What Does it Mean to be a Friend of God

what does it mean to be a friend of God

            The author of the Gospel of John has laid out a narrative which seeks to introduce the purpose, ideas and nature of Jesus to a widespread audience made up of Jews and Gentiles. From this understanding we can see how the author uses events such as the Farwell Discourse to demonstrate how one is to follow Christ and how they are to live in this world which is awaiting total redemption. Yet within the Farwell Discourse lies a brief exposition where Jesus equated his faithful disciples as friends. Therefore, what does it mean on both on a practical and a theological level to be considered a friend of God according to John 15:9-17?

            It is my intention to demonstrate how the Old Testament, Jewish culture and Greco-Roman philosophy influenced the original understanding of John 15:9-17 and provides insights into how we can apply this text today. John 15:9-17 historically demonstrates how being friend of God is a one-way designation given to obedient disciples who fulfill the mandate of “bearing fruit” through the expansion of the kingdom of God by preaching, discipleship and loving others according to the revelations they have received through a close relationship with Jesus. In a modern context the people who can be considered friends of God are Christians who work obediently and faithfully alongside the Holy Spirit to bring about long lasting spiritual fruit in this world.

John 15:9-17 Within the Narrative of the Gospel of John

            The passage in question is found in the second half of what is known as the Farwell discourse which spans from chapter fourteen through to chapter seventeen. The author dedicated such as large part of his gospel to this event as it provides the final instruction of Jesus given to the disciples before his subsequent arrest and crucifixion. In many ways these are “death bed” instructions given in a manner similar to Joseph demanding his bones be brought to the land promised to Abraham in Genesis 50:25.

This exposition then is Jesus’s attempt to prepare the disciples for life after the resurrection and to encourage them to go about continuing the work he began on earth. John 15:15 highlights the discourse on friendship is located between the parable of the vine and the admission to prepare to endure persecution with the help of the Holy Spirit. This section on friendship then is the climax of the disciples pre-Pentecost journey where they are recognized as being no longer the servants or followers of Christ but now have been promoted to a deeper relationship as through “the impact of fresh revelation, ‘servants’ give way to ‘friends’”.[1]

            To better understand this section and the overall concept of friendship with God we need to recognize two overarching concepts in the Gospel of John: friendship and love. In relation to the totality of the gospel the author speaks of the concept of friendship in other places such as in 3:29 which speaks of the friends of the bridegroom. Furthermore in 11:11 Jesus referred to Lazarus as “our friend”[2] who has fallen asleep. The final instance is in 19:12 where the Jewish leaders accuse Pilate of not being a true friend of Caesar. These verses speak to a level of interpersonal interaction a familiarity which goes beyond the idea of a passing neighbor and to something of greater significance.

The second key recurring in the Gospel of John is love which is expressed by God to the world (3:16), to Jesus (3:25, 10:17), and to the disciples (13:34). This love from God is expected to be reciprocated by the disciples and followers of Christ towards other people (15:12). Jesus then is the example of love and John 15 love is presented in “the aorist tense, depicting his love as a complete action, denoting perhaps the entire demonstration of Jesus’ love for his disciples.”[3] The emphasis placed on these concepts in the Gospel of John speak of a reciprocal relationship which is not based on feeling but instead on action.

Understanding the Meaning Behind “Friend”

            The modern concept of a friend and friendship in general is one which is mostly foreign to the culture leading up to and comprising the original audience of the Gospel of John. To better understand the usage of the term friend sued by Jesus through the author of the gospel we need to understand the way the Greeks understood this work. The Greek word used in John 15:15 is φίλος and it is seen as meaning “a person with whom one has a close bond or friendship or to whom one is under a basic obligation.” [4] In a broader sense φίλος was also used by the Greeks to demonstrate a personal friend, a loved one in a homo-erotic sense, the lover, the favourite (esp. of the gods), an ally, followers” of a political leader, and clients who cluster around a prominent and wealthy man. [5]   

            For the author of the Gospel of John the choice to use the word φίλος was not an arbitrary one as it was commonly used in the Septuagint to translate of the Hebrew word רֵעַ. In Hebrew רֵעַ was used to define both the ideas of friendship and being a neighbor to a person. However there does appear to be a divergence from the Septuagint’s and the Gospels use of friend in relation to the Hebrew connotation. As the “Alexandrian translators, who naturally thought of friendship in Hellenistic categories, arbitrarily introduced φίλος for רֵעַ at many points”[6] rather than the word πλεσιν which is more in line with the Hebrew understanding of being a neighbor. We see then that the Greek overtones of friendship are driving us more towards an understanding which is foreign both to modern understanding and to the ancient Jewish cultural context.

Old Testament Precedents Concerning Friendship         

            To better understand the concept of friendship which is being advanced by Jesus and the author of the Gospel of John we next need to look back to the Old Testament and see how this idea originates and develops. When we look at the dynamic of being a “friend of God” the first person which fits that description is the patriarch Abraham. In 1 Chronicles 20:7 the author speaks of how God drove the Canaanites from the land in which was given to the “descendants of Abraham your friend.”[7] This title is also attributed to Abraham in Isaiah 41:8 where the prophet speaks of Israel being the “offspring of Abraham, my friend” or in a literal sense “my loving one/who loved me.” [8] This recognition of this higher status of Abraham continued in the intertestamental period with Jubilee 19:9 and into the New Testament in James 2:23.

             With Abraham the Old Testament paints a theological picture of a person who was chosen by God for a purpose and reciprocated that calling through faithfulness and obedience. Paul speaks rightly of Abraham in Galatians 3:6-9 who through obedience and faith received the gift of righteousness, that is the right to stand near to God in relationship. In Genesis Abraham is seen as one who had the privilege to speak with God concerning his plans in the world. In Genesis 18 we see that Abraham’s relationship with God allowed him to elevate past the level of servant and to know what his master was doing and the ability to influence those decisions. Furthermore, Abraham is rewarded with a promise that through his descendants that the entire world will be blessed because of his active relationship with God.

            The second key example of a person being a friend of God in the Old Testament is Moses who is described in Exodus 33:11 as the one who spoke with God “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Much like Abraham this elevated status given to Moses was in response similar factors such as being chosen as an instrument of God, continual faith in God’s plans, in his continual obedience[9] to God. Conversely the “golden calf incident caused a clear rift between God and his people, but Moses was God’s loyal servant and friend. God was distancing himself from Israel, but growing closer to Moses.”[10] Unlike the people Moses was granted access to God’s plans and purposes and allowed to not only listen but to intercede. This relationship then becomes part of the underlying structure of what we see in John 15:15 where Jesus implies “that the mark of the friend (as opposed to the servant) is that he knows the purpose and meaning of the commands given to him.”[11]

            Aside from the idea of friendship between God and man the Old Testament also offers insight into the interpersonal concept of friendship between people. One of the strongest examples of interpersonal friendship is the relationship between Jonathan and David which is highlighted in 2 Samuel 1:26. Here David laments the loss of his friend by stating how “your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” In this simple example of friendship, we see a great deal of trust and active faithfulness which resulted in Jonathan protecting David from the Saul and David later seeking out to bless Mephibosheth on account of his friendship and covenant with Jonathan.

            This example factors into the John 15:15 as it demonstrates the long-lasting benefits and blessings a person can receive on account of the covenantal friendship or “the knitting of souls”[12] between others. We can summarize then that according to the Old Testament “friendship implies the sharing of information about oneself. Psalm 25:14 links the friendship of God with the fact that God makes his covenant known to his friends.”[13] From a place of friendship comes access to revelation and promises from God which carries with it a responsibility to contribute to the fulfillment of those promises while maintain hope that those same promises will be fulfilled by God.

