Growing up as a 90’s kid in the church, I knew Michael W. Smith’s song by heart:
“And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them….
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends”
I’ve seen friendships in the church come and go. While I do believe there will be perfect unity in relationships in eternity, what about for the span of our lives here on earth? Close relationships are hard to cultivate and oftentimes harder to keep, even if the “Lord’s the Lord of them.” Biblical community goes beyond Sunday morning fellowship and leads towards sanctifying friendships. Godly friendships spur me towards loving of God, pursuing holiness, and avoiding spiritual shipwreck.
What is Biblical Friendship?
Today, I taste the fruit of genuine friendship, but this was not always the case. During college I met with a woman week by week and poured my heart out to her regarding the different struggles I had in my friendships. As she did life with me, she not only heard it from me, but saw day by day the ways in which I interacted with my friends. One day, as we sat together, she lovingly said, “Paula, when you go and hang out with people, it is not truly out of love for them but so that you would be liked and approved of by others.” I was a serial people pleaser. What she said pierced through my heart, and I knew she was absolutely right. At its root, I was a bad friend because I was out to serve myself. I have since spent time peeling back the layers of my sin of people pleasing and allowing the Lord to transform the ways in which I am a friend. Friendship is choosing to love like Christ in close companionship, not for selfish ends, but that God might be glorified in each of your lives. These relationships will look differently in scope depending on your season of life, but at its core, we can always strive to cultivate meaningful friendships wherever we are.
Being a Biblical Friend
A friend at best is always a friend like Christ, seeking how we can serve rather than be served. Imitating His heart and His ways should be our aim in friendship.
- Jesus draws near to us not because we deserve His love, but because He is loving (John 1:14; 1 John 4:7-12). I understand the desire to choose friends because “I would love to have a friend like them. They are likeable and fun.” There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but the caution would be to consider how Christ’s love is not based on our likeability. One thing we must consider when befriending others is to initiate with those who need a friend not just with the people we want to be friends with.
- Jesus models consistent companionship in His earthly ministry. He initiated each discipleship relationship and stuck with it (Matthew 4:18-22). We do well to follow Christ’s example in pursuing others in friendship. This often means taking the initiative ourselves to have someone over for dinner, invite them to coffee, run errands, and to show up and engage with others at smaller church gatherings. Jesus did ministry alongside His disciples. Consider how you can serve in ministry at your local church. Many of my longest and deepest friendships have formed over years of serving in ministry together. Jesus was also intentional in choosing twelve disciples and then within that, an inner circle of three. In our human limited capacities, we can exercise wisdom to know how many people we can realistically be a close friend to. This does not take away from the fact that every interaction we have with our brothers and sisters should be one that reflects Christlike love.
- Jesus gave of Himself in love and service for the good of others (John 13:34; Philippians 2:3-4). We love others by being quick to listen and understand, meeting practical needs, providing comfort, and considering others more important than ourselves. Do you strive to know the joys and sorrows of your friend (Romans 12:15)? Are you willing to make sacrifices for their benefit (1 John 3:16)? If your friend is married with children, are you willing to help lighten the load of caring for their needs? If your friend is an older saint, are you willing to help drive them around and perform hard to do physical tasks for them? If your friend is single, are you willing to include them in the joys of sitting around a full table and participating in family life?
- Jesus focused on the sanctification of His disciples (John 17:17). As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). In friendship, there is a level of mutual trust where you are able to bear your soul to one another. Where there is humility, there is openness, transparency, and the eager welcome to wise counsel and accountability. Do you welcome your friends to be honest with their struggles? When your friend confesses sin do you point them to the righteousness, grace, and love of God (Proverbs 28:13)? Are you willing to patiently remind your friends of the truth they need to hear? Are you willing to bear with the implications of how their weaknesses play out in how they relate to you? Do you confess sin and welcome life giving reproof (Proverbs 15:31)? Is your deepest desire for you and your friend to look more like Jesus?
Hindrances to Biblical Friendship
The deteriorating of friendships starts within individual hearts. We fight against our friends rather than for the preservation of that relationship. Be on guard against:
- Rivalry and jealousy
Unhealthy competition and comparison is a recipe for discord (James 3:16; Galatians 5:25-26). When it comes to the giftings, life seasons, and even the fact that your friends cultivate close relationships with others, rejoice with them rather than feel threatened. Don’t keep score over the ways you have loved and served others versus the ways they love and serve you (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). When we love and serve like Jesus, we give generously of our time, energy, and resources without expecting something in return (Acts 20:35).
- Being easily offended and prideful (Proverbs 19:11).
This happens when you are quick to assume and slow to believe the best.
When your friend hurts or offends you, check your own heart rather than beginning to build a case against your friend to justify your hurt. Love is compassionate, patient, and believes all things. In the small and the big things, we must choose to believe the best about one another (1 Corinthians 13:7).
- Withdrawing when you are hurt.
Are your reasons revealing a need for love and grace in your own heart (Ephesians 4:31-21)? Have you given them the benefit of the doubt in this situation? Are you judging their motives rather than extending grace to their actions (1 Corinthians 4:5)? As you ponder, remember God’s kindness towards you leading to overlooking the offense and experiencing no change in the warmth of your relationship, avoiding bitterness and anger (James 1:19-20). If you realize your friend is walking in unrepentant sin they are blind to, prayerfully consider how to speak the truth in love for their good (Ephesians 4:15; Matthew 7:5; Proverbs 27:6). Do so patiently, gently, in a way that shows genuine concern for their soul (Galatians 6:1-2).
May we strive to be Christlike, to be a friend with every opportunity we have within the body of Christ in our local churches and leave no person without a friend.