We all need people in our lives who will stand by us no matter what, and most of prize having people who will look for opportunities to offer words of affirmation. (I say most of us, because others don’t need such input.)
Every single one of us needs people in our lives who care about us and will offer the utterly unvarnished version of their view on us, our work, relationships and life. Sometimes that’s a hard thing to want, as however good we are, there will be times when a true friend will say things we don’t want to hear. Such friends may be harder to come by than ever, as societies that were once beset by harshness and emotional distance, become consumed by a need for affirmation in everything. ‘Standing by’ someone has come to mean agreeing with them, ‘being a friend’ has come to mean agreeing with every life choice, no matter how misguided or destructive.
As Christians we need to lead the way in providing loving, caring friendship to each other that says the hard stuff that really helps, not just the easy stuff.
Jesus was a friend like that to his disciples, and during the Lord’s Supper we have a searing example of his relentless truth-telling, wrapped in love. First Jesus told Peter that he was praying for him, for the protection of Peter’s relationship with God – the greatest thing to pray for anyone. But then there’s a curious turn of phrase, “…when you have turned back…” (v.32). Turned…’back’?! Peter was adamant that he wasn’t turning anywhere, he was – he asserted – “ready to go with you to prison and to death” (v.33). Jesus predicted Peter’s turning away and made plain that he loved him anyway and wanted him to be a leader. Peter wasn’t having it, so Jesus had to spell out for him exactly what was going to happen.
Jesus loved Peter enough to have Peter rebut him.
Jesus loved Peter enough to greatly upset him.
Jesus loved Peter enough to ask God to help him.
Jesus loved Peter enough to commission him to “strengthen your brothers” (v.32).
Jesus loves you that same way. You and I have let him down countless times in innumerable ways, none of which he remembers, because as his children he has forgiven us. Because he treats our sin that way, we can trust him when we see in God’s Word or in our conscience, the painful words of truth that show us where we’ve let him down, or how we need to change. We welcome – if we know what’s best for us – God speaking truth into our lives and even seek it out through prayer, rather than avoiding God and hoping he avoids us.
Similarly, we need to seek out friendships like that. Not many, because such friendships are deep and require vulnerability. But one or two at least. And we should be the kind of person that – if someone is looking for such a friendship – they look at us, because we smell to them like the aroma of Christ, giving love that is soft and true, hard and honest.