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Welcome back to our three-part study concerning True Christian Friendship.
Last time we looked at the enormity of the topic. We learned that there is nothing more important than influence, and we recognized that our friends are the most influential people in our lives.
We also learned that people approach the concept of friendship in many different ways, but the best way to understand this topic is to see it from God’s perspective. And that’s definitely what we want to do today.
So today we turn to God’s Word to understand the biblical definition of a friend, because His opinion is the only one that really matters.
But before we do that, if you didn’t hear our last episode, please check that one out before continuing today.
Also, I hope you’ll take the time to check out CelebrationOfGod.com. We’re slowly transitioning it off the Truth.Love.Parent. website, but the reason it’s taking so long is the reason you need to check it out. There are so many worship resources available, and the library just continues to grow.
Definitely check out CelebrationOfGod.com for today’s episode notes, transcript, and discipleship resources, but also because there’s just so much great free content there.
And — speaking of really important content — let’s talk about what it means to be a friend.
The English words “friend” and “friends” appear in Scripture over 100 times. But because they show up so often, and since there’s so much that can be said on the topic, I want to simplify the discussion by dealing with just one main concept.
I believe that understanding this one biblical Truth will frame everything else you need to know about friendship. So, we have to start with this one Truth, and then after we lay that foundation, we’re going to answer five questions concerning your friendships.
In order to appreciate this foundational truth, let’s start by looking at two passages; one from the Old Testament and the other from the New.
The Old Testament passage is Proverbs 17:17, which says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” And then let’s jump over to John 15:13-14 which reads, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Now, I know how trite this may potentially sound, but it’s not trite. God’s Word is never trite. This one truth is absolutely necessary in order to be able to correctly define what a friend is and what an enemy is.
The reality is that a friend — all true friends — love. They truly, biblically love. If they love you, they are your friend. If the don’t, they’re your enemy. And the same is true for the people you love or hate.
Now, unfortunately, we run the risk of confusing our understanding of friendship even more when we bring in the topic of love.
Why is that? Well, just like too many Christians don’t define their friendships by God’s standards, too many Christians don’t know what biblical love is either!
It’s my plan to discuss this topic in far more detail at a later time, but in order to proceed with any clarity, we need to make sure our understanding of love submits to God’s.
The love of God we are commanded to have for Him, our neighbors, and our enemies is an unconditional love that wants and works towards God’s best interest in a person’s life whether they want it or not.
It is absolutely imperative that we stop believing the world’s understanding of love. The world’s messed up ideas concerning love, friendship, and romance are at the root of every relationship issue and sin in the world today.
As Christians, we cannot afford to redefine love or friendship. We will surround ourselves by all the worst influences if we believe that love “accepts me for who I am.” We will inject godless, destructive influences into the most formative relationships in our lives if we believe that a good friend is someone who’s fun to hang out with.
Because biblical love is at the root of biblical friendship, you won’t be able to understand what a good friend is until you can agree with God about what love is. And — on the flip side — the better we understand biblical love, the easier it will be to see our friendships for what they really are.
Okay, so “A friend loves at all times,” and “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Biblical love is the defining characteristic of true, Christian friendship.
So, what does this mean for your relationships?
Let’s move on to our first question . . .
1. Who are your real friends?
The easy answer is those who love you.
“But who loves me?” you might be asking. And the easiest answer to that question is those who want God’s best interest for you. And God’s best interest is defined by careful study and understanding of His Word.
Anyone who influences you to live righteously or whose influence encourages biblical thinking, that person is your friend. That would be loving behavior.
Anyone who engages in biblical one-anothering, a person who speaks the truth of God in the love of God, a person who is part of your discipleship, a person who takes you back to God’s Word when you have questions, a person who isn’t afraid to reprove and rebuke you with the Scriptures when necessary . . . that person is a friend.
Now, that may make all the sense in the world to you. But some of you may be cringing a bit. The people who potentially fit best into that description may be pastors, youth workers, teachers, and parents. And yet, when we’re young, those are the people many of us categorically don’t consider to be our friends.
In fact, the people who we thought were our friends absolutely can’t be described that way.
Now that we’re older, I would hope our understanding would mature, but the unfortunate reality is that as I interact with various individuals in my biblical counseling ministry, I find that we still have a very immature understanding of friendship.
People we barely know are referred to as our friends. Co-workers, fellow students, and other people who don’t know the Lord at all, but who are fun to hang around are the people with whom we choose to spend the most time.
