of course. As your relationship grows and you see the your friends’ struggles and tendencies, you’ll learn additional questions. You will notice the parts of their lives they don’t like to discuss. You will see how they respond to disappointment and criticism. Soaked in the gospel, your questions may be just the signpost toward hope that your friends need.
Resolve to Talk About God
I’ve seen too many Christians leave faith as an assumed-but-not-discussed topic between them. We can do better.
As you grow closer to other believers, you should care deeply about their walk with God. Their Christian discipleship is one of the most important qualities about them. So ask!
Here are some helpful questions to ask your friends: What has God been teaching you lately? How have you seen God work in your life over the past month? What are you reading in the Bible? What are you learning? What fruit of the Spirit have you seen God growing in you? How are you different from the person you were a year ago? These questions are like salt in your relationships. Don’t empty the whole shaker at once! But if you sprinkle them into your conversations, your friendships will have a richer flavor.
Though conversations like these might not feel natural at first, press through the awkwardness. You might even take the opportunity to discuss what sort of friends you want to be.
Putting it Together
So talk about the Bible with your friends. Tell them what God has been teaching you and how you’ve been trying to apply it. Ask them the same.
And talk with your friends about your sin and areas of frequent discouragement. Tell them the ways you are struggling to trust God. Ask them the same.
Soon you will find that these discussions overlap. You’ll talk with someone about a passage of the Bible, and later in the month that same person will notice an area of your life that is begging for application of the same text. Applying the Bible in community isn’t one extra step to put at the end of your small group Bible study. It will happen naturally as you develop close, Christian friendships.
Resolve to Pray
Since our sin nature is opposed to these ideas of exposure, humility, and vulnerability, we need to pray! We must ask for God’s provision of good friends and for his help to be a good friend. By his Spirit, he needs to change us into people who embrace the faithful wounds of those who love us (Prov 27:6).