Friendship in the Age of Friending: Sermon Review
The digital and information age in which we live is amazing. We are able to connect with people across the world in a moment’s notice. Brilliant preachers are reaching millions every month through sermons and writing sent over the internet. This doesn’t begin to cover the many benefits of the digital age. Here are a few additional facts:
• 91% of adults with mobile phones keep them within arm’s reach every hour of the day.
• 90% of text messages are read by the recipient within three minutes of being sent.
• The average 21-year-old has sent 250,000 emails or text messages and logged 10,000 hours on their cell phone and 5,000 playing video games.
• 97% of the 6 billion emails sent every day are spam.
Technology is not the devil or an angel. It is a tool. And as believers we want to use it well for the sake of the kingdom. I want to talk to you about what effect digital media makes upon how we view friendship and biblical fellowship, by comparing and contrasting what Scripture and culture say about friendship.
Researcher George Barna reports that 78% of self-identified Christians believe spiritual life is important, while only 21% believe we need a vital connection to a community of faith to be mature. That stands in complete contrast to what Paul said in Ephesians 4, that to reach maturity our faith is meant to be walked out in fellowship with other believers. Our culture teaches us that we are islands.
Three Ways Culture Conditions Us to Be Islands
1. First, our culture encourages us to be self-important. Through social media, anyone can be a mini celebrity. If you have more than 500 friends on Facebook, 200+ followers on Twitter, several hundred people viewing you on Instagram, it communicates you are the center of attention for thousands of eyes. You consider that a friend exists to pay attention to me.
Real friendship is based on humility. Jesus said in John 15:13-14, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” In true friendship, others are more important to me than myself―to the extent I lay down my life for them. Many times this means serving them. David and Jonathan are a great Old Testament example of deep friendship. 1 Samuel 18:1 says, “Jonathan loved him with his own soul.” Jonathan put his own life at risk by stripping off his armor and sword, giving them to David. Our age teaches and encourages self-importance; Scripture commands humility.
2. Our age teaches us to be self-sufficient. Digital culture does not encourage appreciating dependence on God and our need for others. Often I’m with people in conversation, and they look down at their phone and reply to text messages or look up something. I hate it. It’s saying, “I’m not really here with you. I’ll check in with you and sort of listen but my world is more important.” I like the show Black Mirror. It dramatizes how technology dehumanizes through artificial connections and offers solutions that don’t work.
Scripture says “Two are better than one… For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). We need each other because by ourselves we fall, and we need someone to pick us up. Proverbs 27:6 says we need friends because we’re not self-sufficient. We need friends to help us see, to spur us on, to tell us the truth. Again, David and Jonathan present an example. In 1 Samuel we see Jonathan travel to David just to encourage him. And David accepts that encouragement.
3. Culture encourages self-love above all else. It says you need to see and value your self-magnificence. This can be seen in the obsession with authenticity. The emergent church fad grew out of discouragement with churches not being authentic, Christians mouthing beliefs that didn’t shape how they live. The Christian homosexual movement is based on authenticity: “being genuine to how God has made me.” The argument is that being genuine is the most important thing about who you are. But God gave Israel the Law. He didn’t want them to be genuine to themselves. He wanted them to be true to him. The digital age didn’t birth people who want to be authentic and genuine. That has been around for thousands of years. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about it. We sinful humans love ourselves so much we can’t imagine that being true to ourselves is the real problem.
Scripture says love for one another is the source of friendship. Again we see this in David and Jonathan. 1 Samuel 18:1 says, “…the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.” So Jonathan made a covenant with David. We need deep friendships and accountability to friends because they are the only way to keep ourselves from falling into the traps of the age. David lost his friend Jonathan, and he never found another one like him. But he included Jonathan’s lame son Mephibosheth at his table so whenever David ate he would be reminded of Jonathan. Our culture doesn’t have a category for friendships like David’s and Jonathan’s. We should. Don’t look for true friends online. Look to David and Jonathan, and ask God for friends like that.