Your Disciple, Your Friend

The concept of friendship begins in the essence of the Godhead. As the Trinity relates to one another in love, delight, and service, so should our friendships be. God relates to man as a friend with Adam, Eve, Abraham, and Moses, and later when Jesus comes to earth as God in human form, he is a friend with his disciples, Lazarus, Martha, Mary, and even sinners.

As children of God our friendships are never just between two people. As Jesus’ friends were drawn into relationship with his Father, because he and his Father were one, so our friends are drawn into relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because we are united with God.

The triad nature of our friendships (my friend, me, God) makes them fundamentally different than the world’s model of friendship. We are one with God and therefore he is in the midst of each of our friendships. This safeguards against dysfunction and selfishness and empowers us to extend love to our friends as an outflow of God’s love for us. We are able to absorb rejection and are immune from manipulation because our security is based on a relationship with the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and not in human relationships. In fact, we are simply adding our new friend to our already established relationship with God.

In closing:

  • Your relationship with your disciple is a friendship as demonstrated by Jesus and Paul with their disciples.
  • Building a friendship with your disciple is an important means of him becoming a follower of Jesus.
  • Your friendship with your disciple not only draws him into relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but also with other disciples.
  • The courage needed to make disciples comes from God’s relationship with you. His love will both empower and protect as you develop the friendship with your disciple.

Hard Time Making Friends

The tragedy is that we may go our entire lives without true friends because we have limited ourselves to a Western ideal of friendship. Since friendship is inseparable from making disciples (Jesus called his disciples his friends) a proper understanding of friendship is vital. Western Christianity, I’m afraid, has forced onto the story of Jonathan and David a cultural perspective of friendship that strips their relationship of its beauty and breath. We see what we want to see in their friendship and overlook other truly important aspects.

For example, Jonathan was 15 to 20 years older than David. We know this because Jonathan’s youngest brother, Ish-Bosheth, (who was the youngest son among King Saul’s six children: Jonathan, Abinadab, Malchishua, Merab, and Michal) was ten years older than David based on Ish-Boseth being forty years old when he became king of Israel (2 Samuel 2:10) while David was thirty years old in that same year when he became king of Judah (2 Samuel 5:4).

The usual perspective of their friendship is two college fraternity brothers struggling together through their years of self-discovery, but in reality David was a 17-year-old shepherd while Jonathan was a married father in his mid-thirties busy leading armies and fulfilling his duties as crowned prince.  Jonathan knew nothing but a royal life whereas David knew nothing but shepherding. Jonathan was the oldest child, David the youngest. Jonathan was held in high regard by others (1 Samuel 14:45) whereas David was ridiculed by his own family (1 Samuel 17:28). It is also easy to overlook the fact that they had become brothers-in-law.

Another important aspect of their friendship was its duration. Their relationship lasted for 13 years even though it was not an easy friendship to maintain due to the constant interference of King Saul because of his insecurity and stubbornness that fueled a hatred for David.

Some closing observations:

  • Your friend maybe 20 years older than you are or 20 years younger!
  • Your friend’s background and experience may be different from yours. Initially it may not seem like a good match.
  • Difficulty and endurance are part of any friendship.
  • Difficult people cannot disrupt your relationship with a true friend; they will only strengthen it.

Teaching Your Disciple How to Forgive #3

Most people are unaware of their bitterness. As a parasite keeps itself undetectable to its host so bitterness eludes your disciple. Together you and he must diligently search for the bitterness in his heart because if not dealt with properly it will destroy him.  Oh, he may live to an old age but his inner-man will shrivel up, harden, and contaminate those around him. Bitterness in never confined to the individual, it is an infectious disease that will adversely affect others around him as told in Hebrews 12:15, “ …that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” It will devastate his marriage, family, and friendships.

One reason that a person is unaware of the bitterness in his life is because of his misconception of the characteristics of bitterness.  We tend to think of a bitter person as cantankerous, resentful, hateful, and negative. Your disciple compares himself to those he considers bitter and is convinced that though others may be bitter, he certainly is not.

I have found that the best way to ease into the topic of bitterness is by having my disciple tell me his life story. I begin the process by having him draw a timeline of his life on a piece of paper.  Over weeks we build the timeline as he tells me of the events of his life from birth until the present. As your disciple tells his story you are listening for the hurt and disappointments no matter how young he was at the time or how seemingly insignificant the incident.

A couple of insights about bitterness:

  • For many the years immediately after college is a time when they struggle with bitterness. (I will explain more in a later post.)
  • Bitterness has the intent of revenge aimed toward a particular individual or organization.
  • Whenever you find bitterness you can usually uncover a disappointment.

Using Symbols To Find Significance

As a disciple maker you may need to help your disciple discern where he has displaced God in his life and if so with whom or what.  Mankind is constantly searching for substitutes for God. The Israelites displaced God with a gold calf while Paul tells us in the book of Romans that man has exchanged the Creator God with created things.

