This article is a distillation of a recent sermon that I preached at Harvest Hills Baptist Church.
Friendship is one of the least necessary loves in our lives for our survival as a human race. C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves says that Eros is necessary because without it you would never have been born. Affection is important because without it you mom would have just left you on the side of the road for some animals to eat, but friendship is a luxury to be enjoyed. Eros and Affection are tied directly to our physical impulses, but friendship is completely a matter of choice and yet many choose not to develop deep friendships. For most of us, our deepest relationships are merely occasional acquaintances. I have a burden in my own life to develop meaningful friendships that last a lifetime; so I began this study with that goal in mind.
As we begin, it is helpful to look at some things that our society often substitutes for Biblical Friendships.
Substitutes for Biblical Friendship
Especially as a man, it is possible for men to have the forms of intimacy without the feelings of intimacy and so it becomes a shallow shell of what it was intended to be. In the beginning, God created man and woman in His image to enjoy intimacy, glorify God, populate the earth, have dominion over the earth and enjoy their relationship with God and each other forever. A man's wife should also be his friend, but in our sexually charged culture, intimacy has become recreation and a game.
Now I don't want to give the wrong impression here. I believe a man's wife should be his best friend; however, there is an essential need for women to have women friends and men to have men friends as well. Sometimes, a wife can become jealous of these male friendships that her husband has; but if they are godly friends, these relationships are necessary in his life. Men and women are created equal yet different. To be a man according to the bible requires different things than it does to be a godly women. Men need examples of other men in their lives who are fulfilling those biblical roles. Men who work hard, provide for their families, guide their homes spiritually, and walk with God (1 Timothy 5:8). Men are called to be sacrificial lovers of their wives (Ephesians 5:23). We need godly examples of what that looks like. Trust me, most of us didn't get it from our dads.
On the other side of the equation, the world has often assumed that any man that is close friends with another man must be gay. Our cultural has taught men especially, that they cannot have deep friends. Men languish on in isolation. If men have good friends, our society has automatically assumed they must be homosexual. Take for instance the modern concept that David and Jonathan were gay lovers. Or take for an example an even more modern story, the wheel of time in the Amazon adaptation, took two women who were close friends and made them into lesbians lovers. Out of fear of being labeled gay, men have avoided having any really close friendships with other men. For the most part we have caved to the pressure of the world. We have friendships with our wives sometimes but rarely anyone else. Those who make the claim that no two men came be really good friends without being gay reveal two things about themselves, that they fear they might be gay if they have a close friend and they have never had a close friend in the past.
Companionship is an essential part of being friends but it is often substituted for being friends. Companionship is hanging out with people to talk shop. You have common interests and like to get together to talk about those things, but even this is merely a substitute for friendship because it doesn’t go any deeper. This kind of relationship is based only on common interests. Its a great starting point but not enough.
The Danger of Being Alone
Proverbs 18:1 “Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh And intermeddleth with all wisdom.”
This passage is unfortunately translated and gives us the wrong impression about its meaning. If I were to take it the way the English read, the verse makes it sound like a man is getting alone to seek wisdom, but the meaning of the verse is that a man who isolates himself is seeking his own selfish desires and breaks out or fights against all wisdom. The word “intermeddleth” here is a negative word and its root meaning is to fight against something. Proverbs is teaching that isolationism is the result of selfishness and is not wise.
Genesis 2:18 “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”
In the beginning, God knew that it was not good for man to be alone. This is why God created the woman and the union of a man and a woman is not intended to be just a romantic union but one based on friendship.
1 Corinthians 12:20-21 “But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”
God created the Church because as believers we are not intended to live the Christian life alone. We are created for community. As a part of that body, we are co-dependent on each other and the church cannot be everything it was created to be if you are disengaged, uninterested and uninvolved. God has designed some of our deepest relationships to be found in the “Church.” This doesn’t mean you can’t have friends outside of church, but why can’t we find true friends in the community we are called to be a part of. Something is wrong if that is the case. The body suffers when we isolate ourselves.
The Benefits of Having a Friend
Someone to be there for you at all times
It is such a blessing to have a close family. One of the things I have always loved about Katy’s family is how close they all are. But when it comes down to family, in a way they all stick with you because they have to. They may not like you but you are family and there are some family obligations. A friend on the other hand is someone who chose you. When the author of this Proverb wrote these words, he was writing them in a highly family-oriented culture. So it is saying something for him to say this. Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loveth at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” Family is there for you during the hard times because there is a loyalty to you, but a friend loves at all times. The word “sticketh” refers to clinging to someone. You could say they are clingy. I have found when someone complains about a friend being clingy, their friendship isn't as good as they think it is. You don't complain that a stamp sticks to a letter because it is supposed to, but you do complain if a bur sticks to your clothes because it isn't supposed to be there and it is an irritation.
Proverbs 27:9 “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: So doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.” Good friends makes us happy. They are like good cologne. Like a good cologne, we love being around them.
Strength and Support
Ecclesiastes 4:12 “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” There is strength in numbers. Friends help us when we are struggling. They lift us up when w
e fall down. Most of the world will stand there and kick us when we are down, but a fried reaches out to help. When life beats us down, they encourage us and strengthen us.
