Degrees of Friendship

Degrees of Friendship

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (JOH 15:14)

The entire time He was in the world, Jesus Christ associated Himself with people who were considered “undesirables.” His twelve disciples were mostly common fishermen. Among the others who were often with Him were former prostitutes and practicing tax-collectors – who were hated because they took money away from Jews and because they then sent it to Rome. Jesus was frequently criticized by the scribes and Pharisees for keeping the company of such people. The Lord replied to them, saying, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31), and in another place He referred to Himself as the friend of tax collectors and sinners (See Luke 7:43)

In a very real sense, because not a single one of us is without sin (both real and potential) we are all tax-collectors and sinners, we are all the sick to whom the Divine Physician has come.

The Lord is our physician and our friend! Knowing that the Lord is our friend should cause us to reflect upon the concept of friendship, to seek to understand it more fully so that we can know in what sense the Lord is our friend, what we can do to return His friendship, and how we can follow the example He set by His life in the world by being friendly to others. This is what we seek to do today.

We are not really talking about the kind of casual friendship we establish with the cashier at the store, or the fellow down the street who lets us borrow garden tools from time to time, because this kind of friendship is based only on what a person has, not on the kind of person he is. A genuine friendship is not based on what a person has, or can do for you, but on the kind of person who is within, the moral, spiritual human being that can only be seen after some time and experience.

In speaking about this friendship between people, the Heavenly Doctrine make a distinction between mutual love and friendship: Mutual love regards the good which is in a [person],… whereas friendship regards the [person] himself. Mutual love regards a [person] from good or for the sake of good; but when it regards a [person] for the sake of self, then it becomes the love of self and is in the same degree opposite to mutual love. (AC 3875:5 Cf. Faith 21)

To do good to a friend, of whatever quality he may be, if only because he is a friend, is natural and not spiritual; but to do good to a friend for the sake of the good in him, and still more to actually consider the good qualities themselves as the friend is the basis for a spiritual friendship. When a person has developed this kind of spiritual friendship, he knows that he should not do indiscriminate good to a friend who is evil; because then, through him, he does evil to others. (See AC 4992:e) Spiritual friendship, the friendship that looks to spiritual, eternal goals, regards the long-term consequences of an action as being more important than being kind to an acquaintance on a purely external plane.

True friendship makes people feel close to each other, no matter how many years or miles are between them, for their spiritual goals and associations are similar. They love the same things – both in this world and the next. Even while yet on earth they associate with the same societies of angels, and when they are both in the spiritual world after the death of the natural body, they will constantly be in each other’s company, for “in the other life… when anyone is thought of intensely, he is presented to view; hence it is that friends meet there; and also enemies” (AC 6893:e).

The doctrines also not only tell us about the very good and the very evil, but they also tell us what happens to the very shallow – the kind of people who really never take anything or anyone very seriously. These join what are called Societies of friendship, and are constituted of those who in the life of the body have preferred the delight of social life to every other delight; and who have loved those with whom they have had social occasions, without caring whether they were good or evil, provided they were entertaining; thus who have not been friends to what is good or to what is true.

They who have been of this character in the life of the body, are of the same character in the other life; they join themselves together with others from the mere agreeableness of social life. Because such spirits are not interested in anything that is genuine in the life of the spiritual world, they soon become bored with their inconsequential activities, and sink into a sleepy, dull state. (AC 4804).

It should be clear from this that great injury is done to the spiritual life of man by casual friendships, where the person alone is regarded and not what is good in that person. This does not mean that we should not be friendly toward strangers and those we know only slightly, but rather it means that any friendship that goes beyond what is required by common courtesy should be based on what is seen to be good in the person.

As a final point about casual friendships, hear what the Heavenly Doctrines have to say about the way we chatter meaninglessly with people whom we have only known a short while: “I smelled a vinous odor, and was informed that it came from those who flatter from friendship, from an allowable love” (AC 1517). And further, “Flatteries differ according to the ends in view; for if the end is friendship, or the pleasure of social conversation…it is not so evil” (AC 5388:2). So we can see that casual friendship for the sake of business or social conversation or entertainment is regarded in doctrines as a form of recreation where humor, flattery, exaggeration, are all a part of the pleasure, and as long as they are seen for what they are, are not a problem.

