Beloved, let us [unselfishly] love and seek the best for one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves [others] is born of God and knows God [through personal experience].1 John 4:7 AMP
I think spiritual relationships like the ones described in this scripture — where we unselfishly love and seek the best for one another — are one of the greatest gifts God gives us.
But to be honest, I haven’t always felt that way. Relationships aren’t easy for me; my insecurity makes me much more comfortable being alone.
One experience that helped me begin to appreciate spiritual friendships was when my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My emotions were overwhelming, and at just the right time, some good friends of ours from church invited my husband and me over for dinner. They listened to us, cried with us, and shared their own stories of their parents’ illnesses.
And then they did something that seemed impossible: they helped me find faith. They encouraged me to look beyond my pain and believe that my mom could become a Christian.
And, miraculously, she did: while my mom was sick, she decided she wanted to study the Bible to get to know God for herself. My spiritual friends were right there, ready to help her get her relationship with God right.
One of my friends, who spoke Cantonese like my mom, regularly drove about an hour each way with two other Cantonese-speaking women to share Scriptures with my mom. Many other friends visited my mom in the hospital and — much to my great joy — these women helped my mom get baptized.
Later, when my mom passed away, hundreds of people from our spiritual community came to her memorial to celebrate her life and support our family.
These deep, loyal friends got me through one of the toughest times in my life. And I know that they were able to show such love for us because, as 1 John 4:7 says, they were connected to God themselves.
Building deep spiritual relationships is still a work in progress for me. 2 Corinthians 8:5 gives good insight about how to do it:
And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.2 Corinthians 8:5 NIV
To build healthy spiritual relationships, we need to first “give ourselves to God.” That means giving our deepest feelings, thoughts, and desires to him in prayer. It means giving control over our lives to him, and trusting and obeying his Word more than ourselves.
Being closely connected to God helps me avoid relationship pitfalls like worrying too much about what other people think of me, or building superficial friendships where we have fun together but avoid engaging in anything deep.
In this study, we’ll look at four ways to build the loyal, deep, and spiritual relationships we truly desire and that God desires for us.
Start by building a strong friendship with God
If there is any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any compassion and mercy,  then fulfill my joy and be like-minded, having the same love, being in unity with one mind.  Let nothing be done out of strife or conceit, but in humility let each esteem the other better than himself.  Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you all, which was also in Christ Jesus,Philippians 2:1-5 (MEV)
This scripture highlights some key qualities of spiritual healthy relationships: love, unity, humility, and selflessness. But in order to develop those qualities in our relationships, this passage also tells us we need to decide to build our relationship with God first.
You have to find encouragement, comfort, love, compassion, and mercy in your relationship with God if you want to have any of those things to give to other people.
Personally, I can really struggle to connect daily with God through prayer in a way that leaves me encouraged and motivated by God’s love and in touch with his mercy and forgiveness. When I struggle to connect with God in these ways, I end up not trusting him and being more anxious, insecure, and self-focused.
Even when I make it my goal to be less fearful or anxious, I don’t have the internal strength to do that when I am not connected to God. My willpower is not enough.
Rather than being loving, I become led by fear. Rather than valuing unity and teamwork, I am anxious and seek control. Rather than having humility, I become proud and self-reliant. All these emotions consume my mind and I have no space to love others.
One practical way we can build our relationship with God is by doing Bible studies on the qualities listed in this passage: love, unity, and humility. Build your friendship with him by listening to what God says about these qualities. Learn how God treats you with love and kindness. Make connections on how changing your relationship with God will help you to grow in these friendship qualities yourself.
Pause and reflect
- Who do you become when you don’t find encouragement, love, and compassion in your relationship with God?
- What needs to change in your relationship with God so you can build healthy spiritual relationships?
Build your friendships on honesty
 Here is the message we have heard from Christ and now announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.  So if we say we have fellowship with God, but we continue living in darkness, we are liars and do not follow the truth.
 But if we live in the light, as God is in the light, we can share fellowship with each other. Then the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from every sin.  If we say we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
 But if we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins, because we can trust God to do what is right. He will cleanse us from all the wrongs we have done.  If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and we do not accept God’s teaching.1 John 1:5-10 NCV
Our ability to share fellowship with each other as this scripture describes starts with walking in the light with God. This means having the complete transparency and vulnerability to acknowledge the truth of who we are with God (that includes our strengths, weaknesses, sins, desires, dreams, and emotions).
Building your friendships on honesty isn’t just sharing your feelings. It’s allowing the truth of the Scriptures to influence how we think and see ourselves, rather than just our own emotions and opinions.
For example, sometimes I think I’m being very honest with my husband because I’m telling him all the ways I feel hurt in our relationship. But real honesty means going deeper than that and sharing truths about my own heart. I often get angry because I’m afraid (Psalm 37:8) and the Bible helps me become aware of those kinds of truths about myself.
When I am not digging into the Scriptures to see truth about my heart based on Scripture, it is hard for me to build relationships where truth and honesty are spoken. But when I let the Scriptures tell me the truth about my heart, I can then tell those truths to other people.
