How would you define friendship? I typed “friend” into my web-browser’s image search and these images are some that came up. The first picture is a website banner for a rewards program. When we think about friendship, it is tempting to think about our friends as people who, by our knowing, benefit us in some way. So, we keep those people in our lives that fill some need or some void that we have. Friends are often seen as the means to some end.
The second picture represents social media icons. Many of us measure our friendships based on interaction, whether using social media or not. A friend is someone we interact with and who interacts with us on a regular basis. Without this interaction, we don’t feel like we have very many friends. We begin to convince ourselves that we are alone even if we are not. This is simply another version of the first picture. We end up using others so that we can feel good about ourselves. Again, we do this both on and off social media.
The third picture insinuates that a friend is someone who makes us feel comfortable and causes us to smile and laugh. When we become uncomfortable, we are quick to associate more with people who are not “toxic.” This is another version of the first and second definition of “friend.”
The fourth picture represents two possible definitions of “friend.” First, a friend might be seen as one who accepts the helping hand of another. This definition can be similar to the first three, but doesn’t have to be. Second, a friend might be seen as one who pulls or pushes others on to higher things. His interest is not merely helping, but actually building others up.
How do you define what a friend is? How does the Bible define what a friend is? How might the salvation of our Lord, Jesus Christ, teach us about what it means to be a true, deep friend to others?
This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!
Friendship in the Bible
No matter what I want to consider in this life, and looking forward to eternity, I consider how God is and, because I am made in God’s image, and I rest in who God is. God’s love in me drives me to live my life a certain way. This is no different from friendship. So we ask, what kind of friend is God? What kind of friend does this lead us to be?
When we pay close attention to this passage of Scripture, we learn that God is the only one upon whom His friendship depends. If I wrong God, He is still the same. He is the friend. Not only this, but Scripture identifies people, that’s us, as helpless and as sinners against God. Yet, God is a friend.
We remember that Paul is building from the idea of faith, which is given as a gift, and righteousness, which is imputed. Works have nothing to do with the friendship of God, period. We consider the words in this text. While we were helpless, Christ died for the ungodly. That means while we were unable to help ourselves, Christ reached down and didn’t merely offer a helping hand, but He hosted a divine intervention because I was so lost that I was never going to find my way.
We also read that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We are reconciled to God in Christ’s death, by grace and through faith. Faith is a gift. God justifies by imputing His very own righteousness. We will be saved through Christ’s life, because He is the righteous one! Even our understanding of what it means to be a true friend comes out of our understanding of genuine faith and imputed righteousness. Without understanding what God is doing in salvation, something as simple as God’s friendship is impossible to think about. If we haven’t taken the time to understand these things, neither will we understand what a true friend is.
This is clarified more for us in John’s gospel. In context, Jesus has already said that He is the true vine and that He is the one pruning the branches. Those who abide in Him will produce much fruit. He continues:
“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. This is what I command you: Love one another” (John 15:11-17).
Those who do what Christ’s commands are those branches on the vine that have been pruned by Christ and who are bearing the fruit that only comes from Christ. It is by grace from Christ that we get to do this, not by our own works. We are Christ’s friends if He has brought us to abide in Him by grace and are producing fruit by faith.
This is the standard for friendship that God sets. It is the kind of friend He is. We are helpless and sinful. Yet He fights for us, redeems us, brings us to Himself, and produces much fruit through us. Not only this, but He actually calls us friends even though we are helpless and sinful. Christ does not call us friends because of what we have done or not done, He calls us friends because He revealed the things of the Father to us. We did not choose Christ, He chose us. He is the one who appointed us. The language is so clear. The point is that Christ lays down His life for His friends. He doesn’t call us His friends because we have something to offer or because we are fun to be around or because we make Christ comfortable. He calls us His friends because He has chosen us and because He is drawing us into grace through His death. This is true friendship! Being a true friend is the most uncomfortable thing that we can be to others because it literally means that we don’t require anything, but give everything. We don’t really have to wonder why Paul said the types of things he said and wrote the things that he wrote:
“No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:29-32).
In Ephesians, Paul connects our building other’s up with the grace of God. The focus is first on Christ. Then it is on our being a good friend even if there is nothing to gain. If we find that there is much complaining in our own lives, or much saying anything that does not build others up unconditionally, we show that we are not good friends. We fail to be good friends because we have not rested in God’s unconditional grace. Do we understand that word, unconditional? It’s more than this, right? I’m not merely building others up. If the goal is Christ, then I am building others up toward Christ. What I say and what I do, if I want to be a good friend in the likeness of Christ, always draws others to rest in Christ’s grace. It doesn’t draw others to me, my preferences, or my rules. That’s selfish. That is conditional friendship in which I call people friend because they have something to offer me. My goal as a friend is the same as God’s, that people may experience His amazing grace. As I interact with people, talk with people and about people, I ask this question: Is what I am doing or saying building someone up in grace or am I being selfish and, in doing so, grieving the Holy Spirit?
We are redeemed by grace through faith, and so the only right way to relate to others is by grace through faith.
Christ is the true friend.
Being a true friend
In this way, Jesus Christ is the true friend. Why? Even though we are helpless, He raises us up, bringing us from darkness into light. Even though, according to John 1, we love the darkness, Christ delivers us. His concern isn’t making us comfortable. It isn’t pleasing us. It is working for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. One of the greatest lies I think we convince ourselves of is that Christ is working for our comfort on this earth. That is the prosperity Gospel. Our good is realized in His glory. Like a parent teaching an important life-lesson to a son or daughter, the best thing for us is usually not what we would choose while we are still wretched.
