Why are you friends with your friends? How would you answer that question? Many of us may not be able to identify any particular reason why we befriend someone. People become friends because they have similar interests or hobbies. Others are drawn together by similar situations or experiences, such as those who are brought together for treatment for an illness or disease.
Other questions to consider are: Are you friends with your friends for the sake of your friends? Or are you friends with your friends for the sake of yourself? As long as we gain from the relationship, and not lose, you probably don’t really know. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a friend as, “A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.” Like many other words in the English language, the word “friend” has taken on a whole new meaning. For instance, awesome is used to describe things that really are not actually awe inspiring. You can now be “friends” with hundreds, if not thousands, of people on Facebook.
You can befriend someone simply because you are a friend of someone else. Most of the people you are “friends” with on the internet you have probably never met! We might be “cyber-friends” via the internet, but it is impossible to have a “bond of mutual affection,” as described in the Oxford dictionary, through the far reaching connection of the internet. Scripture has a different definition of what it means to be a friend. That definition is best seen in the friendship recorded in the Bible between Jonathan and David. These two companions remained friends through very difficult circumstances. Jonathan’s father, King Saul, came to hate his Psalm singer to the point of wanting him dead.
Although Jonathan’s father was king, he did not share his father’s anger toward David. Jonathan supported his friend, even though many thought ill of him, as did their king. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov. 18:24, NASB95) Despite the circumstances, public opinion, and even his father’s commands, Jonathan remained a friend to David, and stuck closer than a brother.
When a friend, or someone we know, falls on hard times, like David, how do we respond? Suppose that they had sinned or been sinned against, or their lives and reputations called into question. There will generally be two responses. Either friends will abandon a friend, whose character has been called into question, or they will stay by his side in support. In these situations, we, like David, learn that his friends will distance themselves when that friendship becomes a liability, or learn that friends will stand by him even when there is personal cost. In the end, challenging situations will reveal whether we have true friends, or no friends at all. I fear that, judged by this standard, many of our friendships are self centered.
In the final analysis, we are friends with our friends for the sake of ourselves. When there is benefit to be gained by our associations we gladly proclaim people our friends. But when that association threatens to bring us shame, we quickly deny them. Why? Simply Because our love for our friends is less than our love for ourselves. The “friendship” lasts only as long as it is beneficial to us. A vivid illustration of this is what is happening in America (this obviously reflects my American connection). There are a large number of notable people in politics and actors in Hollywood who have been accused of immoral conduct. They have quickly learned who their “friends” are. For the most part, they have been abandoned by those who benefitted from the relationship. Now, however, there is risk in being associated with such a person and they have abandoned the sinking ship. The offenders deserve to be exposed and even judged, but should their friends forsake them? None of us are immune to falling into temptation, and we must take heed lest we fall! As believers, we need the help of our Christian friends to confess our sins and to walk with the Spirit. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16 NASB95).
The New Testament revelation about Jesus takes us beyond our human understanding of what it means to be a friend. Jesus’ association with His disciples was as Rabbi to disciple, which indicates a hierarchy in their relationship since a teacher is always above his student or pupil. During their time together, the disciples had come to realise that Jesus, their Rabbi, was no ordinary teacher. When Jesus calmed the waters the disciples were astonished: “They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”” (Mark 4:41, NASB9). Peter at another time confessed about Jesus that, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16 NASB95). It was clear to the disciples that Jesus was no ordinary man. Jesus, however, had some teaching for His students that is applicable to us as His followers. He had additional truth for them and us: ““This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. “You are My friends if you do what I command you. “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15, NASB95).
Jesus extended their relationship from Master and disciples to one of friends. The Greek word used by Jesus is filos (philos). Philos can be translated as loving, dear, or friend. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples He now describes as friends, as those who are dear to Him. They are dear to Him and He no longer calls them slaves, and how they relate to each other takes on a whole new dimension. He would demonstrate how great His love is for His friends was by laying down his life for His friends! But the relationship extends beyond being friends to being brothers. “Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”” (Matthew 12:47-50, NASB95). Through faith in Christ, we become children of God, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,” (John 1:12, NASB95).
The Apostle Paul confirms this in his letter to the Romans, “The Spirit Himself testifies “…many of our friendships are self centered. … When there is benefit to be gained by our associations we gladly proclaim people our friends. … The “friendship” lasts only as long as it is beneficial to us.” 4 Faith in Focus Volume 45/1 February 2018 with our spirit that we are children of God,” (Romans 8:16, NASB95). But not only are we children of God, but that “…if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17, NASB95). As children of God and heirs with Christ, we are also Christ’s brothers (and sisters). We are His friends and brothers!
He is the brother and friend who sticks close to us and never forsakes us, no matter what sin we may commit, no matter how we may offend Him, or even demonstrate that at times we do not love Him. Jesus is, then, the example of how a friend and brother should respond to his friends and brothers in Christ, as Jesus demonstrated His love for us while we were still sinners. So, as we consider the earlier questions of: Are you friends with your friends for the sake of your friends? Or are you friends with your friends for the sake of yourself? The answer is clear that we should be friends with our friends for Jesus’ sake. As Jesus, our example did, we should: “…know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16, NASB95). I am grateful to have entered into a few friendships that I am convinced would endure the challenges of sin. But even more so, I am glad to have entered into the greatest of all friendships with the greatest of all Friends.
At a million times and in a million ways I’ve already given this Friend every reason to forsake me, every reason to walk away, every reason to flee the shame of association with me. But He remains. He perseveres. He refuses to run. He risks his reputation every day. Yet He remains the nearest and dearest of friends. As the old sage says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” And praise God, He is my Brother!