The question about the holiness of their influence doesn’t even come up.
So, do you have true, biblical friends in your life? Can you identify those people by name?
I would strongly encourage you to do so. Whether you realized they were your friends or not, if they have been investing in your life and influencing you in the things of God, those are the relationships you need and should want to have flourish.
Now, I know how counter-cultural this sounds. I know how strange it may feel. But I believe you know all of this to be true.
How many of your “friends” from elementary or junior high or senior high or college do you even talk to today? How many of them really cared about your relationship with God? How many of them actually encouraged you to do right and discouraged disobedience and sin? How many of the people in your life today would you honestly die for?
I promise you that if you have people who truly invest in you and love you as God loves you and are actively working to encourage your relationship with God, you would think very differently about this topic than most people.
But perhaps, this is all very difficult to hear because you don’t truly have any real friends yourself. But let me be honest — and I’m not sure if this will encourage or discourage you — but the people I can call true, biblical friends can be counted on two hands . . . and most of them don’t live anywhere near me.
How many of the people we interact with from day to day actually speak and act in a way that shows us they care about the most important part of who we are — our relationship with God?
Read through the one-anothers in the Bible and ask yourself how many people in your life actually do those things. If you have anyone at all, those are friends, and you should be thankful for them.
But before we move to the next question, we also need to consider the opposite side of this coin.
Your best friends are the ones who love you like God loves you. But what kind of a friend are you?
Think carefully about how the people in your life would describe your influence. Are you simply someone who’s fun to hang out with, or are you someone who sharpens people in their conformity to Christ?
Do you live and let live, or are you intentionally pursuing God’s best for the people with whom you interact on a daily basis?
The point of this study is not merely to judge the quality of our friends — though that is exceptionally important. We also need to judge the quality of our friendship.
Alright, so — most simply — a friend is someone who loves the way God expects us to love. The better they love, the better the friend they are. The better we love, the better the friend we are.
So, this brings up another question that I posed last time . . .
2. Does biblical friendship have to be reciprocal?
And the answer is unequivocally, “No.”
God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. God loves everyone, even the people who are His enemies. He laid down His life for the world even thought the world doesn’t even know Him.
God is the best friend any of us will ever have, but many people hate Him or don’t believe in Him or are angry with Him. Does that mean He’s not their friend? No. He loves all mankind. He wants the best for everyone.
Of course, He is just and holy, and the best a rebellious sinner can receive is a just sentence, but that doesn’t mean that He does not love them.
Now, as we turn the question to our friends, I believe you can look back in your life and recognize people who still loved you even though you rejected them. I hope you are more mature than that now, but you may even have people in your life right now who you’re pushing away for unbiblical reasons, but those people love you regardless of what you do.
Praise God their friendship didn’t have to be reciprocal with you.
Now, let’s look to ourselves. The biblical reality is that I need to be everyone’s friend. Romans 13:8 says, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
God expects me to love everyone, therefore, God expects me to be a friend to everyone. There’s no one for whom I shouldn’t want God’s best for their lives. There’s no one I shouldn’t introduce to Him. There’s no one I shouldn’t point to Him, encourage in Him, admonish in Him, and edify in Him.
Let’s put it this way, you have been tasked by God to be everyone’s best friend.
But — of course — that doesn’t mean that everyone will be your friend. In fact, most people will not want to be a biblical friend to you. In fact, the sad reality is that if you truly love people and speak truth to them and want God’s best interest for their lives, there will be many who will hate you for it and consider you an enemy.
Just keep in mind that their delusion shouldn’t affect how you relate to them. Just keep being their friend, and praise God when you find people who will love you back.
Now, speaking of enemies . . .
3. What do you call someone who hurts you or encourages you to do things that hurt you?
If someone tried to kill you or encouraged you to kill yourself, you would rightly say that they’re not a friend. And you would be right.
What about someone who encourages you to steal, do drugs, or lie?
What about someone whose life is a subtle negative influence? Many people might say, “Well, they’re just a “bad friend.” But let’s be honest, you can no more have a “bad friend” than you have a “good enemy.” But we’re going to talk a lot more about this next time.
Anyway, moving on, if someone encouraged you to cut off your leg, shoot yourself, or break the law, you would be right to say that they’re not a friend.
So, what are they? Technically speaking, they’re enemies. Only enemies seek your destruction.