There is another kind of friendship which partakes of both casual and genuine friendship, and can be extremely dangerous. This is called the “Friendship of Love.” It partakes of genuine friendship because it becomes an interior love, but it partakes of casual friendship because it does not make judgments about the person’s real character.

This relationship has been illustrated in drama and in literature by various characters who find themselves “in love” and therefore bound to do something they would not normally have done. In literature, it’s called a tragedy when a character is destroyed by their love for another character. In reality, it is a genuine tragedy when people become trapped in friendship of love because good and evil become confused in their own minds. When they come into the world of spirits to begin the process of choosing heaven or hell, their own ruling love may be drawing them toward heaven, but their love of their friend (who, it turns out was actually motivated by the love of self) may draw them to hell at the same time. We are told that those who have contracted such friendship have a terrible battle to withdraw from them and find their own peace with their own kind. The warning is that we must be careful to see that what we love in another is a genuine reflection of their true self. We must be concerned with internal and external man in friendship.

A true friend is someone who loves something that you love, who shares a common interest with you. Once brought together, a true, genuine friendship can be built as you and your friend come to know each other very well, and begin to love each other for the good qualities that each discovers in the other.

We must also consider the very special friendship that can grow within marriage. We read from the work Conjugial Love: “The love which is of the spirit, and from the spirit of the body, is insinuated into the souls and minds of married partners together with friendship and confidence; and when these two things conjoin themselves with the first love of marriage, marriage love is the result, which opens their hearts and inspires into them the sweetnesses of love; and this more and more intimately, in proportion as these two things join themselves to the very first love; and that love enters into them, and they into it” (CL 162).

Further, we find that those who are in love truly conjugial, that is, those who together look to the Lord for a spiritual, eternal marriage, and together look to the Lord for help in shunning evils as sins, will find that as they each approach the Lord, they also become ever closer to each other. This is illustrated by thinking of a triangle with the Lord at the top, and the husband and wife at the two bottom corners. As they travel up the sides toward the Lord in the course of their life of regeneration they also grow ever closer to each other. On the other hand, those who do not seek eternal, spiritual marriage, and who do not seek to shun evils as sins are traveling in the other direction, and sadly, the distance between them increases (See CL 214).

Not everyone attains a pure spiritual love in their earthly marriage, because not everyone believes in God and eternal life and so cannot look to spiritual things. Those who are in love truly conjugial are those who have regard to what is eternal (See CL 216:4).

Conjugial love dwells in the internal man. It is a spiritual state, a state concurrent with regeneration. It cannot exist with those who are entirely external except in potential, in their friendship (See ibid.).

On the other hand, we have also seen that interior friendship, a true mutual sharing of loves and affections can be the foundation of the most important human bond in life – conjugial love. This is a friendship that is based upon a certain knowledge and sharing of a person’s genuine spiritual qualities, insofar as they can be seen by the way they live.

This is the kind of friend the Lord is to us. He is able to see our true spiritual character perfectly, and He loves the good that He is able to see in us. He constantly seeks to build on that good, and to draw it near to Himself. The Arcana tells us that the spiritual man is also called “friend,” for the spiritual man is one who has formed a conscience from doctrine derived from the Word, and lived according to it, a person who follows the Lord’s commandments, for He said, “You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you” (John xv. 14, 15 See AC 51:2).

The Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Writings each contain many passages which clearly state that if we are to do the Lord’s will, we must do His commandments, we must do good to our neighbors, we must follow the Lord’s own example and seek out what is good in others, build on that and encourage it. We must reach out to others and be a friend, as the Lord Himself reaches out to us.

Friendship is not about material things, or outward appearances, but about a shared concern for goods and truths.

The kinds of goods and truths, and the degree to which they are loved, are the key to determining the kind of friendship that will result.

