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I have heard it pointed out on more than one occasion that Jesus had three circles of friendships. He had a large group who he related to more than just the crowds who followed him: the seventy two whom he sends out in Luke 10. He then had the twelve disciples with whom he developed deeper friendship. Finally he had were three closer more intimate friends Peter, James and John – his 'inner circle', so to speak.
I may be wrong but I wonder how much of that pattern is one that we should seek to copy and how much it reflects the culture of Jesus time. Jesus was a Rabi and this pattern of relationships could easily be following that social norm of the time.
In a more individualistic culture that we find ourselves in today many of us may struggle to identify our 12 or our 3 best friends. Those of us who have been through the University experience often found that we did develop close friendships then - particularly those of us who spent some time in a hall of residence. Some of these people we may have kept contact with over the years. But today how many close friends do we have? Perhaps we all think that other people have closer friends that we do.
It is perfectly natural for our closest friendships to be our household especially for those of us in a nuclear family unit. Groups of singles sharing houses may find the same thing. And looking at Jesus for our role model also raises questions about cross gender friendships as he also had close relationships with women such as Mary & Martha and Mary Magdalene.
There may be quite a variation in the number and depth of friendships we have and in what different groups may prefer to do together. We would do well to look beyond the stereotypes. In a recent men’s meeting we were discussing these issues and found that there were as many men who wouldn’t be interested in watching football together as there are who would be.
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As Christians we believe that we cannot express our faith fully in isolation. The Bible refers to church as a community of people – the body of Christ. It also encourages us to reach out to those outside the faith and to seek to be a good influence to those around us. So taking steps to get to know people better is something to be encouraged.
For instance it is good that we should help each other with using our practical skills. If you enjoy doing DIY or gardening and others have jobs that need to be done then this could be a good way to help. There are character strengths that we can help each develop by being more open and honest in discussions within various groups in the church. And anyone in such groups can be seeking God as to the way forward for the group and sharing their insights with their group. And hopefully we have friends outside our local church from whom we can learn.
Yes, there are other places that we can turn to develop a skill or get help with a weakness. I am someone who benefits from reading books and information on the internet and doing courses. Also we may have networked with people through social media and use them to find out nuggets of information or advice that we need. But I do think it is important to find time to relate to people face to face.
Building good friendships both inside and outside of the church community is probably something we all need to work on. But I'm not sure that we should be too worried if we can’t identify that inner circle of a few close friends as long as we are still making an effort to reach out to people.
What do you think?