Mutual Brotherly Consolation and Forgiveness

Two men at a bar

By Scott Keith

“As for myself, I judge the loss of all one’s possessions easier to bear than the loss of one faithful friend.” – Martin Luther

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis

Last week on the Thinking Fellows podcast, Dr. Rosenbladt and I interviewed one of the hosts of Front Porch with the Fitzes, Pastor Joel Fitzpatrick, on the topic of masculinity. It was interesting to me how quickly our conversation turned from masculinity to the subject of male friendships. (Fodder for another show, I’m sure.) What has become evident to me over the past several years of research is that the two topics––masculinity and male friendships––cannot be separated.

The word which typifies my understanding of what makes male friendships so central to the concept of masculinity is philia. Philia (φιλία) is the Greek word used to describe non-homosexual brotherly love. In point of fact, when Lewis, in his work The Four Loves, defines the word philia, he uses the English word friendship. In the ancient world, philia was considered to be the most praiseworthy of all forms of love. To the ancients, friendship was the cornerstone of the development of virtue. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines philia as the reciprocal benevolence that is characteristic only among actual friends, adding, “Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.”

Though it is unpopular to say within our modern parlance, the reality is that men need other men with whom they develop strong and loving friendships. They need philia love from other men. To be married is wonderful and a blessing, but to be loved by a true friend is sublime. Why? Because it is among the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren that we all––but men especially, I think––encounter in a substantially real, physical, and even heartfelt way the proclamation of forgiveness in Christ.

Among Lutherans, it is worth noting that even our confessions acknowledge this reality. In what is called Luther’s theological last will and testament, The Smalcald Articles he says: “We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, (Matthew 18:20) Where two or three are gathered together, etc.”

So then, God’s grace comes to us through friendship, or as Luther termed it, fellowship. God’s grace is revealed through the proclamation of His forgiveness among those who belong to Christ. The declaration of the Gospel of Christ and forgiveness among friends is one of the powerful means God uses to keep us all in His grace.

So why is this particularly important, if it is, among men? Because, if even a portion of what modern social psychology tells us is right, we, as a church, are missing the boat. What some of my research has taught me is that men acutely need two things: 1) to belong and 2) and to be appreciated. Belonging means being a part of something bigger than you. For many men in the past, this place to belong was often their church. But the sad fact is that churches today are full of women and lacking men. Men do not feel that they belong in church. This lack of belonging inevitably leads to a lack of appreciation. Their absence means that their contribution is neither needed nor appreciated. It is just at that place where men should feel as though they are needed and where they belong that has been feminized and turned into something completely unfamiliar and unwelcome.


It is at this point––at the apex of abandonment––that a group of friends will fill in the spiritual and emotional potholes left by our current culture, which is at war with real men while being forgotten by the church, and provide what these appear unwilling to provide. Provide what? Real conversation. Real consolation. Real forgiveness. Real proclamation. Real Law. Real Gospel! This is why friendship, especially male friendship, is so utterly important. Further, this conversation always enters into real discussions of masculinity, because it is, in my experience, only masculine men who recognized what has been lost in our overly feminized world and what is to gain by having real friends with whom one shares a sense of philia. Yet, these men are rare. For as Lewis says, few value true friendship because so few really experience it.

It is interesting to note that the great reformer Martin Luther seems to have understood this well. Luther had many friends whom he valued highly. While lecturing on John 15:9, Luther reminds his students (and now us) that we should not easily let go of a real friendship. Luther says: “Although we are moved to suspicion and displeasure, we should beat these back and remember not to allow them to sever the bond of love and extinguish its fire; but we should cling firmly to our friendship in the face of them… This is the joy of the devil, who strives for nothing else but to disturb the love among friends.”

Additionally, as Luther was lecturing regarding the split between Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13:5-7), he took the opportunity to give a soliloquy on the spiritual strength and necessity of true friendship. “Throughout life, a faithful friend is a great blessing (bonum) and a very precious treasure. This is true not only in view of the ordinary dangerous difficulties in which he can offer help and consolation but also in view of spiritual temptations. For even though your heart is thoroughly confirmed by the Holy Spirit, there is nonetheless a great advantage in having a friend whom you can talk about religion and from whom you may hear words of comfort.”

Lewis may be right; friendship may not be necessary (though I believe he thought that friendship was very necessary), but I have come to believe that mutual brotherly consolation and forgiveness are. These have more “survival value” than I can describe within the confines of this limited format. Brotherly consolation and forgiveness are life and death, and I would, like Luther, sooner lose everything I own than lose the mutual conversation and consolation of my male brethren, my friends. Praise be to God for forgiveness among friends!

For readers interested in a little more meat concerning the subject of masculinity, my book, Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace contains a chapter devoted to the subject. Also, stay tuned for the Thinking Fellows episode on the topic.