One of my favorite memories was a trip to Olive Garden. We had issues with the food from the campus cafeteria, so often we would enjoy a meal off campus. We would swap between Olive Garden and Red Lobster. On this occasion, we began to notice that our waiter was not as attentive to our needs as one would had preferred. So, we organized a game. We began with our customary tip, the standard rate of 15%. We agreed that anything he did exceptional would add to his tip, and any infraction of expected service would decrease it. Every time he didn't refill our drink when empty cost him dollar. Every time he walked past and didn't check on us cost him fifty cents. We kept making deductions for other infractions, some impromptu, others regimented, and at the end, he owed us five dollars, meal included. We had a wonderful time.
Man was made for companionship. We don't pass the second chapter of the Bible without this fact plainly revealed to us by God. The creation of woman was more than the invention of binary reproduction. It signaled something about being made in God's image. The triune nature of God indicates that even in the godhead, there is relationship and companionship. Since we are made in His image, we share that need of companionship and community.
Unfortunately, all that God made for good, sin has corrupted. our natural and good need for fellowship drives many to form detrimental connections and relationships. The Bible cautions us to take seriously the matter for friendship and form relationships that edify rather than corrupt.
The Biblical examples of friends are quite numerous. It was Judah's friend that "helped" him through the death of his wife. (Gen.38) Moses spoke to God as to a friend. (Ex. 33:11) Haman's friends helped him celebrate the gallows made for Mordecai. (Esther 5-6) Jobs friends did their best when they remained silent for seven days and nights. (Job 2:13) The Psalmist talks about the friend who turns on you. (Ps.41:9) This prophecy finds its fulfillment as Jesus calls Judas "friend." (Matt.26:50)
The classic example of Biblical friends appears in the story of David and Jonathan.
And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle. (I Samuel 18:1-4)This is the example of what friends are to be. It is deplorable that this relationship has been used by some to justify homosexual sin. It completely defaces the wonderful picture of friendship. In this picture, Jonathan puts truth to the friendship reality that whatever he owned was at David's disposal.
The choice of friends matters. When I talk about this issue, I am particularly referring to close friends. We allow people in our lives at different stages of closeness. Some people barely know us at all. Some get to know our souls. In choosing friends, I refer to the latter and not the former. Nevertheless, even those with whom we regularly associate have an impact on our mindset. Peer pressure increases by quantity as well as quality. We should choose our close friends carefully while having a broad acquaintanceship. Even so, we must remember that even our acquaintances have an impact on us.
Before we discuss choosing friends, there must be a choice to make. The AV translates Proverbs 18:24 as, "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." More modern translations follow some variant observed in the ESV, "A man of many companions may come to ruin,but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." The reason for this disparity is that the AV follows Greek manuscripts, presumably because the Hebrew is open to interpretation. The verb and the word for "friend" use the same root. It could be a play on words or a unique use of the verb. The AV translators relied on an older interpretation than their own. Nevertheless, the principle rings true. Those who would have friends must present themselves as open to people. Solomon also writes. "A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Prov. 17:17) If we would have this kind of person in our lives, we must be this kind of person.
In choosing friends, we are not free to imagine we live without the need of friends. Solomon in Ecclesiastes reminds us of the necessity of friends.
Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:7-12In this passage, Solomon reminds us that life is futile without people in our lives. We need people is only just to watch our backs.
The main biblical exhortation regarding our choice of friends has more to do with spiritual considerations rather than anything else. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (II Cor.6:14) Paul does not intend that we have no friends with unbelievers. After all, he encourages the church to have relationships with unbelievers. "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world." (I Cor. 5:9-10) Paul understands the need to associate with unbelievers in this world, but he warns against a willful choice to associate closely with unbelievers. This "yoking" indicates a close friendship. This type of relationship should only be formed with those who share the faith.
Paul's reason for this warning comes from the reality that close friends advise one another. The unbeliever advises out of a totally different worldview than the believer. The substance of their advice will often conflict with what the Bible commands. The absence of the gospel reality within cannot be ignored. We make light of the gospel if we think we can form close friendships with those who do not have this reality within. Either we don't think that the gospel transforms and affects all of life, or it has not truly changed us.
While we must form relationships that include this unity of spirit, we ought to beware of the tendency to form relationships with people identical to us. Diversity is a healthy thing in personal relationships. Forced diversity has become a socially desirable practice. The Bible does not suggest it. Rather, the diversity of gifts within the church reminds us that understanding the wide scope of the church suggests a broad array of friends. It is amazing to me how diverse God's people are. This is seen in our own church.
Friendship takes work, and diversity often requires the most work. Our differences become the source of friction, but our similarities can be the catalyst that escalates minor differences into major arguments. Is it any wonder in the church, the diversity and unity combine to encourage Paul to direct the church in its relationship with one another. "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you." (Eph. 4:32) It is informative that this verse appears at the end of a chapter the began with the diverse gifts that God gave to the church to edify it. That which God gives to edify, man can distort to view as detrimental.
My mother always reminds her children, when we would fight each other, something along the lines of, "friends come, and friends go, but family is forever." Perhaps forever is a bit strong, but it has proven rather effective. Many families disintegrate. Even my parent's siblings struggle to remain together. The modern society and it freedom of transportation has allowed children to leave, but they have not often used that freedom to return. Thanks to the influence of my mother, we enjoy being with one another, even we live so far apart from one another.
My mother was right and wrong. Friends and family come and go. For some, the fear of losing someone places a real psychological barrier to making friends. Why make friends if they go away? It makes as much sense as why live, if you are going to die. Friendship matters. Relationships matter. Forming them well requires wisdom and discernment, so that we may fulfill God's calling upon our lives. In this way, we may live Christian in an unchristian world.