A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. - John 13:34
I recently read an article by my friend, Paul Miles, called "Bromance: The Value of Male Intimacy" and it really got me thinking.1 He mentioned at the start of his article that "The greatest cause of ministry failure is the lack of intimacy." And he's probably right about that. It's at least a huge contributing factor.
Intimacy between brothers in Christ is both awesome and irreplaceable. We need to be able to open up to someone, love and be loved in return, and in a context without all the complications that come with male-female relationships.
Ladies need that too, but I'm focusing on the men here because it is more often the men who lack these kinds of relationships in the Church.
Paul Miles dealt with a few excuses that men tend to give to avoid intimacy, and I won't double his efforts, but I wanted to take a look at another factor that hinders intimacy between brothers.
Pastors and other ministry leaders want real intimacy between their folks. But too often the men either don't want to participate in that, or they don't really find it when they do. So, what's the problem? People have tried all sorts of things to build intimacy, small group Bible studies, fellowship groups, even accountability groups that almost force intimacy on the front end because people in the groups are expected to tell each other about their sins. Often the Bible studies and fellowship groups are surfacey, and the accountability groups devolve into everyone lying to each other to avoid condemnation.
But it seems to me that the real problem is that we either don't fully grasp the gospel or we don't apply it to our relationships.
What do I mean by the gospel? I don't mean the message of receiving eternal life through believing in Jesus, though that message is true. What I mean is the message of the cross and the resurrection and all that implies. Christ paid the full penalty for our sins, so that there is nothing left to pay (John 19:30). He took us with Him to the cross and our old life is dead. Likewise, He rose from the dead to give us new life—His life (Rom 6:1-16; Gal 2:20). All of us have fallen short of the glory of God and have been justified freely by His blood (Rom 3:23-34). And Christ has freed us from the bondage of the law so that we can live to Him alone and we cannot rightly judge each other (Rom 14:1-13; Col 2:11-23).
So how does this apply? If a man desires a close relationship with another man, the first barrier is a fear of judgment. We all have certain expectations of what a Christian should be like, and none of us really lives up to them. We especially don't live up to our own, and sometimes that can hinder us from being genuine. And if we aren't genuine, we can't have an intimate relationship. On that end, we just need to find someone we trust and take a risk.
But on the other end, there's a greater opportunity. You can choose to be the kind of person who will love your brothers in Christ the way God loves them, through all their flaws. Because they need you. Jesus knows all of our flaws and He loves us anyway. The cross makes that not only possible, it makes it right.
We cannot be that kind of person on our own, but we aren't on our own. Christ, who lives in us, will be the love we need in those circumstances when we trust in Him to do so.
If we choose to apply the gospel to our lives in every area, especially in our relationships, we will find that our friendships become deeper and more meaningful. In the end, we will all be better for it.1 It's not yet published as I'm writing this, but it will be in Grace In Focus Magazine soon.