Cultural Backgrounds of Friendship

Second Temple era Jewish Cultural Influences

            Beyond the bounds of the Old Testament there are several other significant Jewish cultural factors which influence our understanding of the idea of friendship the author of John was conveying to his readers. During the Second Temple era several pseudographical and apocryphal books were created which held a certain amount of respect in the Jewish community. One of those books was the Wisdom of Sirach which followed the narrative style of Jewish wisdom literature. This book addressees the concept of friendship in 6:16-17 and declares:

A loyal friend is like a medicine that keeps you in good health. Only those who fear the Lord can find such a friend. 17 A person who fears the Lord can make real friendships, because he will treat his friends as he does himself. (GNT)

Sirach demonstrates the importance of friendship and makes an interesting connection between the availability of friendship and one’s relationship with God. In the Gospel of John this concept is taken to the next level as the “loyal friend” being described is not a human but God himself.

            Other places such as 3 Maccabees 5:19, 44 also speak of the idea of friendship but in this context it follows a more Hellenistic understanding. Here friendship is less about a mutual relationship and has to do more with being an associate or and advisor to a king. This example furthers the idea that one of the more “important aspect of ancient friendship was the sharing of information and confidences.”[14] This sharing of information ranges from relationships between a king and his advisors and even between a Rabbi and his disciples.

            One place where Jewish culture differed from Hellenistic influences can be seen in the willingness to die for one’s friend.Antiquity shows examples such as Tigranes the king of Armenia declaring that he would give his own life to rescue his wife from Cyrus the king of Persia in an event which unexpectedly forged a new friendship between both men. [15] Despite this high moral value Greeks placed upon on such actions Jewish contemporaries of John such as “Rabbi Akiba argued that one’s own life took precedence over another’s.” [16] This cultural understanding then adds greater significance to Jesus’s words in John 15:13 as to die for the law was noble but it was not so for another person.

            Despite the apparent Jewish upbringing of the author of the Gospel of John we must concede that many of the original readers of that gospel would have been Hellenized Gentiles and Diaspora Jews. Therefore to understand Jewish culture in the first century we must consult the writings of Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – AD 50) to better Jews outside of Palestine, and of those in the early church.

            When it comes to the concept of friendship Philo stresses “that cleaving to God is a spiritual process that leads to true friendship and love of God, which leads in turn to eternal life next to him.”[17] This cleaving to God is later seen in his comments about Moses’s relationship with God and explains how God’s “frankness of speech is akin to friendship.”[18] In terms of a similar relationship between Abraham and God Philo comments:

He alone is nobly born, for he has registered God as his father and become by adoption His only son, the possessor not of riches, but of all riches, faring sumptuously where there is nought (sic) but good things, unstinted in number and sterling in worth, which alone wax not old through time, but ever renew their youth;[19]

            The overarching idea then presented by Philo that “a full union with the transcendent creator is not only possible but in fact the pinnacle of Mosaic Law.”[20] Although this pinnacle was not reached until the incarnation and resurrection of Christ who made this union and friendship truly possible to a wide range of people.

Hellenistic Cultural Influences

             Given the spread of Christianity into Hellenized parts of the Roman Empire we must assume that given the universal nature in which the Gospel of John was written there would have been some allowance given that many of its original readers would have been steeped in Hellenistic culture. Therefore, it is important to examine the larger Hellenistic concepts of friendship and determine which if any can have bearing on the larger idea of friendship. As we have already seen the general concept of φίλος was relatively foreign to the Jewish vernacular, so it is necessary to trace this concept back to its source and see how it influenced what was recorded in the gospel. Often this idea of friendship was equated with royal patronage as we see with those allowed into inner circle of Alexander of Macedon; “the king honoured the physician with magnificent gifts and assigned him to the most loyal category of Friends.”[21] While this view of friendship was quite common in Roman culture the Greeks also extended this idea to include people who were social equals and those in a client-patron relationship even if they were part of different social classes.

            One common denominator stands out in Greek friendship that no matter “one’s social level, reciprocity stands out as the key feature of friendship.[22] This reciprocity ranged from favors and services and could be seen to include even the death of one to protect the other. Aristotle spoke of this ultimate sacrifice by saying “But it is also true that the virtuous man’s conduct is often guided by the interests of his friends and of his country, and that he will if necessary lay down his life in their behalf.”[23] Aristotle goes on to speak highly of the concept of friendship between people going as far as to say, “it is thought that a good man is a friendly man, and that friendship is a state of the moral character.” [24] This view on friendship is later coupled with the idea that such friendships are being based on goodness, utility and pleasure.[25]

When it comes to the possibility of a friendship between mankind and the god(s) Aristotle believed that this was no more likely than a man could be a friend to his slave or his tools. The philosopher saw the vast differences between man and the gods and concluded that “but when one becomes very remote from the other, as God is remote from man, it (friendship) can continue no longer.”[26] This viewpoint however was not accepted across all facets of Greek philosophy as Epictetus commented “did not Socrates love his own children? He did; but it was as a free man, as one who remembered that he must first be a friend to the gods.”[27]

            For the readers of the Gospel of John they would have been confronted with the understanding of the separation between people and the God’s advanced by Aristotle and the bridging of such a gap by Jesus in his offer of friendship. In the Greek viewpoint Jesus was fulfilling the role of a friend in dying for his followers which are prophetically referred to as a new nation. It can be concluded then that the Greek ideas of friendship are generally compatible with the narrative set in the gospel. Although the limited form of friendship is taken to a higher level the expectation of reciprocity expected from the followers of God will form a core pillar of the idea of being a friend of God.

The Impact of John 15:9-17 on its Original Audience

            What the original readers of the Gospel of John may have first noticed is that Jesus in this passage “were addressed to a group that was not going to act very friendly… What sort of thing must Jesus think friendship is if he used it so confidently of these people?”[28] In terms of the narrative of John just a few hours after Jesus granted to title of friends to the disciples they ran away from him and Peter went as far as to deny him three times. Despite the short-term failures of the newly minted friends of God there remains a great deal of theological insight the original audience of the Gospel would of gleaned.

Initiated by Jesus

            Jesus states in John 15:16 that he was the one responsible for choosing the disciples to be his students and companions. This language would of evoked the memory of the likes of Abraham and Moses the friends of God who to had been chosen to advance the plan of redemption and to announce a new inauguration of a covenant. This selection of the disciples is not seen in a light of slavery but instead of love and Jesus affirms love for them if they continue to follow his commands, a similar offer made to Israel in the wilderness.

            Jesus then is taking responsibility for the initiation of the relationship but places upon the disciples an obligation to fulfill their part of the relationship. Not in a client-patron manner but a progression from teacher-student to a closer relationship which would continue not in face to face encounters but through the coming Holy Spirit. Through this unmerited favor shown through Jesus we see that “God has initiated everything about this friendship, leaving those brought close to him to respond in faithfulness as they draw on the example of the Father and his sent one.”[29] For those reading this section they would be encouraged that they too have been set aside by God and they to through the Holy Spirit can come to a deeper place of knowing Christ.

Friend of God: A One-Way Designation

What stands out from this offer of friendship is that at no point does anyone declare they themselves are a friend of God. Here we see Jesus declare that he is their friend but the disciples (and later followers) do not make the same reciprocal comment. This is because “Jesus the Son is never our peer either! He calls the disciples his ‘friends’ in order that they might know and do the will of his Father.” [30] The original readers would of recognized that this “friendship is not mutual in the same way as human friendships usually are.” [31]

Jesus and Jesus alone is the one giving commands while the disciples, although being friends, are the ones expected to fulfill those commands. In this sense even the concept of prayer can fit into this idea as God is not bound to fulfill all of our own desires and he encourages us to pray according to his will. While we can petition God as Abraham did over the fate of Sodom we cannot command God to do things contrary to his will. This left the disciples and the original audience to grasp the idea that while they have greater access to God they are still expected to submit to the King.

