Friendship: A Familiar Yet Forgotten Relationship

Do you have a friend(s)- friend(s) who really knows you? Lately, I have been learning the value and blessing of friendship. Many tend to easily forget and disregard this beautiful relationship. I am surrounded by many whom I call friends, but sometimes, I am unsure if I really know what it means to call someone a friend. It is said that the older we grow, the more we lose connections with friends. We use our growing responsibilities and transitions to avoid experiencing meaningful friendships. A contributing factor could also be the connection deception we get from the fast-growing internet and social media world. We are a connected yet disconnected world. We have deceived ourselves into thinking that close, authentic friendships are unnecessary, yet we question why loneliness is rampant

We barely actively think about friendship and assume loneliness and desperation to those who pursue friendships. From a study done in 2021, the rate of loneliness has shot up, whereas the rate of friendship continues to decline. Yet, indeed, no one can enjoy life without friendship. We have heard the famous saying, “No man is an island.” Not all of us will enjoy the gift of marriage, but we were all made for Friendship. Consider the words of  St. Augustine of Hippo, “In this world, two things are essential: life and friendship. Both should be highly prized, and we must not undervalue them. Life and friendship are nature’s gifts. God created us that we might exist and live: this is life. But if we are not to remain solitary, there must be friendship.” 

Made for Friendship

We were made for friendship; we cannot live without it. In the scriptures, God is not silent about our need for one another. In Genesis, God shows our need for relationships (Genesis 2:18). The book of Proverbs is filled with wisdom about friendship, from its importance (Proverbs 18:1, 27:10) to how to pick out good friends (Proverbs 13:20). Scottish pastor, Hugh Black, writes, “There is no book, even in classical literature, which so exalts the idea of friendship, and is so anxious to have it truly valued, and carefully kept.” One does not need to be Christian to acknowledge their need for friendship. Yet, for us Christians, friendship goes beyond just friendship with one another. We were ultimately made for friendship with God. 

Before the fall, Adam enjoyed sweet communion (friendship) with the LORD. Jesus, the great friend of sinners, came to restore us to friendship with God. Drew Hunter rightly says, “The cross was history’s most heroic act of friendship.” As he drew near to his death, Jesus told his disciples that his death was not only a demonstration of his love but also an act of friendship. He said to them, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Later, he called his disciples his friends (John 15:15). And here’s the best part: those who do what he commands, he also called them his friends (John 15:14). Isn’t that great? To be a Christian is to know Christ Jesus and to be known by him in deep friendship. 

Friendship is the greatest expression of love. It mirrors the love God has for us. In the scriptures, there are stories of friendship, too. Naomi had Ruth, David had Jonathan, Paul had Timothy, Jesus had Peter, James had John, etc. Friendship is a means through which we experience fullness of joy. Our happiest memories are those made with genuine friends. 

The Necessity of Friendship

Sin lures us into thinking that we can thrive in isolation without genuine friendship. Isolation leads to loneliness. Everyone, extroverts and introverts alike, suffer loneliness when there is no friendship. There is a joy friendship gives that isolation never will (Proverbs 18:1). 

We often think of friendship as a luxury and not a necessity. I like to think of friendship to man what oil is to the car engine. Without it, we can only go so far before breaking down. Consider the wise words of King Solomon:

“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12). 

God created everything, and it was all very good (Genesis 1:31), but it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). God paraded the animals before him, and none was a good fit for him. He needed a community of his kind. Pets are good, but none can offer the kind of friendship that humans truly need. The need for company offered by friendship is not a result of sin. The “not good-ness” of man’s aloneness existed before the onset of sin. Sin has lured us into thinking that we are better off alone or, worse, that pets will suffice. 

We cannot live in isolation; it goes against God’s design. You may ask, “If man enjoyed a sweet friendship with God, why did Adam need company? Wasn’t God enough for him? Didn’t God create us to enjoy him fully?” Yes! God did create us to enjoy him fully and in his image. Our triune God enjoys triune friendship and communion; friendship with one another is one way we live in his image. Is it possible that man would have enjoyed God fully with no companion? Yes! But God has allowed us to enjoy and reflect him through friendship with one another. We were made for friendship. God the Son, in his humanity, needed and experienced friendship with his disciples and Lazurus (John 11:11). We long for friendships because God designed us to exist in friendships. 

How to Be a Good Friend

Deep, intentional, long-lasting, true friendships are a familiar yet forgotten concept today. Our culture barely encourages us to invest in such; thus, we seem to have lost sight of how true friendship works. So how can one be a good friend? What are the markers of genuine friendship? 

Good friends

Exhort one another

Scripture encourages us to exhort one another every day, that the deceitfulness of sin may harden none of us (Hebrews 3:13). We are called to consider how we could stir up each other to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). Our friendships ought to spur us on to obedience and godliness. We need faithful encouragement from godly friends to continue in our Christian walk. The encouragement of a friend will not save us from sin, but it is God’s means of grace to preserve us and help us remain committed to Christ. This encouragement is not to come in the form of flattery or pep talks. No! It is a call from a loving and concerned brother/sister in Christ to run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1), to fight the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7), to hold fast to the steady anchor (Hebrews 6:19), and to look towards the prize Christ has already achieved for us (Philippians 3:13-14). Whether you feel motivated or not, you need a friend to cheer you on as you run this race. 

Our friendships ought to nudge us to pursue what we love and are good at. Urafiki ni kujengana. We ought to sharpen, point each other to ways we could grow in our different spheres of life, and enjoy the world our good God has given us. Encouragement is refreshing, so true friendship should nourish and refresh us. 

Rebuke One Another and are Open to Correction

A friend who is good at cheering on but fails to call out sin that is plain to sight is neither a good nor genuine friend. Solomon reminds us in Proverbs: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6). Sometimes, we shy from rebuking our friends’ sins because we fear the loss of friendship. A friendship lost where sin was exposed and rebuked was no friendship in the beginning. Some of us worry that our way of rebuke may be unkind or unloving. However, God promises to help us; we can always run to him for wisdom (James 1:5). 

Sin blinds us from the light of Christ; it deceives us into thinking we are living our lives well. We need friends to lovingly and gently (Galatians 6:1) show us our areas of sin. We need friends who can be brutally honest with us (Matthew 18:15). We have not been removed from the presence of sin. As God is sanctifying us, we need friends who will confront our sin in love (Ephesians 4:15). A good friend takes on the correction of a friend joyfully and lovingly, in humility. Do we listen when corrected? Or do we recoil when a friend offers rebuke? Consider Solomon’s counsel in Proverbs 15:31-32; “the ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”  Humility ought to be our heart’s posture when taking or receiving reproof. Loving and wise correction is helpful, though hard at the time, and yields joy, peace, and wisdom.

Are Willing to Invest

One thing that plagues friendships today is a lack of willingness to sacrifice for or invest in the friendship. For a friendship to grow and not feel one-sided, friends must be willing to invest both time and sometimes resources. Friendship is like a plant. It ought to be watered and cared for to sustain its health, which requires effort. Friendships may start organically without effort, but that differs from how they are sustained. Good, true, lasting, and satisfying friendships take time and sacrifice and are rewarding investments. 

Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

Another killer of friendships and other kinds of relationships is unrealistic expectations. We expect perfect friends yet live in the reality of sin, including our own. Our culture has taught us to hold very high standards for friends, hindering us from extending grace, forgetting that grace was first extended to us (Romans 5:6-9). A reality of life is that friendships will look different for different life seasons, age groups, personality types, etc. Regardless, we are called to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32). Remember, love is patient and kind, does not insist on its way, is not resentful, keeps no record of wrongs, and bears all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Brothers and sisters, remember this: even the best of friends sometimes will fail us. However, the painful wounds of a friend’s failure should point us to the greatest friend, Jesus, who never fails nor forsakes us (Psalms 37:25). 

Bear Each Other’s Burdens

God calls us to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). A great rebuke I heard from a song a few years back that has stuck with me is, “Only a fool suffers alone.” We are not designed to live in isolation. God has gifted us people to point us to himself and share in our joys and pains. For a long time, I struggled to share my struggles with friends. It was a foreign idea: I could ask a friend to help me with my needs or even pray with me. Our culture has trained us to be individualistic and pretend to have everything together. True friends confess their sins to each other and pray for one another (James 5:16). Jesus bore the weight of our sins and our griefs and took up our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4), and we imitate him as we carry each other’s burdens. I could not agree more with the adage, “A friend in need is a friend indeed!” We do not do well alone; we need friends around us (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Share your burdens. Pray for one another. Lift each other up when one falls. 

We are not created to be lone rangers. Do you struggle with friendships? Pray that the Lord blesses you with genuine friendships. Do you suffer wounds of friendship that didn’t work out? Pray that our good God heals and gifts you with meaningful, fruitful friendships. Above all, do not just pray for a better friend, become one.  

References

https://www.americansurveycenter.org/why-mens-social-circles-are-shrinking/

http://www.augnet.org/en/works-of-augustine/his-ideas/2311-augustine-on-friendship/

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