I have been meditating lately on what it means to be a true biblical friend. What I am finding is that authentic biblical friendship is radical friendship. I want to be that kind of friend!
We all love our friends. They are the ones with whom we have the biggest laughs. They are the ones who fill up our fondest memories. They are the ones we are quick to call when we want to talk. They are the ones who meet many of our needs. These things are all true, but they are also true of the way that the world views friendship. What does the Bible say about friendship that is different from the world? I think this verse is a good summary:
Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Proverbs 17:17 is often quoted on all sorts of cheesy Christian paraphernalia, and I think we often trivialize the profound meaning of this verse--that a friend loves at ALL times, even when things are bad. ALL times? Even when:
The good times are a distant memory
Our friends are suffering
We are suffering
Our friends are in sin
We are in sin
Our friends betray us
Our friends abandon us
The way we are called to love our friends is always patient, kind, rejoices with truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor 13). The way we are called to love our friends is never envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, overbearing (insisting on its own way) or resentful (1 Cor 13). We are called to love our friends with sincerity, abhorring evil and clinging to good (Rom 12:9). We are called to love our friends with brotherly affection, outdoing one another in showing honor, not being slothful in our zeal, but fervent in our spirit to serve the Lord (Rom 12:10). We are called to love our friends by obeying God’s commandments (Rom 13:9-10). We are called to love our friends by doing nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility counting others more significant than ourselves (Phil 2). We are to look not only to our interests but also to the interest of our others (Phil 2). We are to love our friends in a way that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). We are to love our friends in a way that is walking in the light (1 John 2:10). We are to love our friends by laying our life down for them 1 John 3:16). We are to love our friends by sharing with them from our own resources to bless them (1 John 3:17).We are to love our friends not just in words or talk, but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). We are to love our friends in a way that is rooted in God’s love for us (1 John 4:19). We are called to love our friends by praying for them (there are tons of examples in Paul’s letters, some are: Ephesians 1:15-23; Phil 1:3-11; Col 1:9-14).
These are biblical principles of biblical love. Biblical love for our friends ALWAYS looks like this. This kind of love is engaging, honest, sincere, and sacrificial. This kind of love reminds me of what I heard from one woman at the Grace Fellowship retreat who said that being a good friend means that you know what is going on with your friend because you are involved in doing life together. Having this knowledge, a good friend actively helps their friend through prayer and other acts of service.
The applications of Biblical love may look different by circumstances. My methods of loving a friend depend on their needs. For instances, if my friend is feeling weary, I am called to encourage him or her (1 Thes 5:14). If my friend is in sorrow, I am called to mourn with him or her (Rom 12:15). If my friend is rejoicing, I am called to rejoice with him or her (Rom 12:15). If my friend has a material need, I am called to bless him or her generously with provision as God calls (1 John 3:17). If my friend confesses sin to me, I am called to pray for him or her (James 5:16). If my friend is sick, I am called to pray for him or her (James 5:15).
What happens though when we have a conflict with a friend?
If my friend is in sin, I should pray for him or for her and I should pray about whether the Lord would have me say anything to him or her, holding to Scriptural truths like these:
Proverbs 27:5-6 “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
Proverbs 19:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
If my friend tells me I am in sin, I should take care to hear the exhortation of my friend recognizing that my heart is deceitful and my sin is deceitful. I should recognize the value of my friend’s counsel and listen. If I do not see truth in my friends counsel, I should pray to God for discernment, I should test it against the Word, I should pray to the Lord for a soft heart, and I should perhaps ask another honest God-fearing friend if they see the same sin in me:
Proverbs 27:9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel
Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick;who can understand it?”
Hebrews 3:12-13 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
James 3:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
Hebrews 4:12-13 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.
We must do all we can to pursue reconciliation a friend with whom we have conflict. Matthew 5:23 says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (It should not be surprising to us that reconciliation is so important to God, since the gospel is the ministry of reconciliation of us to God! See, 2 Cor 5:17-21)
Romans 12:18 tells us “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” As Romans 12:18 suggests, there will be times when we have done all that is possible from our end to seek reconciliation, yet sometimes our friends will not want to be reconciled. At the point when our friends are the ones to abandon our relationship, we must love them from afar--through our prayers and any opportunity that the Lord provides--but we must never cease to love them. I love the image of the parable of the prodigal son. Though his son sinned grievously against him, the father of the prodigal welcomes him with lavish love when his son returns:
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate." (Luke 15)
The amazing thing about this picture is that the father’s loving response comes even before he hears of his son’s repentance or apology! We see in the heart of this father sincere love--love that sincerely cares for his son. Simply upon seeing his son coming toward him, this father is moved with affection and compassion. This is “no-agenda” kind of love. This father does not put his needs for respect, vindication, honor, affirmation, etc. above his sincere love, interest in, and care for his son. This is sacrificial pursuing love.
Jesus is our perfect friend and our perfect model of what it is to be a good friend. While He lived on earth, He loved, encouraged, admonished, served, and “did life together” with his closest friends, His disciples. Jesus’ love manifested in a variety of ways depending on the circumstances. Sometimes His words were gentle, other times they were extremely forceful, but they were always in love. Sometimes He directly provided for the disciples (like multiplying loaves and fish), and other times He told the disciples where to look to find their provision (like telling them to find a coin in the mouth of a fish). Jesus’ love for his friends did not change even when his friends disappointed him or even betrayed him (He even washed the feet of Judas!).
Despite the fact that I disappoint, wound, and betray Him with my sin, Jesus is my perfect friend who loves me actively. I love what Bible commentator Matthew Henry says about Proverbs 17:17:
“No change of outward circumstances should abate our affection for our friends or relatives. But no friend, except Christ, deserves unlimited confidence. In Him this text did receive, and still receives its most glorious fulfillment.”
His words bring me back to the point of biblical friendship, and that is to know the love of Christ and to image this love to others to the glory of God!
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