Love and Obedience

Leading up to the declaration of friendship made by Jesus he first expounds the necessity for love to be present within his followers. Using first the example of himself first loving them he sets the stage for part of their responsibility as friends of God. In John 15:12 Jesus give the explicit command to “Love each other as I have loved you.”

            The type of love and intimate union being modeled in this passage is “ not merely a mystical experience but a relational encounter, for he gives it content with the term ‘love’”[32] For the early followers they would of perceived this being a command to follow in order to demonstrate their faithfulness and allegiance to Jesus. Love is an action which is required to demonstrate the reality of one’s conversion to Christ. We see this demonstrated in John 13:35  where Jesus declares “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Expectation to Go and Bear Fruit

            Along with the exception for the disciples to love one another Jesus also placed upon those who are called friends the responsibility to continue his work upon the Earth. Following the declaration of being friends Jesus returns to the language of the parable of the vine and commands the disciples to go out and bear fruit. One of Jesus’s primary goals during his ministry was to bring glory to the Father and now Jesus appoints those he calls friends to continue that very same work.

            Much like the test of fruitfulness given to the branches of the vine in John 15:1-6 so to are the friends of God expected to take what they receive from Christ (spiritual sap) the vine and to bring about the expansion of the Kingdom of God upon the earth. Understanding this context, we see why “Father would answer their requests in order to accomplish that mission”[33]

and why Jesus would offer the “the full sharing of confidential information”[34] The goal of a friend of God then is to go about in love and produce spiritual “fruit that will last”[35] in the Earth which results in added friends of God who go about and do likewise.

Possible Applications of John 15:9-17

            Traditionally this section from the Gospel of John has been interpreted in a variety of ways. John Chrysostom emphasized the aspect of heavenly revelation: “and since to speak of secrets appears to be the strongest proof of friendship.” [36] While Augustine focused on the concept of obedience: “that it is the duty of servants to yield obedience to their master’s commands.”[37] Finally Ambrose of Milan spoke of our unity with Christ: “to unfold to him our secrets which we hold in our own hearts… He who is of one mind with Him, he too is His friend.[38]

            In a modern context we can apply this verse through two primary avenues. First of which is in the development of our personal relationships with Christ through the Holy Spirit. By which we receive insights and illumination from the scriptures which aid us in living according to the commands of Christ, as a good friend of God is one who is obedient. We to have the same offer of revelation and relationship available to us today if we are willing to demonstrate obedience and commitment to Christ.

            Secondly, we are to continue the work of Jesus upon the earth, through ministry, preaching, teaching, love and a host of other means. We to are bound to the commands to love others and to bear fruit that will last upon this Earth as we draw from the vine. In fulfilling those commands, we to can have assurance that God will hear our prayers which are in line with his will and that he will provide the revelation needed to fulfill that mandate.


            To be a friend of God according to not only John 15:9-17 but also the cultural undertones which permeate the Gospel of John is not a matter of mystery but of concrete action. Those who are willing embrace this status of friend of God have hope if they are prepared to live a life of obedience to the commands of Christ. Which includes the mandate of bearing fruit through the expansion of the kingdom of God by preaching, discipleship and loving others according to the revelations they receive through a constant fellowship with the Holy Spirit.  While we are never an equal with God in this relationship, we are offered the opportunity to go beyond a distant relationship with a heavenly teacher and instead come into intimate fellowship with him. That is if we are faithful in our commitment to bring about the commands of our King in this world as he goes about bringing glory to God and creating additional friends of God.

     [1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 510.

     [2] All scriptures used in this paper are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

     [3] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 315.

     [4] Justin Langford, “Friendship,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

     [5] Gustav Stählin, “Φιλέω, Καταφιλέω, Φίλημα, Φίλος, Φίλη, Φιλία,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 146–147.

     [6] Ibid, 156.

     [7] Hebrew: אָהֵב LXX: τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ

     [8] J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 286.

     [9] With the exception of the incident at Meribah in Numbers 20.

     [10] Anthony T. Selvaggio, From Bondage to Liberty: The Gospel according to Moses, ed. Iain M. Duguid, The Gospel according to the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014), 145.

     [11] R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 2, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 234.

     [12] see Deuteronomy 13:6.

     [13] Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 309.

     [14] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 317.

     [15] Xenophon, Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 5 and 6, trans. Walter Miller (Medford, MA: Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London., 1914) 3.1.37.

     [16] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Jn 15:12–13.

     [17] Afterman, Adam. “From Philo to Plotinus: The Emergence of Mystical Union.” The Journal of Religion 93, no. 2 (2013): 191. Accessed April 6, 2020. doi:10.1086/667598.

     [18] Philo, Philo, trans. F. H. Colson, G. H. Whitaker, and J. W. Earp, vol. 4, The Loeb Classical Library (London; England; Cambridge, MA: William Heinemann Ltd; Harvard University Press, 1929–1962), 295, Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres, Book V, verse 21.

     [19] Ibid. 473, De Sobrietate 11:56.

     [20] Afterman, Adam. “From Philo to Plotinus: The Emergence of Mystical Union.” The Journal of Religion 93, no. 2 (2013): 189-190. Accessed April 6, 2020. doi:10.1086/667598.

     [21] Diodorus, Siculus, 17.31.6, Perseus Digital Library, accessed April 8, 2020, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0084%3Abook%3D17%3Achapter%3D31%3Asection%3D6

     [22] Justin Langford, “Friendship,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

     [23] Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 19, translated by H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1934), 1169, Nicomachean Ethics Book 9.9.

     [24] Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Translated by H. Rackham., vol. 20 (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1981), Eudemian Ethics Book 7.

     [25] Ibid.

     [26] Aristotle, Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 19, translated by H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1934), 1169, Nicomachean Ethics Book 8.7.

     [27] “Epictetus Diatr. 3.24.60, Perseus Digital Library, accessed April 8, 2020, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0236%3Atext%3Ddisc%3Abook%3D3%3Achapter%3D24

     [28] Peter Dula, “The Politics of Friendship in the Gospel of John.” In Reading Scripture as a Political Act: Essays on Theopolitical Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Tapie Matthew A. and McClain Daniel Wade, by Fowl Stephen E. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, 2015), 43. Accessed April 5, 2020. doi:10.2307/j.ctt155j37g.6.

     [29] Darrell L. Brock and Benjamin I. Simpson, Jesus According to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 633.

     [30] Robbie Castleman, “The Last Word: My Father and Common Grace,” Themelios 29, no. 3 (2004): 44.

     [31] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 317.

     [32] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary vol. 2 (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 1003.

     [33] Edwin A. Blum, “John,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 326.

     [34] Joseph Dongell, John: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 1997), 185.

     [35] John 15:16

     [36] John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Gospel of St. John,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. G. T. Stupart, vol. 14, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 282.

     [37] Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. John Gibb and James Innes, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 351.

     [38] Ambrose of Milan, “On the Duties of the Clergy,” in St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin, and H. T. F. Duckworth, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1896), 89.

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How to build a Post-Modern Church

How to build a Post-Modern Church

            The tried and true systems of the Western Church no longer work, as systems and programs which worked for decades are becoming obsolete at an alarming rate. This drastic shift in Western culture is forcing the church to change at a rate it has not experienced since the apostolic age and the current rate of change increases each year.

