Social media has changed the definition of friendship in our culture. Actually, the definition of genuine friendship hasn’t change but social media has made it much more shallow, transitory, and sometimes, meaningless. A person can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook and not even know most of them, other then what they post or as a casual acquaintance. And who can keep up with the posts of a thousand friends?
A quote often expressed about friendship that we hear a lot is stated in it’s longer form by Sarah Ockler:
“In your entire life, you can probably count your true friends on one hand. Maybe even on one finger. Those are the friends you need to cherish, and I wouldn’t trade one of them for a hundred of the other kind. I’d rather be completely alone than with a bunch of people who aren’t real; people who are just passing time.” (Quote source here.)
At the end of an article titled, “Why You Can Count Your True Friends on One Hand,” published on HuffPost Blog (2011) by Elizabeth Kesses (“BritChick Paris”) she makes this statement at the end of her article:
“Friendship has to be an exchange. It cannot be a one way street, that’s self sacrifice. As someone recently told me “if someone wants to be a part of your life they will make the effort to be in it, so don’t reserve a place in your heart for someone who doesn’t make the effort to stay.” (Quote source here.)
A Biblical definition of true friendship is found at CompellingTruth.org:
Friendships can be among the most rewarding and the most frustrating relationships in our lives. From Old to New Testament, the Bible is full of friendship stories and advice. We are told that friends love at all times (Proverbs 17:17), only wound us in ways that are trustworthy (i.e., tough love; Proverbs 27:6), are more loyal than family at times (Proverbs 18:24), provide mutual edification (Proverbs 27:17), can impart wisdom (Proverbs 13:20), and they may even sacrifice themselves for us (John 15:13).
David and Jonathan are well-known for their close friendship. First Samuel 18:1-5 talks about the knitting of the two men’s souls. Jonathan gave his robe and armor to David, essentially honoring David above himself and stripping himself of his kingly position (Jonathan’s father was King Saul). Later Jonathan stood up for David to his father (1 Samuel 19:1-7). Jonathan risked his life for his friend (1 Samuel 20). God used the friendship to preserve David for the throne. David, too, had deep loyalty to Jonathan. Second Samuel 1:17-27 is David’s lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. Even though Saul had been an enemy to David, the new king sought out someone from Saul’s family that he might show him kindness for the sake of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:1-13; 21:7). David’s sense of loyalty to Jonathan and his gratefulness for their friendship outweighed the enmity between Saul and David.
Embedded in instructions regarding the Church is some advice about friendship. Paul told believers to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, at peace with one another, loving, and thankful (Colossians 3:13-15). Friends also teach one another and worship God together (Colossians 3:16).
The truest friend is Jesus. John 15:12-15 says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Friends are like-minded. They love one another with sacrificial love. They share with one another from the heart. Friends know each other well and promote one another’s welfare. We are blessed to have been adopted into the family of God and to have been made friends of Jesus. In return, we are called to be good friends to one another.
According to the Bible, true friendship is characterized by love. The Proverbs, the example of David and Jonathan, instructions to the Church, and, ultimately, Jesus’ example depict true friendship. A true friend loves, gives wise counsel, remains loyal, forgives, and promotes the other’s welfare. (Quote source here.)
“Friendships can be among the most rewarding and the most frustrating relationships in our lives.” And who among us hasn’t experienced that truth in our own relationships with others to include family members and relatives. True friends watch out for each other, care about each other, and are willing to sacrifice their own time and comfort and resources to help each other. And that kind of friendship is hard to find. In fact, it’s actually quite rare, just as the quotes at the beginning of this post state.
One of the verses cited in the statement above is Proverbs 18:24 which states: “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The NLT states that verse as follows: “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” It is interesting to note what that verse is saying when it states that “a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” GotQuestions.org gives the meaning behind that statement:
Proverbs 18:24 teaches, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, / but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Given the fact that we normally think of blood being thicker than water, this proverb is rather jarring: there are ways that a friend can be more faithful than a brother.
The ESV translates the first line of the proverb this way: “A man of many companions may come to ruin.” In any translation the emphasis is on the plurality of friends. A person with many friends may still run into problems. A large number of friends does not equal help in the time of need. Many popular celebrities have faced this dilemma—they can have thousands of fans, yet fame is fickle, and the fans quickly disappear during difficult times. Our era of social media promotes many superficial connections who are called “friends,” but there are few true friends. Even the most connected can be lonely.
