The following is the transcript of a talk that Epic staff Jonathan Chan gave at the University of Buffalo, to a gathering of Epic students, and fraternity and sorority members. It covers themes of love, acceptance, and belonging through friendship, and through the ultimate source of transparency and constancy — Jesus Christ. Consider sharing this with your friends, or using it for a small group discussion or outreach on campus!
I am a brother in a fraternity and I am also a Christian who is on staff with the Epic Movement. That might sound hypocritical to be both Christian and a “frat person,” depending on which camp you are from, but God loves those in frats and sororities just as much as he loves those in Christian fellowships. Today, I want to share some of my journey of finding true friendship, in the context of community and a fraternity.
I left my social circles at home when I went to college as a freshman. One of my first missions upon my arrival was to find a group of friends to belong to, and be accepted by. I came up short after looking through church fellowships. I didn’t “click” with anyone there at first. However, I did click with a group of guys that were pledging a new fraternity. We bonded over “activities” and learned what it meant to be brothers. We also pledged to uphold the values of the fraternity which were in many ways similar to Christianity. I was drawn to the values of service, professionalism, unity, leadership, brotherhood, and discipline — to name a few. Some people join a fraternity or a sorority because it’s cool, others join it to “become” somebody, but I joined it to make friends. The pledging process wasn’t easy — my grades plummeted that semester, but I came out of that process with a lot of great memories and what I had hoped for… friends.
Some of what we look for in Friendship
How many of us in the deepest sense feel fully known and fully accepted by somebody? Someone who knows the shameful parts of your life, yet still stays by your side? Someone who knows what a bum you can be, but has the patience to maintain a relationship with you in light of it? Someone with whom you can share your deepest hurts and joys, and know that they won’t run away because of it? Someone to whom you may have done something terrible, but who has forgiven you even at a great cost to themselves?
I was looking for friendship full of transparency and constancy — that is to say — when people can be fully known by one another in a committed friendship. I think you can be a part of a fraternity, a sorority, and/or a Christian community but not have true genuine friendship, if there isn’t transparency and constancy. Let’s look at a passage from the Bible about this.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
We can see the transparency in a real friendship from Jesus.
- From the passage in John, Jesus displays transparency by way of revealing his plans and heart. He tells his disciples they are not simply servants who are given orders, but friends with whom he discloses his mission and knowledge. A distinguishing mark of friendship for Jesus here is “revelation.”
- DA Carson wrote, “A potentate demands obedience in all his subjects. His slaves, however, are simply told what to do, while his friends are informed of his thinking, enjoy his confidence, and learn to obey with a sense of privilege and with full understanding of their master’s heart.” (The Gospel According to John, p.522-523)
Why are we afraid to air our dirty laundry to people? Why are we sometimes afraid to share what we really think about something? Why are we sometimes ashamed of sharing our hopes and dreams with others? I knew a lot about my friends in the fraternity, but I didn’t let them know about all of me. I was filled with insecurities and didn’t want to give them an opportunity to make light of it.
In both human and divine friendship there is deep self-disclosure. Friends do not give only surface information. They don’t manipulate each other, putting on a “front,” seeking to control what your friend knows about you. How transparent are you with your friends?
There have always been covenantal relationships throughout time. These are relationships that are constant and binding on us. In a covenantal relationship, the good of the other person and the relationship take precedence over our own needs. For example, a parent gets very, very little out of caring for an infant. But that doesn’t matter, since it has always been understood that a parent-child relationship is covenantal:
- Constancy does not mean simply being there when the chips are down — though it includes that.
- Constancy means being there consistently. Friends spend time together. They eat together, they process the day’s events together, and go through the ups and downs of life together.
Jesus is the ultimate example of this kind of constancy in friendship. He said, “Greater love has no one than this — that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In the Garden of Gethsemane, he saw his friends falling asleep on him at his moment of greatest need, yet he lay down his life for them. When he had a choice between going to “hell” on the cross, as it were or losing his friends forever, he took “hell!”
In both human and divine friendships there is loyalty and commitment to the good of the others, even (or especially) when this comes at a sacrifice to your own comfort and convenience. Christianity is saying that friendship and love have elements of transparency and constancy. You may be saying to yourself, “no one can do that perfectly.” I think you are right, but there is hope.
The gospel of Jesus says while Christians are in themselves sinful and are continuously sinning, yet in Christ (in God’s sight) they are accepted and righteous. A pastor, Tim Keller, captures this well: “we can say that we are more sinful than we ever dared believe, but at the same time more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.” This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. Without this, friendship becomes as deep as you yourself are able to produce.
Jesus died on the cross in our place, so that we didn’t have to die the death that we deserve. To deal with our “ragged clothes,” Jesus didn’t snap his fingers and say “alllright, you have a lot of crap in your life, but I’ll make it disappear by snapping my fingers so you can hang with me.” He did something greater by dying on the cross for all our messiness and failures. He died so that we can have life.
What does that do for you? Because you know you are loved by the God of the universe, and you are fully accepted and fully known by Him, you can be freed to enter in relationships as you truly are — without fear of rejection or taking the risk of losing a friendship! You can be friends without putting on a “front,” because you are loved eternally even after our bodies fail us, to the Nth degree.
I don’t know about you, but I long to be in a presence of others where I am accepted and known; to be in a place where I can contribute to another person’s life and receive their contributions. The values of a fraternity, a sorority, and a Christian community support this, but I think without Jesus, it won’t be complete.
This might or might not be the first time you have heard this. Or you might be saying to yourself, “the Christians I know are hypocrites and do not model this at all.” Sadly, you are more than likely right. But I will say Christianity doesn’t depend on Christians, it depends on who Jesus is and what He has done. I’d encourage you to get to know him. He is a God of love, justice, righteous wrath, comfort, peace, and fun. He is definitely worth getting to know. He already says that you are worth getting to know.
- Jon shares about transparency in friendship. What does that mean to you? What is true and false transparency? And why is it hard in your life and relationships?
- Jon shares that “constancy involves being there consistently” for one another, through the ups and downs of life. What are some of the barriers that come in the way of constancy, in relationships?
- What do you think about the Bible passage John 15:9-15? What questions does it provoke? To what degree is it hard or easy to believe that Jesus can fulfill our longing for transparency and constancy?