When I’m not vulnerable with God in prayer, I struggle to be vulnerable in even my closest relationships, like in my marriage.
On the flip side, when we have this level of transparency with God, we are able to have this level of closeness with others as well.
Pause and reflect
- What areas of your life do you struggle to be honest and vulnerable with God about in prayer? (Marriage, health, emotions, family, career, guilt, etc.)
- How do you feel about letting Scriptures tell you truths about your heart? Why?
- In which friendships do you see a need to grow in your honesty?
Build spiritually, not superficially
 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.  For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.1 John 2:15-17 NLT
This scripture teaches that loving the things of this world (feeling good, getting things or achieving things) will steal our love for God. The world around us can teach us to crave physical things that don’t last and are usually superficial. The Bible calls this “worldliness” and it can have a negative effect on our relationships.
For example, when the Olympics ended, I found myself really wanting my kids to have Olympic-level talent. It was legitimately bothering me that the time to build their talents was being wasted because I couldn’t enroll them in gymnastics classes due to the pandemic.
Eventually, I admitted to myself that this was one example of the worldly part of my heart wanting to take pride in my kids’ achievements rather than valuing spiritual things — like the time we have together as a family, and learning how to help my kids have a heart for God and other people.
Of course, Olympic talent is incredible and gymnastics classes can be great, but living to take pride in my kids’ accomplishments is a dangerous way to build my relationship with them. It’s superficial and centered on me looking good and feeling good as a parent, not on what’s really best for my kids or helping them become who God wants them to be.
 Give me an eagerness for your laws rather than a love for money!  Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.Psalm 119:36-37 NLT
Identifying how worldliness is affecting my values or my decision making helps me to turn my heart back to God and build friendships where we don’t let each other live our lives for things that fade away.
If I don’t deal with worldliness in my own heart, I also become superficial in my relationships. As 1 John 2 says, worldliness makes me crave pleasure. My goal in friendships becomes just having fun with people and escaping the stresses and pressures of life. Though it’s not bad to have fun, when that is my only goal I end up using my friends instead of caring about them.
Being a spiritual friend means caring enough to help my friends become who God wants them to be, and inviting them to do the same for me.
Pause and reflect
- In what ways do worldly values influence you more than the Bible?
- Decide to talk to a couple of your close friends about how you see worldliness in your heart.
- Share how you would like to become more spiritual in your friendship with them.
Build on love over control
 And so we know the love that God has for us, and we trust that love. God is love. Those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  This is how love is made perfect in us: that we can be without fear on the day God judges us, because in this world we are like him.  Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears.1 John 4:16-18 NCV
 We love because God first loved us.  If people say, “I love God,” but hate their brothers or sisters, they are liars. Those who do not love their brothers and sisters, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have never seen.  And God gave us this command: Those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters.1 John 4:19-21 NCV
I’m a super fearful person, and friends were helping me recently to see how easily I allow myself to be motivated by fear over love. My fear often turns into anxiety and the desire to control everything and everyone around me, mainly my husband and kids. Of course, when those attempts at control are unsuccessful, this often leads to anger, the desire to blame, and then bitterness in those relationships.
Recently, on the morning of the first day back at school, we found out my kids had been exposed to Covid-19. Instead of going to school, they would need to quarantine for 8 days.
I felt completely out of control. I had no plan for how to get my job done while my kids were home, I was afraid of getting behind, and we all had a lot of feelings of disappointment over having to miss out on things we wanted to do.
My fear quickly turned into anxiety and a strong desire to control our schedule. My husband and I wound up in an argument over how to use a 30-minute time slot in our schedule. I was angry and resentful that he didn’t want to do things my way and started blaming him for my stress.
Eventually I realized that I was being controlling as a way to handle my fear instead of trusting and turning to God with my feelings and frustrations.
When I allow my closest relationships to be filled with fear, control, and bitterness, it reveals that I am not relying on and trusting in God’s love. My relationship with God is not strong enough to allow me to live each day with trust and love.
On the other hand, when I turn to God with my fears and trust him to take care of me, I can approach unfamiliar situations and relationship conflict with love instead of fear and blame.
Finding scriptures we can obey on faith, forgiveness, and love are key to breaking through barriers that keep us from building the healthy, spiritual relationships we desire. Then, like the 1 John scripture at the beginning of this study, we can unselfishly love and seek the best for our friends, praying for vision for them, sacrificing time and energy to help them grow, and working out God’s purpose together.
Pause and reflect
- In what ways do fear and control impact your closest relationships? Ask a few friends to share their perspective with you.
- What can you study in your Bible and change about your prayer life to help you change fear and control in your heart?
- How can you love two of your friends today?
Building a strong relationship with God is what gives us the spirituality, faith, and love to build healthy spiritual relationships with each other. God helps us be honest, deep, and unafraid in our relationships with each other.
- Read the book of 1 John in the Bible to learn more about spiritual relationships.
- Read Better Together: Five Qualities of Spiritual Friendships