I’ve been reflecting on what God’s Word has to say about friendship – something I believe we all crave, and all struggle with, and with good reason.
To begin with, in the Psalms I see that to embark on friendship is fraught with danger. Again and again, David pours out before God the heart-wound of betrayal at the hand of a friend: if my enemy had done this, I could take it, but this really hurts, God!
But as I read Proverbs; and the New Testament letters of Paul, Peter, John, and Jude, with their repeated address to their readers ‘dear friends’; I see that friendship is a risk that we cannot afford not to take...
And the question is, why? Why is friendship fraught with danger? And why is it, nonetheless, a risk we cannot afford not to take? Why?
Let’s take a look at what I consider to be Jesus’ definition of friendship:
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his 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)
What has Jesus heard from the Father?
Well, let’s look back over the story John tells of Jesus in his gospel (he tells a different story from the other gospel writers, who want to convey different aspects of the same Jesus). What we see is that John’s account is all about Jesus’ identity (for example, we see far less of the disciples than in the other gospels): that Jesus and the Father are one. In particular, this is expressed through the seven “I am” sayings - “I am...the bread of life...the light of the world...the gate for the sheep...the good shepherd...the resurrection and the life...the way and the truth and the life...the true vine” (John 6, 8, 10, 14, 15) – where Jesus claims to share in God’s identity – “I AM” is the name by which God reveals himself to Moses – and understands that sharing-in-God’s-identity to be expressed or manifest in particular ways.
Who are Jesus’ friends?
Those he shares his identity most fully with, who will fight for that identity even to the point of willingness to die for their friend. As it will turn out, with the exception of Judas who committed suicide, every one of Jesus’ closest disciples eventually fought for Jesus’ identity to the cost of their own lives.
Why do we need friends? Why do we need friends who will lay down their lives for us? Why must we be willing to lay down our lives for our friends?
Because there is a battle over your identity, between the good shepherd who comes that you might experience the life God has for you in all its fullness, and the thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy your identity (John 10).
Here, then, is what friendship is intended to look like:
My friend’s enemy is my enemy.
The Bible calls this commitment between two people a covenant. Note that our enemy is satan, and his demonic minions, not other people (Ephesians 6:12).
I must not make agreements with my friend’s enemy against my friend.
That is, the enemy will attack at our most vulnerable point, and attempt to provoke those close to us to join in: whispering a bad report of them in our ear – “he’s let you down, again” – in the hope that we will agree – “He always does!” Instead, we must rebuke the whisper – if we had all the evidence, we might realise that there was no intention to let us down; that we haven’t been let down; or even if we have been, we have the great weapon of forgiveness.
When I do – because I will – I must break those agreements and seek to be restored in my friendship.
Friendship is fraught with danger, not only because my friend is broken but because I am broken, and too easily act out of my brokenness. But friendship is intended by God as a very means through which he works reconciliation and wholeness.
Where my friend has made agreements with the enemy concerning their identity, I must challenge them.
Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Many of us find it hard to take on board rebuke or correction – for every one of us, it is an uncomfortable experience at the time – but if we surround ourselves with those who will vindicate us where we are in the wrong, we do ourselves no favours at all; and if we are not prepared to challenge our friend, we are no true friend at all.
So, what have I heard God say to me about my identity?
God speaks to us about our identity through the promises of Scripture; through the battle-ground of our identity revealed through the meaning of our name; through the relationships God has called us into...
And who is fighting with me for my identity in Christ?
Who am I allowing to fight for me, by sharing my deepest identity with? That person is my friend.
And whose identity in Christ am I fighting for?
Who is allowing me to fight for them, by sharing their deepest identity with me? I am that person’s friend.