How to be a Good Friend
Tim Keller in his topical sermon on friendship gave the following four points about being a good friend that I wanted to reproduce here and expound on a little:
Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loveth at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” This can’ mean they have to be at your house all the time. Proverbs 25:17 “Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbor’s house; Lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee.” There is a point where maybe there is just too much of you. The meaning of all times here is all kinds of times. The good, the bad, the dull, the happy. A good friend is available for you constantly. You cannot be a friend without availability. Its not just availability, a friend will not let you go to ruin. He is there to rescue you in the bad times. Proverbs 18:24 “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: And there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”
Proverbs 27:14 “He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, It shall be counted a curse to him.” A good friend cares about how his friends feel. He is emotionally aware. Proverbs 25:20 “As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, And as vinegar upon nitre, So is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.” This type of song is a loud, noisy, joyful song. A Wise friend knows how to meet the needs of his friend. True friends have that emotional connection. Do you go around singing joyfully when your friend is depressed?
Candor- Truth telling
Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” True friends do not shy away from speaking needed truth into the lives of their friends. There is a paradox in this proverb friendly wounds, but deadly kisses. If you love your friend too much to tell them the truth, you actually love yourself too much to tell them the truth. There is transperancy, and openess. There is authenticity and truth while there is also carefulness. “Speak the truth in love...”
Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpeneth iron; So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” True friends seek to make each other better. A dull knife isn't much good for cutting a steak or fighting a battle. If you want it to be as good as it can, you have to sharpen it either with a stone or a harder metal. The knife set I have in my house has a straight rod with ridges down it that you run the knife down to sharpen that edge of the knife. While a good steak should be tender enough to cut with a butter knife, most of us would prefer a good stout steak knife.
Good friends are going to seek to make each other better. This can occur through encouragement. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with some healthy competition to help encourage each other. Last year, a group of us guys had a three month competition to see who could lose the most weight. While the results obviously didn't last the whole year (Its hard working at a restaurant and keeping weight off), the healthy competition between us yielded good results. Another way to sharpen your friends is confrontation. When you sharpen a knife, you create friction against the other surface. Sometimes, good friends need to have a little friction so they can make each other better. I find this especially helpful when dealing with theology. It is fun to discuss theology with someone who agrees with you, but it is beneficial sometimes to discuss theology with someone who disagrees with you because it makes you think through your arguments better and become more biblically consistent. I have found that this kind of discussion never has caused me to change my beliefs, but has strengthened my understanding of them.
How to Have Friends
So we have talked about the danger of not having friends, the importance of having friends and how to be a good friend; but some people struggle to find friends. I have two pieces of advice to give on this train of thought.
Discover People who have Common InterestsJohn 15:13-15 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”
"Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’” C.S Lewis
Friendships are something you have to discover. You won't find good one's just by going out a determine to make friends. This means talking to people. Taking an interest in what interests them and maybe you will find that you enjoy it too. The basis for lasting friendships is a common goal and passion. This is why the church is poised to be a great place to find a good friend. Ideally, believers within a church should have a passion for loving and serving Jesus Christ. Find those who do.
Some people just won't be good candidates for a good friendship. Imagine trying to make friends with someone with whom you have shared something you are passionate about and he responds, I don’t see it like that or I don’t care. There is no basis for friendship here.
Be a friend
Proverbs 18:24 “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: And there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” If you want to have friends you must take the initiative to be a friend. But keep in mind, this process of finding friends is really about discovering friends.
“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends” C. S Lewis
Most of the time, people who complain that they don't have friends have not taken the initiative to try and make any. They aren't willing to put themselves out there and search for friends. Take the initiative to put yourself out there, find the people that you have things in common with and might I add as believers we have something in common that we should all be consumed with: Jesus Christ.
Real examples of deep friendships are rare in most literature and entertainment so we don’t even know what a true friend would look like. The greatest example in secular literature that we have is the story of Samwise and Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Frodo was doomed to have to carry the ring of power to destroy it in the fires of Mordor. That burden was his and his alone. Other men became tempted to take the ring and take the power it could give, but Frodo was the one determined to destroy it. Having started off with a band of friends, but being betrayed by one of them, Frodo and his oldest friend Sam set off on their own. Sam always fought for Frodo, protected Frodo, cared for him and when that burden became heavier as he mounted Mount Doom to throw the ring into the volcano, Sam carried him all the way up that mountain. Sam was there for Frodo; Sam cared only for Frodo’s good; Sam sacrificed his home and comforts for Frodo. He never wanted to leave the Shire in the first place. Such is an example of True friendship.
But even that example pales in comparison to Jesus Christ and at best is a varnished mirror of what Jesus did for us. Sam and Frodo were always friends, but we made ourselves the enemies of God. We chose to rebel against our loving God and yet Jesus left his throne in heaven, bore our heavy burden, paid for our rebellion, healed our sick, cared for us, and now offers forgiveness. Jesus transcends even the best stories of true friends that we have and serves as our example of how to be a friend.