Friend. What does this word mean to you?
The twenty-first century is suffering the inflation of the word “friend.” A friend used to be someone that you shared a special and mutual bond with, involving a certain level of love, respect, and camaraderie. Today, the word friend is more nebulous (thank you, social networks). According to dictionary.com, “friend” can be used as a verb now, simply meaning, “to add someone to a list of contacts associated with a social networking website.”
But when you friend me on Facebook, will you really know me? Sure, you can find out who I’m married to, where I live, how many kids I have, or how stupid my face looks when I’m not prepared for a picture snap. These facts don’t make up my story. They don’t tell you my sins, my struggles, my strengths, my weaknesses.
We even see this at play in our real life relationships. We know many facts about each other’s lives, but we don’t really know one another.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with adding names to your contacts, connections to your profile, and people to your network, the Bible does call us to so much more. As men seeking biblical friendships, it befits us to heed that call.
Culturally speaking, friendships are typically forged from shared experiences: living on the same block, working at the same job, rooting for the same team. As Christian men, God has called us to engage in relationships forged at a much deeper level: a shared salvation in Jesus Christ. Now, what do these Jesus-centered relationships look like? Fewer passages give us a clearer blueprint than Romans 12. While the passage identifies several factors central to biblical friendship, we’ll examine three: a true friend comforts, a true friend sharpens, and a true friend honors.
A true friend comforts.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:15-16).
When I read the command to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” I think to myself, “Sure! I can do that.” Who doesn’t enjoy a celebration? Who doesn’t like to party? My friend, if you have something to rejoice in, then let me celebrate with you. I’ll even bring dessert. But the apostle calls his readers to do more than share in their joys. He also calls them to share in their sorrows. “Weep with those who weep.” And this is the nature of true friendship, that one would rather weep with his brother than to gaze sympathetically from a comfortable distance. John Calvin explains:
What is meant is that we, as much as possible, ought to sympathize with one another, and that, whatever our lot may be, each should transfer to himself the feeling of another, whether of grief in adversity, or of joy in prosperity.
A true friend sharpens.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Rom. 12:9).
Paul warns against counterfeit love. “Let it be genuine,” he says. But counterfeit love—a love that does not abhor evil—is easier to dish out, isn’t it? Let me be the first to confess, confronting a friend on his sin is hard. It’s like gambling with relational currency. There’s a risk involved. Will I lose this friend? Will they hate me after I say this? What if I’m wrong about the situation? Will our relationship ever recover from the awkwardness that ensues?
To ignore sin for the sake of love is not true love at all. It is a counterfeit love, a hypocritical love, a love that is not genuine. The word for abhor—ἀποστυγέω—literally means “to shudder” or “render foul” and that, the apostle says, is what we should do with with a friend’s sin. Because we are often blind to our own sins, we all need true friends to point them out and help us fight the hardening effects of sin’s deceit, even if it hurts (Prov. 27:6).
A true friend honors.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).
True and biblical friendship eliminates any form of competition among believers. Instead, we are called to “honor one another above ourselves” (Rom. 12:10 NIV). Whether we’re the product of individualistic Western thinking or competitive sports conditioning, we tend to brood competition instead of cooperation, bitterness instead of honor. For example, how do you respond when God blesses one of your friends in a way that you wanted to be blessed? When they get the job you wanted? The relationship you wish you had? The ministry you thought you were called to? Do you respond with bitterness? Or do you honor and celebrate them? Have the Spirit reorient that competitive urge and outdo your brother in showing honor.
Outdoing one another in honor isn’t just the alternative of competition. It means you look for evidence of God’s grace in the friends you have. You get to know their strengths, you encourage them in their weakness, you honor them relentlessly and rejoice in your shared hope (v. 12).
Jesus as the center of true friendship.
So why is it so hard to be a true friend? I think it’s because, in one sense, we don’t want to be. Because of our own selfishness, we run away from both the friends we need and the friends that need us. We are blinded by sin’s deceit, only pursuing friendships so long as they satisfy our own wants and desires.
We don’t want to comfort others because it drains our personal time and energy. We don’t want to sharpen others because we’d rather enjoy casual relationships than risk going deep. We don’t want to honor others because we want to be honored ourselves.
But the Bible, savvy to these selfish inclinations, will not leave us in our self-centeredness. It points us to Jesus who saves us from our sin and calls us to live selflessly within the community of faith, to be a true friend like Jesus was. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). The greatest friend is Jesus himself. Indeed, the great King of all Kings is also the Friend of all Friends. He’s the Chief Friend of sinners—sinners like you and me. And Christians who bear his name are now called to befriend others because Christ first befriended us.
True friendship is hard work for sure. It’s “lay down your life” kind of work. But Jesus did far more than prove himself to be the perfect friend. He did more than just model true friendship; his cross is also the very foundation of it. There is nothing stronger, deeper, or more secure than the Rock on which spiritual community is built (Eph. 2:19-21). Let Jesus be the foundation of your friendships. After all, only he can sustain them. All other ground is sinking sand.
Chris Poblete serves as a writer and editor for Blue Letter Bible and as director at The Gospel for OC. He and his wife, Alyssa, live in Orange County, CA and serve at Reverence Bible Church where Chris is an elder candidate and director of young adult ministries. Chris is also the author of The Two Fears: Tremble Before God Alone. You can follow him on Twitter: @chrispoblete
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