As time moves on, I think we are seeing some profound changes taking place in the way that we define friendship.
It seems to me that people are generally experiencing dramatic decreases in fulfillment in friendships even as they reach out wider and wider for meaningful connections with others. Social applications like Facebook (and so forth) are single-handedly revolutionizing the way people interact and connect.
Consider the fact that the word “friend” has become intricately laced with the internet experience. Not only does the number of “friends” on the social site become a status symbol for many, but one can score “friends” without even knowing who the “friends” are. This basically decimates any previous notions we might have had of what it means to be a “friend” and waters down the wonder of having someone we can call a “true friend.”
As these careless and casual ways of using the word “friend” become more and more integrated into our thinking, the word “friend” itself has lost much power and significance, possibly obscuring the importance of a kind of relationship that we both truly need and deeply crave.
Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher who may or may not have had Nazi sympathies in the 20th century, once observed that “Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.” While his dubious associations and non-theistic world view may cast his general perspective into doubt, the fact that “language shapes thought” is undeniable: an increasing level of vagueness for the word “friend” is creating for us a quandary when we try to understand what it means to truly connect with peers, have trusted confidantes, or faithful companions in the journey of life.
The words for “friend” in the Bible, however, have similar linguistic challenges. The Hebrew word “rea” and the Greek “philos” mean friend in just about all the ways that our English word means it (well, at least until recently), ranging from “colleague” to “bff” (“best friends forever”). Nevertheless, the Scriptures talk about a kind of friend that epitomizes what friendship should be and what it should do for us.
First, the Bible talks about the “friend” ideal of acceptance. Proverbs 17:17a says that “a friend loves at all times….” Genuine friendship is not fickle. It is likely that we have all had experiences with “fair weather friends” who enjoyed our resources when there was much to be shared, but faded from view when need and sorrow came. We therefore should deeply esteem the treasure of those who love us unconditionally and faithfully, and strive ourselves to be faithful to our friends, in plenty AND in times of need and hurt.
Secondly, a “friend” is one who both says and does what we need, and does not merely pays lip service to us. In Proverbs 27:6 you will find that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Enemies rarely come to us with flaming swords and obvious hate, but instead approach with friendly ways and flattering words. Why? Generally, either to take advantage of something you have that they want or to win your heart so that their betrayals can inflict greater harm. When a companion says something that hurts, stop a moment and compare what he or she says with the truth of God’s Word. If it is NOT true, then simply dismiss the words of this “friend” and guard your heart in regard to your trusting of him or her. But if it IS true, even if painful, then swallow pride, and ask God to help you make adjustments in your life that He sent this true fiend to share with you.
Keep in mind that having lots of friends on our social applications is about the same as referring to everyone with whom we interact on a daily basis as “friend”. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24 ESV).
Look for and treasure the “true friend.” At the same time, seek to be a “true friend” to those whose hearts have been knit by God with yours.
True friendship has reached down from heaven, looked past our ugly and selfish motives and pasts, offered us hope and healing, and lifts us up from the power of fear, the clinging weight of sin, and sets us on a path of fellowship with God Himself. There is no greater friend than Jesus, and no greater calling for us today than to become true friends to Him as we obey Him and allow His friendship to flow through us into the lives of those around us who are lonely and hapless, lost and hopeless. Trust your Friend to lead you today, and be a true friend to someone who needs one.
Pastor Thom Mollohan leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.