The very existence of friendship in the world is a statement about the God-ordained relational nature of human beings. The Bible is a theatre for sublime, spiritual friendships. One may immediately think of same-sex friendships like that of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1), Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:2), Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17), Paul and Onesiphorus (2 Tim 1:15-18) or Jesus and the twelve disciples. All these were great and admirable friendships—true expressions of a supernatural mutuality of souls. If they weren’t in the Bible, we’d think they were fairy tales.
The Bible is a theatre for sublime, spiritual friendships.
Because the privatism, isolationism and individualism of the western world is becoming vogue in our part of the world, we must affirm the value of good friendships, especially among Christians. I take it for granted that most Christians in our churches long for deep enduring friendships. I do. In thinking about the subject, I get challenged to consider how I might be what I desire; that is, to be the kind of friend I long to have.
Since Christians already enjoy friendship with Jesus (John 15:5), they don’t need to look too far to know what they ought to be like. Jesus is the friend par excellence. He is the ultimate model of a friend. The Christian should therefore aspire to be a friend to others as Christ is to him or her. To aim to be a better friend is therefore synonymous with being more Christlike. So here are three things about Christ that make him an imitable friend.
1. Jesus Initiates Friendship
It is awkward to approach someone for friendship, but on this matter, Jesus embodies the fact that it is also more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). In John 15, Jesus calls his disciples “friends” and immediately clarifies that he is the one who chose them (John 15:16). God says “do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Offering friendship is one kind of good we should be eager to do.
Offering friendship is one kind of good we should be eager to do.
Have you considered that the reason a fellow Christian in your church may be languishing in loneliness is because you aren’t offering them this gift? Perhaps you are waiting for them to earn it. I believe that it is an expression of Christlike love to make the first call, send the first text, or plan the first visit to the friendless believer. While there is never a guarantee of reciprocity, “love bears all things…and hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).
2. Jesus Models Vulnerability
In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis reminds us: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one.” The friends that Jesus chose disappointed him on many occasions. Peter denied him (Luke 22:57). Judas betrayed him (Luke 22:48). The rest left him when he needed them most (Mark 14:50). Trust is the liquid gold of friendship, but it can be broken.
When we’re vulnerable in friendship, we give opportunities for much needed encouragement and accountability.
Though Jesus knew this, he still chose vulnerability over superficiality—accessibility over aloofness. He knew, as one saying has it, that it is better to be the thorn in the side of your friend than his echo. He did not downplay the place of self-disclosure even at his weakest (Matthew 26:38). I grant that there’s a need for tact and caution in trusting. After all, “he who hurries his steps errs” (Proverbs. 19:2). Notwithstanding, trusting is better than not. When we are vulnerable in friendship, we give opportunities for much needed encouragement, affirmation, accountability, or loving rebuke. Jesus may not have needed these things, but he sure did put himself in the way of receiving them, and he dispensed them freely to his friends.
3. Jesus is Very Patient with You
Jesus always bore patiently with the weaknesses of his friends, just as we should (Ephesians 4:2). Instead of blacklisting Peter for his bold-faced denial, he restored him (John 21:15-19). Jesus was unselfish, gracious, and kind. Our expectations of our Christian friends should be reasonable, since even the best of them are human. In other words, failure is all but guaranteed at some point or other. Our love should cover their multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8).
Jesus loved his friends and saw them as God intended them to be.
In exercising Christian patience, we may truly know that friendship is ‘the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all others.’ Maybe more friendships would be made and maintained, built and deepened in our churches if we allowed “this attitude that was in Christ to dwell in us” (Philippians 2:4). Jesus epitomised patience in showing us that though they were not what they ought to have been, he loved them enough and saw them as God intended them to be.
There’s No Friend Like Jesus
If friendships among believers are like hills, friendship with Jesus is the highest peak of the highest mountain. He is the God-man. We rightly long and hope for deeply satisfying friendships, but only friendship with him is truly and eternally satisfying. The words of the old hymn ring true: “There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, no, not one!”
Jesus’ friendship with his disciples was obviously not one of absolute equality or mutuality. It was categorically and qualitatively different. He was their Saviour, Lord, and Teacher. Though these are aspects we can’t replicate, we can surely imitate his loving initiative, vulnerability and patience. We can embrace the means of grace that friendship is and imitate Jesus in dispensing the same grace.
We can embrace the means of grace that friendship is and imitate Jesus in dispensing it.
Imagine what our churches could be if they were teeming with friendships of this supernatural nature! The evangelistic potential of counter-cultural friendships based on diversity rather than similarity is incalculable. The world has no answer for how differentiated people can be well integrated, but the church does. How about we make it our aim to pray for opportunities and the capacity to be these Christlike friends in our churches?