We are investigating how we who profess to follow Jesus — often don’t. We don’t follow Him in being “a friend of sinners.” And, it must be said, we’re often rather poor at being a friend of fellow-saints! “I don’t have the time!” “Maybe later we’ll get together.” “Let’s do lunch sometime.” — are excuses we give for not pursuing deep, personal relationships with other members of the family of God.
I must admit: As an introvert, I’m perfectly okay with shallow connections, brief conversations, non-risky discussions. I like being alone. IF I can have my books, my dog, and occasional visits from my wife. We all — introverts and extroverts — come into this world broken — and we each have to lean against whatever brokenness keeps us from being a friend of sinners. And of each other.
I think we Jesus-followers need a primer on FRIENDSHIP! What’s involved in being a good friend? The philosopher Plutarch said, “I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.” “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives,” said Euripides.
How necessary are true friends? Orson Welles was pretty negative when he wrote, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” My patron saint, C.S. Lewis, bluntly said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”
The Bible has much to say about friendship. For example, the Apostle Paul often uses the expression “my dear friends” as he writes his epistles (see Rom. 16:8-9). He refers to Luke as “our dear friend” (Col. 4:14). The Lord Jesus frequently used the word “friends” when He addressed His followers and said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn. 15:15). “You are my friends,” Jesus said, “if you do what I command” (Jn. 15:14). Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13). After His resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples (who had gone back to work) and He calls out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (By the way, the question is asked in such a way in Greek as to imply a “no” answer. Jesus knew they hadn’t caught any fish! Jn. 21:5).
We read in James 2:23, “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” Oscar Wilder once quipped, “True friends stab you in the front.” He really wasn’t all that wrong, for Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” There is a lot of wisdom in Octavia Butler’s statement that “Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.” (to be continued)