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In Praise of Friendship



I love my friends. I do. I love them, and I love being with them.


We’re on our annual holiday right now and here I am with my wife, Pippa, and some of our dearest friends. I feel like I’m in heaven. There’s a lot of walking, talking, eating, and laughing—all in an atmosphere of mutual love and trust.


What a gift friendship is. A true gift from God.


The TV series, Friends, first aired in the UK in 1995. Almost instantly, it became cult viewing, among young people in particular. The six characters—Monica, Ross, Joey, Chandler, Rachel, and Phoebe—really were good friends. They hung out together . . . talked a lot . . . helped each other get jobs . . . listened to each other’s problems . . . and generally had a great time doing . . . not a lot. They were a bright, witty, attractive group of twenty-somethings who made it their goal to enjoy life.


Teenagers loved Friends because they hoped their twenties would be something like that. It appealed to thirty-somethings because it reminded them of how things used to be during their student days. And, in spite of its loose morality, Friends was a hit because it portrayed life the way many of us would like it to be. It described a world in which we’re accepted and cared for; in which there’s give and take, the teasing is never threatening, and we can cope with each other’s quirky habits.


It’s a world in which we can live life to the full with people we love. Just like Pippa and I are doing with our friends right now.


What is friendship? Here’s a possible definition:


A secure relationship in which people enjoy each other’s company, respect each other’s values and watch each other’s backs over the long haul.


I’m sure you could come up with your own definition.


So, what are the origins of friendship? From where does it derive its power?



FRIENDSHIP STARTS WITH GOD


The idea of friendship takes us right to the heart of God himself because he is profoundly relational. Throughout all eternity, he has existed in a relationship of loving friendship within the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Furthermore, he has created us uniquely in his image to be relational beings.


The paradise-setting of Genesis 2 provides us with a picture of life as God designed it to be—Adam and Eve enjoying perfect friendship with him, with one another, and with the world around them. And that’s why we currently experience what C. S. Lewis describes as an “inconsolable longing”—an aching nostalgia for what has been lost through our disobedience and fall.


Yet in his amazing grace, God still seeks our friendship. Out of his deep love for us, he pursues us and promises us salvation—prefigured in the Old Testament and then fulfilled through the Lord Jesus.


Throughout the Bible, God often calls those who belong to him his friends. He describes Abraham as “my friend”, and speaks to Moses “as a man speaks with his friend”. In the gospels, the disciples show themselves to be deeply flawed men and yet Jesus delights to call them “friends”.



JESUS: OUR GREATEST FRIEND


Today, Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks; he wants us to enjoy the mutual blessing of his friendship. Ultimately, only he can satisfy the hunger of our hearts. It’s because of this that our friendships with others must be based on our friendship with him. Only when he is our greatest friend do we possess the secure foundation that gives life to our own capacity for friendship.


It’s the security that comes from knowing him that enables us to reach out to others, not looking to take, but willing to give sacrificially as he has given to us. He is the perfect friend who enables us to be true friends ourselves.



INVESTING IN FRIENDSHIP


Times of trial and trouble often reveal who our true friends are. As the writer of Proverbs points out, superficial friends soon fade away. Real friends, by contrast, stick with us through thick and thin. As the Lord Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”.


We all recognise the priority of sustaining our spiritual life. Most of us also recognise the need to nourish our physical life. But how many of us give much attention to our emotional life? The plain fact is that God hasn’t created us for a life of rugged individualism. We need each other—by design. At times it’s hard to quantify what a walk or a coffee with a friend will deliver in terms of ministry output, but that is exactly the kind of investment we need to make.


We need friendship.


Yet it follows that if we need to receive it, we also need to learn how to extend it to others. What if a friend of yours were truly in need? Would you be there for them? Really? Have you kept your friendships fit and healthy in the good times, so that they’re robust enough for the moment when a crisis occurs? Many of the church leaders I know have a lot of “friends” but this is where two uncomfortable questions arise.

  • Would your friends turn to you in times of trouble?

  • To whom would you turn when faced with a crisis?

In short, how solid are your friendships? Are they surface-deep or do they go further? What kind of friend are you really?



BUILDING FRIENDSHIP


So, what are the factors that promote friendship?

  • Time—it’s a precious commodity, and sadly, we may not see each other as often as we would like. So, while good friends have a remarkable capacity for picking up where they left off, the fact remains, friendship requires the investment of quality time. And that means at times, sacrifices must be made to prioritise a good friendship.

  • Reliability—though our time together is often limited by our busy schedules, good friends are always there for each other when the phone rings.*

  • Unconditional Love—navigating some relationships feels as if we’re walking on eggshells. The love undergirding true friendship isn’t like that. It allows for honesty and transparency. Instead of avoiding tough subjects, we’re open to conversation that treads into painful areas, because we know that we’re accepted and loved. And we extend that same love and acceptance to our friends.

  • Security—many of our relationships are transactional. They work as long as we continue to perform. In true friendship, we never have to deliver “value” to the other. We have nothing to prove and nothing to lose, because we know we’re loved.

  • Truthfulness—we can’t always “say what needs to be said” to everyone we meet. Things may need to be said, but not necessarily by us. Not so with true friendships. Friends can speak the truth in love in the confidence that what they say will be received and understood. It is precisely because our friends love us that we can speak truthfully, even when it’s hard. As the writer of the proverbs reminds us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend!”


I wonder how you have reflected on your own friendships today as you’ve been reading. How has God been speaking to you? Are you encouraged or challenged (or both) as you’ve considered the friends that the Lord has brought into your life?


Give thanks today for the Lord Jesus who is your very best friend. Thank him for the good friends he has placed in your life, and ask him to give you grace, strength and wisdom to extend friendship to those who need it right now.


 

* Other communication devices are available!




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