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Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. - Luke 5:18-19 (NLT)
Our era of technology and social media has created a new standard for connection: My best friend lives in Europe, and I still talk to her daily. I have real-life friends or acquaintances who I know solely because we somehow met through Instagram. There are also people I barely talked to in high school whom I may never see again, but who still know the general happenings of my life. Both a gift and a curse, our digital world has bent both our understanding and the reality of community.
If you’ve heard the story from this passage before, we usually highlight the dedication and desperation of this paralyzed man’s friends to get him to Jesus. As I read through this time, I noted their mutual commitment and wondered how they got to this point in the story. How long had this man been paralyzed? How long had his friends been supporting him?
We can obviously glean wisdom from the tenacity of faith from the paralyzed man’s friends. But if we are asking the question, “How can I be a good friend?” we have to recognize first that the depth of this friendship was possible because the paralyzed man was vulnerable. Whether he would have chosen that or not, his vulnerability made room for faith and for community. And that is where both being a good friend and keeping good friendships start for all of us: with true vulnerability.
Particularly with the rise of social media and the myth of online community, we have accepted a diluted vision of community that can fall short of what our hearts long for and what Jesus offered. True community requires vulnerability and accountability; it celebrates and grieves; it’s in the day-to-day and the crisis. If we want to be a friend like these in this passage and cultivate friendships that strengthen our faith, we can settle for nothing less than Jesus’ standard. And it starts with letting people into our mess and stepping into that of others.
Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” - Luke 5:20 (NLT)
One of my best friends serves as a missionary in Athens, Greece. As I mentioned yesterday, the grace of technology enables us to keep in touch every day with lengthy voice messages about the trivial or crisis or anything in between. Countries away, I’ve gotten the privilege to partner with her in prayer in the moments where she or one of the people she serves needed a miracle, and she’s done the same for me. And I’ve gotten to watch the Lord work miracles in her life and those around her, big and small.
As Jesus followers, the reality of our faith should shape the purpose of our friendships. We are reminded throughout Scripture that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) The paralyzed man’s friends in this story were not contented to merely love him and support him—they took him to the Healer. They acted with bold faith. They came before their Savior with faith for someone who may not have had it. And it was their faith for their friend that moved the heart of Jesus.
As recent as last week a friend encouraged me by saying, “Even if you don’t have faith for yourself, I have faith for you.” That is not just a sweet reminder, but a truth I need championed over me regularly. Knowing the reality of a spiritual battle happening around us should move us not only to a willingness to ask for help, but to go to battle for and with one another. Our community is not simply our friends, but our prayer partners and our crutches. When we pray fiercely, fight for truth in our friends’ lives, and have people who will do the same for us, we recognize a picture and a testimony beyond ourselves, and that is the Kingdom of God.
And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!” - Luke 5:25-26 (NLT)
I’m very close with my cousins, and when we were young, there was a Christmas where someone received an American Idol Karaoke game for PlayStation 2, and gosh did we wear it out. Despite my complete lack of musical ability, I’ve always loved music and was convinced I could sing (I could not and cannot). My cousin Katie, however, has a beautiful voice, and would rightfully beat me at this game every time, and I was insanely jealous. I have long realized my musical inadequacy and given up my singing dreams, but Katie still has the voice of an angel and a heart for worship that I appreciate deeply.
We all are prone to jealousy, perhaps even more with the people we’re closest with. We have tendencies to compare, to let other people’s victories stir our discontentment.
In this story, the paralyzed man’s friends were not only there in his pain; they were his biggest cheerleaders in the Lord’s victory in his life. And while some people are naturally gifted with this, I don’t think I’m alone in saying it’s a discipline I have to work on. Sometimes it’s much easier to grieve with someone than to celebrate them.
We may compare ourselves to others’ income bracket or home or car or closet. We may wish our family looked more like theirs. We may watch our friends receive the very blessings we’ve been praying and hoping for ourselves, and it can all feel like a slap in the face.
But God does not love you differently because your story looks different. He came to give life abundant (John 10:10), which means there is no “less than” and no scarcity. We don’t have to fight over “enough.” But we do have to embrace our own story. Genuine gratitude frees us up to celebrate what God is doing in others’ lives because we can embrace what He’s doing in our own, even if it looks different. Our testimonies are loudest when we cheer together.
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. - Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT)
There’s a myriad of reasons our highly individualistic culture doesn’t foster community well, but maybe one of the biggest, particularly for younger generations, is our inability to commit. In the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of “FOMO”—Fear Of Missing Out—which keeps us hopping from activity to activity and from person to person trying to find what makes us happiest, fearing there’s a better experience or friend group we will miss out on.
Faith is an incredibly commitment-oriented thing. Following Jesus requires full dedication, and part of that is living into community with the same conviction and intentionality. Scripture assumes that community is a part of our faith walk, and it offers plenty of wisdom how to live well with one another. This passage, for instance reminds us to motivate one another, to encourage, and to prioritize our time and our faith as a community. The stakes are too high not to.
Busyness can turn community into something that’s easily put on the backburner or neglected altogether. Community can also be messy or uncomfortable, and for many of us, our first instinct is to leave when something is no longer serving us or if it’s uncomfortable. In fact, if our friendships function as the Bible tells us they can, they will take work. The Kingdom of God was always intended to look like family, which means it will be challenging, there will be conflict, and it will likely be vulnerable. But if we are truly pursuing a Jesus-filled life, we need spiritual encouragement and partnership in the mess and mundane, not just on occasion, and other people need the same from us.
As Jesus followers, we have the privilege to show the world an example of what it looks like to belong in the Family of God, and that is the kind of loving community we were created to be committed to.
Do you have a community that encourages you and keeps you accountable in your walk with God and where you do the same for others? If so, reach out and plan a dinner, coffee, or outing for the near future. If not, check out southland.church/groups to learn about joining or starting a group.Share Tweet
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other. - John 15:13-17 (NLT)
As an awkward high schooler with few friends, I wanted nothing more than to feel welcomed. To be invited to a party or to sit with someone at lunch. I desperately believed that if that changed, the rest of the pieces of my life could come together. So when I went to college and made tons of friends, I quickly realized when the dust settled that my community, while incredibly helpful and healing, could not solve my problems. They were fallible and human, just like me, and in order to be in any kind of healthy relationship with them, it had to start with my own relationship with the Lord.
Every aspect of our lives flows out of our hearts for God. We cannot cultivate good relationships with others until we learn how to continually cultivate our relationship with God. And Jesus was our perfect example, our ultimate friend.
This passage should blow our minds a little bit as we meditate on it. He chose us. He died for us because He called us His friends. And it’s because of that that we are welcomed into right standing and authority with the Father, in order to love and serve each other.
The deepest aches in our heart cannot be numbed or solved by any amount of human love or friendship. But they have been healed and freedom has been offered through the cross. Part of the gift Jesus poured out was the Holy Spirit—comforter, counselor, constant companion, friend. He is always present, so even in the moments we don’t feel like it, we are never alone, and He is always growing and shaping us into His image.
Jesus set the standard for intimacy and friendship. He understands us fully. He knows us deeply. And He is constantly growing us into people who love others in the same way.