The English novelist George Eliot (whose real name was Mary Ann Evans) wrote: “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” A true friend is one who can be trusted and who will not let you down. In a friendship, trust produces security. This, in turn, leads to satisfaction. It is immensely satisfying to experience the kind of friendship described in the above quotation. But how can such friendships be enjoyed? Are there steps to be taken to discover real and lasting friendship? The Bible speaks about friendship, teaching both by example and by precept how satisfying relationships can be developed. There are certain things that we must do, but there are also warnings that we must heed. ON A HUMAN LEVEL Perhaps David and Jonathan provide us with the best Old Testament example of a friendship between two people. Immediately after David’s victory over Goliath the giant, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1 KJV). Jonathan knew that the whole nation was indebted to David, but as an individual he must have felt particularly grateful. His father, Saul, had been unwilling to face the foe – even though he was significantly taller than most other men (1 Sam. 10:23). Jonathan too had not dared to fight the Philistine. David had delivered them from almost certain defeat, and Jonathan must have admired him for what he had done. A strong friendship between the two developed from this point. A friendship can grow out of appreciation or admiration, but for the friendship to be strong and lasting, certain steps must be taken. At this early stage Jonathan loved David “as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1); for a friendship to succeed we must love the other person as much as we love ourselves. Loyalty too is an essential ingredient in such a friendship. Jonathan was prepared to defend his friend from the irrational anger of his father, Saul, even though it meant endangering his own life (1 Sam. 20:32-34). He also did what he could to ensure David’s safety by passing on vital information to him (1 Sam. 19:2). David, for his part, recognized that the Lord who developed their friendship was also governing it (1 Sam. 20:8,12).
From this incident we are given valuable insight into a friendship between two people. As we have already seen, if a friendship is to succeed it must be built upon trust and a self-denying love for the other person. Loyalty and consideration play their part too, and one must always be looking for ways in which to help the other person.
THE BEST FRIENDSHIP
The friendship between David and Jonathan is a fine example of friendship on a human level. They were like brothers. Indeed, when David learned of Jonathan’s death he mourned for him as he would for a brother (2 Sam. 1:26). However, friendship of a deeper kind is possible, for we are told that “there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).
Abraham was a great man of faith. More is written about him than about any other individual in Hebrews 11. James, in his analysis of faith, makes an interesting statement when he tells us that “Abraham believed God … and he was called the friend of God” (Jas. 2:23). When we consider the record of his life in the Old Testament, we discover that Abraham really knew God well. The Lord spoke to him often, visited him on one occasion in the company of two angels (Gen. 18), and said that He would not hide His intentions from Abraham (Gen. 18:17). He was certainly privileged to be regarded as God’s friend.
When we turn to the New Testament we find that a similar relationship is possible for us. The Lord Jesus viewed His disciples as friends rather than as servants (Jn. 15:15). As friends, He revealed to them His plans – just as God had done to Abraham centuries before. Moreover, Jesus said, “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (Jn. 15:14). Abraham was known by God for his obedience (Gen. 18:19), and if, like him, we obey our Master without question, He calls us His friends. No greater love can be shown than for a man to lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13). Like Jonathan who risked his own safety for David, the Lord Jesus had no concerns for Himself. Willingly He gave all that He had for us and laid down His life on the cross. Truly, there is no greater love than this!
During His earthly life Jesus was known as “a friend of publicans and sinners” (Mt. 11:19). People who were ostracized from society and despised by upperclass citizens were welcomed by Him. How glad we are to know that those who come to Him will never be cast out (Jn. 6:37). So many fine hymns have taken up this theme of friendship. John Newton, who was converted from a life of slave-trading, wrote from his own experience, “One there is above all others, well deserves the name of Friend.” Johnson Oatman, Jr. wrote, “There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus.” Joseph Scriven’s hymn, “What a Friend we have in Jesus” has been a most favorite for many years.
While we may enjoy singing such words, we must not forget the responsibility that is ours if we are the Lord’s friends: He expects us always to do whatever He has commanded us to do (Jn. 15:14).
PITFALLS TO AVOID
Money cannot buy friendship. The statement in Proverbs that “wealth maketh many friends” (Prov. 19:4) is a warning and not an instruction. I’m sure the prodigal son in Luke 15 made many “friends” through lavish spending, but when his money was gone and he was in need, no one was there to help. There will always be people who will “use” us, seeking our company for their own end.
Sometimes friends can let us down. David knew what it was like for a “familiar friend” in whom he had trusted to turn against him (Ps. 41:9; no doubt a reference to Ahithophel of 2 Sam. 15:12). The Lord Jesus took this Old Testament verse and applied it to His own betrayal at the hands of Judas in John 13:18. One who appeared to be a friend – who was the trusted treasurer of the little group of disciples and held the common purse – turned traitor against his Master. Another Old Testament prophecy found its fulfillment in the Lord’s rejection. Zechariah had written of one with scars in His hands who had been “wounded in the house of My friends” (Zech. 13:6). As we consider the Lord’s treatment from those who appeared to be His friends we can feel humbled. Perhaps we have to admit that our own loyalty has, at times, been less than it should have been.
Worthwhile friendships have to be preserved. Although we may not always be responsible for friends turning against us, there are occasions when we may be to blame. “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends” (Prov. 17:9). Gossip is dangerous. Those who engage in it are playing with fire. Information passed on can get back to the person it concerns, and a broken friendship may result. Part of our sinful nature delights in revealing the sins and weaknesses of others. When we recount their faults we often feel good, for in putting them down we have elevated ourselves. True friendship does not gloat over and gossip about the sins of others. Rather, it covers them from sight.
PRECEPTS TO FOLLOW
One of the most important ground-rules to observe is stated in Proverbs: “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly” (18:24). If we would make friends we must be of a friendly disposition ourselves. Shutting ourselves away and preferring our own company is the recipe for a very lonely life. By the same token, if we want to keep friends we must show ourselves to be friendly. We must desire the company of friends, putting their needs before our own and seeking their best interests at all times.
Friendship is costly – and friendship can hurt! Proverbs 27:6 states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” A friend will speak the truth, and at times may be forced to say something unpleasant about us when he knows it will be for our ultimate good. It is certainly better to be told the truth (even when it hurts) than to receive the flattery of one who does not mean what he is saying. However, if we have a friend who needs a word of correction, we must make sure that any such “wound” is administered in gentleness, love and humility.
Friendship is sweet – it makes the heart rejoice, and it can sharpen us mentally (Prov. 27:9,17). But we must not take advantage of our friends. Who of us appreciates an early-morning visit from a friend when we are tired? (Prov. 27:14). Thoughtfulness is one of the ingredients of friendship. Lastly, a true friend is someone you will not want to forsake (Prov. 27:10).
The above comments about friendship are in many ways general. In closing, a distinction must be made. James, who wrote about Abraham being “the Friend of God,” points out that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (Jas. 4:4 NKJV). These are strong words! However, they must not be misapplied. The earlier verses in James 4 describe those who are selfish and materialistic in their outlook, and who do not have the mind of God. We must exercise care in our friendship with unbelievers. We are warned in 2 Corinthians 6:14 not to be unequally yoked together with them.
In the light of this verse it is unwise to develop a friendship with an unbeliever that might lead to marriage. While our Savior has set us an example of loving the ungodly, we must be careful when it comes to participating in activities with unbelievers. A Christian must not be afraid to decline an invitation to engage in something that is either forbidden by Scripture or is of a doubtful nature.
Having a friend with whom we can feel safe is, as George Eliot said, a wonderful thing. Having the Lord as a Friend is the best thing of all.
By Martin Girard
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org