            In dealing with this tsunami of change we are forced to ask the question of what is the role of the Church in communicating the message of the gospel in a Post-Modern context? The answer comes not from tried and true methods from the Enlightenment Era but instead we shall see how the answer comes from the church letting go of its immovable institutional bedrock and embracing the era of plastic Christianity. A church which remains grounded doctrinally but is plastic and malleable in how it presents its message and interacts with the ever-shifting Western culture.

Living Under the Post-Modern Shadow of “Change” Culture

            We can look at the concept of culture as being the culmination of all of the ways of living as humans (including language, media, myths, writings, knowledge, science, art, religion, laws, etc.).” Culture is based on experience, thought and the ebbs and flows of people, so it is no shock that culture changes its values, goals or identity over the centuries. However, the struggle being faced today is that culture no longer takes centuries to change. Through modern marketing, the revolution in technology, and the shrinking global village ideas and thoughts are instantaneous. Whereas before an idea would be put in a book, distributed and years or decades later it would be part of the communal consciousness, now that process can take less than a minute.

            Through this instantaneous communication and sharing of ideas culture has become one of rapid change, where large scale celebrations, disagreements, and defining moments happen daily. The church overall has failed to adapt to this era of change and the juggernaut of technology and in many cases is still caught fighting the battles of the Enlightenment era. Which is no surprise because the church in the West is still marred by the death of Christendom.

The Unmourned Death of Christendom

            “The iron grip of dogma has been loosened,”[1] is how Newbigin summarizes how the Enlightenment era’s doctrines of Reason and Progress brought cultural emancipation from the institutional church. This shift in culture marked the end of Christian Europe as the people sought other sources such as the sciences to answer their foundational questions: “who am I,” “why am I here” and “where am I going.” We see that “a vast amount of what earlier ages and other cultures simply accepted as given facts of life are now subject to human decision,”[2] and often those decisions were the opposite opinion of the church.

            Unfortunately, the church’s reactions to Modernity consisted of withdrawal, accommodation, and resistance. This cultural retreat created a sociological vacuum which the patriarchs of the Enlightenment took advantage of and supplanted the church as one of the pillars of society. From that point on Christian faith was severely questioned or dismissed on the grounds that many of its claims could not be proven scientifically and that “Christianity’s historicity was not compatible with Modern historical criticism.”

            There is a feeling that the church never mourned its diminishment in the culture and simply sought to do business as usual” until everything went back to the way it was before. Grief and change were substituted with isolation and programs leaving the church missionally unprepared for the next seismic shift in culture.

A Post-Modern Picture

            From the embers of the Enlightenment and the age of Modernity came an unexpected shift in culture. Away went the intellectual imperialism of the Enlightenment and in came the emotional and relational age of Post-Modernity. Both cultures share a common thread of individualism, science and expression but beneath the surface are stark differences. In many ways Post-Modernity can be seen as a rebellion against the dogma of Modernity, which in itself was a rebellion against the dogma of the church.

            Whereas the key terms of Modernity were enlightenment, reason, freedom and progress, the Post-Modern mindset instead utilizes the key terms of feeling, deconstructionism, anti-narrative, meta, liquid, holistic and participation. Post-Moderns are seeking out a truth which works for them in their own individual context but is also compatible with their larger community. They are marked by tolerance of other’s beliefs,[3] a preference for practicality over theories and finding meaning through experiences. The aspect about Post-Modernism the church struggles with the most is how they believe that no single account of reality is privileged and that all are equally valid. Not only are all accounts valid but new ones are created at an astounding rate.

Looking Back to the First Century to Meet Today’s Needs

            Newbigin rightly points out that today “we live in a pagan society and not a secular society”[4] and we can argue that spirituality has reached a new peak of popularity. For instance, in Metro-Vancouver there are more metaphysical/spiritual bookstores than Christian bookstores. We see with Post-Moderns and their holistic approach a hunger for something more than cold empiricism, but they have also largely determined that the church cannot meet these needs. So, in many ways the contemporary church finds itself in the same place as the church of the apostolic age.

            Two thousand years ago “the Fathers wrestled with these issues in their pagan multi-cultural world, so we must do so again in ours.”[5] For the church to not just thrive but survive under this culture it must learn how to “be bilingual in their communal life… Congregations are responsible to learn the language of faith because they are created by the Spirit. But they are also responsible to learn the language of their specific setting because they are contextual.”[6]

            This was similar to the approach taken in the early Christian work the Letter to Diognetus which described Christians as blending into society in terms of language and dress but living by a higher code of conduct. Those early Christians were able to impact their culture because they knew how to navigate it. For contemporary Christians to have similar success they to must accept the culture they are in and learn how to relate to people within it. This is not a surrender to the ethics of the culture, but it is instead the acceptance that we must know how to speak its language, and how to empathize with its values.

A Three-Fold Plastic Church is the Answer

            The impact of Post-Modern ideology upon the church has involved a systematic reorganization of how the church “does church.” This is a culture where the Bible is seen more as an object of reflection rather than something to study. Stories and inspiration has replaced facts and doctrinal basics as people are more concerned about what the message makes them feel rather than on how the message changes or challenges them. Finally, we see the church having to emphasize a more relational type of theology which is commonly expressed through small group meetings and ministry.

            Through all of these forced changes the church has had to go through it can be difficult to maintain a sense of what the role of the church is in today’s society. What does become clear is for the church to maintain itself in this cultural season it has to learn how to let go of “what worked yesterday,” and begin to take on a more plastic (malleable) approach to ministry. An approach that is open to new ideas that may not work for more than a year or two. There must be a willingness to offer a variety of ministry options to meet the varied needs of communities which are become more complex each year.

Role of the Church

            First and foremost, the church exists in the world as the primary presence of God’s glory on this planet. The church is the visible and invisible union of all those in covenant relationship with Christ who gather together to worship, pray, learn and receive the tools necessary so they can go out into the world and fulfill the Great Commission. Given that the “church no longer has a privileged position within North American culture, it is rediscovering its fundamental missionary identity to live as a new community demonstrating God’s redemptive reign in the broader society.”[7]

            The core role of the church is to act as a base of operations for the members of the Kingdom of God in each community. Traditionally the role of the church was seen akin to a stone fortress, engineered to withstand attacks while providing a visible place of safety and escape from the wilderness. But in our contemporary era it could be better to envision the church as an aircraft carrier. A mobile facility able to move where it is needed to deploy others to accomplish the mission of the Kingdom. A cultural shift in the view of the role of the church however must be supported from the top down, as in a healthy contemporary church “the pastor’s primary role is to train and equip believers to use their gifts and talents to help build the kingdom.

Three-Fold Approach

            To move from a mindset of a fortress to an aircraft carrier the contemporary Western church must first embrace a plastic approach to it missional methodology. Secondly it must embrace and employ a three-fold style of ministry which utilizes the head, the heart and the hands of the people. By the head I am speaking of the need for education and proper theology as typically seen in denominations such as Presbyterians and Baptists. The heart speaks of the desire for social change, and humanitarian efforts seen among the Liberal Mainline denominations. Finally, the hand speaks of the evangelistic actions taken by the Pentecostals and the Charismatics who rely more on the moving of the Holy Spirit.

            Typically, these three archetypes of ministry have been separated along denominational trench lines forged in the Enlightenment, leaving the church looking more like a WWI battlefield than the bride of Christ. If the church is to best reach the Post-Modern person, they have to offer all three of these ministry styles. No longer can we allow each group to use “the other’s one-sidedness to justify its own continuing lack of balance, and the division devastates the church’s witness and credibility. I believe that both types of one-sidedness are unbiblical and heretical.”[8]

            This is not a call for some ecumenical amalgamation but instead the reality is that each church must be strong in teaching the scriptures, they have to be outspoken through social actions and they have to be active in evangelism and the moving of the Holy Spirit. In many ways this three-fold approach is the next evolution of John Wesley’s Quadrilateral.