Insecurity and delusional thinking will cause your disciple to attach himself to a symbol that represents for him a value that he believes will contribute to his own importance both in the eyes of others and in his opinion of himself.   He thinks that if he wears a particular piece of clothing, owns the latest cell phone, has a girlfriend, or belongs to a specific group of friends that somehow their importance will rub off on him.  He seeks to find value by association.

Discerning symbols is tricky because what is significant for one person may have no meaning to another.  For one man the type of automobile he drives is an important statement while for another a car is nothing more than a means to get from one place to another.

Insecurity comes from placing my trust in anything or anyone that can be taken away from me.  Good looks will age, abilities will fade, cars will rust, and relationships may fail.  Security for your disciple can only be found in his placement of trust and value in God.

In closing:

  1. The Lord will use suffering to wean your disciple off of misplaced trust.
  2. Help your disciple bridge to new friendships with people who are secure followers of Jesus.
  3. Read and discuss Israel’s distrust in God and their misplaced trust during the Exodus.  (Numbers 14; Deuteronomy 1 & 6)

The Manipulator #3

A manipulator disrupts and neutralizes your disciple’s relationship with his family and friends. She subtlety drives a velvet wedge between your disciple and all his relationships.  Relationships that once were strong are now strained.  In the beginning the wedge is imperceptible so that it seems as if the manipulator wants a relationship with your disciple’s family and friends but then over time there grows a distance between him and all his relationships.  A good manipulator deceives your disciple so well that when his relationships do become detached he believes that others are the problem, not him.

In Daniel chapter 6 we see how effectively a manipulator can neutralizes a relationship. King Darius loved Daniel and planned to promote him to rule over the whole kingdom.  Yet manipulators who surrounded the king were so crafty that they were able to neutralize his relationship with Daniel even though Darius was the most powerful man in the world.  (Never underestimate the shrewdness of a manipulator.)

The account states:

Then they (the manipulators) said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O King, or to the decree you put in writing.  He still prays three times a day.”  When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made ever effort until sundown to save him. (Daniel 6 13-14)

In the end Darius was powerless to help Daniel.

Random closing thoughts:

  • A parent who is a manipulator seeks to control his child and all the child’s relationships under the guise of “good parenting.”
  • A mate who is a manipulator creates a distance between his wife’s relationship with her family and friends.  He may not want children for fear that he will lose control of his wife or have to share her with someone else.
  • A child who is a manipulator will drive a wedge between his mom and dad and will seek to control his parent’s relationships with his siblings.
  • A friend who is a manipulator disrupts a person’s relationship with old friends and family.
  • A new girlfriend should not disrupt a guy’s relationship with his parents or friends but actually she should be a catalyst to draw his family and friends closer together.
  • A non-manipulator will fit into existing family and friend relationships.

The Role of Friendships In Disciple Making #2

The challenge before a discipler is how to get to know the heart of his disciple.  I propose one reliable way to understand your disciple is by observing his friendships.

Getting to know your disciple may prove difficult because he may not know himself.  An indicator of this lack of self-knowledge is the contradiction between his sincerity in trying to answer all your questions honestly, but somehow his answers do not correlate with his actions.

Throughout childhood a person creates an inward maze of defenses so complex that he can lose himself.  He has also constructed an outward façade so that the person with whom you are talking is much like interacting with an actor on the stage. He has played so many roles for so long that he no longer understands who he is or why he does what he does.

Man is a spiritual being.  Not only do we communicate with one another in words and body language, but our inner spirit also communicates subliminal messages to others.  An example of this is how the rebels at a youth camp can find one another within the first hours.  Another illustration of this subspace communication is how alcoholics can instantly pick out one another in a crowd and discern if they are telling the truth.  An alcoholic cannot lie to another alcoholic.

Your disciple has transmitted these subliminal signals for years right past his parents, youth pastors, and teachers. Who does pick up on these cryptic communications are others with the same heart condition.

These subliminal signals cut through defensives and facades and connect with people of like heart.  The study of your disciple’s friends is a reliable diagnostic tool to understand your disciple’s inner man.  It is also important for your disciple to analyze his friendships so that he too can understand his heart.  There is a reason he has chosen the friends that he has and why those friends have chosen him.

The Role of Friendships in Making Disciples #1

Friendships are a mirror of who a person is.  If you want to understand your disciple, get to know his friends.  Your disciple has chosen his friends and his friends have chosen him.

Parents, you should not be nearly as concerned about friends being a bad influence on your child as who your son or daughter chooses as a friend because the choice of friends is a reliable indicator of the inner man of your child.  Another window into your child’s heart is who chooses your son or daughter as a friend, because like attracts like.  Children know how to deceive their parents, teachers, coaches, youth pastors, and disciplers but friendships expose a person for who he really is.

Often when I point out this friendship mirror principle to my disciples it makes them uncomfortable. One guy recently said to me, “But I don’t want to become like my friends!” even though he was already exactly like his friends.  It is comfortable to live in denial believing that I am in a better condition than my friends, when in reality friendships are an accurate diagnostic tool for my heart condition.

