Godly friendship, part two
In the previous post, we looked at the importance of friendship, and why friendship matters to God. So with that in mind, what does good, godly friendship look like? How can we cultivate those kinds of friendships in our lives?
It ought to be said at this point, that I am not the best example of friendship you can find. I love my friends dearly and want to be a good friend to people. But the fact is that I often fail, and don’t invest in my friendships as much as I would like to. I’m not writing as an expert in friendship, but rather as someone who wants to learn how to develop godly friendships.
Thankfully, since friendship matters to God, the Bible contains many examples of friendship to follow. Perhaps one of the best is found in the really short letter of 3 John in the New Testament. In this letter, the apostle John writes to a friend of his called Gaius. While there is much we can learn from the letter about the Christian faith and discipleship, there is a great deal in this short letter about friendship too.
Make strong friends, v1
To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.3 John 1
it’s tempting to think of the apostles as self-sufficient lone rangers who didn’t need anyone else in their Christian walk. But John, and others, had good friends with whom they could share the ups and downs of discipleship.
John describes Gaius as a dear friend “whom I love in the truth.” We tend to be afraid of talking about love among friends for fear that we might be misunderstood. But the Bible writers knew that love extends beyond the romantic or sexual to include deep love between friends. We would do well to recapture something of this.
John’s love for Gaius is love “in the truth”. It is their mutual love for Jesus that allows them to be such good friends and companions. This is vital, since it works against the danger of a friendship becoming a clique. A friendship that is based around the truth of following Jesus should never become an inward looking huddle. Rather it should extend to reach out to those outside the friendship group too.
Godly friendship begins with friendship with God, and then to others who share that common friendship. That great, extensive Psalm 119 includes the affirmation that “I am a friend to all who fear you” (Psalm 119:63). May that be true for us.
Mine deep friendships, v2–4
After the opening greeting, 3 John starts with one of the most down to earth verses:
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.3 John 2
John clearly cares about his friend. His friendship is not a super-spiritual one where the only thing that is discussed is the content of their latest Bible study. He cares about, and asks about, his friend’s health and well being. He is interested in the whole person. He wants to know and share the whole of his friend’s life.
There is an honesty and openness to godly friendships that is something rare and valuable. We live alongside plenty of people, but there are very few with whom we share every aspect of our lives. Marlene Dietrich once said:
“It’s the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.”Marlene Dietrich
It’s very true, isn’t it? The friend who is there in a crisis is a true friend indeed. The friend who you can be honest with, and who is honest with you, is a great treasure. Perhaps the rarest friend is one from whom we can hear challenge and criticism and still know love and support at the same time.
“It is a great confidence in a friend to tell him your faults; greater to tell him his.”Benjamin Franklin
That kind of honesty and openness in friendship is a rare thing in today’s age. We have many friends on social media perhaps, but we present to them a carefully curated image of our lives. True, maybe, but certainly not the whole truth. An honest friendship who you can be completely truthful with is hard to come by.
Actually, this has always been the case. Here’s a very poignant quote from George Bernard Shaw, relevant to all but especially to those of us who live in London:
“If you lived in London, where the whole system is one of false good-fellowship, and you may know a man for twenty years without finding out that he hates you like poison, you would soon have your eyes opened. There we do unkind things in a kind way: we say bitter things in a sweet voice: we always give our friends chloroform when we tear them to pieces.”George Bernard Shaw, ‘You Never Can Tell’
How wonderful it is to have robust friendships who tell it like it is. How wonderful it is when the Holy Spirit so works in us that we can be that kind of friend for someone else!
Model good friendships, v9–12
The righteous choose their friends carefullyProverbs 12:26
While we want to be open and not insular in our friendships, it is also important to choose good friends wisely. Equally important is to choose our models for friendship wisely too.
As John speaks to his friend Gaius, he points out two other examples of friendship and relationship, the first in verse 9:
Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.3 John 9
I don’t know if Diotrephes was a friend of John’s at some point, but he is certainly not now. His pride has made him jealous of John and he refuses to welcome him into the church. Here is an example of interpersonal relationships gone wrong. In one sense, there is nothing extraordinary and sinister happening here: it is ordinary pride and self-seeking that is driving the breakdown in relationship; it’s a pattern you can see working in churches and fellowships all around the world.
Compare that to John’s second example in verse 12:
Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself.3 John 12
Here’s a good model of friendship. Demetrius is spoken well of by everyone he comes across; he is someone who wants to build relationships. But more important than that. he is spoken well of by the truth. That is, he measures up well against God’s word. That is the kind of person to take note of, to be friends with and to watch how they build friendships. Is there a Demetrius around you that you can watch and learn from?
Maintain friendships deliberately, v13–14
I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.3 John 14
John has written this letter to Gaius and we are profoundly grateful because it forms part of our Bible. But John doesn’t really want to write to Gaius, he wants to talk to him face to face.
Face to face is the way that friendships are made. Circumstances might mean that email or video calls or other means are the only way we can communicate at this point in time. But we should long to see people face to face, just as John did.
Face to face friendship takes time and takes effort. It doesn’t happen overnight or by accident. This kind of friendship needs to be intentional, something we seek after and something we invest in. Our busy lives and packed schedules rarely make time for good friendship building. Yet it is something we would benefit enormously from investing in.
One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend.Proverbs 22:11
…so make good friends
3 John is, amongst other things, an encouragement to make good friends. The kind of friendship that John describes here is best illustrated by a passage from J. R. R. Tolkein’s masterpiece, the Lord of the Rings. Having set out from the Shire to carry the Ring, Frodo is unexpectedly caught up by his friends Merry and Pippin:
“It does not seem that I can trust anyone,” said Frodo. “It all depends on what you mean,” put in Merry. “You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you yourself keep it. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the ring. We are horribly afraid–but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.”J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (Houghton Mifflin 1994), 103
We are horribly afraid, but we are coming with you or following like hounds. That’s a great description of persistent, committed friendship; the kind of friendship that model and promote godliness.