Chapter 13 "Ancient Friendship for Modern Men"

Chapter 13

A Case for The Intentional Pursuit of Friendship

“To whom am I to present my pretty new book, freshly smoothed off with dry pumice-stone! To you, Cornelius: for you used to think that my trifles were worth something, long ago, when you took courage, you alone of Italians, to set forth the whole history of the world in three volumes, learned volumes by Jupiter, and laboriously wrought. So take and keep for your own this little book such as it is, and whatever it is worth; and may it, O virgin my patroness, live and last for more than one century.” This was one of many poems written by Catullus Gaius Valerius, 84-54 BC. Catullus was a contemporary and friend of Cicero.

Catullus even wrote of his friend Cicero in one of his poems, “Most skilled in speech of the descendants of Romulus, all who are, all who have been, and all who shall be hereafter in other years Marcus Tullius – to thee his warmest thanks Catullus gives, the worst of all poets, as much as the worst poet of all as you are the best advocate of all.”

In his lines Catullus speaks of friends, lovers, and enemies at times in terms direct and even lewd terms for moderns. But of his friends, he sings their praises.

We do not often sing the praises of our friends for we as moderns have failed to grasp the wonder, depth, and gift of true friendship.

May I join the countless others before, all who have said it better, and make a case for your passionate pursuit of serving others in the spirit of friendship in my little booklet.

As you are fully aware at this point, I come with the presupposition that the God of the Bible is the creator of the universe. I did not arrive at this just because my parents told me so, but I spent years seeking, searching, and studying all the options we know for the origin and purpose of life. I found only the person of Jesus puts all of life into order and understanding. If you disagree with me in this, you can agree with me that Jesus was himself an ancient and teacher whose words were recorded for us to consider.

The Christian God is single minded, but multi-person. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in a relationship with one another, a friendship. The Father serves the Son, the Son serves the Father, the Spirit serves the Son. Jesus as a man communicates with his Father. We have record of him going off to spend time with his Father in prayer. On one of his last days on earth he cries out to his Father. The spirit follows Christ’s departure to be his representative to man, on his behalf, to communicate his teachings with mankind. The Christian God is a relational being, virtuous and serving one another.

We have relationship because God is in a relationship. Because He knows the value, beauty, and power of persons in relationships. Because he loves unity amongst diverse individuals. He has given us what He enjoys most, to be in a relationship with others. He created us to be in a relationship with Him and He created us to be in a relationship with each other. We are powerless in our need for others, because we were made to be in unity with diverse persons.

Francis Schaeffer wrote in his book, The God Who is There, “Every once in a while, in my discussions someone asks me how I can believe in the Trinity. My answer is always the same. I would still be an agnostic if there was no Trinity because there would be no answers. Without the high order of personal unity and diversity as given in the Trinity, there are no answers.”

The Bible is full of stories of deeply affectionate friendships and of the pain and grief from failed relationships. It provides examples of reconciled friendships. In its pages from over 40 writers over thousands of years, we are told God calls us friend and we are given example of his interact with man as a friend. In the way He came to Moses, stood with three rebels in a fire, and sat and cooked fish with His disciples around the campfire.

God says when we commit to a relationship with him, he calls us “friend”. In the Book of John, chapter 15 Jesus is speaking and says, “You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will remain—so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.”

The ancients had discovered God’s design of friendship in that it was a relationship between virtuous individuals. God as always virtuous, and we, made virtuous through Him. He calls us to virtue, obedience, and says, “come near to me and I will come near to you.” This is the action a friend would take with another, to come close in affection, kindness, and humble admiration.

I believe God is the case for friendship. To love others the way He loves us. To sacrifice for others and to be a refuge for them in difficulty.

Yet the ancient pagans found the elements of Truth in friendship along their search of ideas. Cicero, Seneca, and Aristotle make the case of a life well lived when lived in harmony with others.

Seneca makes the case, “For what purpose, then, do I make a man my friend? In order to have someone for whom I may die, whom I may follow into exile, against whose death I may stake my own life, and pay the pledge, too.”

Is this the purpose of your friendships? Are the people in close relationship with you people you would die for, follow into exile, stake your own life for, and pay pledge too? If you do not have these friendships in your life, there could be no greater purpose than to seek them out and create them. Do we even speak out our love, our pledges, our commitments?

The shallow, purposeless, brief relationships of the twenty-first century are ripping us further apart by the week. We no longer engage in a meaningful way with those about us. We retreat behind our walls and isolate ourselves and use cold technology to state our demands, dislikes, and make our displays. We don’t engage in a way to learn what virtues might be in a person’s heart. We don’t get close enough to gain permission to speak into their lives in areas they may have it wrong, even worse, we have no one to tll us when we’ve got it wrong. We ultimately fail to meet their needs and serve them simply because of their humanity. We are so damnably busy worrying about our wants, needs, opinion, and being right, we have little awareness or want for others. Or we have filled the schedule so we don’t have time to invest in others, to sit and listen with intent, to experience life with several close friends.

