C.S. Lewis, in his reflection on friendship in The 4 Loves, wrote that friendships “give value to survival.” Like art and music, friendship adds a sweetness and satisfaction to life which makes it worth living.
In the last ten years a lot has been written about the endangered status of friendship in a mobile and digital age. We’re moving more than we ever have, changing jobs more than we ever have, and we have more choice for entertainment than we ever have. As a result, friendships suffer. Especially for men.
How do we swim against the cultural stream to develop and maintain deep and lasting friendships? In Proverbs 17:17 we see three aspects of a good friend.
A friend loves…
A good friendship involves affection and appreciation. Friends like each other and enjoy each others trust and time. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? In Proverbs 17:17, friend is a verb. A friend acts. She loves. A friend initiates relationship with acts of love and service.
The lessons here, as Ralph Waldo Emerson economically put it, is that “the only way to have a friend is to be one.” It doesn’t do any good to wish people in your life were better friends or to wait for the universe to drop friends on your lap. You’ve got to focus on what you can control. Many friendships fade over time for lack of effort.
A friend loves at all times…
A friend doesn’t love only in the good times. True friendship is tested in the rough waters. When our friends are at their worst, when they are needy and a drag to be around – that’s when they need a friend the most.
A friend needs love when they have blown it and they know it. A friend walks in when the rest of the world walks out and reminds others that our identity is not determined by our failures.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
We need love when we blow it and don’t know it. As the saying goes, “a true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” A good friend who loves enough to lovingly point out flaws and mistakes is one of the greatest safeguards in life.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Friend and brother seem to be synonymous in this verse. Another way to translate the verse is: A friend loves at all times, but he is a brother in the day of adversity.
As we read in the book of Job, we are born to suffer as surely as sparks fly upward from a fire. Life beats us up and knocks us down. Sometimes it’s too much for us to take. God has given us the gift of friendship for just those times.
The giant Sequoia trees are famous for their great size, some reaching up to heights above 300 feet. Yet their root systems only dig down 12-14 feet. How do they endure the weight of survival? The answer is in community. The root systems of the Sequoias spread out and intertwine with others to form immensely strong support structures under the soil.
How do you do it?
Deep, lasting friendships provide the same kind of support structures.
But how do you maintain the work required to be a good friend for the long haul? It takes so much energy and sacrifice. It’s risky.
The motivation for the follower of Christ comes from a connection with the greatest friend any of us will ever know. Jesus of Nazareth became known as the friend of sinners. (Matthew 11:19) In John 15, during the lowest point in his life, when he needed friends the most, Jesus extended himself in friendship to his disciples. “I have called you my friends.” In the same conversation, Jesus explained the basis of that friendship – “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Friendship with Christ is friendship without risk. Jesus is the only one of us who has truly lived out Proverbs 17:17. And he always will, without fail.
Tying our roots into that kind of friendship gives us strength, freedom and motivation to extend ourselves in friendship to the world.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown