This Sunday, July 30, is the United Nations’ International Day of Friendship. I think it’s a worthy theme during a particularly unfriendly time in my home country of the United States and in many other places worldwide. Friends should be important to Christians, as they should be for everyone.
Friendship is Part of Discipleship
For evangelicals like me, making and preserving friendships is a matter of discipleship. Being a disciple means disciplining oneself after a master. Jesus had friends, and following the master teacher means emulating how he related to his circle of friends. So, friendship has as much to do with Jesus’ lordship over our lives as anything else.
As for mimicking our Lord, Jesus was consummately forthcoming with those he was closest to, so we must be honest, candid, and sincere with our friends. He says to his followers in John 15:15, “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.” Two-way truth-telling, in sensitive, discreet, and respectful ways, is part of cultivating healthy friendships.
What Friends Are For
But these friendly relationships are not simply theoretical exercises or fruitless mandates. Friends are essential for so many reasons:
- Friends remind us we are not lone actors. We human beings are social creatures. We need each other for intellectual, emotional, and spiritual support. I believe this social dimension of our nature reflects the very image of God in us. For believers in the Trinity, God’s very nature is relational, between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Like the members of the Godhead, friends complement one another, adding dimensionality, diversity, and capacity to our being. Friends improve us. Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Somebody else’s perspective, life experience, personality, skillset, and knowledge allows us to see, understand, and process things better or differently than we would otherwise.
- Friends can literally be the difference between life and death. (Think of the analogous mountain climbing partner; always safer to have serious fellows along.) Life companions provide strength during times of weakness and vulnerability. Buddies can snatch us from physical danger, rescue us from despair and emotional isolation, and warn us of changes in our appearance, the sound of our voices, or the look on our faces. We often need someone outside ourselves to give us a much-needed reality check.
- Friends help us become resilient to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. A fellow traveler can help us hold tension, disappointment, anxiety, and fear, lessening their impact on our bodies, minds, and souls. A friend can sometimes shield us from the most destructive forces or deflect them permanently or temporarily. A comrade will fight for us, help repel a threat, or even vanquish an enemy. Friends make us stronger.
- Friends can be a revitalizing source of joy, humor, pleasure, curiosity, and entertainment. A good friend will introduce us to music, plays, films, sports, and hobbies we might not discover in any other way. Good friends help us flourish and make life more enjoyable.
This list is not an exhaustive catalog of the benefits friends provide to us. And, of course, to have good friends means being one yourself; that’s why friendship must work in both directions. Friendship is a two-way street: “A man who has friends must himself be friendly,” says Proverbs 18:24. As the adage goes, “Life is made of reciprocity.” Jesus instructed, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) Give someone faithful friendship; chances are, you’ll have a great friend for life.
Friendships As Remedy For What Ails Us
When strife, conflict, retribution, suspicion, resentment, contempt, and ridicule seem to dominate so much of our interactions with one another, valuing friendship can remedy what ails us as a culture and civilization. Friendship not only improves individual lives but can also make whole communities, a nation, and even the world better!
Friends are critical to me–as I hope they are to you. Friendship unites rather than divides people and the world we inhabit.
Here’s to this weekend’s International Day of Friendship!