Lately, I have been thinking about friendship and what it means. My mother used to tell me that if I wanted to have friends I needed to be one first. This is really sound advice because we cannot sit in our homes without any interaction and expect people to seek us out. I believe this is what Jesus meant when He said that all the Law and the Prophets were summed up in this: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37-39). Our first great friendship needs to be with God and then with our neighbors. Knowing the Lord, changes the way we relate to others including family.
In His instruction to His disciples, Jesus told them what it means to be a friend. We find this in John 15:14-17: "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. You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other." What an honor and privilege to be called a friend by Jesus Christ. However, we must never take this for granted. We are His friends when we come to believe that He is the way, the truth and the life. Once we have made that commitment, we must follow what He has instructed us to do...love one another and live the way He has told us to in His Word. Having that relationship with God enables us to love others around us.
Being a good friend in the biblical sense is first of all sharing with one another. Jesus told His disciples what the Father had told Him. Likewise, we need to be able to share our hearts with one another in a loving spirit. I hate to say it but in our day, we fall far short of being able to even have civil conversations with one another on any issues. There is a spirit of contention out there, but we do not have to live like that. We can set an example of Christ-like friendship by being kind, listening to people's points of view without attacking them, but holding firm the truths of our faith. In many cases, just being a shoulder to cry on is what our friends really need. We sometimes think we need to tell another person what they need to do rather than affirming who they are in Christ. Like Jesus, we need to share the love of God with our friends and be someone they can trust with their confidences.
Secondly, a good friend is someone who loves us "warts and all". Jesus loved us that way. In fact, He loved us so much that He died in our place on the cross. How can we then pick on another person's imperfections when God has forgiven us so much at such a high cost? Besides, Jesus told us that if we loved one another it would demonstrate to the world that we are Christians. The world system by contrast is marked by hatred, greed, envy, and strife. On top of all this, friendships in the world are rarely deep or lasting. Instead they are formed as a matter of convenience or control. I believe that deep in our hearts is a desire for true and lasting friends who will not betray us, but people of integrity who will pray for us and encourage us when we are down. We have that in Jesus Christ. His love for us sets an example of how we are to love one another. So how do we flesh this out?
I know in my own life, I have not always been the best friend I could be. There are times when I have not extended myself to others as I ought to or phoned them just to check on how they are doing. It is little things like this that make us a good friend. We share with one another and keep in touch. I believe that between brothers and sisters in Christ this is so important because it acts like a framework of accountability. It is true even between husband and wife who are also supposed to be friends as well as partners in life. We are to laugh, cry, pray and care for one another. If the friendship is rich, it usually works out that when one is down the other is up. That is why we need one another. We were made for relationship.
Perhaps one of the greatest and yet most difficult parts of being a friend is telling another person the truth in love. We hear that term a lot, but really do not know what it means. It does not mean hitting someone over the head with the Bible to make them go in the right direction. Rather, it means being willing to sacrifice self and tell someone the truth knowing that they might reject us. Jesus did that many times. He confronted the woman at the well with the truth of her current living arrangement with a man she was not married to, but He did not condemn her. He told the woman caught in adultery in another situation to "go and sin no more." This is one of the hardest things we ever have to face with our friends or even our family, but if we never tell someone they are about to fall in a pit, we will be sorry when they are injured. Proverbs says: "The kisses of an enemy may be profuse, but faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Proverbs 27:6). I would rather have a friend wound me with the truth for my soul's sake than to tell me lies to tickle my ears and lead to my destruction.
Jesus was a perfect friend. He sticks closer than a brother, and shows us, by laying down His life for us, what true love and relationship is all about. As believers, how do you treat your friends? Are you willing to take time to talk to them, pray for them and reach out to them? If ever the world needed something now...it is genuine friendship and love which Christians have to offer. Lets begin in our homes to grow our friendships with our family. Then, let us reach out to our neighbors and acquaintances demonstrating the love of Christ. I guarantee it will not only enrich our own lives, but it will also change others in the process. Be a friend to someone today. Selah!
Father, teach us to be a friend to those around us. Help us to serve with gladness, listen with kindness and speak with wisdom so we may glorify You. Thank You that You called us friend and loved us even before we loved You. In Jesus' name, Amen.
P.S. What does real friendship mean to you? I would love to hear your thoughts on friends in Christ who have helped you grow.