When Your Disciple Dramatically Fails #4

The story of Peter’s denial and restoration is given a significant place in the biblical narrative.  It presents for us the forgiving nature of Jesus, even after being blatantly betrayed by a friend, and provides an example on how we are to relate to and forgive our own disciples.   We are even allowed to witness an intimate interchange between Jesus and Peter after his denial. (John 21:15-19)

Disciple making is a love relationship between a discipler and his disciple. Intimacy is formed between individuals by a familiarity with the deepest nature of one another.   Your disciple’s failure is an opportunity to bind your hearts together because it reveals his heart to you and your response to his failure reveals your heart to him.

In some cases the failure could have happened years ago, but his sharing of that failure with you is a significant event and should be handled carefully.   Shame has a long powerful grip; therefore it is important that you respond with tenderness, forgiveness, and affection.  He probably has had a hard time believing that he is forgiven by God or others and an even more difficult time forgiving himself.

I am able to forgive others not only because God has forgiven me through the death of Jesus, but because Jesus has paid for the sins of others that were committed against me.  (Jesus has paid the punishment for all your disciple’s sins, even the sins against you.)  John writes:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)

The height of hypocrisy is to expect God and others to forgive me while I refuse to forgive others or myself.

The Kindness of Friendship

Jonathan is my hero.  He provides for us an example of the heart of friendship a discipler should have towards his disciple.  Though a courageous warrior, Jonathan was a kind man, living counter to his surroundings and upbringing.  His father, King Saul, was an angry, violent, proud, and irrational person. Although his siblings were products of their environment, Jonathan became humble, loyal, affectionate, and a good friend.  He gives us hope that we are not fated to repeat our family’s dysfunction and self-destructive behavior.

As the story of Jonathan and David’s friendship unfolds we get a glimpse into the heart of Jonathan.  Though heir to the throne, Jonathan was submissive to the purpose and will of God even though it meant for him a displacement to a secondary role.  He actually chose to be a friend to the very man who would take his place as king.

But are there really any secondary roles in God’s economy?   I do not believe that David could have become the man of God that he did without the foundation of Jonathan’s friendship in his life.  Jonathan not only loved David but he taught him how to place a confidence in the purpose of God.  Once when David was running for his life from Saul, Jonathan was able to speak courage into the heart of David because of his own trust in the sovereignty of God.

And Saul’s son, Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you.  You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you.  Even my father Saul knows this.”  The two of them made a covenant before the Lord.  Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.  (1 Samuel 23:16-18)

Placing others ahead of myself is at the heart of following Jesus and making disciples.  To be a follower of Jesus is to live for others.  This is not only what Jesus taught but also what he displayed by his life.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  (Mark 10:45)

When I place the interest of my friend’s life ahead of my own I am illustrating the good news of Jesus to the world.   My nature is to watch out for myself and trust no one.  Only my surrender to the sovereign purpose of God can rescue me from the pull of self-centeredness.

Jonathan embraced God’s purpose for his own life by understanding and embracing God’s purpose for his friend David’s life.  Jonathan then purposed to join God in making David king and to serve him as the second man; in other words, to make David a success.

It is when I recognize that there is a divine purpose for the life of my disciple and that I willingly join the Holy Spirit in fulfilling that purpose, no matter the cost, that I become a true friend.    Many want a Jonathan and David type friendship but few are willing to pay the price.  It is in losing my life for the sake of a friend that I find my own life’s purpose.


Kindness is the starting point for making a disciple.  The discipler pursues his disciple by extending to him an invitation of friendship through kindness.   Jesus demonstrates this approach in Matthew 11 when he says:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

This verse is a reminder for the followers of Jesus of the attitude we should have towards our mates, children, disciples, and friends.

For many the world has been a cruel experience resulting in a callousness, coldness, and weariness.  (Who can forget the brutality of Jr. High?  Even as adults how rare it is to hear a kind word or receive an act of kindness.)   Stephen Covey has observed:

People are very tender, very sensitive inside.  I don’t believe age or experience makes much difference.  Inside, even within the most toughened and calloused exteriors are the tender feelings and emotions of the heart. [1]

My kindness to others is an invitation for them to experience the heart of God, the nature of His family and kingdom, and the message of the good news of Jesus.  As Paul wrote:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”  (Titus 3:4-6)

Some closing thoughts:

  • Building Trust.  Do not be surprised at an initial response of resistance or indifference from your disciple to your kindness.  Cruelty makes one suspicious and cynical.  It may take many investments of kindness before your disciple will be able to trust you.  He will test you.
  • Learning.  Disciple making involves both mind and heart because a wounded heart hinders a head from right thinking.   Your heart is the best classroom for your disciple.
  • Healing. Healing occurs for your disciple as you allow him to enter your heart where he can experience gentleness and humility.
  • Listening.  One of the kindest things you can do for your disciple is to listen to him.

[1] Covey, Stephen “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p.193.