We often speak of friendship with Christ as if we can actually be good friends to Him. Can we actually be Christ’s friend? The scriptures state clearly that we are helpless. We are unrighteous. We have nothing to offer Christ. This also means that I am incapable of being a friend to Jesus like He is to me. I am unable to build Jesus up toward Jesus. Jesus is the perfect picture, then, of what unconditional friendship is. He calls me friend even though I am incapable of really being a friend to Him. Jesus is on a different level when it comes to friendship.
It is this type of grace that leads us to think about how we interact with others on this earth and how we will interact with others forever in the resurrection.
Friendship in the church and forever
There have been a few moments in my life, after I surrendered to Christ, that I almost gave up on the organizational church. As I’ve mentioned several times before, I feel like almost my whole generation left the organizational church because what we saw in large part growing up did not reflect Scripture. We would read the Bible and see something entirely different in the church. So, we left the church.
Just in the past week, I saw a video of an influential figure in today’s world saying that people didn’t need to be in church. People are the church. He said that we don’t need to go to a building, but instead simply talk with our families around the dinner table. As long as we say something about Jesus, we are good. That is shallow Christianity with no roots. Added to this, I read about a book that has come out called “Quit Church.” Here is the description on the back:
“Let’s face it. Church isn’t working. We hear sermons about the abundant life Jesus promised, but how many of us are actually living it? How many of our churches are thriving? How many people in our congregations are experiencing God’s blessings? Maybe it’s time to call it quits.”
The book actually looks like a great book and I plan on reading it. The thought that church doesn’t work resonates with so many people in the United States and around the world. If the church actually functioned like a church should, we wouldn’t be able to keep people away. In order to realize how a church functions, we have to understand the basics of faith and righteousness. Faith is a gift. Righteousness is imputed. Salvation is entirely by grace. I am helpless. I am unrighteous. I have loved the darkness. Yet, even though I was helpless, Christ not only spared me judgment but also gave me life and calls me friend. This is grace. Yet, this is the very thing that most organizational churches are missing.
It should be the case in the church today, and the church really is the people, not the building, that the friendship of Christ drives us to be genuine friends to others. What does it mean to be a friend to someone else? It means that we are working for one another’s good. That we are encouraging one another to be stronger in the faith. There is no condemnation, here. This is precisely the reason that God, in His word, has revealed to us the necessity of meeting together as the church. We see this in Hebrews 10:24-25:
“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
According to the author of Hebrews, the whole reason coming together regularly as a church body is so necessary is so that we can promote love and good works within one another, encouraging one another. This thing isn’t a social club where we can come chat with friends for an hour and leave unchanged. It isn’t a program where we fill a seat for a certain period of time so that some numbers can be recorded. It isn’t a restaurant where we look at the buffet, pick what we like, and judge others for eating something different. No! If this is what our gathering is, then there really is no point in us meeting. I hate, and I know that’s a strong word, the meetings that can be described this way. I need something deeper. I need something biblical! I must, in response to the grace of God by which He helped me even though I am helpless, come to give myself to my brothers and sisters hoping that I can somehow promote love and good works, encouraging them in the faith. Talking deeply about what God has given for our consumption so that we might have deep roots and so that everyone might genuinely profit because everyone is pursuing Christ and drawing others deeper into God’s grace, which is only available because God has chosen to give it.
This will be what friendship is like forever. It won’t be shallow. It will actually be Christ-centered. That is why God does what He does in redemptive history. He has given the church gathering to be a picture if His eternal love and our everlasting existence. That is why Revelation states that those who are saved by grace through faith will forever be serving God and growing in His understanding as they walk by faith, which at that time will be sight (Revelation 22:3-5, Isaiah 60:19-20, Zechariah 14:7, 2 Corinthians 4:18).
We are, then, focused on being a friend in the likeness of Christ. Yes, even with people who are helpless because we are also helpless.
Friendship in society and in this wretched world
As we relate to those outside the church, whether or not they have heard of Jesus or honor Jesus with their lives, we choose to be good friends and to call people friend. After all, this is what Jesus has done and does with us. We expect nothing in return. We serve people. We do everything we can to provide needs and share Christ’s Gospel, because the Gospel is life to the lifeless and help for the helpless.
Just this week, I talked with a lady from out of town. She had a need and she couldn’t find a church where she lived that would help. The worst part is that the need wasn’t even that big. It didn’t require much. What a sad state when the very people who are called in Christ to be help for the helpless do nothing because they are afraid or because they are so condemning of others. We must be resolved to let Christ’s light shine through us. We learn a song that sounds a little like that in children’s church. We are here to be the church, to be a genuine friend to the world as Christ is. Do we see how a correct understanding of faith and righteousness in salvation leads us to think this way? Moreso, do we recognize how a misunderstanding of faith and righteousness and salvation has kept so many organized churches from actually functioning like the church for so long? If righteous is something that we can be, then there is reason for us to refuse, condemn, or require much of people. If faith is gained by righteousness, then I have reason to neglect the needs of others. The Gospel, though, does not say that God helps those who help themselves. It states explicitly that God helps the helpless. We are God’s people. God, we need you to save us!
I understand, though. It’s easier to remain safe and to be comfortable. I actually tried to remember a time in my life after coming to Christ that I felt comfortable following Christ, and I can’t. I guess that means I can’t really relate to the comfortable ‘christian.’ As we grow, we experience growing pains. If we never experience this discomfort, it is likely that we are not maturing in the faith or growing in Christ. The good news? Christ helps the helpless and we get to experience unconditional grace.
Christ is the true friend.
Therefore, I strive to be a true friend.