We live in times characterized by egoism. People wear the attitude and engage in activities that bear the slogan in Madonna’s song: ‘It’s My Life’! Faith has become individualistic or privatized and the community called ‘church’, institutionalized. The result is that relationships in general and genuine friendships in particular are becoming rarer. I have scores of acquaintances, several associates, many colleagues at work, some ‘close relatives’ and of course, my family. However, only a handful I address: ‘My friend…’! Mother Teresa aptly purported: ‘the greatest disease today is not HIV and AIDS but loneliness and fear’. How many of us have and cultivate real friendships? I’ve determined to develop the art of being a friend; making and having ‘a few good friends’. Proverbs 18:24 declares ‘there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother’. This Proverb, with others, reveals several insights regarding the quality of true friends worth considering
1. The Satisfaction friendship provides
Friendship provides a forum for sharing life’s experiences; our expectations and scattered dreams, joys and sorrows. As the proverb notes, there is an intimacy and confidentiality that friendship precipitates on account of ‘being there’ for the other. There is a certain friendship gained by flaunting wealth, ‘throwing a party’ as the prodigal did (14:20;19:4,6). But, the fine art of true, lasting friendship is not based on ‘getting things’ or ‘gaining wealth’ but is self-effacing and self-sacrificial, in essence is kenotic love, agape. It is about feeling valued and needed yet fosters an altruistic spirit that ‘it’s not about me’ and this produces the needed commitment. When we seek to befriend someone, we will be befriended and mutual acts of caring or sharing can be satisfying. Yet, there will be issues…
2. The Safeguard friendship promotes
The word ’sticks’ in our proverb indicates a binding that promotes a sense of security. We all have had fair-weather friends who said good things about you, then suddenly, let you down? Or, when we’ve hurt the most distanced themselves from us? ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?! True friends will ‘be there and ready’ by your side to safe guard your well being especially during tough time and the adverse climates of life. They are not there for your influence or resources Real friends love at all times (17:17). They journey with you not only to mountain tops but also through dark valleys. They know the worst about you and still love you just the same! When they notice something wrong, they will reprove even rebuke, but always from a heart of love (27:6). Here, beyond commitment, what needs to be developed is trust; that willing to ‘let iron sharpen iron’, taking sharp reproof and rebukes, believing that our friend has our best welfare at heart.
3. The Supremacy in friendship portrayed
I’m most grateful for my friends (my wife is my best friend and helpful critic!) yet our proverb alludes to a special friendship ‘closer than’ natural blood. Who then qualifies to be our best friend, (my daughter calls it, BFF)? As I grow older, I’m realizing that earthly friends move on or even die and leave us, thus reminding us of our own mortality. Who can love ‘at all times’, chastens whenever needed, and in spite of failures, promise never to let us go or let us down’? (Heb.12:6; 13:5) Surely it is Jesus who is willing to share his heart and mission with his followers. Though their ‘Lord and Master’, he is not ashamed to call them ‘friends’ and love them to the very end (Jn.15:15-16)! Though they didn’t understand him and were fickle and forsook him, Jesus remained faithful a friend enough to die for them! Think of it, this unique friendship, between God and humans, is supremely portrayed in the cross of Jesus who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).
Jesus’ sacrifice for us (the Cross) is indeed the greatest expression of friendship– one that lasts not just for a lifetime but for eternity! (Jn.13:15; Rom.5:7-8). In responding to such love, every other intimate relationship is born. Friends are friends forever, since the Lord’s the lord of them. We are blood-bought slaves of Christ, let from our mutual friendship i.e. commitment and trust advances partnership in his mission. ‘Together’ by the Spirit’s power we can make known what the Father has done in the name of Jesus, our Friend. To have a friend is to possess an invaluable treasure and ‘what a friend we have in Jesus!’ He knows my name; He calls me ‘friend’ – CG!