Today, as I was researching for the discussion portion of LivingRoom (a group I am a part of that meets on Sunday nights), I re-visited some of what Aristotle says about friendship in his Nichomachean Ethics. In his discussion of “friendship among equals,” he gives three foundations for such relationships.
1. Utility – Many friendships are based on a common benefit in terms of a service or good. I tend to think of this relationship as a business relationship. The two parties are friends but only insofar as they serve each other’s purposes. This probably happens in many other friendships too and as Aristotle suggests, isn’t a great foundation for a lasting friendship
2. Pleasure – This actually took me a little by surprise. In our day friendship is almost always based on pleasure. I am friends with people because we are similar and we enjoy “the pleasure of each other’s company.”
“Those who love for utility or pleasure, then, are fond of a friend because of what is good or pleasant for themselves, not insofar as the beloved is who s/he is, but insofar as s/he is useful or pleasant. Hence these friendships as well as the friends are coincidental, since the beloved is loved not insofar as s/he is who s/he is, but insofar as he provides some good or pleasure. And so these sorts of friendships are easily dissolved, when the friends do not remain similar to what they were; for if someone is no longer pleasant or useful, the other stops loving him/her.”
What I found as I thought about this is that all too often our relationships to other believers are also founded and based on the wrong things. They are all too often founded on things that are “coincidental,” and we therefore love conditionally, on something found within us.
Of course, Aristotle’s solution is the third type, the virtuous person, but I think that is still changeable and still in flux. It is still conditional on the virtue of the person.
For Christians however, our foundation for relationship is never found within but always without, in our being united with Christ. It is unchangeable and fixed and therefore never “coincidental” but unconditional. Christ’s commitment to us is what grounds our love for other believers (and ultimately everyone on earth, i.e., our “neighbor”) and since that commitment is never changing and is unconditional, so ours must be. We do not love for my sake or for the other, but for Christ’s.