The creational purpose for mankind is dependence. Like it or not, friends are an integral part of our lives. Even parents assume the role of a friend with their children. Many idioms articulate the value of a true friend in the secular world. Therefore, value of true friendship is universally acknowledged.
While retaining my focus within Christianity, I find it exceedingly interesting that Christ equates us as HIS friend and commands a certain pattern of friendship between fellow Christians, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. 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: 12-15, NIV).
Are we the emblematic friend patterning our friendship according to the Lord’s mandate? Am I a friend who practices the Lord’s command on friendship? Do I love another as Christ loved me?
Our sinful human nature would presumably prompt us of our eminence in friendship. Our sinful nature would advise us that we are the best friend anyone can get. This may or may not be true.
So I reckon it profitable to recollect a few observations on friendship with a hope and prayer that we would allow the Lord to change our friendship values, if need be, so to obey HIS command.
Christian teaching on friendship opposes political correctness. In reality, many of us strive to be politically correct. When we meet people, we put up a smile that is not from our heart. Often times, our ‘how are you?’ is a mere façade, so much so we casually ask ‘how are you?’ and consciously walk away without waiting for a response. Therefore, the starting point of our friendship endeavor is grounded on an insincere display of love.
Selfishness is a devious motivation for many a friendship. With quite a few, we negate the depravity of façade and desire good friendship. Hence we pursue a meaningful friendship.
Then again, one question begs for an answer. Are we pursuing a meaningful friendship for selfish gain? We may seek friendship with the powerful and wealthy for our ultimate gain. Is this the friendship Christ desires? Not by any stretch of imagination. Friendship for selfish gain denies and defies the notion of friendship that Christ commanded us to practice.
Mindless friendship is another brand of friendship in vogue. Words are uttered mindlessly in this friendship. We assure people that which we do not seriously desire to pursue. A typical everyday example is an assurance “I will surely meet you,” but that meeting was never desired or seriously pursued. Ultimately that meeting never happens.
This is mindless because the commitment to meet was mindless and not serious. Moreover, mindlessness is severely exposed when neither an apology nor a reason was offered for the absence of that proposed meeting.
Such an arrogant display of mindlessness not only takes the other person for granted but also relegates them to insignificance. This is not even close to the friendship that Christ mandates, for HE says, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5: 37, NIV). The apostle James reaffirms Christ’s statement in his letter, “…but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment” (James 5: 12, NASB).
Then in Christianity we have abundant demonstrations of super spirituality (self-righteousness). The Christian super-spirituals desire to blend only with fellow super-spirituals. Thereby, they discard the other so-called ordinary or sinful Christians by considering them unworthy of their friendship.
When Christ, the holy God, was a friend of unholy sinners (Luke 7: 34, 15: 1-2), shouldn’t we, HIS disciples, consider all Christians as equals and at least not self righteously discard them? This too should be given some serious thought for this offends Christ’s notion on friendship.
Given the constraints of space and time, it’s virtually impossible to be friends with every person we meet. However, the least we can ensure is that every smile and every word we utter comes from our heart with utmost seriousness and true love. Besides, if we claim Christlike attitude, we should ensure nothing short of respect for our friends.
Does it make sense to discard established friendships? Are there justified circumstances during which established friendships can be discarded?
I do not disturb anyone who chooses not to speak with me. Moreover, if friends choose not to trust me despite my honest assurances, then I prefer not to engage them (Cf. Matthew 7: 6, 10: 14). But I do keep my doors open to anyone irrespective of the damage they may have rendered unto me.
Adversities reveal the true nature of our friends. During adversities many friends will disappear for various reasons. As common sense advises, these were never our true friends to begin with. We would be much better off without their presence.
Then there are others who would pour out their so-called justified scorn on us in various forms and sizes during adversities. They are the true epitome of the friendship Job laments about, “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams as the streams that overflow…” (Job 6: 14-15, NIV). In these moments, we may as well echo Job and mourn our situation through his words, ““He has alienated my family from me; my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My relatives have gone away; my closest friends have forgotten me. My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner; they look on me as on a stranger. I summon my servant, but he does not answer, though I beg him with my own mouth. My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family. Even the little boys scorn me; when I appear, they ridicule me. All my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me…” (Job 19: 13-19, NIV)
It’s as if adversity isn’t painful enough that these so-called friends add fuel to the fire that we are suffering from with words of scorn and ridicule. These, I reckon, are the dangerous variety, who feigned their friendship with us for some selfish motive, and who never truly considered us as either genuine or an honest friend. If we are right and if they are wrong, then the burden of repentance is upon them to repair the friendship, else we would be better off without them as well.
However, some friends will stand by us during our adversities. They will support us in thoughts, words and deeds. These are the good Christian friends.
Unfortunately we wouldn’t find many in this group; this is the plight of Christianity. But we are truly blessed even if we are friends with even a handful belonging to this category.
I have learnt one valuable lesson through my life’s experiences. When we are pursued for friendship, we would be better off thinking the possible reasons we are being pursued for. In other words, a relevant question when we are pursued for friendship would be, “what do I have that I am being pursued for friendship?” If our material possession has anything to do with wealth, power or position, then it’s more likely that people pursue us not for who we are but for what we have.
How then are we to consider friendship within the Christian paradigm? Here are some friendly suggestions:
First, every friendship ought to be sincere because Christ has mandated friendship in HIS mould – “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13, NIV).
Second, political correctness, selfishness and mindlessness ought to be eliminated from our life, if we are to be truly Christlike in our friendship.
Last but not the least, this principle from the Lord Jesus Christ defines our attitude to friendship, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7: 12, NASB).
May God bless us to be a true friend and may HE bless us with true friends. Amen.