by Nick Galieti
President Gordon B. Hinckley said that every convert needs three things: a friend in the Church, an assignment, and to be nourished by the good word of God. While this is inspired advice, some assume that this advice has a time clock, or that this is a temporary standard, such that when a member is no longer considered new these three things are no longer needed.
We live in a time and society that is constantly distracting us from achieving this mission. Everyone is busy; everyone has multiple ways to be entertained, educated, and otherwise engaged. I come across few people nowadays, especially those with kids and family responsibilities, that are bored or at a loss of what to do with their time. Yet, the counsel from a Prophet still remains in force. One could argue that due to this societal condition, these three things are all the more important for all membership, not just new members. Of the three, friendship is the most interpersonal, and probably the biggest challenge, given all the factors and influences that can distract from that purpose.
What is gospel friendship?
Jesus Christ taught the following in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” One reading of this verse implies that friendship requires sacrifice born of love, universal love, up to and including the sacrifice of one’s own life. The life and example of Jesus Christ would certainly prove this to be the case. Charity, also referred to as the pure love of Christ, is something that does not seek its own goals and desires, but strives to find ways to help others.
What is love?
1 John 4:8 states, “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” Again we can look to the example of God for what it means to love and what it means to be a friend. To me, God creates and supports in creation; God forgives; God imparts knowledge and support in times of need; and God also knows everyone. While this is not an exhaustive list of godlike attributes, the latter characteristic is a fundamental principle to being a loving friend. We need to know the members of our wards and branches, our neighbors and co-workers, what they like, and what makes them unique. Sometimes we look at auxiliary leaders as the people that are required by their callings to know people so they can handle that part of gospel responsibility. To some, meeting new people (whether they are new members or new to the ward or not) appears to be a chore performed begrudgingly or through guilty compulsion.
Love cannot be forced; love cannot truly be love unless it is something that is chosen. Friendship is on purpose, love can only be achieved on purpose. The difficulty with this concept is that friendship requires sacrifice. The challenge inherit in friendship isn’t that individuals are uninterested or unwilling to love, but we sometimes are unwilling to make the sacrifice necessary to qualify our efforts as love.
Love is not always easy. The atonement, the greatest act of love, where Jesus Christ literally laid down his life for all of God’s creations, could hardly be characterized as easy. If “the natural man is an enemy to God” it would seem congruent to assume that the natural man is not predisposed to sacrifice or love in the way God has defined or modeled. For many the sacrifice of friendship starts with a simple choice to put off that discomfort or fear that acts as an intangible restraint, simply being willing to sit with someone in church, or saying hello and connecting with an individual in a real and substantive way.
Gospel friendship has always been important. Since the dawn of creation “It was not good that the man should be alone.” While solitariness may be seen as a sign of strength, or a position of familiarity and therefore preferential to some, friendship is a highly favorable endeavor with rich rewards. Gospel friendship should not be viewed as an entitlement for those with citizenship in the Kingdom of God; gospel friendship is one of the splendid benefits of membership that comes to those who engage in the gospel plan more fully. Like entrance into the temple, or partaking of the sacrament, membership alone does not guarantee the blessings we may desire. Effort and patience in following Christ’s example develops in each individual the light of friendship that will simultaneously guide us when we are lost, and provide direction to those we offer the hand of friendship and fellowship.
With no timeframe limitation to the counsel of being a friend, we are left with the eternal choice: Support the cause of friendship, to be a friend and to facilitate friendship with others, or surrender to the opposition. In many ways friendship is “being a savior on mount Zion” and therefore a part of the greatest work in all the world. No more noble and worthy work can be performed than to extend the love of friendship.