We are the Lord’s “friends”, and thus conjoined with Him, when we have made His order our own, when every word and deed arise from a genuine, heartfelt desire to follow His path to eternal life.

By His own example during His life in the world, the Lord made it clear to us that He was our friend, and that He wanted us to friendly toward others. He said that if He had wanted us to just be His servants and worship Him, He would not have bothered to tell us all about His heavenly kingdom. He said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). He had given us the Word so that we might know the way of life and the way to heaven. This is the gift of a true friend.

Not only has He given us the truth, but He has also shown us a way of life, of sacrificing what is our own to give to others. To give lovingly of our time and ourselves to help other people, to lay down our own concerns to take up the cares of another and bring them peace.

This is what the Lord did for us. He came into the world, and took on the whole of hell through temptations that continued through His whole life, He even laid down His life for us, and He did it for our sakes. All that He asks of us in return is to acknowledge His sacrifice by making a similar sacrifice of our own to others, to give up something of ourselves so that someone else may benefit. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:13, 14). AMEN.

First Lesson: I Samuel 20:1-17

Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and went and said to Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my iniquity, and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” {2} So Jonathan said to him, “By no means! You shall not die! Indeed, my father will do nothing either great or small without first telling me. And why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so!” {3} Then David took an oath again, and said, “Your father certainly knows that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” {4} So Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you yourself desire, I will do it for you.” {5} And David said to Jonathan, “Indeed tomorrow is the New Moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king to eat. But let me go, that I may hide in the field until the third day at evening. {6} “If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked permission of me that he might run over to Bethlehem, his city, for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.’ {7} “If he says thus: ‘It is well,’ your servant will be safe. But if he is very angry, then be sure that evil is determined by him. {8} “Therefore you shall deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the LORD with you. Nevertheless, if there is iniquity in me, kill me yourself, for why should you bring me to your father?” {9} But Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! For if I knew certainly that evil was determined by my father to come upon you, then would I not tell you?” {10} Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me, or what if your father answers you roughly?” {11} And Jonathan said to David, “Come, and let us go out into the field.” So both of them went out into the field. {12} Then Jonathan said to David: “The LORD God of Israel is witness! When I have sounded out my father sometime tomorrow, or the third day, and indeed there is good toward David, and I do not send to you and tell you, {13} “may the LORD do so and much more to Jonathan. But if it pleases my father to do you evil, then I will report it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. And the LORD be with you as He has been with my father. {14} “And you shall not only show me the kindness of the LORD while I still live, that I may not die; {15} “but you shall not cut off your kindness from my house forever, no, not when the LORD has cut off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” {16} So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “Let the LORD require it at the hand of David’s enemies.” {17} Now Jonathan again caused David to vow, because he loved him; for he loved him as he loved his own soul. Amen.

Second Lesson: John 15:9-17

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. {10} “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. {11} “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. {12} “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. {13} “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. {14} “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. {15} “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. {16} “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. {17} “These things I command you, that you love one another. Amen.

Third Lesson: AC 4804

There are very many communities in the next life which are called friendship-communities. They consist of those who during their lifetime preferred the delight of association with others to any other delight and who loved those with whom they associated, without any interest at all in whether these were good or evil people, provided they gave them delight. Thus they were not ones who befriended what was good and true. Those who have been like this during their lifetime remain the same in the next life; they attach themselves to one another solely because of their delight of association with others. Many such communities have been present with me, though kept at a distance, visible for the most part overhead, slightly to the right. I was made aware of their presence by a dull and sluggish feeling, and by a loss of my own feeling of delight; for the presence of communities such as these leads to this. Indeed when they arrive on the scene they remove others’ feeling of delight, and what is remarkable they make it their own. For they turn away the spirits present with others and direct them towards themselves, thereby transferring another’s delight to themselves. And because such communities are for this reason dangerous and harmful to those governed by good, the Lord therefore holds them back to prevent them going near heavenly communities. From this I was enabled to know how much harm friendship does to someone’s spiritual life if he pays attention to the person but not to what is good. Anyone can indeed befriend another; but most of all he ought to befriend what is good. Amen.