True Friendship (Part 2)
True Friendship – Article Series
1. True Friendship (Part 1)
2. True Friendship (Part 2)
3. Friendship is hard
4. Why Friendship matters
5. What is distinctive about Christian Friends
6. Forgiveness (Part 1)
7. Forgiveness (Part 2)
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. ~ John 15:9-15 (NIV)
What if the friendship is not reciprocated? (continued)
Towards the end of the last post I began speaking about situations where you may wish to friend someone but that desire may not be returned. Like a hug, handshake, or hi-5, the goal of one person in initiating the act of friending is for the other person to return it. And as with those examples, when someone doesn’t then you can end up feeling a bit let down (or being embarassed). I don’t think that this is an ungodly feeling, but it can become one when we let it develop into anger or resentment.
Extending a hand of friendship is extending an offer to commit to someone in love, but for whatever reason someone may not choose to want to do the same thing to you. We must remember that people are finite and do not have the capacity to commit to everyone they meet. So due to our mortality we are restricted in the number of friendships we can truly have (as more than acquaintances). But on top of that, we do need to choose our friends carefully and there may be times when you, or someone else, may decide that they do not wish to make a commitment to a particular person.
One example of this is seen in Proverbs 12:26 where it says that the righteous choose their friends carefully, which I don’t interpret or apply as a command to only friend Christians. The point is that the righteous are to be wise and prayerful about who, how, and when they will friend someone. God-willing, this article series will help you to consider these questions as you go along. But I do want to emphasise once again that we should not be angry at not having our desire to friend reciprocated. If it is, though, that is fantastic. Rejoice! True friendship is a treasured privilege and gift that we should never take for granted.
A commitment to love
If friendship is a deliberate commitment to love, then what else can we say about what this looks like? In John 15 we gain some insights in how Jesus sees His friendship with His disciples. Note how in John 15:12 Jesus calls His disciples to love one another just as He has loved them, giving us the clearest model for what our friendships are to look like in action. The vertical relationship with our Saviour illuminates what our horizontal relationships are to look like. (We shall focus on a third dimension to this model, namely the relationship between the Father and the Son, in the 4th post in this series).
1) Jesus loved His disciples by serving them – In John 13:1-17 Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, showing them that despite being equal to God He still humbled Himself to serve those who He loved. And the ultimate example of this is seen in Him laying down His life for those who He calls friend.
Friendship is about the other person, and while some do make friends in order for personal gain this is not what Christians are called to. We do not friend others to be served, but to serve as an expression of the love and service that we have been shown by our Lord. True friendship is not expressed in selfish expectation or in using others, but in giving ourselves for their benefit.
2) Jesus loved His disciples by telling them what it meant to be His friend – Notice in John 15:14 that Jesus tells His disciples that to be His friend meant to obey His commands. Back in verse 10 we also saw that to obey Jesus’ commands was to remain in His love. This is because to be committed to loving Jesus means to be committed to loving the Lord who is the Son of God. And if we are committed to Him then we will obey what He says. Obedience to Jesus is the beautiful expression of our affections that capture our lives. Jesus does not need to obey us because that would be unacceptable. To be His friend, we obey Him.
Friendships with different people will bring different types and expressions of commitment. To be committed to a friend who doesn’t share the same primary language, or a friend who has a mental disability, or a friend who lives in another state will look different to being committed to a friend who has less differences to you. But what it means to be a true friend to someone is to understand that when we deliberately choose to commit ourselves to them that how we express our love and commitment may look different. And that is ok.
Part of what we see from Scripture is that the nature of the commitment is not uniform all around – in other words, based on the people involved and the context you may find yourselves in the expression of commitment may look different. And that is ok. We must understand that in friending someone we are committing to them, for their good, to love and serve them, and that being a friend to one person may look very different to being a friend to another. Friendships are also organic, so what it may mean to be a friend to someone in one context may look different 2 years from now. We need to allow for this change to occur, understanding that people’s lives and circumstances change and that we need to adjust in order to remain lovingly committed to another.
3) Jesus loved His disciples by sharing truth that reveals and builds up – In John 15:15 Jesus says that He calls His disciples friends, and one way He has expressed this is to tell them what His Father has told Him. In other words, He has shared the truth of God to them and revealed glorious and precious words for their benefit. When has Jesus done this? Well, throughout His public ministry! Throughout the book of John we see the authoritative, powerful, grace-saturated, and righteous words of Jesus as He spoke the truth. At times He rebuked, at times He encouraged, at times He taught. But His speech was always filled with truth.