            The church then must be a multi-dimensional church, working in all arenas at once while remaining malleable enough to not get comfortable in certain programs or approaches to ministry. This view of ministry is not impossible and a variation of this has been successfully demonstrated at Te Atatu Christian Fellowship in Auckland New Zealand,[9] and in the concept of a “Shalom Revival” presented by Richard Sider where all three facets are employed simultaneously.[10]

Agents of Reconciliation and Change

            If the post-modern church can follow this malleable threefold approach to ministry, then it will be able to fully act as an agent of reconciliation and change. The church is called to embody in its life and witness the Good News to the world yet far too often it has instead hidden from painful matters in society and culture. The church in its unmourned state following the Enlightenment shied away from the world and became concerned only with the spiritual health of its remaining members. It then became increasingly silent on social issues, or in other instances became the perpetrators of injustices.

The church has felt safe in its preaching of the gospel but has forgotten that “right at the heart of salvation is the new redeemed community.”[11] A redeemed community that is separate from the larger culture but at the same time there is a responsibility to allow the church’s higher ethics to better society. Rather than use the strength of the church to impose its higher ethics upon those outside of the covenant community.

            This is where the church can act as agents of reconciliation, by first seeing itself as agents of community. Where community is prioritized avenues for reconciliation begin to be opened and a dialogue is possible either between the church and the larger community or by having the church play the role of mediator. This involves a shift in worldview from a concept of individual forgiveness of one’s soul to one which sees forgiveness as the source of healing of relationships. For if the church cannot model forgiveness, restoration, or social action, then the world in its fallen state will try to fill the vacuum.

Christians are to live by a higher standard and are obligated according to scripture, the examples of Christ and God’s very nature of reconciliation to take the initiative and call for change, peace, restoration and reconciliation, even if that means the church humbling itself publicly. The truth about the church is that if faithful it “will always challenge what is wrong in the status quo.”[12] If our gospel produces no such change in Christians then what is the point of the gospel in society at large?

A Post-Modern Gospel

            No matter what the culture may look like or demand “evangelism is the ultimate calling of the church,” and evangelism is simply the sharing of the gospel.  For the Western Post-Modern they are looking for a gospel experience where a Christian models the ethics of Christ and is willing to listen to them before preaching to them an unfiltered message of repentance, sin and new beginning. Old tricks or tracts won’t cut it anymore, people are looking to see the message of the gospel demonstrated to them before they are willing to listen to it. Which is why the three-fold approach is so important as action, doctrine and witness all need to be demonstrated.

            The core message of the cross has never changed, and we have to accept that mission and “witness is not about programs and method. It is about openly inviting others into the community of new humanity so they can experience the grace of God.”[13] The gospel is a gateway to a new and higher way of living through the atonement of Christ and in our reconciliation with God. In response to this gift we have an eternal expectation but at the same time the members of the church have a temporal responsibility on earth. A responsibility fueled by the fact that Christ’s reign has been inaugurated (already-not yet) in the earth leaving the church as the visible evidence of his presence who go out to proclaim the message of the cross.



            The church is the culmination of the people who have been changed by the Good News and have the responsibility to teach, witness, and offer acts of compassion to people in the world. The question is not which of these types of ministry the church will offer but whether or not they “are capable of integrating all three in a comprehensive, dynamic and consistent witness.”[14] This is the purpose of the three-fold approach and the plastic mindset the church needs to utilize to best engage with Post-Modern culture.

            “The church is not static; it is a living dynamic social and spiritual reality. This means that the organizational life of the church must be able to respond to growth, development and change.”[15] For the church the rate of change it is experiencing is staggering but through engagement with society and partnership with the Holy Spirit perhaps the church will no longer lag behind but learn once again how to be at the forefront of culture change and not just the victim of it.

[1] Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986), 23.

[2] Newbigin, 17.

[3] Although at times this tolerance seems to be limited only to those who agree with them, as we see with the current state of social media and “cancel culture.”

[4] Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986), X.

[5] T. A. Noble, “Christian Holiness and the Incarnation,” in Holy Trinity, Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfecting (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013), 158-179. 

[6] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 169.

[7] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 43.

[8] Ronald J. Sider, Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 17.

[9] Sider, 49-50.

[10] Sider, 190.

[11] Ronald J. Sider, Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 100.

[12] Ronald J. Sider, Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 77.

[13] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 153.

[14] Orlando Costas.

[15] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 158.

Creative Commons LicenseHow to build a Post-Modern Church Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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The Impact of Modernity on the Life of the Church

The Impact of Modernity on the Life of the Church

            The Enlightenment and the subsequent culture of Modernity represented a fundamental shift in how the church interacts with the world and how the world can exist without the church being its core cultural pillar. In his book Foolishness to the Greeks, Leslie Newbigin presents several ideas and factors to aid the church navigate the muddle waters of Modernity and the post-Christendom era. Newbigin encourages the church to throw off the dreams of theocracy and instead have a “missionary encounter” with Modernists by challenges the “whole way of perceiving, thinking, and living” within Modern culture.[1]

A Profile of Modernity

            Modernity represents a cultural reformation which challenged the very structure of the church and created space in culture for people to find answer life’s to questions outside of the Bible. The former Christocentric worldview had been replaced by one based on reason, independence, intellectual autonomy, personal freedom and the quest for unending progress. The resulting nation state model in the west contributed to the growth of the ideas of dependency on the Government, the separation of public and private lives, the freedom of choice and pragmatic capitalism.

            Western culture saw itself as the heralds of discovery who were unshackled from old superstition as the “the iron grip of dogma has been loosened.”[2] People were free to live as they pleased and contribute to the ongoing progress of the nation, family or business. Modernity produced a consumer-based culture ripe with choice and increasing dependency on technology and scientific advancement to provide comfort, prosperity and the answers which used to be given by the church. With the moral supremacy of the church seen as being dismantled the Modern person is left to follow “their own views about what is good and desirable, about what kind of life is to be admired, about what code of ethics should govern one’s private life”[3]

Absolute Confidence in Science and Technology

            Rather than perceiving the world as an organic created realm the ideas of Modernity present creation as a logically driven machine which can be studied, understood and manipulated, through a form of “reductionistic naturalism.”[4] This “mechanical view of the nature of ultimate reality”[5] prides itself on emphasising discrete parts of an object, idea, or problem in order to reduce it to its base purpose and usability. This worldview of absolute logic and reason held sway until the recent rise of post-modernism where the facts have been reduced in importance to allow for the feelings of the observer to influence the results. The church has first felt the wave of uncompromising logic in critiquing its stories but now faces the opposing force of objective (reader-response) emotionalism in determining the understandings of reality.

The Fascination with Political Systems

            In many ways the modern church finds itself in a similar position to the early church as it struggled with the Roman bureaucracy. “The early church didn’t seek out imperial protection as an official religion because it didn’t want to be confined to the private sphere.”[6] A similar ultimatum being given to it by the political system of Modernity which demands a separation within the individual between their public persona and the private person who is free to believe as they choose within their homes.

            The political quest for progress, reason and freedom has fueled the both the economic power of capitalism and government dependency through socialism. This has created a political landscape of two extremes which people are left to choose a secularized government which enables their own pursuit of happiness. However Post-Modernism is challenging this either-or approach by calling for all options to be included simultaneously. The desire for continuous order is being replaced with the desire to protest and change whereby all voices are heard equally at once, even when they disagree with each other. The idea is to be seen and heard with the hope that “caring” will be rewarded with “change” from those still loyal to the Modernist mindset.

