How many friends do you have?
I guess your answer to that question will vary depending on how you define a friend. We have best friends, good friends, old friends, family friends, Facebook friends, and everything in between!
Friends are a wonderful thing. They make us laugh and lift our spirit with their presence. Our most memorable moments happen in their company. During difficult days, they surround us with love and support.
But no matter how many friends you have and how many moments you've shared, everyone reading this post shares one thing in common: we have never had, and have never been, a perfect friend.
By that, I simply mean that our friendships are never absent of disappointment. In some way, whether significant or insignificant, our friends have failed us, and we have failed our friends.
Think about it. While some of your deepest joys are the result of friends, so are your most painful hurts. There are nights with them that you never want to end, and then there are days when you wish you could live in isolation.
Friendship is an integral part of the human existence, and we all have been shaped significantly by relationships that are full of both bliss and sorrow.
What The Bible Says
It's important to know why God designed friendship and what he has to say about it. Through his Word, he has given us an accurate lens that will keep us from being naïve but also prevent us from becoming cynical.
Here are a few guiding principles about friends that should help keep your relationships healthy:
Friendships are intended
In Genesis 2:18, God says that it is not good for man to be alone. This statement is broader than just marriage and applies to God's design for all humanity. The word "helper" used to describe Eve isn't defined her as a co-worker, but a companion. God created us live with companions because he is a social God, living in community within the Trinity as Father, Son, and Spirit.
There are benefits that come naturally from these friendships. Having a companion for everyday life is a beautiful one. Having someone to comfort you during tough times is another (Job 2:11). Honest friends who will call you to repent is a third of many more (Proverbs 27:6).
Christians, we need to seek out and immerse ourselves in community. While the "lone wolf" mentality is often applauded in our society, it is very dangerous and lonely to live in isolation. Don't cut yourself off from people, because you're cutting yourself off from your original intended design.
Friendships can become idols
While human companions are beautiful, the primary relationship Adam and Eve were designed to enjoy was their relationship with God. Vertical communion with their Creator would provide the foundation for their horizontal community. But since we tend to worship and serve creation more than the Creator (Romans 1:25), our friendships can become idols.
God has already given us everything we need in Christ alone for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). That means we don't need to seek perfect relational satisfaction in imperfect people. The irony is that when we reverse the order and elevate people above God, we end up ruining those earthly relationships with the pressure we put on them to fulfill us!
Friendships will be difficult
The early history of friendship goes from perfect to bad to worse. The harmony of companionship disappears when Adam throws Eve under the bus to avoid blame (Genesis 3:12). Then, in the next chapter, Cain kills his brother Abel!
Many of us can't relate with murdering a brother or a friend, but the same sin that ruled Adam and Eve and Cain exists in our heart, and in the hearts of our friends. We bring selfish motives, envy, greed, and more to our relationships, often without even knowing it. No wonder they're so messy! Don't be shocked when your friends let you down, or worse.
Friendships are redemptive
If God really loved us, wouldn't he make our relationships conflict-free? I wish! But the fact of the matter is that the Lord's primary purpose in our life is redemption - the ongoing removal of sin from our heart (Philippians 1:6). Nowhere is that sin more exposed than in relationship, where a flawed person lives with a flawed person in a fallen world.
When our sin, or our friend's sin, is exposed, we have two options: run away or lean in. Do you hide in shame, defend yourself, shift the blame, criticize needlessly or harbor bitterness? Or do you confess your sin, seek forgiveness, speak truth, grant mercy, and encourage one another?
God's design is that the trials of redeeming friendships will test and strengthen your faith, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). Don't run away from these trials. Lean in and rejoice, even though you don't feel like rejoicing!
Friendships have hope
We all look for tips and tricks that will improve our friendships - more effective communication, conflict resolution strategies, gender studies, personality typing, etc. Just go to the self-help section of any bookstore. But the reality is that there are no secrets that guarantee problem-free relationships.
Rather, our friendships have but one hope - Christ Jesus. The shattered relationship he experienced with his father at the Cross provides the basis for our two-fold reconciliation. Jesus reconciled us first to God, which then becomes the foundation for the way he reconciles us to one another.
What C.S. Lewis Said
I want to end with a powerful quote from C.S. Lewis. I know I just said there are no screts that guarantee problem-free relationships, but C.S. Lewis comes as close as it gets. He wrote:
"When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased."
You see, when God reigns in our hearts, peace reigns in our friendships. Ultimate friendship will only be complete in heaven, but there is much we can enjoy now. The New Testament offers hope that our relationships can be characterized by things like humility, gentleness, patience, edifying honesty, peace, forgiveness, compassion, and love.
Isn't it wonderful that God's grace can make this possible, even for flawed people in a fallen world? This hope challenges whatever complacency and discouragement we might have about our friendships because there is always more growth, peace, and blessing that God's grace can bring, right here and right now.
The hope of the gospel invites us to a holy dissatisfaction with all of our relationships and encourages us to tackle the rewarding but difficult work of redemptive friendships.