Another example of this was just a few verses earlier in verses 10-11 where He told them to obey His commands so that they may share His joy and that their joy may be complete.True friendship must be based on truth and love, with a desire to see the other person built up. Indeed, Proverbs 27:6 says that the wounds of a friend can be trusted (in contrast to an enemy) meaning that we need friends who will sometimes hurt us for our own good.
One example of that may be to rebuke a friend who may have said or done something inappropriate, and if we truly do love them then we should point out the fault. We also see in Proverbs 27:9 that just as perfume and incense are pleasing to us, the heartfelt advice of a friend is pleasant as well. As Timothy Keller says:
Friendship is a deep oneness that develops when two people, speaking the truth in love to one another, journey together to the same horizon. ~ Timothy Keller, ‘The Meaning of Marriage’
But we also speak the truth to share what we know. When we friend someone we are committing ourselves to them, and that may mean letting them into our lives. This becomes difficult if the friendship is not reciprocated (and in such cases, wisdom is paramount). However sharing about ourselves, and what we know or have experienced, is an intuitive expectation. Nevertheless we must remember that we share for the sake of building up, and that broader biblical principles of wisdom apply regarding what to share and how to share it (e.g. we don’t want to gossip).
How does a friendship begin?
At this point, I want to ask a question that is provocative because it may not make sense of many people’s experiences, but let’s go. How does a friendship begin? To attempt to answer this, let me put forward a statement and then introduce a definition.
Fellowship is the foundation of Friendship.
Fellowship: to be united in (or share) some purpose, goal, or identity with another.
I think that friendships begin when we find some commonality with another person, upon which we decide to make a commitment to love them. This commonality, or fellowship, then becomes the foundation upon which a friendship is built, and the strength of the friendship is largely determined by the strength (and depth) of the foundation.
For example, say I happen to be in the same tutorial group during a semester at University with another person. In sharing that commonality, we then friend each other. We see each other during tutorials (and perhaps lectures as well), and speak cordially to each other. But that is our only foundation – the fellowship of the tutorial group. And when the next semester comes around, and we don’t really see each other anymore, our friendship dissipates. We really were committed to each other, but our foundation wasn’t particularly strong, and we didn’t lay down any other foundations. Other examples of fellowships include being in the same grade at school, growing up as family friends, meeting each other in the lunch line at a conference, sitting next to each other on the train, and going on exchange together.
Whatever it is, the beginning of a friendship is the identification of something that we share in common, or find ourselves in common, with another person. And it is upon that foundation that we commit ourselves to another, friending them. In the course of our friendship we can put down more foundations as we go through life. For instance, it must be said that sharing life together and walking with one another through the years is one of the deepest forms of fellowship you can have with another person.
I think that a strong friendship is one in which both the foundations are strong and the commitment is mutual. And when friendships get hard, and we can’t even remember how we got here, looking back at the foundations of fellowship can remind us of the story we’ve had with our companion. I believe that everyone we are friends with share with us some point of commonality, purpose, identity, or situation. From growing up together, or seeing each other in classes every now and then, to calling each other brothers and sisters in Christ, all of our friendships have some sort of fellowship (with varying levels of strength and depth) that anchor us. CS Lewis wrote that:
Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” ~ CS Lewis, ‘The Four Loves’
One last point is that we may be in fellowship with many people and not be their friend. For example, I am in the fellowship of being the class of 2010 at my High School because we share that common identity. But I am not friends with everyone in my cohort. I am acquaintances with most of them, but friends with much less. That does not mean that I don’t care about the rest, but that I have committed myself to a select few. Similarly, if you are a Christian then you are in fellowship with every other Christian in the world – you are united in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. But while that may be true, go out of your way to commit to loving (and God-willing, being loved by) some. For friendship is the gift that God gives us, and He has provided a persevering source of fellowship that is both the strongest and deepest foundation that will last forever.
A lot has been written about the topic of ‘True Friendship’, and I feel that we’ve only scratched the surface in thinking about what friendship is and how it works. But that is ok. As we move forward the next few articles will examine what else the Bible has to say about the difficulties that affect our friendships, why they matter, and what makes Christian friendships distinctive. We’ll also take an extended look at forgiveness, reconciliation, and conflict resolution. In all of this, though, let me encourage you to thank God for your friends and to prayerfully consider how you can be a committed and loving friend to others. Most of all, thank God for Jesus, the perfect friend who laid down His life for us.
continued on in ‘Friendship is hard’