By Ruth Clemence, Crosswalk.com
From the very beginning, it was God who said it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Proverbs 27:17 states “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Having someone to converse with, be encouraged by and sharpen thoughts with is a blessing from God. We are created by God to firstly be in communion with Him; we are not designed to live for ourselves or by ourselves without Him.
As we think about friendship, we can ponder the majesty and truth of our God, who reveals what it means to be a friend. As the Bible testifies about Jesus, we can meditate upon Him as He loves His people from before the world began, and on into eternity. Here are seven things found in the Bible about friendship:
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1. Genuine Friendship with Others Points to Our Ultimate Friend, Jesus
“Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you — better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away” (Proverbs 27:10).
Anyone who has lived far away from family, whether in proximity or in spirit, knows how precious close, genuine friendships are. We may think “they are like family to me” or they are “like the family I never had.” The Lord blesses us with good friendships with others.
God is also described as a “Friend” in the Bible. Abraham believed in God through his faith and obedience; it was counted to him as righteousness and he was called a “friend of God” (Genesis 15:6; James 2:23). Jesus revealed the will of the Father to His disciples and called them “friends.”
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
He also calls those who follow Him friends too.
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2. True Friendship Endures through Triumphs and Trials
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
If you have ever gone through a challenging time (which I am sure most of us have in some way), the presence or absence of friends can make all the difference. Sometimes those you think will be there for you fail to make an appearance in your time of greatest need. Others whom you would not have even thought of may step up and be there when the storm clouds roll in thick and fast.
A true friend is one who loves you at all times, regardless of what circumstances surround you. Even in times when we have sinned or fallen short in some way, the loving thing they could do may be a gentle rebuke (2 Timothy 3:16-17) or a soft answer (Proverbs 15:1) to steer us in the right direction once more.
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3. Friends of Jesus Are Not Friends with the World – but They Love Like He Does
God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus, so that anyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). So why would us becoming a friend of the world make us an enemy to God?
It is important to remember that this world has been corrupted by sin and the prince of this world is Satan. It is a kingdom that stands against God and His people. He is described as “the god of this world [who has] blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Friendship with the world is impossible because light and darkness have nothing in common (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Unless we turn to Jesus and be saved, we are under the bondage of sin, and we belong to the kingdom of darkness. It is God alone who saves, and it is by faith alone that we trust in this saving work. Christians have a role in sharing the good news that Jesus saves with a lost, broken world living in sin, depravity and darkness. They are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom where Jesus reigns. Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Although believers now belong to another kingdom, that does not mean that we do not share the love of God with others. Friendship is a way that we can extend love to those whom God came to rescue. We were once dead in our sins and used to follow “the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:1-2). However, it is because of Jesus and His great love for us and the richness of His mercy that we are made alive in Him even when we were dead in sin; it is all His grace by which we are saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).
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4. Character Is Important for Friendship Together and as Individuals
“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Although not a direct reference to friendship, this biblical truth gives wisdom about the type of company we need to be mindful of. As we get to know people, we will begin to get a sense of what someone may be like. If we surround ourselves with people who are antagonistic toward God or who may lead us to sin, we are in danger of compromising the truth we know and disobeying the Lord we love and serve.
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5. Friends Are Involved in Everyday Life, Including the Highs and Lows
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me’” (Matthew 26:36-38).
Having a close group of friends is something Jesus consistently prioritized. Jesus chose twelve disciples, but only three of them – Peter, James and John – would be with Him in His highest and lowest moments on the earth. They were eyewitnesses of His transfiguration on the mountain where His glory was revealed (Mark 9:2-3), the raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Luke 8:49-56), and His darkest trial as He prayed and awaited His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and eventual crucifixion (Matthew 26:36-56).
The disciples followed Jesus and learnt from Him every day. They saw the way that He lived and how it did not contradict His teaching. He invited them to “come and see,” went to their home, ate meals together regularly, invited them to be involved in ministry, and He was available to them.
If we want to be known by others, and to develop friendships, we open up our lives to them. One of Jesus’s closest friends, Peter, betrayed Him, yet Jesus still walked with Him, forgave Him, reinstated Him to build up the church. If we trust in Jesus as our Friend, we can learn from Him and be a genuine friend to others in all seasons of life.
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6. Examples of Friendship in Action Are Given throughout Scripture
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Being a friend involves action and sacrifice. We see this displayed ultimately at the cross, where Jesus laid down His life for sinners in desperate need of rescuing. It was love that drove Jesus to the cross. It was love that held Him there as those around Him mocked Him, saying that He could save others and not save Himself (Matthew 27:42). Yet, it was precisely out of love for us that He was able to pray for those who persecute and sin against Him (which we all have done). As Jesus hung on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Despite the agony of the crucifixion, in love He interceded on His enemies’ behalf before the Father. Forgiveness is at the heart of friendship; it is an action, a deliberate choice.
Jesus is the supreme example of what it means to love and lay down His life for others, but there are many other examples of this in the Bible. Ruth laid down her life willingly to be with her mother-in-law Naomi. She chose to abandon her former way of life and stick by someone loosely related to her. As a result, she provided for Naomi and showed faithfulness to her in her time of grief and suffering. This gives a small foretaste of her far-off descendant, Jesus Christ, who is our faithful provider and closest friend.
Jonathan was King Saul's son, who developed such a close friendship with David that it was described as them being one soul knit together (1 Samuel 18:1). David was King Saul's enemy because of the king's jealousy, and Saul wanted to kill David (1 Samuel 18 and 19). Jonathan was willing to risk his life by warning David, proving their friendship was closer than his family ties. As Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever’” (1 Samuel 20:42).
In the New Testament there are many examples of edifying relationships such as Mary and Elizabeth, Paul and Timothy, Barnabas and John Mark, among others. Each context and relationship is different, but they all illustrate the importance of having strong friendships.
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7. Jesus Is the Friend of Sinners
“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Luke 7:33-34).
The reputation that Jesus had amongst Pharisees when He walked the earth was revealed in the company that He kept. Jesus chose to associate with those that were considered “sinners” in the eyes of the religious leaders of the day.
“When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:16-17).
Jesus came into the world as a human being, made in our likeness to reconcile sinful humanity with God (2 Corinthians 5:19). He already knows the worst about us and still went in love to die on the cross for us. Secure in that truth, we can say with believers across the centuries: “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness’” (Jeremiah 31:3). What they saw in part, we can now fully see through the cross of Christ. His everlasting love and unfailing kindness seen at Calvary draws sinners to repentance.
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What a Friend We Have in Jesus
There are times in life where we may experience isolation, a lack of good friendships or not feel close to the Lord which may make us feel alone. In those times, we can turn to God’s Word and be reminded of the truth of what it says about friendships.
As we wait in a season of feeling like we are on our own (whether physically, spiritually or mentally), we can pray to our Savior, King and Friend, Jesus who has promised that He will never leave us, nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). Jesus says that He will send His Spirit: “...I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17).
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