What is a friend? Well, since we all know that the internet is always reliable, I looked for a definition online. Here are a few that I found.
A lifelong friend is someone you haven’t borrowed money from yet.
Friends knock on your door. Best friends walk into your house and start eating.
A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway. – Fr. Jerome Cummings
A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked. – Bernard Meltzer
There’s nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with CHOCOLATE.
No matter how you define it, we were designed for friendship. At the very beginning, in the first chapter of Genesis, God declared that it was not good for the man to be alone. He brought every kind of animal to him, but none were suitable to meet Adam’s needs. What he needed was a friend. Someone to be a companion. Someone to support him. So God created one. One that was human just like him. One that thought and felt like he did. And He said it was good.
Just in the stories we find in the Bible, we see examples of friendships. Probably the most well known is the friendship between David and Jonathan. This was not just a run of the mill, I remember you kind of friendship. This was a covenant friendship. Although Jonathan’s father, Saul, set out to kill David, Jonathan loved David so much that he helped him escape, despite potentially destroying his relationship with his father and risking his own life.
And then there was Ruth and Naomi. Although they were related – Ruth was Naomi’s daughter in law – they had formed a friendship that caused Ruth to willingly give up her family and land to travel back to Naomi’s homeland with her and to take care of her there. We also see Abraham and Lot, Elijah and Elisha, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, among others.
Friendships can be so complex that many languages have several different words that can mean friend, including English. We differentiate between an acquaintance, a colleague, a friend and a close friend. Research suggests that the average person can handle 150-200 friends at a time, although in practicality, most of them would fall in the acquaintance or colleague category. That’s not necessarily bad. It’s just that God has designed us each so differently that there are likely only a handful of people that we really feel comfortable sharing our dreams and needs with. But rest assured, we do need those few. Just as a cord of three strands is not easily broken, God has provided us with close friends to strengthen us individually and as a community.
Why do we have so many examples of friendships in the Bible? Because God wanted to make it crystal clear that He did not intend for us to be alone. He places such a high value on friendship – close friendship – that he identifies it with the word love. And over and over, He calls us to love one another. Here are just a few:
Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Ephesians 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Although we have been taught, especially here in America, to take care of ourselves and to be independent, Jesus calls us to relationship. Many times, we find friendships formed during times of adversity. When the survivors of the tornadoes near Oklahoma City in late May emerged from their shelters, the extreme devastation caused them to form an instant bond with those who had suffered with them. It is at times of pain that even the most independent among us begin to realize the deeply ingrained need for a good friend. That is not weakness, but a recognition of God’s design for His people.
So what is a friend, really? Webster defines it at a person who has a strong liking for and trust in another. The Scriptures don’t give a single definition of a friend, but describes characteristics of good and bad friendships.
Ecclesiates 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”
John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Romans 12:10 says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Proverbs 27:6 says “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”
I encourage you to look for Scriptures this week that describe friendship. There are many more.
And Jesus fulfills every one of these characteristics. You see, when Jesus offers us salvation, He is not just offering us an event. He offers us a relationship. A friendship. John 15:13-15 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus laid down his life for us. He taught us. He trusted us with His Gospel. He has called us his friend. And in harmony with his master design, he calls us to love one another because he first loved us.
We who have been chosen as a friend of God are then free to build that same type of relationship with other people. We serve Him – we show Him our love – by showing love to the people around us. Putting a cool new Duck Dynasty t-shirt in a box, wrapping it up, and setting it on the table saying this is for you, God, isn’t the best way to show you love God. Giving that same t-shirt to the neighbor who lost his job is. Jesus made it clear when he said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Paul beautifully lays out this divine three way friendship in Philippians 1:27-2:11.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Paul starts this section with the overarching purpose of our even being here – to carry on the work of the Gospel. He calls the Philippians to “strive together for the faith of the Gospel.” The main goal of our working together is to be living examples of His love. This was never intended to be a solitary task! Every reference to fulfilling the Gospel and obeying His commands involves loving others. Even Jesus himself took 12 men with him. Three of them were known as His inner circle, while there was the one favored disciple. When he sent workers out, he sent them two by two. When he told them to wait for the Holy Spirit, he had them wait together.
So it is not surprising that Paul encourages the Philippians towards unity by starting with their relationship with Jesus. And he says, in essence, “If your relationship with Jesus is as great as I think it is, I want you to love each other just like Jesus loves you.” He asked them to get rid of those expressions of human fallenness, selfish ambition and vain conceit, and to put on love – complete love that is characterized by humility. Just to make it very clear, because this was a fairly young church, he describes again how Jesus exemplified love through humility. And he didn’t mean that false “I’m worthless” self-deprecation that some think is humility. He meant trusting in God’s ability to care for them so much that they are willing to put others’ needs above their own. Even with those we most care about, we sometimes find we need to overcome that nagging “What about me?” thought to truly encourage and uplift and sacrifice for a friend.
And it’s even harder to do that for someone who isn’t a friend. It’s easy to be a friend to that special person who God has placed in your life that has similar circumstances and thinks in the same way you do and likes the same things you do. But it’s a lot harder to be a friend – to really care about the welfare of, and actually want the best for – someone who says things that get on your nerves or lives a completely different lifestyle, especially one you don’t approve of, or who is mean and hateful, or who has put up emotional walls to keep you out. It is hard to love that manager who tells you that you have to pay $80 that you were told you wouldn’t have to pay. And yet, Jesus himself was our example when he was accused by the Pharisees of being a friend of sinners. He said that it was exactly these sinners – the ones who realized they needed a friend to get them out of this – that he was able to work with. The Pharisees and religious leaders were so full of their own importance that they couldn’t even see their need for a friend who would lay down his life for them. And Jesus calls us to love, not just the easy ones, but the challenging ones, as well.
In Matthew 5:43-47, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” He is calling God’s people to a deeper friendship – a deeper love – than they have known before.
And in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes what that kind of love looks like.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
And through this love – because we are loved unconditionally – because we have been chosen as a friend of God, we are able to be the kind of friend that can say with Paul “I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” Because we will not be standing before Christ alone, but with a whole cloud of witnesses surrounding us.