In contrast, the second line of this antithetical proverb tells us, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The concept of friendship is a strong one in Proverbs, and the word friend is used nine other times in the book. Wisdom is called a friend (7:4), a friend loves at all times (17:17), a poor man is deserted by his friend (19:4), everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts (19:6), a person with gracious speech has the king as his friend (22:11), faithful are the wounds of a friend (27:6), the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel (27:9), and do not forsake your friend and father’s friend (27:10).
From these verses, we see there are two kinds of “friends.” There is the friend who exists because you have something to offer (such as a material gift or popularity-by-association), and there is a friend who exists due to genuine love and friendship. Proverbs 18:4 offers a contrast between these two types of friends. You can amass as many friends of the first type as you want but still come to ruin; however, even one friend of the second type is a great advantage.
The genuine or authentic friend is someone who sticks closer than a brother. In other words, he or she can be counted on. This friend is steadfast; he or she will be there for you even more so than a family member. Brotherhood is one of the strongest relationships we know. A friend who sticks closer than a brother is a trustworthy friend, indeed.
A wonderful biblical example of this type of closer-than-a-brother friendship is what existed between David and Jonathan. They became fast friends following the battle in which David killed Goliath. Despite the many hardships both men faced, they remained faithful to one another as friends and protected one another from harm. Jonathan even risked his life interceding for David before King Saul, who sought to kill David. After Jonathan’s death, David wrote a lament for his friend: “Jonathan lies slain on your heights. / I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; / you were very dear to me” (2 Samuel 1:25–26). Their friendship was stronger than David’s relationship with any of his own brothers.
Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34), and He has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus is truly the Friend who sticks closer than a brother, and blessed are those who have Him as their Friend (see John 15:14). (Quote source here.)
There is another type of friendship that, too often, Christians tend to get tripped up over, and it is the topic of a book I recently read titled, “Forbidden Friendships: Retaking the Biblical Gift of Male-Female Friendships” (2015, 2nd ed) by Joshua D. Jones. A statement regarding the book on Amazon.com states the following:
“Forbidden Friendships” presents the case for why Christian men and women need to engage one another in deep friendship and how to do so. Contrary to what some have taught, having close friends of the opposite gender is healthy, Biblical and important for spiritual growth. But divisions are in the Church. In the name of integrity, walls now exist that keep us from meaningful brother-sister friendship in Christ. While personal boundaries can be healthy, these generalized divisions are not Biblical nor these rules in line with Church History at its best. Contrary to their promises, we are not safer from sexual immorality by adhering to them – we are more at risk. In this 2nd edition – 1st edition entitled ‘Can Christian Men and Women be Friends?’ – Jones has refined and added more material for greater clarity and impact. Chapter subjects include: mixed friendships in Church history, practical and pastoral issues, ’emotional adultery’, Freud, Scripture survey and one on friendships in heaven. (Quote source here.)
Jones states his main reason for writing the book in his introduction titled, “Why This?” on pp. 4-5:
. . . there has been a growing relational chasm within the church that seeks to keep men and women from engaging in genuine friendship. This separation has been parading under the banner of integrity and it has become unhealthy. Not all agree with the new boundaries which keep men and women apart. But those who disagree often fear to raise their own objections.
This is important. We are supposed to be “the family of God,” yet the familial brother-sister, father-daughter, mother-son relationships which should be an outworking of the gospel are weak or missing. The experience of my Scandinavian wife and I is that this problem is greater in the USA (my place of origin) than in Britain or Europe; but it is an issue throughout the whole of the West.
My story? Well, in spite of having had a wonderful spiritual mother in my teen years, I later received strict discipleship when I was a bit older on the necessity to have lots of boundaries between men and women in order to maintain purity. A few events happened which caused me to revisit this part of my discipleship in the light of Scripture. These included helping celibate Christians who struggled with SSA (same-sex attraction) and having a board review during which time my pastoral work with young men was commended but I was also described as being “too distant and inaccessible” to women. It was a critique I do not believe Jesus would have ever received.
In addition to my cherished wife, I now have women near me whom I consider to be friends in the truest sense. If you are one, please know that my appreciation for you is much richer than my pen is able to describe. You are uneclipsable sisters who support me, my marriage, my ministry and you help me in ways that no male friend ever could. Thank you. (Taken from the Introduction titled, “Why This?” on pp. 4-5.)
From my own experiences as a single professional woman who is now in my 60’s, I found that once I entered adulthood back in my late teens that the emphasis from the church was that I find a suitable Christian man to marry, but to have genuine friendships with men other then seeking a mate was frowned upon, and indeed, suspect. And this dichotomy has always been there in church settings. Of course, there have been times (more than I care to remember) that because I was older and still not married, that some church folks thought (or assumed) I had other leanings (as in being a lesbian, which I am not). This assumption started soon after I reached the ripe old age of 30 and was still single. This tendency by the church to judge others who, for whatever reason, have never married and are well past the usual age of marriage (at least first marriages) of 18-30, has been a major frustration for me, and, I suspect, others who are Christian and have never been married, too.
