How many friends do you have?
That can be a tricky question to answer. Many of us will turn to social media as a measure of our friendship circle: I have this many friends on Facebook or so many followers on Twitter. While there can be tremendous value in those online contacts, it is quite difficult to view them all as deep, significant friendships. Perhaps we turn to think about those we keep in touch with in other ways, like the number of people who are on our Christmas card list. Yes, once again, although it’s good to keep in contact with people, how many of those contacts know what is going on in your life at the moment?
We might go on to think about our neighbourhood, those we see regularly at work, at church, at the gym or school gate. However we count it, the chances are we have a large number of people we see often. But how many are true friends or simply acquaintances? How many know the details of our struggles, and how many confide in us with their struggles? The chances are not very many.
Friendship is a significant and important thing, yet something we rarely give much active thought toward. Friendship is something that God values highly too. Friendship crops up in many different ways throughout the Bible story and good friendship is held up as a powerful treasure. Ultimately, we see that friendship matters to God. Here are a few reminders of that:
Friendship begins with God
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.1 John 4:7–8
John talks about love a great deal in his first letter (and in his other writings). Reading John’s letter, however, you would not get the sense that he is talking about the kind of romantic feelings that might spring to mind when we hear the word ‘love’. Instead, John’s love describes the relationship that God desires between all Christian believers – care, concern and compassion for one another. You might replace ‘love’ with ‘friendship’, except for the fact that this view of relationships surpasses our often too small view of friendship.
So says John, ‘Dear friends, let us be friends with one another, for friendship comes from God.” Love – caring, compassionate love that lies at the heart of true friendship – comes from God. Friendship in its ideal form begins with God. We only know what to aim for in friendship by looking at the love and compassion of Almighty God.
Friendship is valuable
The wisdom literature of the Old Testament has a lot to say about friendship. Again and again the book of Proverbs talks about the value of good friends, and the danger of ill-chosen friends. Many of the psalms bemoan the betrayal of close friends and the pain it causes.
What you find in these books is that friendship is valuable. We are not meant to be ‘lone rangers’ and God has not designed us that way. We have been made to live in community, alongside others, to enjoy friendship.
In particular, good and godly friends help us to grow in godliness. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” says Proverbs 27v6, and it followed by this sound advice:
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.Proverbs 27:9
The industrialist Henry Ford once said, “My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” The book of Proverbs would certainly agree. True friends are a source of growth in godliness. At the same time, a lack of investment in friendship can demonstrate a lack of godliness.
Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.Job 6:14
Some of the most powerful arguments for the value of friendship also come from the example of godly friends. David and Jonathan had an unlikely yet transformative friendship; Daniel and his friends stood together for God in the midst of a foreign land. The Apostle Paul, who was seemingly very competent and able, benefited from close friends and companions such as Barnabas, Silas and Timothy.
Friendship is something God invites us to
Given all of the above, one of the most astonishing things that the Bible claims is that God wants to be friends with us. The power and value of friendship reveals how far short I fall of being a good friend. Yet the God of the universe is about calling people into friendship with himself.
Abraham was far from perfect, but he is called in various places a ‘friend of God’ (Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23). Moses had a bad temper and yet he was called to speak to God face to face “as one speaks to a friend.” (Exodus 33:11). God calls imperfect people to be his friends.
Then enters Jesus, who is called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 11:19). On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus says these extraordinary words to his disciples:
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 friendsJohn 15:13–15
Jesus calls us his friends. Jesus calls us into friendship with himself, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. And Jesus went on to prove that friendship by laying down his life. For me. His friend.