Friends delight in each other’s company and their friendship in the Spirit enhances their service, motivates their actions and strengthens their commitment to Christ.
The Bible places a high value on friendship, showing us how we can benefit from companionship and how we can use this gift in the kingdom of God. Friendship is, of course, beneficial in its own right having great intrinsic worth, but we soon discover that friendship can also be a powerful and effective means for reaching out and for building one another up. Beginning with the example of Jesus, let’s take a brief tour of the Bible’s teaching on friendship.
Jesus and his friends
All of Jesus’ disciples were his friends and this brought a special privilege into their lives. He said to them, “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends…” (John 15:15). He also had in “inner circle’ of friends which we can call Jesus’ Group of 3. Peter, James and John were his closest associates and that brought them greater privileges of intimacy, trust and responsibility. Only these three were chosen to accompany Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2). John, the beloved disciple, was even closer to Jesus than the rest. “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23). Their close relationship is also mentioned in John 20:2; 21:7 and 21:20.
The threefold chord
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 shows the true value of friendship. In every situation, two are better than one and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. One on his own cannot produce as much as two, he is vulnerable when falling or when under attack. Being warmed by each other, the fellowship of the two or three brings much benefit. Fruitfulness is also increased through the power of synergy, which means we can do more together, even when we take into account all that we can do as individuals.
Friends influence each other – positively or negatively Friends often exert the most powerful influence on our lives, for better or for worse. The Bible is very clear about why it is vitally important to have the right friends around us. “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, For the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (Proverbs 12:26). “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
Job’s friends, though well meaning, were more of a hindrance than a help to him. They began well as they identified with Job and his suffering (Job 2:11). But due to an inadequate view of suffering in which they assumed his painful circumstances were the result of his own sin, they then became a hindrance, blaming Job for they way he felt and for what had happened to him (Job 12:4). Unfortunately, “Job’s comforters’ are still around today, and this shows how careful we must be before we rise to judge, condemn or to come up with “quick, easy solutions’ when we are helping our friends. Friendship calls for something deeper than a few quotes from the Bible slapped onto others in place of genuine understanding. Friendship challenges us to grow in true knowledge and wisdom so that we can be of real help to our friends.
Friendship must be preserved through discipline, loyalty and trust. Friendship carries a price but, fortunately, it is often an easy price to pay as we have affinity with our friends and find it easy to be affectionate with them, sticking with them through thick and thin. “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24).
Where there are mistakes and failings friendship is often tested to the limit. One of the hallmarks of genuine friendship is that your friend can know the worst about you, but it doesn’t matter; they remain your friend, helping you through your sin and problems. He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends (Proverbs 17:9). Sometimes it is difficult to keep confidences and we must use strong self-discipline not to divulge the things spoken to us in confidence. The kind of friendship described in this article and in the book The Friendship Factor is “covenant friendship’ because it demands high levels of commitment, faithfulness and loyalty.
Key elements in friendship
From what we have learned so far, we can begin to build a picture of the true friendship as presented in the Bible. I suggest the following four characteristics or key elements. Look each of them and think how they can be expressed in the friendships you have in Christ:
As we have seen, the friendship factor is a powerful tool for us to use in the kingdom of God, both for “inreach’ and “outreach.’ That is why we seek to grow our cells and build the church through friendship.
Now look at these pointers on friendship to complete the Bible picture:
Friendship is part of romance and marriage
His mouth is most sweet, yes, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem! (Song of Solomon 5:16)
Motives in friendship are important
He who loves purity of heart and has grace on his lips, the king will be his friend. (Proverbs 22:11)
Friends stick together even in difficult times
A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)
Friends keep confidences
A perverse man sows strife and a whisperer separates the best of friends. (Proverbs 16:28)
Friends forgive each other
He who covers a transgression seeks love but he who repeats a matter separates friends. (Proverbs 17:9)
Friends advise and counsel each other
Ointment and perfume delight the heart and the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)
Friends challenge and develop each other
As iron sharpens iron so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. (Proverbs 27:17)
If you want a friend, be a friend
A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)