But back to Jones’ book . . . . There are eight chapters in the book starting with an introduction titled, “Why This?” The eight chapters are titled, “Deceived by Integrity,” “Why Be Friends?”, “When Sex isn’t Enough,” “Lessons from the Past,” “Does the Bible Promote Sin?”, “Examining Emotional Adultery,” “Questions and Objections,” and “Now . . . And Not Yet.” It also includes two appendixes at the end titled, “Facebook Reactions” and “On Being Gay and SSA.”
My focus for the purpose of this blog post is on Chapter 2, “Why Be Friends?” In this chapter Jones discusses six primary reasons for establishing friendships between men and women. He starts off by stating that friendship in general (even same gender friendships) are suffering, and states the following after a brief discussion on what he states is “the dismal state of same gender friendships” (p. 23):
If we are so impoverished in the area of homosociality (same gender friendship), why bother advocating for heterosociality (mixed gender friendship)? After all, in many evangelical circles these relationships are now frowned upon and those who engage in them often have their integrity questioned. And–to be honest–we admit that at times unanticipated romantic feelings can come into play and have to be dealt with. With all of the potential challenges mixed friendships may invite from without and within, are they really worth it?
Here are six reasons why they are:
These six reasons are listed below:
(1) For healing, joy and growth (pp. 23-26)
Jones cites a survey where women were asked to what it was they most enjoyed about their friendships with men as opposed to their friendships with women, and the top three answers were: (1) Levity and a sense of joking and humor not as easily found among women, (2) a sense of “big brother” or familial protection, and (3) insight as to how men really think (p. 25)
Men were asked a similar question regarding their friendships with woman as opposed to their friendships with other men, and they stated that their friendships with women enabled them to talk more deeply then they tend to do in their friendships with other men (p. 25).
Jones also states on p. 26:
The fact that we enjoy a different dynamic in our friendships with men then we do in our friendships with women is not–contrary to pseudo-Freudian thought–a fruit of our repressed sex drive. God created us to enjoy one another, gender differences and all. This helps us grow. We receive things from spiritual mothers and sisters which we do not receive from spiritual fathers and brothers.
(2) To help us resist temptation (pp. 26-31)
It goes without saying that this is probably one of the biggest reasons given to avoid mixed gender friendships. However, as Jones states on pp. 26-27:
Today’s “integrity” rules create distance between men and women. They promise us that if we adhere to them, we will walk in sexual purity and affair proof our marriages. But these rules lie.
The reality that mixed friendships can help us resist sexual temptation may sound counter-intuitive at first, but it is true. We have physical needs as human beings: water, air, food, shelter, love, encouragement, etc. We also have social and physiological needs. Many needs are same-gender in nature. As men we need fathers and brothers to initiate us and affirm us into the world of men. Women also have similar needs, especially in connecting with maternal figures.
But in addition to same-gender needs, we also have legitimate opposite gender needs. It may be a woman hungry for a father figure she never had. It may be a young man in need of nurture which an older, spiritual mother may be able to give. It may be a sense of sibling-like validation or affirmation which may strengthen and encourage you in a different way that if it came from a person of the same gender. When these needs are not met in healthy ways we are more prone to seek fulfillment in unhealthy ones.
Well, it goes without saying that this blog is quite long already so let me list the last four reasons with a very brief sentence on each one:
(3) To strengthen our marriages (pp. 31-33) (Without fear of threat or jealousy becoming involved)
(4) Because we are commanded to be friends (pp. 33-35) (Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”)
(5) To show the power of the Cross (pp. 35-38) (“The Cross of Jesus breaks down the curse of sin and makes reconciliation between genders possible”–p. 36).
(6) Release of Ministry (p. 39) (Receiving encouraging words from the opposite gender)
What I have provided above is merely a fraction of the information contained in this chapter and, of course, the rest of the book, but I hope it has whet your appetite to learn more. The book is available for purchase at Amazon.com at this link (click here).
When considering friendships of any kind, perhaps the most vital passage in the Bible, which is most often quoted at wedding ceremonies but is true of all friendships and relationships, is found in 1 Corinthian 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. . . .
So whatever you wish that others . . .
Would do to you . . .
Do also to them . . . . (Matthew 7:12, ESV)
YouTube Video: “Friends” (Friends Are Friends Forever) by Michael W. Smith: