We have recently been focussing on friendship and relationships in church. We have covered topics such as forgiveness, love and the nature of friendships. I want to explore several things which the Bible says about friendship. Reading the Bible’s perspective equips us with biblical understanding about how to understand human interaction in the light of God’s Kingdom. The Bible gives us much insight on how to build good friendships – following, obeying and applying its teaching enables us to develop rounded, whole human relationships in Christ.
There are two basic images for friendship in the Bible: 1. A close friendship wherein two people are knit together soul to soul – David and Jonathan are the ultimate example. 2. Walking together with others around a greater purpose or common cause – Jesus and His Disciples. Scripture also gives a lot detail about walking with God – of being a friend of God. Christian friendship is also presented in the Bible. It is in Christ that we are family, and we are to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). We are part of God’s family in Christ, brothers and sisters – Christian friendship is family based.
Before exploring the two images mentioned – it is important to understand that the perfect role model for friendship is Christ. His example and teaching lay the very foundation for human friendship. However, only when we are in Christ with a living relationship with God, are we capable of being the type of friend the Bible counsels us to be.
Friendship with God
The very fact that it is possible for people to have a close, living relationship with God their Creator is mind blowing. There are three examples above all others in the Old Testament: Enoch walked with God and eventually was translated to heaven (Genesis 5:21-24). It says that Abraham was the friend of God whose faith and obedience led him to be the Patriarch of the Jewish people (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). Moses talked with God face to face as a man talks to his friend and thereby received the Law Of God, and directions for leading Israel out of bondage in Egypt (Exodus 33:11).
These are three wonderful examples of God’s willingness to humble Himself, and demonstrates His love for the men mentioned, He was willing to be called their friend. However, for each one of them it must have been daunting to have the Creator, the Lord God as friend.
Neither one of these three could have met God on their own terms – it always had to be on God’s terms. God was the one who had to step furthest towards the men. He was willing to build a friendship with them in spite of the fact that they were still sinners. He didn’t destroy them because of their sin and lack of purity – their faith was the basis of their righteousness and grounds on which He engaged with them. God accepted their faith and as a result accounted them righteous in His sight – this enabled them to meet Him on the grounds of their living faith.
I wonder – have you ever thought about what meeting with God would be like? When someone we really respect is coming to our house, we usually clean and tidy up, and make sure everything is presentable. We are usually on our best behaviour, respectful and careful to really listen to what they are saying. We think about their needs, check about their dietary requirements, how long they have to be with us, and make them the focus, not ourselves.
If we do that for a special person coming to our home – imagine how Enoch, Abraham and Moses felt every time they met with God. It is certainly the case with both Abraham (Genesis 18), and Moses (Exodus 3), God turned up unexpectedly – they were not even prepared for His arrival.
That God was willing to call them friends is amazing. It is a further example of how all of human interaction and our society’s greatest blessings originated in God. The Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit have a perfect friendship – a perfect oneness, they are of the same substance, character and nature.
They interact and connect with each other at levels we cannot even dream off. Mutual love, understanding, enjoyment of each other’s company, perfect respect, absolute commitment to each other, and a whole-hearted commitment to the redemption of human beings, through the Son, are just some of the aspects of the relationship in the Trinity. Standing perfectly together in everything, perfectly complementing each other’s ministry, working together shoulder to shoulder in everything are a few more of the amazing ways Father, Son and Spirit are together.
It is important to state that friendship between Christians is different from friendship in the world. In the world family are those who are relatives either by birth or adoption. Friendship then is generally understood to be a close relationship with a person from outside the family circle. Of course we can be closer to certain members of our family circle than others. In the old days they spoke about the difference as ‘kith and kin.’ ‘Kith’ are friends and ‘kin,’ family. Kith and Kin were not strangers, nor acquaintances – they were the people that you knew and were close to you.
A friendship between Christians is a friendship between kin. We are brothers and sisters in Christ – members together of God’s family. It is helpful to know that the Greek word for friend in John 15:12-15, is philos. Philos, a friend who has affection for, an associate. The root of philos, philia is also the root for phileo, a Greek word for love.
Phileo love is a deep affection for another that produces deep meaningful friendships, affection, comradeship, or a family-like interest in another person. Therefore, it is often translated as brother, sister or brethren. In Romans 12:10, Paul joins phileo and storge to create the compound word philostorgoi to show that, in Christ, we are brothers and sisters, and together part of God’s family.
Knit soul to soul
King David and King Saul’s son Jonathan are an amazing example of male friendship in the Bible. There are a number of examples of female friendships, but these are slightly different in that they are usually between kin: Naomi and her daughter in law, Ruth – Mary and her cousin Elizabeth; of course their are examples of kith friendship in the bond between the women followers of Jesus. Each of these examples portrays friendship in terms of love, respect and joy from each other’s company.
They spoke loving, selfless words to each other – good, life-giving words. Their actions were not selfishly motivated, rather they helped the other. There seems to have been pure, open and strengthening non-verbal communications between them – they loved each other’s company. Kindness, generosity and grace are some of the words we could use to describe their attitude to each other reacting with self-control, good-hearts and selfless commitment.
Three things are the hallmark of soul to soul friendships:
- They are devoid of the human weaknesses of control and selfishness
- They lead to self-sacrifice on the behalf of the other
- They transcend the normal family ties and loyalties when these impact negatively on the soul friend.
Friendship that develops from a common cause
The disciples of Jesus are an example of friendship around a common cause. They came from varied and different backgrounds and ultimately were united, except for Judas Iscariot, by their shared call, experience, teaching and ministries. The apostle Paul had travelling companions who also shared in the mission of God. The mission was a quest to preach the Gospel of Christ to as many people as possible around the Roman world and beyond.
These friendships were important support structures for the apostles. Paul spoke highly, tenderly and affectionately of his apostolic delegate, Timothy. He advised Titus about how to lead the churches on Crete, encouraging him in turn to appoint local leaders in each church – elders. He felt lonely and forsaken at one point saying that many had abandoned him because of the cost of the ministry.
Paul recognised his responsibility for each church he planted, and the people who laboured alongside him praying for them, exhorting them to Christian faithfulness, and equipping them for the work. Generosity and a willingness to suffer for the sake of the Gospel of Christ were expected of each one in his circle.
Five hallmarks of friendship around a common cause:
- The friendship developed out of the work they were involved in
- Support and help were important aspects of the friendship
- The friends co-laboured but clearly recognised the different roles and the authority their leader carried
- Respect, love and commitment are important words in this type of friendship
- They prayed for each other, ministered together and faced the common foes together standing shoulder to shoulder in the work
Friendship and Faith
As I conclude – it is important to introduce the place of faith in the biblical presentation of friendship. I alluded to it above in the section on Friendship with God. God is God, our Creator, Sustainer and Master; yet He invites us into an intimate, close relationship with Himself through Christ. It is possible to be a friend of God, otherwise the Scripture accounts simply makes us feel inferior to our forbears in faith. 2 Peter 1:1 is an encouragement to us in this: ‘I am writing to those who have been given a faith as equally precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ We have been given a faith as precious as theirs – of equal standing to theirs.
The Bible is clear that our faith pleases God. It is impossible to be a friend of God, one whose company pleases Him, unless we have a living faith in Christ. Faith is the basis for our meeting with God. In Christ, we share a precious faith with those heroes of faith who have gone before, and every brother and sister who truly lives by faith today. It is our faith that enables us to meet God on His terms. It is also our faith that unites us as Christian friends.
Whether we have a rare soul to soul friendship, or a more usual one based around a common cause or common interest, the Bible is clear that it is our shared faith that enables us to stand together. This makes the biblical view of human friendship much more real, gritty and selfless than the world’s fluffy, mug of coffee type.
Christian friends shouldn’t gossip, deride another’s character, nor tell tales about others. It is a godly meeting in Christ with Christ present. If we thought that every time we met our fellow Christian friend that Christ is present – His Spirit the Dove among us – we would be much more careful, circumspect and godly in our conversations, interactions and words to each other.
May God enable us to be godly, faith-filled and righteous friends in both a soul to soul relationship, and in our common cause in Christ. Amen