There is a great story that dates back to the early 1960s when Vince Lombardi took over the reins of the Green Bay Packers. Most likely you’ve heard it before. It’s become legendary. The Packer franchise had been losing for almost ten straight years. They were at the bottom of the standings, and morale was sagging.

Enter Vince Lombardi as the new coach. He is charged with the challenge of turning this franchise around, and he’s all pumped up about it. He began leading practices, inspiring, training, motivating. But at one point in a practice, he just got so frustrated with what was going on with the players that he blew the whistle.

“Everybody stop and gather around,” he said. Then he knelt down, picked up the pigskin, and said, “Let’s start at the beginning. This is a football. These are the yard markers. I’m the coach. You are the players.” He went on, in the most elementary of ways, to explain the basics of football.

Every once in a while, we all need a breathtakingly basic talk about something—a “this is a football” talk or, in this case, a “this is a friendship” talk.

The Right Idea

The Bible says that friendship— community— is one of the richest experiences you can have in life. It makes your heart bigger. It helps keep you steady in a storm. It ends your aloneness. It is key to personal transformation. God wired us up to know and be known, to love and be loved, to serve and be served, to celebrate and be celebrated. If community is so wonderful, how, in painstakingly basic terms, do you move from where you are now into deep relating patterns that would fit the definition of this thing called community?

You have to start by making sure that you have the right idea about the nature of friendship. Do you want to wreck the possibility of a relationship? Then go into it with the idea that there’s someone out there just sitting on a park bench waiting to nurture you, affirm you, comfort you, envelop you with round-the-clock care—and all you have to do is show up with 150 pounds of need. If that’s the expectation you are bringing into friendship, you’ll probably find potential friends making themselves curiously scarce.

God wired us up to know and be known, to love and be loved, to serve and be served, to celebrate and be celebrated.

The right idea of friendship involves the mutual exchange of knowledge, kindness, service, and celebration. It is a growing commitment among peers to seek the well-being of each other. That very radical concept is the central message of Philippians 2:1–11. The core of biblical friendship is seeking the interest of the person you have befriended. It is the joyful sublimation of your own agenda once in a while for the sheer pleasure of meeting a need or bringing a smile to the face of a friend. It is the consistent resistance of the urge to be independent and self-preoccupied.

Is it self-examination time? How much do you bring to the relationships you’re building? How much do you expect to receive? What is your self-preoccupation factor? If you are even five or ten percent off from a balanced view of friendship, you’ll probably find your relationships aren’t working all that well.

John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson, and Judson Poling, Groups: The Life-Giving Power of Community (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

We have just released a new Bible study on the topic: Love One Another.

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