The goal of life for every Christian should be the kingdom of God. The gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God. Tragically, we have settled for what Dallas Willard calls “the gospel of sin management,” a gospel which is something far less than the gospel of the kingdom.
Very early in the church’s history a group of men and women, fearing the devastation to the soul brought about by the breakdown of spiritual culture inside the church, went to live in the desert in order to learn how to practice the Christian life with greater clarity. Robert Wilken (photo), the famous church historian and patristic scholar, has written, “In their writings the phrase used most often to depict what one strives for in life’s daily struggles was ‘purity of heart.’ Without purity of heart, all yearning for holiness and all desire for God come to naught, for hour by hour, even minute by minute, we are bent and shaped by distractions and wayward thoughts, many good and legitimate, that drive our minds and take our affections captive.”
In an article about the recent interest in the importance of John Cassia’s writing, published in the November 2000 issue of First Things, Wilken wrote this about Cassian:
John Cassian was born in the middle of the fourth century in what is present day Romania, and as a young man he became a monk in Bethlehem. From there he traveled to Egypt, where he lived for many years and apprenticed himself to the ascetic masters of the Egyptian desert. Eventually he returned to the West and settled in southern France near Marseilles, where he founded two monasteries. There he drew on what he had learned in Egypt and his own experience to compose two works that have become classics, The Institutes, a kind of introduction to the religious life, and The Conferences, a fuller and more mature exposition offering richer fare for the advanced. The Conferences takes the form of extended interviews with individual monks who are named and whose words are sometimes prefaced by personal anecdotes.
Writing in The Conferences, John Cassian spoke about true friendships. He noted that there are five foundations to true friendships. I have written about the first two of these over the last two days. Now we turn to the third and fourth foundation of true friendship. Cassian wrote:
The third [foundation of true friendship] is that each person knows that all things–even those he values as useful and necessary–are to be treated as secondary to the value of love and peace. The fourth is that each person believes from the bottom of his heart that he must never become angry for any cause, whether just or unjust.
To live in a true friendship you must consider everything as secondary to the “value of love.” While it is easy to write these words it is quite nearly impossible to live them. Note how John Cassian says this and recognize that he says this from a life lived within a monastic community where men shared a common life together in close proximity: “[A]ll things–even those he values as useful and necessary–are to be treated as secondary . . .” You may value something deeply, and even believe the other person should value it just as much, and you see what you see, as useful and necessary, but when all is said and done what really matters is love. Everything else is secondary!
The next foundation for true friendship is stated by Cassian in this way: “[E]ach person believes from the bottom of his heart that he must never become angry for any cause, whether just or unjust.” Anger will kill friendship, every time and in all circumstances. No real friendship can survive it. Anger never works the grace and peace of God.
Numerous wisdom sayings in Holy Scripture underscore this point:
Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult (Proverbs 12:16).
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city (Proverbs 16:32).
Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).
A fool gives full vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds it back (Proverbs 29:11).
Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads (Proverbs 22:24).
For as pressing milk produces curds, and pressing the nose produces blood, so pressing anger produces strife (Proverbs 30:33).
No deep and growing relationship can handle anger and hotheaded temper tantrums. Whether you believe you are right or not, and even if you think your cause is just, you cannot keep a friendship if anger prevails between you and the other person.
Tomorrow: True Friendships (4)