Modernity and Its Impact on The Life and Ministry of The Church

            The church according to Newbigin cannot sustain a maintenance mindset with the hope of a return to Christendom but instead must instead grasp a missional mindset. Unfortunately “Christianity in its Protestant form has largely accepted relegation to the private sector,”[8] and has resisted in confronting the matters of reason, demythologization, pluralism and intellectual surrender. Newbigin in pages 133-150 lists seven methods for the church to use in better engaging the culture including a focus on eschatology, increased lay theology, a resistance to denominationalism and advocating for a pure doctrine of Freedom through the lens of Christ.

            The church has responded to this cultural crisis the three ways: the Fundamentalist wing sought doctrinal order and intellectual confrontation, the Liberal wing sought the betterment of humanity through humanitarianism, social justice and a focus of the internal state of the person, and the Pentecostal wing has rejected the demythologization of Modernity in favor of the Holy Spirit, evangelism and establishing a sub-culture of Christianity. Ideally for the church in the Post-Modern era to thrive it will have to merge all three of these streams together in order to provide intellectual answers, compassion and the power of God to the culture as it stands alongside mainstream culture.


            The church at this point cannot hope to conquer the culture but must instead be a viable option for those who see the limitations of Modernity and Post-Modernism. It can only be through a deliberate “missionary encounter” with contemporary culture that the church can challenge the “whole way of perceiving, thinking, and living that we call “modern Western culture”[9] by not hiding away in the private sphere but being a visible alternative to a culture which is increasingly losing sight of its purpose and any hope for the future.

[1] Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The gospel and western culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 1.

[2] Newbigin, 23.

[3] Newbigin, 16.

[4] Wafik Wahba, PhD

[5] Newbigin, 66.

[6] Newbigin, 99-100.

[8] Newbigin, 19.

[9] Newbigin, 1.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Impact of Modernity on the Life of the Church Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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Six Minutes Can Change Your Life

Six Minutes Can Change Your Life

By now you should be able to recognize in yourself the traits of either the Doer or the Dreamer. Perhaps you’ve even found yourself looking for the happiness that supposedly is found within. With those shadows of our heart exposed, we now come to the place where we can discover how to overcome the Great Lie and find the happiness which Doers and Dreamers spend their lives chasing after.

The first thing we must do is accept that we must turn toward our Creator in order to find purpose, joy, and success, all of which are rooted in a relationship with Him. This all begins with our making regular time for God in our life. No matter how busy, convoluted, or chaotic our life may be, we must actively carve out time to sustain our relationship with God.

The first thing we must do is accept that we must turn toward our Creator in order to find purpose, joy, and success, all of which are rooted in a relationship with Him.

The words of Paul provide us with inspiration about how we’re to make time for God: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16‑18). Notice Paul doesn’t say “some of the time,” or “every other week,” or “only on Sunday.” He’s encouraging this Macedonian church to be constantly looking toward God. Not in some legalistic or mystical sort of way, but in a real way that touches and interacts with their actual lives.

However, to even begin this journey, we must have a starting point. That starting point is accepting Jesus as who He says He is, and who the Bible says He is: the Son of God, the Lord of all, King of kings, born of a virgin, performer of miracles. He’s the great teacher who came in the flesh, died upon the cross for our sins, and was resurrected, all according to the words and prophecies of the Bible, so we can have covenant fellowship with Him for all eternity.

Before we can go further, this matter has to be settled, because all that comes next is available to us only if we’re in a covenant relationship with God through the power and atonement of Jesus. Otherwise we’re still “outside the gate” and lost within the curse of sin.

If you’ve never called on Jesus, believed in Him, and received forgiveness, now is the time. All the benefits in this book and in the Bible begin with our saying, “Jesus, I believe that You’re who the Bible says You are. I come before You a sinner lost in the darkness. I ask You to forgive me and to make me clean. I declare that You are Lord and King of all, and I ask You to adopt me into Your family and covenant. I ask You to wash me in the power of Your blood and atonement, to give me eternal life, which has its origin in You. I thank You for dying for my sins and enduring the cross, and from this day on I shall live as a member of Your family and live as You did upon the earth.”

Being now in this place of relationship with God, we next have to develop it. This is similar to how you can be very close to some family members, while others you don’t really know. Those you’re close with are those you’ve put in the time to get to know; you’ve shared experiences and conversations with them, and you feel closer. The others, even though you don’t know them, are still your family, and you may see them at a wedding or other occasions, but you have no personal relationship with them beyond that of family ties.

It’s no different between us and the Trinity. We have two options. We can be either close friends or occasional acquaintances. To have that close relationship requires time and effort, and as we’ve seen with the Doers and Dreamers, these are scarce commodities which we’re used to spending on all sorts of other things.

There’s no all-encompassing formula to develop this kind of relationship between us and God (although many have tried to produce one). There’s no step-by-step process that automatically brings us to the level of Abraham and Moses as “friends of God,” or like John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

There’s no all-encompassing formula to develop this kind of relationship between us and God.

Are there signposts to give us a general direction? Yes there are, and the remainder of this book will show those to you. They come in the forms of time and grace.

Tithing Our Time

In church we’re taught that tithing is an important concept in Scripture because it represents giving our best to God. When Abraham wanted to honor God through Melchizedek, he freely and cheerfully gave, knowing that God was trustworthy to keep His promises. Abraham trusted God and saw Him not as just a cosmic entity or simply the source of one’s possessions, but as the source of all creation.

Fast-forward to our modern Christian culture, where we’re taught to give our money to the church—10 percent of all we earn plus any other gifts or offerings that are on our heart. We’re taught that it’s an act of faithfulness to give back to God, not because He needs it, but because it’s an opportunity for loving obedience on our part. As Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 14:14).

Although this concept is taught, very few actually apply this teaching in their own lives. I’m speaking as a member of a church’s financial council, where we have to manage programs that many people demand but few are willing to cover the costs.

The problem we run into these days is that we’ve removed the value assigned to our money. If I were a Jewish shepherd living before Christ, I would find myself evaluating my flock—the little lambs I’d helped feed when they were having trouble suckling, and had risked my life protecting from wild animals, and had watched grow. I had to give away my best—the healthiest and my favorites to God. My tithe was tied directly to my efforts. I was essentially giving the best of my life, my most prizewinning efforts.

Today we’ve separated our money from our efforts. With a swipe of a credit card I can spend money I haven’t yet earned. My paycheck magically shows up in the bank without any effort on my part, and all I see are numbers on a computer screen. There’s no tangible evidence of my work other than numbers and the ending of another week.

Work is seen as the thing we do because we need to eat and pay the bills, yet money always seems to be in short supply. Most people don’t tithe because they feel they’ve fallen so far behind with bills or have overextended themselves so much that there’s nothing left to give. “God doesn’t need this money; I need it to pay the electric company, plus I have to put gas in the car, and I have to buy coffee so I can function at work, and I need the cash for that sale at the mall later this week.”

While a tithe of our money is both scriptural and important, God also wants us to put Him first in all things.

While a tithe of our money is both scriptural and important, God also wants us to put Him first in all things. Time is the most precious commodity in existence. We can trade our time for money or things, but we can’t buy more time. We live life as a series of moments, and all we have is the moment we’re in right now. Money can be printed, gold can be mined, houses can be built, but you can’t create time, and you can’t open up a savings account to store up hours to use another day.

Maybe it’s time to look at this idea of tithing from an entirely different perspective. What if I took the concept of tithing and linked it to my desire to give my all to God?

