What Has Happened to Friendship?
IN THIS world where, as foretold in the Bible, ‘lawlessness has increased and the love of the greater number of mankind has cooled off,’ old-fashioned friendships are indeed hard to find. (Matt. 24:12) While there still are people who are affable and neighborly, nevertheless, even many of these are prone to draw the line where genuine friendship is concerned.
Still, if you were to ask the average person if he had many friends, no doubt he would be inclined to say “yes,” or he might be hesitant to answer. Why? Because the word “friend” has various meanings.
For example, acquaintances are often considered as being friends. A person may say, “I have many friends in almost every walk of life! There is the shoeshine boy—what’s his name? And the butcher at the corner store, where we buy our meat; and the banker where I do my business. So you see, I have many friends.” He may not even remember some of their names, but these casual acquaintances are what some people call friends.
In fact, friendly mannerisms are frequently mistaken for evidence of friendship. For example, some people are quick to introduce themselves and often within minutes they insist that you call them by their first name. They may ask, “Where do you live? What is your line of work? Where did you go to school? Are you married? Do you have children?” almost all in one breath. They tend to become personal very quickly. But are these “friendly” mannerisms always evidence of real friendship? How many of these people will come to your rescue when you are in need of assistance, financial aid or comfort?
To many a Westerner the word “friend” has come to be applied to a wide range of relationships. It can mean someone who is a business associate, a childhood playmate or a trusted confidant. The word has been applied to various businesses, such as the “friendly neighborhood food markets,” “friendly travel agents,” “friendly bankers,” the “friendly skies” of an airline. Even rings and chains have become symbols of friendship. So in the United States, Canada or some other Western nations the word “friend” does not necessarily have to involve a close relationship. Friendship may be superficial, casual, situational or deep and enduring. As Americans say, “It all depends on what you have in mind.”
In many European countries, where wars and violence have reaped their toll, friendship, too, has undergone a change. The older generation is quick to admit that friendship is not what it used to be. Among some persons, a friend is viewed as someone who is keenly aware of the other person’s intellect, temperament and particular interests and who draws out the best qualities in him. Among others, friendship is more a matter of feeling. A friend is a special individual who enjoys the things you like. He enjoys hiking, mountain climbing, sailing, usually adventurous undertakings. Such friendship does not necessarily have to do with trust, confidence or loyalty as much as sharing experiences.
The concept of bygone years, when friendship was regarded as a strong bond, linking people together almost as closely as blood ties, when friends were a protection against lawless and immoral persons, has largely disappeared from the world.
The change has come primarily because, true to Bible prophecies, ‘men have become lovers of themselves, having no natural affection.’ (2 Tim. 3:1-3) Without natural affection, there can be no genuine friendship.
There are also at work in the modern world many divisive forces that prevent the development of close ties. True friendships take time to build, but today’s people are on the move. Few stay in one place long enough to build a lasting friendship. One out of every five persons in the United States changes his address each year. In other parts of the world a similar shift of population takes place.
Permanent friendships also demand one’s trust and loyalty, but these qualities are not nurtured in a climate of unrest, crime, distrust and violence such as has swept the world in this generation.
Friendship also implies bearing responsibilities, the willingness to help shoulder the burdens of others. But many today refuse to let themselves become involved with people, to avoid experiencing their burdens and sufferings. A young man on the move said: “My wife and I make new friends each time in a matter of weeks. But we never let it get so deep that it bothers us to leave.” But how far all of this is from those words of Jesus Christ, who said: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.”—John 15:13.
Meaningful friendships call for sacrifice, and many no longer wish to make sacrifices. Therefore old-fashioned friendships, one of the warm blessings of the past, are becoming hard to find.
Nevertheless, true friendships still do exist, friendships such as those enjoyed by David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, as noted in the Bible. (2 Sam. 1:26; Ruth 1:16, 17) But these friendships are primarily among true Bible Christians who have placed their faith in God and his Word the Bible. Jehovah’s witnesses, for example, find their family of friends actually growing by leaps and bounds. (Mark 10:29, 30) But outside of real Bible Christians, true friendships are rare. This is humanity’s loss.
But why be friendly? How can one be friendly in this wicked world? What kind of friends should one cultivate and how? These and other timely questions are answered in the following article.