Konnichiwa! As we head into the end of this week and begin to blossom into the next, I want to wrap up the theme of community with a few short ways that we can express this godly love for those in our own lives. Community is an important aspect in the life of the believer, and it is our duty to be that community not just for ourselves, or even for other Christians, but so we can show the world the love of Christ through our relationships with one another. You can’t begin to love an unbeliever when you don’t even love a believer, so I hope that my writing here can spur you on to find more ways to love those in your own community.
- Make time for those around you. You can’t express love for someone when you’re never there. It takes time to build a relationship, and taking the time to invest into that relationship shows that you value it. There are examples of relationships throughout the Bible, and the common factor in each successful one is that it took time for the relationship to grow and deepen. Just taking the time to talk with a friend is meaningful, and if you aren’t very close to the person, each conversation will help reveal part of their personality to you. It won’t happen overnight, but little by little, you’ll begin to see a part of the picture that defines each of us. As you’ll find in every great anime, the secret to a great character is getting to know them as an individual, watching them grow through their triumphs and sadness, learning about them as they take on the issues and circumstances that come through their life. Make time for those around you; get to know them personally…you might be surprised.
- Protect them. One of the greatest duties of a friend is to look out for those close to them. If you truly do value a relationship with someone, you’ll want to protect your relationship from anything that could harm it. This could mean standing up for a friend when someone talks about them behind their back, being there for them when they’re in a vulnerable situation in their life, or even holding back on your own feelings for their sake. A popular example of this is the relationship between Kirito and Sinon in the second season of Sword Art Online. Each of them struggles with past mistakes and self-identity throughout the first arc of the season, and their friendship is quickly defined by both conflict and mutual desire. And as it progresses, the mutual love that they share manifests in each of them overcoming the odds that are against them, and uniting to fight back their common foes. Giving of yourself to keep a friend secure and happy is a hard burden to bear at times, but knowing that someone is watching your back while you watch theirs is feeling that can’t quite be captured by anything else.
- Encourage them. While you’re making time to be there for your friend, one of the best ways to maintain your relationship is to encourage them. As you learn who they are, their likes and dislikes, their goals and dreams, you can learn how best to encourage them. One of the lessons you learn from the relationship between Isla and Tsukasa in Plastic Memories is that everyone responds differently to different types of encouragement; some people need praise, some people look for affirmation through time spent together, others still feel loved and encouraged when you make a point to give them gifts. But on the whole, the best way to encourage anyone is to keep them focused on God. Remind them each day of His blessings and His goodness, especially under tight circumstances. As much as we all know that God loves us, it’s sometimes hard to believe that when we’re hurting, and sometimes a gentle reminder from a friend can make all the difference between falling into depression and experiencing God’s comfort.
- Exhort them. The flipside to encouragement, exhorting your friends to stay on the straight and narrow is equally as important as encouraging them. Part protection, part encouragement, letting a friend know when they are making a mistake or making a wrong choice can be hard. It’s not often easy to point out someone’s flaws in a constructive way, and sometimes you’re not sure how they will respond even if you do. But it is essential to any relationship to be fully honest with the other person, in both the good and the bad. One of the first climaxes during the story of Black Rock Shooter is when Mato notices the abusive relationship between Kagari and Yomi, and encourages Yomi to end the relationship. Mato knew that it wouldn’t be easy for Yomi, and she knew that Yomi might be hurt by the decision, but she knew that it was important for Yomi to end her cycle of self-hurt before it developed into something worse. And so it is with Christian friends, whether your friend is suffering though a cycle of sin, getting involved with the wrong kind of people, or simply unsure of their own faith, the duty of friends is to both encourage and exhort, in the interest of those they love.
- Love them. The one unifying link between all the above duties and qualities of a friend is self-sacrifice. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that “love does not seek its own”, and this is especially true in friendships between believers. To value a relationship, to be willing to make time, encourage and exhort those around you, you have to love them. An unloving person does not think about anyone other than themselves, and their relationship with those around them reflects that. In the same manner, those who love people express it in their relationships with those people. But why should we love others? What is the Christian’s motivation to love others above themselves? 1 John 4:19 puts it well, “we love because He first loved us”. We are called to love others because Christ first loved us, place our needs above his own, and gave Himself for us. Christ’s love and self-sacrifice is the reason that we do our best to love others, to make time for them, to protect, to encourage, to exhort. And this love gives us the power to forge relationships that all the powers of hell cannot undo.