Finding True Friendship

Friendship, what is it?

The older I get, the more important friendships are to me. The older I get, the more I realize that very few people have time for friendships. It’s just not a priority to them. Especially those who are involved in Christian ministry.

Friendships were pretty important to Jesus (John 15:15; 11:11).

I’ve always liked Aristotle’s analysis of the three kinds of friendships.

Usefulness: These are friends only when they need something. Like a book endorsement. :-)

Mutual Interest: These are friendships based on a common interest like golfing, playing cards, underwater basket weaving, etc.

Virtue: These are friends who value one another just because of who they are. They simply enjoy spending time with each other and supporting one another.

I think one of the best definitions of a friend comes from George Elliot:

“Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words.”

Here’s my definition of a true friend:

A true friend hurts when you hurt and joys when you rejoice.

A true friend loves you even when you have a disagreement.

A true friend will level with you even if it may sting.

A true friend is someone you can talk to anytime.

A true friend trusts you.

A true friend is genuinely interested in your life.

A true friend will stand with you in the day of trial and attack.

Someone once said that the prescription for having the kind of friend you’ve always wanted is to B1.

While this makes a great tweet, being the kind of friend you yourself would like isn’t the antidote to developing true friendships. The reason is because a friendship requires two parties who are willing to take the time to get to know one another.

Finding a true friend, therefore, is like finding a precious gem.  Because few people make the required time.

Take a moment to answer these questions:

Knowing that a friendship takes two willing parties, is it possible to be good friends with someone who doesn’t agree with you politically, spiritually, or theologically?

In other words, can Rush Limbaugh be good friends with Bill Maher? Can John Piper be good friends with Joel Osteen? Can Richard Dawkins be good friends with Al Mohler? Can Frank Viola be good friends with Rob Bell on the one hand and Mark Driscoll on the other?

Hmmm . . .

I’m willing . . . ;-)

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  • Slow Learner

    My oldest and closest friend is an Evangelical Christian, recently recovered from young-Earth Creationism; and we haven’t tiptoed around our religious and philosophical differences but rather tackled them head on. To me, avoiding differences with someone is a sign either of fear that your beliefs don’t hold up, or condescension that you don’t think they can handle the truth.

    I did have a close friendship with a Salafi Muslim, but that has drifted away rather as he uses every contact to push his religion on me, and clearly now sees me solely as a potential host for his favourite mind-virus, rather than a human being.

  • Cheryl Smith

    This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite books, Vital Friends, by Tom Rath. It’s based on statistically valid data from the Gallup organization, and talks about the science of friendship. Compelling and right on target!

  • Frank Viola

    Michelle: That makes two of us. Hope we’re not the only ones! ;-)

  • pgepps

    Friendship is possible across vast differences, but unlikely. There’s a positive spin and a negative spin to that. Positively: friendship will tend to reduce the vastness of the differences through mutual understanding and, one hopes, increased willingness to assent to the truth. Negatively: friendships across vast differences often happen simply because the truth is neglected, so that the differences between the views as actually held are smaller than they would be if they were held as truth that matters.

    And the good news is that many friendships happen because we discover that certain neglected truths had *led to* the appearance of vast differences, which are easily overcome by those willing to try.

  • Michelle

    Love your definition of friendship, Frank. And yes I think if both sides are willing friendships can be built between those who disagree theologically or politically. Some of those I consider friends are on opposite ends of the political spectrum from me or dedicated to different religious philosophies, but when both sides are willing to engage in rational discussion, you can find common ground and both inspire the other to really examine the foundations of belief and come out wiser and stronger. It’s about respect and honesty.

  • Joyce

    If two are willing, take the time, and define friendship like you and George Elliot, then there exists some core values that should get them beyond political, spiritual, and theological differences. That’s in theory. I think both those definitions are spot on. When I think about the people I have/had true friendships with, I know without a doubt God brought us together, by proximity and mutal desire.

  • Sally Roach

    Since our move to another state 17 years ago, I haven’t developed any close friends like I had in the previous place. It seems to get harder as I get older. The good news is that I’ve grown closer to my husband and I can say that we are the very best of friends. I think it would be difficult being close to someone who thinks so differently spiritually and politically, but I suppose it’s not impossible.