“The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’” –C.S. Lewis
If the gospel is true, and in Christ Christians are called to eternal relationships with one another in a never-ending Kingdom, then friendship is without a doubt one of the most important things we could and should be thinking about. At the same time it can be hard to imagine what our relationships will be like in the fullness of the New Heavens and New Earth. What would life be like if you could completely trust everyone? What if you never got jealous? What if you always approached other people with more concern for their well being than you have for your own? Again these realities that are sure to one day come when Jesus is fully reigning are hard to even imagine today. If we want to rightly frame what our friendships should be like today then the Kingdom is where our thinking should begin. After all, if we do not understand the Kingdom of God, and if we are not longing for the Kingdom, then how can we ever pray for the Kingdom to come?
There are many places in Scripture that instruct us on the nature of friendship. Allow me to lead you to just a few passages from the book of Proverbs that give us great insight on what it means to be a Christian Friend.
The Resiliency of Friendship
24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
The chief motivator in most human decisions is the self. Most people only have a marketplace understanding of any human relationship. We are inclined to think, “If this relationship serves me and improves my well-being, then it is a good relationship.” In this way people are not making good friends as much as they are making good deals. A relationship however is tested when the relationship becomes inconvenient. A friend is proven in adversity. A successful person will of course have many companions because people have a lot to gain from him or her. That individual’s “stock” is valuable and everyone wants to make a good deal, but when that man or woman comes to ruin, that is when a friendship is proven. As the Proverb says, “a brother is born for adversity.” Who comes running in when everyone else is running away? And where do you run when your “friends” have nothing left to give you?
The natural man is inclined to run away, which is what makes the gospel so unnatural; that Jesus, when we were sinners, when we had nothing to give him, came running in after us. And in the gospel Jesus doesn’t just come to be a friend in the time of trouble, he becomes our trouble and takes all of our troubles away. The Bible says, “that for our sake God made Jesus to become our sin, so that in Jesus we may become the very righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) And therefore, by implication, to be fully reconciled to God and to one another.
The Great Benefit of Friendship
17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
5 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
The best kinds of friendships, or maybe the only kind of true friendships, are with those people who care about your character. Whenever my wife and I do counseling for engaged couples we always encourage them that one of the great benefits of marriage is mutual-sanctification, which is our way of encouraging the would be bride and groom to desire correction and instruction in the marriage. The same should be true of our friendships. A true friend is someone who is willing to tell you the difficult things that you do not want to hear. An open rebuke is a good thing, as Proverbs 12:1 tells us, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” If there is no one in your life who is willing to challenge you, push you, and even correct you, then according to Scripture you really don’t have any friends. Conversely, if you are not willing to have these kinds of conversations with the people that you are closest with then maybe you aren’t the friend that you that should be.
Again the gospel helps us in this. When Jesus meets us, he confronts us with who we really are, and he helps us to see our sin before a Holy God. This is the repentance side of salvation. To repent means to have your eyes opened to the brokenness of your ways. But of course Jesus doesn’t just call us to repent and then abandon us, he calls us to repent and to believe in him, to follow him, and to walk with him. Jesus graciously and patiently meets us wherever we are. In John 21, after Peter had denied Jesus three times in his hour of greatest need, Jesus met Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with a simple question, “do you love me?” Now, it’s hard to make out in the English, but in the Greek, Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me (agapas me)?” To which Peter replied, “Yes Lord you know that I love you (philo se).” A second time Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me (agapas me)?,” to which Peter replied, “yes Lord you know that I love you (philo se).” Do you see what is happening? Jesus came to Peter with the stronger or deeper expression of love in the Greek (agape), but all the love that Peter could muster in that moment was (philo). So in this beautiful and gracious way, the third time Jesus asks Peter, he says, “Peter, do you love me (phileis me)?” To which of course Peter replies, “yes.” It was as if Jesus says, “Ok Peter, if (philo) is all you can give then that is exactly where I will meet you now.” Jesus makes us aware of our sins, and fears, and weaknesses, but he never abandons us there, he meets us there and walks with us. As the old song says, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.”
The Result of Friendship
Proverbs 12:26 –
26 One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
In so many ways we are the sum of the people that we associate with. The people that you are building your life around are the people who will most influence your character. As the Proverb says, “your friends and neighbors are your guides.” In the same way, you are a guide to everyone in your sphere of influence, and you will either serve as a light of righteousness or as a pathway of destruction.
The idea of influence can be daunting, but again the gospel proves helpful. Jesus sends us out to make disciples and to influence the world for his glory, but he promises us that he will be with us, he promises to lead us and to guide us. As people follow us, Jesus invites us to follow him. Your family and friends will be looking to you, and they will be looking for a safe and secure path to go down, especially in a world of very few moral signposts and of great confusion. Make sure as your friends follow you that you are following the greatest friend, Jesus the son of God, who is always leading us down paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
May God give us good friends, and may he help us to be good friends for the sake of his Kingdom and for the glory of his name.
Dr. Jason Dees is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and guest instructor at the Kanakuk Institute.