Focused intention is not characteristic of most types of friendship. Men need to understand this. When most men think of friendship they tend to think of a single category. In truth, there are multiple types of friendship: there are friendships based on affection (think high school classmates); there are friendships based on pleasure (think golf buddies); and there are friendships based on utility (work colleagues). In none of these relationships does intention factor in as a primary element of the relationship.
Spiritual friendship is different. The relationship is welded together by a shared vision of excellence, of glory, of blessing. This vision creates a spirit of intentionality within the relationship. Unlike high school classmates who are happy to reminisce about the past, or golf buddies who only want to have fun on the weekend, spiritual friends are like athletes in training. They band together because each edges the other on to glory and because both know that, joined together, they will advance further toward perfection than either could alone.
Yet, intentionality, by itself, is insufficient to produce spiritual friendship. The intent must be right. Spiritual friends are comrades who join together in pursuit of Christ. The following words of Paul are an apt description of the basic intent that drives one Christian to partner with another: ‘That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Phil. 3:11). Knowing Christ, obeying Christ, being conformed to Christ – these are the objectives pursued in spiritual friendship. Aelred beautifully captures this in his classic work, Spiritual Friendship: ‘And thus, friend cleaving to friend in the spirit of Christ, is made with Christ but one heart and one soul, and so mounting aloft through degrees of love to friendship with Christ, he is made one spirit with him.’
Union with Christ, that is the intent that distinguishes spiritual friendship from every other kind.
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
Why is right intention such an important element of spiritual friendship?
How do you find out if another man shares the same basic goal in life as you do (i.e. to know and serve Christ)? What are the indicators?
There are a lot of events in churches that try to get men together for fun and laughter. These events are good, but they can only do so much. How does a group of Christian men transition from being friends to becoming spiritual friends running together in pursuit of holiness?
How can you use the Cross Training Decathlon to band together with other like-minded Christian men?