This would never replace my financial tithing, which is both scriptural and good. Rather, in my desire to give God the best of myself, what if I also give to God the only real thing I have of value—my time? How I spend my time is how I spend my life, and every moment I deliberately focus on God, I change my life for the better. This is so much greater than anything the Doer or the Dreamer could ever imagine or accomplish with where they invest their time.

Consider what Jesus told the religious leaders of His day in Luke 11:42: “Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” The Pharisees were giving to God financially, but they lost the point of it all. They lost sight of God’s heart, and for the sake of religious obligations, they traded away relationship with Him.

For a moment let’s replace my wallet with my clock. Let’s say I’m awake sixteen hours a day. If I wanted to tithe my waking hours, I’m looking at an hour and thirty-six minutes each day. Now, ask anybody who’s already starved for time if they could fit an extra hour and thirty-six minutes into their day to spend with God, and they’d say you’re out of your mind. How could anyone possibly change their life so drastically to even come close to doing that? Isn’t ninety minutes on Sunday morning enough?

But even if you somehow found that much time to give to God—what would you do with it?

But even if you somehow found that much time to give to God—what would you do with it? After the first few minutes, your mind would begin to wander, and it would be a constant battle to get it back. I’m not judging you; I’ve experienced this as well. After two or three minutes, you stare at the ceiling and wonder, “Okay, now what?”

Without any idea of what to do, we can quickly become discouraged or bored, and then a sense of struggle becomes associated with your time with God. Instead of trying to figure out how to set aside so much time in our day, we should just look for a starting point and take it one minute at a time.

One Minute at a Time

Rather than trying to lump the whole tithe of time together, what if we divided this tithe of our time into more bite-sized increments that are easier to control?

In every hour we’re awake, what if we spent six minutes building our relationship with God? What if we then took those six minutes and break them down into separate one-minute exercises—six different things we could talk to God about for one minute each? Every time an hour goes by, and we see the hand of the clock change, we’re prompted to take a minute out of our busyness to pause and turn our mind toward God.

This is where the concept of “six minutes of grace” comes into play. In our time with God each hour, we take these six keys, and we use each one for one minute at a time. By focusing for one minute on each of these six elements, we’re helped to draw closer to God and to align our will with His.

This isn’t just some magic number. And doing it just for the sake of doing it won’t do us any good. It’s a starting point to transform our lives from one which is focused on ourselves to one which is focused on God and our relationship with Him.

Some people will do the six-minute exercises every hour; some will do it only a couple of times a day, and others every other day. What’s important is not checking the “done” box on a list, but really developing a relationship with God.

In my own life, this practice of making room for God hasn’t always been this formal. However, the heart of this concept is what has changed life for the better for my wife and I. This lifestyle has brought us through many rough patches. It’s the cornerstone of our relationship with Jesus. This format is the easiest way to show us what’s important in our lives, and it gives us a guideline on how to fellowship with the great Creator.

The heart of this concept is what has changed life for the better for my wife and I.

We must make room for God, and this approach of tithing our time helps to keep us accountable and focused until the novelty becomes a habit, and the habit becomes a lifestyle which produces fruit in our lives and draws us closer to God.

You can do these exercises out loud, or you can do them silently. It can happen when you’re driving, as each red light gives you a minute or so of opportunity. It can happen while you’re making coffee or breakfast, or while you’re walking, or during the spaces between life’s activities. It can happen anywhere and at any time.

Have we forgotten that God is the most interesting being in all the universe? Yet more often than not, we treat Him like a pet rock sitting on our dresser. Do we actually understand what’s available to us? The One who created everything in Genesis is standing at the door of our lives asking to be a part of it. But like the gentlemen He is, He won’t kick in the door, but will knock ever so gently and wait for us to open up to Him.

We chase after goals, dreams, money, success and happiness—all that feeds the Great Lie—but will we chase after the one thing that actually matters? The one thing that’s more real, powerful, and fulfilling than anything else we could ever dream?

Even if we have only one minute in the entire day, we can purpose to use it to show gratitude to God (more on this in chapter 6). This is the personification of Philippians 4:8, where Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Spend even just a minute in appreciation of God and of all He has done. If the minute has passed and you don’t have any more time, come back to this exercise later when you can. Focus on one step at a time, and spend longer or repeat the ones that are on your heart. Give God your attention—deliberately—one minute at a time.

The desired outcome here is for you to carry on your conversation with God throughout the day, using GRACE as a guideline. Don’t make this a religious exercise, but rather a reminder of how much we need Him throughout our day.

Don’t worry or feel badly if you forget a step, or do the steps out of order, or don’t finish. This is just the starting line for what can become a deep, rich, and meaningful relationship that will bring you so much joy.

The more you repeat the exercise, the more God will become a priority in your life. The time you’re giving Him becomes focused, because each minute has a purpose. Over time, your moments of praise will give you a new sense of purpose in all that you do. Your life will become about doing simple everyday things for the glory of God.

As you begin this journey, I highly recommend that you incorporate journaling into this process. Journaling can be a key factor in making time for God because it forces us to slow down and consider what we’re writing down. It also gives us something to look back on later. We forget so much because of the busyness of life; it’s amazing what falls between the cracks of our mind.

Creative Commons LicenseSix Minutes Can Change Your Life Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Can I Truly Be Happy?

Can I Truly be happy

From a young age, we’re led to believe that success will make us happy. Success will bring us a spouse, money, comfort, a home, stuff to fill that home, and the ability to take nice vacations. How often as a child did we see the phrase “happily ever after” flash across the screen?

The poor orphan goes on an adventure and becomes the king or queen of the land, or becomes a great hero in battle. It’s the idea that if we just sit around and go about our mundane lives, eventually adventure and rewards will come knocking at our door. Only then can we truly be happy, for just beyond where we are is the place of bliss, contentment, and ease.

This idea, which has been embraced by so many people, gets reinforced as we’re indoctrinated to focus on the externals of life. Yet we tend to forget that these external things aren’t always within our control.

We think the reason we’re unhappy is that we don’t have the things we want—the perfect job, the ideal spouse, or more money in the bank.

We think the reason we’re unhappy is that we don’t have the things we want—the perfect job, the ideal spouse, or more money in the bank. Regardless of what our “white whale” might be, we find ourselves thinking, “If only I had ________, my life would be better.” We idealize the perfect life and attribute our own unhappiness to our failure to possess it.

For some, it’s the white picket fence and the nuclear family. For others, it’s a mansion filled with staff to cook and clean for them. There are those who long to live in the forest, by a lake, or up on a mountain. Each person has an ideal of what their perfect happy life would look like, and they engineer their life to reach those dreams.

I watched my wife buy into these ideals as she followed the script of working hard to achieve the things that all earthly standards testify to as success. I marveled as she became a partner in a successful business with a contract to buy it out completely.

I had married my best friend from high school, who was (and still is) a loving, kind, and attentive spouse. Through our combined efforts, we became financially secure at a young age, thanks to our diligence and many sacrifices. We also regularly attended our church as card-carrying members. I was a member of the church financial council and coauthored the church’s weekly home group curriculum. Later I founded Conway Christian Resources and published my first book, Understanding Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Beliefs.

We found what many others have discovered: that the hard work put in to achieve our dream rewarded us with only more hard work.

From the outside, life looked great, but deep inside something was missing. Success didn’t equal satisfaction. We found what many others have discovered: that the hard work put in to achieve our dream rewarded us with only more hard work. There wasn’t much more happiness in our lives, but only more responsibility and less time to do the things that actually made us happy.

When Succeeding Isn’t Success

The success we’re taught from a young age to strive toward is something external. And being external, it’s only temporary. That new car will rust out, fall apart, and end up one day in a wrecking yard. That new job title will eventually go to someone else, if the company even survives that long. That nest egg will eventually get spent, and the gains erode as they’re taxed into oblivion.

