By Thom Mollohan
Got a lot of friends on Facebook?
In time, I imagine that we will see profound changes in the way that we define friendship. I expect that research will indicate dramatic decreases in fulfillment in friendships even as people reach out wider and wider for meaningful connections with others. Technology, like cell phones and the Internet and specifically social applications like Facebook, is revolutionizing the way people interact and connect. As the changes unfold before us, there are certain implications we would do well to consider.
Consider the fact that the word “friend” is becoming intricately laced with the Internet experience. Not only has the number of “friends” on Facebook become a status symbol, but one can score “friends” without even knowing who the “friends” are, therefore rendering moot any previous notion of what it means to be a “friend” and diluting what it means to have a true friend.
As the careless and casual ways of using the word “friend” become more and more integrated into our thinking, the word “friend” itself will likely lose power and significance, possibly obscuring the importance of the kind of relationship that we need and deeply crave.
Heidegger, a German philosopher, who may have had Nazi sympathies, 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 dispersions on his general perspective, the fact that language shapes thought is undeniable. Thus, an increasing level of vagueness for the word “friend” will leave us in a quandary when we try to define what it means to truly connect with peers, have trusted confidantes and faithful companions in the journey of life.
The words for “friend” in the Bible, however, have similar linguistic challenges. The Hebrew word “rēa” and the Greek “philos” mean friend in just about all the ways that our English word means it, ranging from “colleague” to “bosom buddy.” Nevertheless, the Scriptures talk about a type of friend that epitomizes what friendship is and what it does for us.
First, there is an aspect of acceptance about friendship—much deeper than being added as a friend on Facebook. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times.” Genuine friendship is not fickle. Likely, we all have 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 also strive, ourselves, to be faithful to our friends in times of plenty and in need and hurt.
Secondly, a friend is one who both says and does what we need, and not merely pays lip service to us. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Words from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Enemies rarely come to us with flaming swords and obvious hatred, but often approach with friendly ways and flattering words. Why? It’s usually either because they want something we have, or they want to warm up to us so that when they betray us, it will hurt even more. If a friend’s words have hurt you, stop for a moment and compare those words with the truth of God’s Word. If they don’t measure up, then we discard them and guard our hearts for the next encounter. But if in them, we see God’s truth reflected, however painful, then we should try to swallow our pride and ask God to help us to make the adjustments which He sent this true fiend to reveal as necessary.
Third, friends have staying power. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). We should seek out and treasure true friends. At the same time, we should desire to become a true friend to those whose hearts have been knit together with ours by God. “Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you—better a friend nearby than a brother far away” (Proverbs 27:10).
One of the highest virtues quickly identified with true friendship is personal sacrifice on behalf of another, even to the point of death. Of course, Jesus is the very essence of perfect friendship and is the very best friend we can have. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13). For Christ, this meant being beaten and crucified for our sake. How marvelous is the friendship that God has offered to us through Jesus Christ! He laid down His sinless life for us although we were consumed with sin, guilty and stained!
True friendship has reached down from heaven looking past our selfish motives and troubled lives. He has offered us hope and healing by releasing us from the power of fear, and the clinging weight of sin. We are placed 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 with Him in obedience as we allow His friendship to flow through us into the lives of those around us who are not only lonely and hapless, but also lost and hopeless. We can trust our perfect Friend to lead us today to become a true friend to someone in need.
Not friends with Jesus yet? Why not add Him today!