Friendship is a jewel of the Christian life, which many have misplaced. Though most of us are surrounded by people whom we call friends, very few of us enjoy this wonderful gift. With the Western individualistic culture increasing its dominance, even here in Africa, the value of deep and meaningful friendship is being lost. It has become something of convenience, rather than an essential component of our lives. We befriend people who benefit us. But there is little beyond that.
Friendship has become something of convenience, rather than an essential component.
In his book Made For Friendship: The Relationship That Halves Our Sorrows And Doubles Our Joy, Drew Hunter challenges those of us living in a generation that has long lost the meaning and value of friendship. His book is a call to see that we are made for friendship—not shallow acquaintances or social media followers, but deep and meaningful relationships. He writes, “Friendship is not something we made up; it’s something we were made for. It’s a gift from above” (p15).
We Need the Gift of Friendship
Hunter structures his book into three main parts, each containing shorter chapters within. In the first part, Hunter addresses the significant question of why we need true friendship. Then, throughout part two, which he calls the heart of the book, Hunter answers the question: What is true friendship? In this section Hunter shows that it is a gift from God, ordained to bring great joy to individuals sharing in it. Then in the third and final part of his book, Hunter unpacks the ultimate significance of friendship through a biblical theology of it. This climaxes with Jesus Christ, both our true friend and perfect model. Throughout the work, Hunter evidently desires for his readers to see the immense value of friendship so that they will pursue, embrace, and enact it.
We Must Rediscover True Friendship
The theme permeating Hunter’s book is the need for Christians to recover true friendship. For friendship is today taken as something very light, often shallow and mostly insignificant. We give the title ‘friend’ to people we deem nice, not really those we share life and all of ourselves with. On the other hand, we call people our friends in order to seem agreeable and pleasant. Therefore many of us are living crowded lives yet lonely lives. We are surrounded by many but truly friends with none (p26-7).
Many of us are living crowded lives yet lonely lives.
We have built walls around ourselves and our lives, though there is the appearance of many relationships they are marked by shallowness. Thus we are increasingly isolated. Hunter suggests two main causes behind this. The first is sin. He writes, “Sin is antisocial. It curves us inward and it drives us to isolation” (p30).
Secondly, modern culture does not exactly encourage or celebrate this gift. Hunter suggests three aspects of modern culture that create barriers to deep relationships: busyness, technology, and mobility. These have robbed us the time and means to enjoy it. Constantly interacting and increasingly connected we are nevertheless isolated. But friendship has to be deep for it to be meaningful. It should be more like a “submarine holding a few and going deep. But most of us have made it more like a cruise ship filled with lots of nice people whom we don’t know well at all” (p26).
Avoid the Vague Idea of Community
Hunter makes a fascinating observation regarding the church’s contribution to the present and ongoing devaluation of true friendship. He says, “Churches often talk about community, which is good. But they don’t talk about friendship, which is not good. We encourage community in general, but we forget friendship in particular…In truth, a church with deep community is most likely a place in which each person goes deep with a handful of others” (p36). Our overemphasis on community broadly has lead to an underemphasis on friendship.
Our overemphasis on community broadly has lead to an underemphasis on friendship.
God has designed us in such a way that, besides himself, we need other human beings in order to live and thrive. Therefore, we must prioritise and treasure our friends, just as we prioritise our fellowship with God. And the church should play a significant role in promoting the development and growth of deep friendships. In other words, as Hunter argues, “Church discipleship should be viewed as a form of friendship. And real discipleship happens when we pursue it in the context of deep friendship…We mature as Christians as we enjoy biblical friendship with discipleship intentionality” (p93).
Make Jesus the Foundation
True and deep friendship is a gift from God to humanity for us to enjoy. It doubles our joys and halves sorrows, as the subtitle to Hunter’s book says. It is also a gift that God uses to mould and shape us. Thus Hunter defines it as the “affectionate bond forged between two people as they journey through life with openness and trust” (p80). This bond is usually forged around a point of commonality. For Christians, this bond is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the centre of any true Christian friendship and the goal of this relationship should be Christlikeness.
Jesus is the centre of any true Christian friendship.
In other words, as Hunter puts it, Jesus should always be included as the third friend in Christian friendship (p93). Once Christ becomes central in our friendships, the deep eschatological significance of friendship becomes clear. For we begin to understand friendship within the “goal of our salvation and the ultimate end of our existence” (p151). In other words, the gospel offers us the model of true friendship, while it is also the foundation and goal of true Christian friendship.
Look to God and Our Forefathers
This book is a treasure for the church and more especially for the African church. Africans have always been known for our commitment to each other, to deep community—Ubuntu. In fact, I’m told there was a time when families gave their children in marriage to their friends as a way of maintaining the strong relationships that already existed. But all of that is way behind us. Culture and tradition have evolved as we’ve slowly bought into Western individualism. We should value friendship as our forefathers did; as God does in the Bible.
We should value friendship as our forefathers did; as God does in the Bible.
Hunter does a great job in showing that Christian friends are a crucial ingredient of life. We can’t live our lives fully without true and deep friendships, as they foreshadow the joy the new creation (p62). So in the present we must redeem meaningful friendships. Each page of Hunter’s book forces pause and reflection on your own life. For far from merely mourning the loss of friendship in culture, Hunter exhorts his readers to become better friends, cultivating Christian friendships. For it is hugely valuable in the eyes of God. God saved us to befriend us and his mission is to create a community of friends who know him as the greatest friend (p128). I hope the Lord will help you rediscover this rare jewel.