All these things we work toward either degrade, disappear, or become valueless. But at the same time, all these things tell us (and those around us) that we’re successful, that we’ve achieved and arrived at a higher and better level of existence.

How will I know if I’ve succeeded if I can’t have things others are unable to possess? How will people around me know that I’m superior and successful unless they can recognize it half a mile away?

It’s the idea that “the person with the most stuff wins,” so by definition shouldn’t that person be the happiest of them all? In reality, those with the most stuff can be the most miserable, because they constantly fear losing all they have. They’re unable to enjoy it and be happy, because around every corner is someone looking to become happy at their expense by taking what they have.

On the other hand, there are those who feel that they haven’t succeeded, and they spend their time grumbling and complaining that the grass isn’t as green for them as it is for others. They look at the lush, well-manicured lawns of the successful and believe the lie that they’d be happier if their lawn looked like that. Once again, it’s the externals that are used to tell us and others if we’re happy or not.

“The greener the grass, the happier the life” is the idea accepted by many, but at no point do they question why the grass is greener. Maybe it’s because the successful person hires someone to make it like that, because they’re so busy they could never do it on their own. Or it could be that the other person actually put in the time and effort to make it look that way. Those who grumble and complain about their grass tend to be those who are unwilling to put in the work to make it better.

I remember when I moved into a house with three lilac bushes on the property. They were in rough shape and hadn’t produced flowers for several years. I had three choices. I could leave them as they were and hope for the best, I could cut them down, or I could put in some effort and fix them. It took two years of pruning, fertilizing, watering, and managing, but finally those bushes sprouted their lilacs for the first time in years.

Did this bring a sense of accomplishment? Yes. Did it make the yard look better? Yes. Did it make me happy? No. I was glad that my effort brought about a good result, but it didn’t change how I felt on the inside. To top it off, the summer that the lilacs finally bloomed was also the same summer that we moved across the country. After all the hours of work I put in, the benefits were to be enjoyed by another family.

I was glad that my effort brought about a good result, but it didn’t change how I felt on the inside.

There has to be more to life than houses, cars, and landscaping, but if these aren’t the keys to happiness, what is? Since trying to solve the matters of happiness with the external wasn’t the answer, my wife looked inwardly. She turned to self-help books, having been reading them since she was a teenager.

It wasn’t because something was wrong, but in response to her aching for more. There was something missing, and yet the books couldn’t create inner peace or transform their information into joy. Any fix was only temporary relief, a distraction from the emptiness and the gnawing feeling that in the midst of a fairy tale existence, something was still missing.

Inside, there’s a cry—and not only in myself, because I’ve heard that cry everywhere: “I know I was made for more.” It’s the feeling of unfulfilled purpose. It weighs on my heart and leaves me unsatisfied. Stuff doesn’t satisfy it, information doesn’t satisfy it. Neither do titles, success, or the praises of others.

I know I was made for more.

The Vanity of Vanity

What can you do when you’ve done everything right and found it lacking? This is what we and many other people have found out about life. Even Solomon dedicated the book of Ecclesiastes to this idea. The things we can buy at a store cannot make us happy over the long-term. We see that everything either fades away or forces us to pursue something else.

This is what’s referred to as vanity, where we have a high view of something or ourselves, but in the end it’s useless. It’s like dressing up a salmon in a top hat and a coat while calling it Lord Sebastian the Salmon, Ruler of All in the River. It doesn’t matter; you wasted your money, and no matter how that salmon was dressed up, it still ends up in an oven with some lemon and seasoning sprinkled over it.

Solomon was the richest man in the land, but still felt hollow. He eventually drifted away from God and into idolatry. He had gold, silver, wisdom, and women, but each of those things on their own couldn’t produce happiness, joy, or purpose in life. Instead, these things got in the way of his true purpose and brought about dark consequences which shadowed his nation for generations.

So what then can we do? Should we give up material success and possessions in pursuit of the spiritual? Many have tried this and failed. The idea of shunning everything made of matter was the source of many troubles for the church, and it did nothing to fill the void. If we were all to abandon what we have and hide out in a cave seeking enlightenment, we would actually be ill-equipped to meet the needs of the church and the world around us.

On the other end of the spectrum, what if we gave up the spiritual in pursuit of greater success? Again this leaves us off balance and without any type of lasting joy.

Many things we consider to be the finishing line are nothing more than tools to be used to get us to the actual finishing line. Money can be good if it’s used correctly. Possessions can be helpful and enjoyed if we understand their place in our lives. A career can be good if it’s balanced with the rest of our lives. Vanity comes when these things or anything else takes control of our lives, or we find ourselves in an endless chase for the next big thing to achieve or buy.

Many things we consider to be the finishing line are nothing more than tools to be used to get us to the actual finishing line.

I routinely find myself looking at what I have and wondering if any of it is worth it. All the time and effort that went into earning money so these things can sit on my shelf and get dusty. The same goes for my music hobby. I know spending money on a guitar pedal won’t make me happy, but it sounds good. At other times I think everything’s just a giant waste, and I regret spending the money rather than saving it where it could grow (unless the stock market has something to say about it).

Do I enjoy my hobbies? Yes, most of the time, but they cannot make me truly happy. Instead, they help occupy the time, sometimes to avoid life and other times to just unwind from it. No matter how I feel, all those things will either break down, get sold (or given away), or thrown in the trash. All that expectation, research, and the purchasing and using of those things will eventually bring about a day where it doesn’t matter anymore.

This isn’t meant to be a depressing look at our lives, but what’s being shown here is a picture that most people don’t like to look at. The reality is this: Deep down, what we hold dear and see as valuable will inevitably control our thoughts, desires, and time. If we place more value on money than on people, then our lives will reflect that. If we put more value on achievement than on family, our lives will reflect that. If we put more value on being entertained than on true joy, our lives will follow that course like a sailboat on a river.

Appreciation gets lost when we look for the greenest grass or biggest house. I had a friend who was quite well off financially, and when he encountered new people trying to be his friend, he would test them. It wasn’t something big or grand; he would give them a penny (or a nickel), and see how they reacted. If they were grateful and thankful, he invested time and friendship into them, because they weren’t driven by his bank account. If they tossed the penny aside, or complained or asked for more, he cut them out of his life. He was looking for people who valued him more than his money, or what he could do for them.

Why Am I Still Not Happy?

We see then that being happy doesn’t automatically come from things, position, pride, or gold. It comes from something deeper which cannot be bought. This has to do with what we perceive to be important and whether or not we can be appreciative of whatever we have at the time.

We see that many people turn to the wrong things to try and answer the question, “Can I be happy?” We turn to entertainment, sex, drugs, music, meditation, exercise, isolation, shopping, food, and a host of other things to try and coax some happiness out of this life. Happiness is fleeting and subject to so many variables. It’s also incredibly picky, and thrives on unrealistic expectations.

Wanting to be happy is only part of the equation, along with understanding our purpose and looking for something that goes beyond our natural lives. The truth is that we cannot buy this happiness because we can’t afford the price of it. No one can, because happiness doesn’t overcome life, and the two are most often at odds with each other.

The truth is that we cannot buy this happiness because we can’t afford the price of it. No one can, because happiness doesn’t overcome life, and the two are most often at odds with each other.

Understanding this conflict of expectation versus reality, we can start to come to terms with our lives and what to expect out of them. No longer should we continue to live according to “happily ever after”; rather, we should be hoping that our life can be summed up by the phrase “joy everlasting.” There’s something greater at work here, and how we can get to that place is determined by what kind of person we are.

Creative Commons LicenseCan I Truly Be Happy? Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.