Worse, we busy ourselves with relationships which entertain us, or gain us access or opportunity with little concern for the welfare or wellbeing of the other. We have an endless list of work relationships with no depth and little chance of extended past the life of the job.

Worse still, we stay in so called friendships with individuals who bring us down, drain our energy and keep us from virtuousness.

Even worse still, we turn to ourselves in this identity culture also referred to as the “Me Culture” where we push our identity as a brand and demand we be permitted to express ourselves in any form possible whether under any virtuous banner or not as we somehow feel it is important for the world to know how we feel. We take and publish an endless stream of selfies, recreate every popular Tik-Tok and pray to go viral, share our opinions in Instagram stories and express ourselves in Snapchat photos and blindly believe the world see us as we see ourselves. Demanded self-expression which then lends no ability to offer correction to others gone completely off the track of social decency, kindness, reason, and virtue.

We can change how the world operates with a love for others, a rejection of that which is unvirtuous, turning away from our self-importance, and a willingness to engage and discuss without spite those with whom we disagree. The pursuit of others for the purpose of their wellbeing in the relationship of friendship can be world transforming when replicated by millions.

John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” was written while he was in prison for 12 years on the charge of not attending Anglican services and meeting with those outside of the Anglican Church. While in prison he had befriended other pastors imprisoned for the same reasons. These men supported one another and saw each other through the changing tides of public opinion which finally led to their release. In his book, Bunyan’s main character Christian is making his way to The Celestial City, and he encounters many dangers and creatures attempting to impede his journey. Along the way the most dangerous to his journey are other men and women. People with names like, Talkative, Diffidence, Formalist, Hierocracy, Obstinate, and Pliable. These individuals attempt to lure him off his journey. The Character of Christian, however, is helped by others with shared virtues, these characters where Hopeful, Help, Charity, Prudence, Faithful and others.

The virtuous individuals in the story helped Christian along his way, encouraged him, guided him, and saved him from peril. The unvirtuous were focused on themselves, their gains, and opportunities on how they might find someone else to support them in their unvirtuous activity to provide affirmation. Bunyan knew what the ancients knew, only the virtuous may have and know true friendship.

Friendship provides the solution for the modern man. We must step away from the overvalued constant connection to individuals online for brief encounters and replace it with our physical presence with those in our community or consistent connection through conversation with those near and far away. Real interactions, real concern, and real action from what we learn and know about them.

We must take an interest in our co-worker, neighbor, children, spouse and waiter. We must learn the needs of those around us and fulfill them. We must extend and olive branch to learn and understand the questions and needs of our day and time. We must live virtuously and think virtuously and open our hearts and minds to others of virtue.

Connection between the generations can impart the wisdom needed to the younger generations to avoid the failures of the past while giving purpose and value to an aging generation. Our affections for one another will eliminate hate not just of individuals, but groups of individuals. Our communication across generational lines helps us understand the questions each generation is asking and provides an opportunity to offer as Francis Schaefer called it, “Honest answers to honest questions.”

Virtuous friendships lead to virtuous communities and the opportunity to invite others into productive social circles and relationships. The growth of virtuous communities becomes the spread of virtuous ideas and a return to the values long sought and lived out by the ancients.

The ancient world was not perfect, and our world will not be perfect either, but the goal of goodness is a worthy pursuit in all ages. The virtues most sought by the ancients were courage, moderation, justice, and piety. These remain worthy pursuits in our day.

The Christian virtues are worthy of living out whether a believer in Christ or not. Those virtues being prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude with the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. And there are the simple statements of Jesus of love God and love your neighbor.

Most people in your life will not commit to the intentional pursuit of others so you must be the one. Your impact can be immense and touch thousands of lives in the care of just a few. Find a starting point and begin.

Invite someone to lunch. Write a letter to a close friend and mail it. Call and ask with listening ears, “How are you?” Plan an adventure. Spend money on others. Offer counsel and seek counsel. Date your spouse. And, read the ancients for they have the answers we need to improve our world today.

“Avoid vice, Theodore, and cultivate virtues; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope, and put forth humble prayers on high. A great necessity is laid upon you, if you will be honest with yourself, a great necessity to be good, since you live in the sight of a judge who sees all things.”

- Boethius “Consolation of Philosophy” 520 AD, Penguin Classics, Pg. 169

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