Matters of Principle Among Those Who Would Be Friends-John 15:15

When a difference in principle (even among friends) is not honestly discussed, chances for friendship diminish. Relationships often survive substantial disagreements but hardly ever survive unstated or misstated position where the principle matter(s) adheres.

There is a certain symptomology to principle dishonesty. Participants may avoid difficult issues, sticking to “safe talk.” Common civility is hardly amiability and is certainly not friendship.

Like many of my generation in public life I survived (diminished but not deceased) a period during which anything could be said and believed so long as it was sufficiently and hysterically anti-Progressive. For “Progressive,” some would substitute the word “Liberal” but I have never seen one and wonder if they still exist in the wild. I have, however, watched people who should have been friends (and would have been friends a generation before, but not now and never again) talk about the weather while the glaciers melt around them. Their talk was safe, sometimes genial but not on target.

When the talk turned earnest we found out the lateness of the hour and the radical position of our opponent. We were dismayed to find our opponents were so radical because we had not considered them opponents. We were surprised to find out we had insatiable competitors for we had assumed we were all companions. The principle issues had remained unstated. Once the carnage was wrought there was no hope for friendship.

I still think friendship should be our goal because I believe Jesus must be taken seriously. One of His last pre-Crucifixion statements to His closest servants was to elevate them to the status of “friends” (John 15:15). Paul demoted himself voluntarily and his personal slavery position has become the accepted stance among evangelical Christians (Romans 1:1) but Jesus’ plainly brought the disciples to friendship status by His own transparency and transmission of heavenly knowledge. We may begin as slaves to Him but that is a contradictory statement and ought not to be our goal.

Friendship is not likely, then, among those who avoid the “subject,” for whatever reason. We have answered the searching question of Scripture, “Do two (men) walk together unless they be agreed?” In the public arena in which I once toiled we answered this question without inspection and, so, did not see the principle issue mutating among us. We busied ourselves with trivialities, meetings about meetings, white papers replete with black lines and little knowledge.

Jesus called His fellow “friends” because they knew what their Lord was about in all things. He transmitted important information among them, holding back nothing they needed to do their ministries. This was a “Friend-maker.”

And what do friends do? For one thing, they agree upon matters of principle. I do not mean friends  hold precise agreement upon all matters of principle but friends must agree certainly on certain matters, however they come to this agreement, and not let any discussion of these matters become devalued or debased. Some names/words/phrases are so loaded they cry out for softening and friendship might survive their softening. Some terms carry too much weight for any dissimulation and we must be careful about both their use and our explanation.

Friends, or those who want to want to be friends, in order to agree upon matters of principle, must work from knowledge, as Jesus said, and so must have access to similar information. Peter synthesized what he heard from Jesus differently than James, unlike John, obviously unlike Paul, with whom he had open public confrontations but they were all working from similar information. Each person wanted the name of Jesus to be more famous than his own name, so that the Kingdom of God could extend to all persons. The extent of their friendship depended on how they shared the information (good news) they got from Jesus among themselves.

Friends understand, at the very least, there are consequences to how they discuss the information they receive from Jesus, among themselves and with those who do not count Jesus as vital. There are actions which, once taken, or words, once said, which must be made good upon or fully, finally and quickly retracted. Friendship can live with a spot but not with a stain and never, ever with a smear.

Friendship is a potent symbol of things to come, and so can be called a portent. We can tell which way the storm is coming first by observing which way the breeze blows. We could not predict the enormity of Judas’ betrayal but we could see the insufficiency of his kinship in his arguments with Jesus over women and money and the prominence of Jesus,  cf. John 12. We could see betrayal coming from Judas, as surely as we could see uncertainty in the bluster of Saint Peter and fatalism in the statement of James, who did not understand but agreed to go and die anyway. Each of these men walked with Jesus for some time, more closely than most. Each one showed His friendship then in ways that predicted how he would behave in times of crisis. Judas betrayed, Peter denied, James disappeared after he was rebuffed. Peter and James reappeared but a great deal of remedial work was required. Their level of friendship portended their actions and the whole of Christendom (very small then) had to react to their failings.

Friendship, then, should be our Christian goal. Friendship is more likely when we act from common knowledge and most likely cannot exist when one party is cut off from information and access. Friendship must be strained, it seems to me, when one side naturally assumes the negative position, which can be defined as lacking in generosity and filled with accusation. We know that geniality does not have to include generosity but must have generosity to be real.

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