I talk to my friends about a little bit of everything. We discuss the shows our kids watch and the books they read. We talk about the pros and cons of our school choices. We consider the latest policies in our community and what they mean for our families. We swap ideas for what to grow in the garden and how we’re taking care of our health. We talk about what we’re learning from God’s Word and how it’s changing us. Every day—through Voxer, text, social media, and in person—we exchange information and ideas.
But that’s not all we do. We also speak from the heart and to the heart. We create feedback loops, in which a topic is bounced back and forth and each person adds, subtracts, persuades, responds, and bounces it back to the others. We don’t just swap information. We shape ideas.
While I’d like to think that my ideas are objective—a result of prayerful consideration of God’s Word and my circumstances—that’s not the whole story. I also reflect my childhood, life experiences, personality, the culture at large, and the micro culture I exist in—namely, my friend group. My friends influence how I define “normal” and “wise.” My friends’ ideas shape my life.
The Power of ‘Everyone’
Have you ever felt like everyone was marrying and having kids? Or that everyone was contacting their local representative, attending a school-board meeting, or speaking out against a particular issue? Maybe you’ve felt like everyone was starting a side hustle, buying a house, or following a particular influencer online. Is that true? Is it every person you know? Or is it just a handful of your friends?
The concept of “everyone” is powerful, especially when we’re looking to our closest circle of friends for feedback, insight, and camaraderie in every area of life. This isn’t just a sociological reality. It’s also shown in Scripture. In Galatians, Paul writes to a church embracing cultural norms contrary to the gospel. These norms implied that Christians ought to observe certain holy days, months, seasons, and years, and that Christians needed to be circumcised and follow the law in order to be justified before God (Gal. 3:1–3; 4:10). Paul insisted that Christ had set them free from those things (Gal. 4:31).
Bad doctrine can become a social norm.
It’s not hard to imagine friend groups within the Galatian church discussing the importance of observing these things and giving each other seemingly good reasons why Paul was wrong. As these ideas looped between friends, perhaps they gained steam and reinforced disobedience to Christ. Bad doctrine can become a social norm.
We Need Discernment
Paul’s response to the Galatians includes a question and an important acknowledgment: “You were running the race so well. Who hindered you from obeying this truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you” (Gal. 5:7–8). Essentially, Paul prompts the readers of his letter to look around and ask: “Who am I hearing this from? Who is persuading me to believe this?” And it’s possible Galatian Christians noticed these anti-gospel ideas were either instigated by a friend or reinforced by one. Paul ends this section of his letter with a severe rebuke and a call for the Galatian Christians to break free from anti-gospel ideas and embrace the true freedom of the cross (Gal. 5:12–13).
In our friend groups today, there are many harmless norms and matters of conscience: the fact that we have three friends with the same sweater, who follow the same food blogs, or use the same exercise program is pretty benign. But what happens when those same friends encourage us to read books that preach a false gospel or follow influencers who put a spin on the truth? What happens when we face deep suffering or a hard life decision and they give us unbiblical advice?
In these cases and more, we need discernment. We can heed Paul’s warning and realize that even though we love our friends and we rarely share things with each other in a spirit of malice, friends can still do harm. Our friends can hinder us from obeying Christ, as we also can hinder them.
Without being overly suspicious, cynical, or contrarian, we can occasionally and reasonably step back and ask ourselves how our friends influence our decisions and our doctrine.
Who Is Persuading You?
We were created to exist in specific communities of friendship, so that we would spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). We are meant to build each other up in Christ, counsel each other, and help each other apply biblical wisdom and walk in obedience (1 Thess. 5:11; Prov. 15:22). It’s a tremendous gift to have friends who love Jesus, walk in the Spirit, and examine life together, from decisions about church to discussions about aging parents. Praise the Lord for friends who allow us to be vulnerable, who get into the weeds with us, and who help us press on toward godliness.
We need to realize that even though we love our friends and rarely share things in a spirit of malice, friends can still do harm.
Instead of denying the power of friendship and its ability to shape our lives, we need to be aware of it. We can ask God to help us see where our friends are persuading us toward things and help us discern whether those things are truthful, wise, and right for our lives. Like middle-school taught us, don’t just do what your friends do or believe what they believe.
While none of our earthly friends will be perfect, we can have an eternal Friend who is. If we are a true follower and friend of Jesus, we can hear his voice, be persuaded in the truth, and know that even when we struggle to evaluate the helpfulness of our friends, there is grace (John 15:14–15; Gal. 5:8). Converse with the Lord. Share all the things. Let his voice ring loud and let his commands lead your steps. With the right friend at the helm of our hearts, we can live wisely in the midst of our friendships today.