The Gift of Christian Friendship
TRUE friendship is a wonderful gift from God. It is a gift that each of us is able to give and receive. Unlike material presents that depreciate with age, the gift of Christian friendship becomes more precious with the passing years. Consider what this means.
A faithful friend is one who adds to your joy and shares your grief. While he may give you a word of praise, he will not hesitate to point out a serious fault. A friend is abundant in pity, but equally willing to prod you when he knows you are not doing your best. The true companion shares his blessings as well as the lessons to be learned from his mistakes. He gives you his time, his loyalty, his understanding and his material support when needed. No wonder the proverb says that “a true companion is loving all the time.” (Prov. 17:17) In fact, in the Hebrew Scriptures the word “friend” means a lover. The Greek word for “friend” likewise describes one who is affectionate toward another.
With such a basis one might hastily conclude that friendship entails no problems, but such is not the case. Unlike God, men sometimes enter into friendships, or what pass as friendships, for such inducements as wealth, fame or greater influence. The Bible says: “Wealth is what adds many companions . . . Many are those who soften the face of a noble, and everybody is a companion to the man making gifts.” (Prov. 19:4, 6) But Christians must recognize the difference between companionship that is arranged for convenience and true friendship that comes from the heart. A friend must be chosen because of what he is, not because of what he has. If a man lacks love, this lack will not be compensated for simply by mutual secrets shared or benefits gained. Men may strike up friendships on such flimsy foundations, but this is not the Christian way. It is not the way of Jehovah God.
When Jehovah chooses a man to be his friend he looks for evidences of a good heart. Says the psalmist: “Jehovah is righteous; he does love righteous acts. The upright are the ones that will behold his face.” (Ps. 11:7) God does not give his friendship to one who is unjust, unkind or haughty. Jehovah makes friends with only those who love the things he loves and reject the things he rejects. By using this divine standard for selecting friends we may expect our friendships to be more successful and enduring.
Before a friendship can endure, it must first be made, or the seeds of friendship sown. It goes without saying that to win a friend you first must be one. Is that not what Jehovah did in the case of Adam’s children? God took the initiative and, by making provision for our deliverance from sin and death, offered his friendship. As the apostle John put it: “As for us, we love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) So make friends by taking the initiative in offering proof of love and friendship. In this problem-plagued world there are endless opportunities for you to prove kind and helpful. A word of encouragement or a helping hand may be the tiny seed from which a great friendship will grow.
Sometimes your making the first move will be induced by your admiration for the sterling Christian qualities that you find in someone. These qualities will draw you close to that person, just as Jesus showed special love for the apostle John. (John 19:26) Not that Jesus did not love the other faithful apostles. His words and actions proved that he did, but undoubtedly John’s ways and personality made Jesus very fond of him. It is the respect for the qualities of an individual that make you want to be his friend. If he finds similar qualities in you, the attraction will be mutual.
Jehovah was attracted by the fine qualities of faithful men in ancient times. Abraham was worthy to be called “Jehovah’s friend.” (Jas. 2:23) Then, too, in heaven Jehovah has many faithful angels, all of whom enjoy his favor, but not all are close to his throne. Remember this and it may help you to avoid injured feelings.
If it has been your experience to offer the gift of friendship to one who was not ready to accept it, there is no reason to feel hurt nor should you feel inferior. Of course, you cannot expect to be everyone’s intimate friend. Even in a natural family you will find that certain ones are more attracted to each other. Likewise in the Christian family-like congregation, certain personalities will be closer to you than others. Though each one of our Christian brothers has a right to expect us to be friendly at all times, you have the right to choose the ones that will be especially close to you, even as Jesus had the right to feel particularly fond of John. Grant your brothers the same right. Offer your friendship graciously and courteously, but do not be insistent or resentful. Remember that friendship is a gift. Let those accept it who will.
To keep your friendships it helps to know what to expect from a true friend. The Bible says that “the wounds inflicted by a lover are faithful.” (Prov. 27:6) A loyal friend is not a flatterer or a backslapper. Do not resent loving counsel from a true friend and force him to repeat the question that Paul asked the Galatians: “Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”—Gal. 4:16.
Another way to keep your friendships is to water this plant of friendship that you have cultivated. When close friends move away, what can you do so as not to let the friendship wither? If the distance is so far as to preclude a telephone call or a personal visit once in a while, you may be able to send a small gift. And you can always send a postcard, or a note or a letter. A letter represents thought and effort and thus may well say more than the amount of words it contains, thereby keeping the friendship alive.
Above all, keep alive your friendship for Jehovah God. By letting your friendship with Jehovah govern your choice of friends you will find Christian companions loyally “sticking closer than a brother.” (Prov. 18:24) Prove faithful in your friendship with God and Christ and you will enjoy Christian friendships that never end.