The problem is that Satan is conniving enough to know that the best enemies call themselves friends. No doubt, Eve would have considered the serpent to be very friendly. Spies and double-agents do their jobs well by convincing you that they’re not your enemy.
There are some people who will actively act friendly but set out to encourage you to do things that are harmful because they don’t like you and they want the worst for you. But what makes them any different from the ones who actively encourage you to sin, but who actually like hanging out with you? In the end, they both are influencing you to do that which will displease the Lord.
But it’s these people who “like” us but who are a bad influence on us that I like to call a confused double-agent.
We see this from time to time in movies. A double-agent “falls in love” with the enemy and because’s he’s actively working to destroy the enemy, he suffers with guilt and confusion, and — in the end — he’ll have to be an enemy or a friend, he can’t be both.
Well, people who like hanging out with you because they think you’re just so cool, but who encourage you to approach life in unbiblical ways are not friends. It doesn’t really matter that you play so well together on the same community soccer team. It doesn’t matter that most of their interactions with you are benign. When someone encourages you to sin against God — either deliberately or by example — that person is acting like an enemy.
So, just as we have to have a biblical understanding of friendship, we have to know what an enemy is if we’re going to manage our influences in a Christ-honoring way.
And — again — as counterintuitive as this may sound, we all do this. We learned from an early age all about stranger-danger. As small children we know that people who would introduce us to drugs or touch us inappropriately or encourage us to cheat on a test aren’t friends.
But the problem grows as the influence becomes more subtle. People who constantly complain aren’t friends. People who are defined by selfishness aren’t friends. People with bad attitudes, people who speak unkind words, people who are lazy, and disinterested in the things of God aren’t good friends.
In fact, I’m going to go so far to say that they’re more of a problem than the ones who might sexually harass us or try to sell us drugs.
In James the Bible says that a massive fire can be started with a single, tiny spark. We all understand the danger of a blowtorch, but I think we far too often downplay the destructive force of the spark.
These benign friends, those who don’t encourage us in the Lord, those who are mostly neutral people, but whose lives are a testament to practically-Godless living . . . these people are enemies. It doesn’t matter how much they like to be around you.
Okay, so our first question was, “Who are my real friends?” And the answer is, “Anyone who works to accomplish God’s best for us.”
The second question was, “Does biblical friendship have to be reciprocal?” And the answer is, “No.” You should be everyone’s friend, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be your friend.
And the third question was, “What do you call someone who encourages you to do things that hurt you?” Obviously, those people are enemies.
So, the next logical question is . . .
4. Does being enemies have to be reciprocal?
And — of course — the answer is, “No.”
Listen, this understanding will greatly help you. How many people have chosen to be unkind to someone else simply because that person has unkind to them? If social media has taught us anything it’s that people so easily choose to hate those who they perceive hate them.
But what if you don’t have to be an enemy just because someone is your enemy? What freedom that realization brings! That woman from work doesn’t like you? Fine. Invite her to your party anyway. That guy on your team views you as his arch-nemesis because of your political views, who cares? Love Him as Christ loves you.
When I was five, there was this big first grader who would frequently knock me on the ground and sit on my chest at recess. When I complained to my mom, she said, “It sounds to me like he needs a friend. The next time he does that, why don’t you ask him if he wants to be your friend.”
I have to admit, as a five year old I thought my mom was crazy. But I distinctly remember lying on the ground a few weeks later with this first grader on my chest — his head silhouetted in the sun — and I remember thinking, “What’s it going to hurt?” And I could hear the hesitancy in my own voice as I asked, “Do you want to be my friend?”
Well, let me tell you. Three things happened.
1. He said, “Whatever,” and he got off me.
2. He never pushed me down or sat on me again.
3. I was the only kindergarten boy to be invited to play with the first graders during recess from then on.
My mom’s counter-cultural advice for me was to tell me to be a friend even though he was being an enemy. What a change we would see in this world if we all did the same.
Remember what Paul says in Romans 12:19-21, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance if mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This goes back to our point about the fact that friendship is not reciprocal. God expects us to be friends to those who would be our enemy. That does not mean that we put ourselves in a situation to be influenced by them, but we put ourselves into a situation to influence them.
Now, let’s finish today with this question . . .
5. Is it ever okay to be someone's enemy?
And the answer again is, no. God commands us to love those who are enemies to us and do good to those who hurt us.
So here’s our study so far in a nutshell:
1. The people influencing you and how you influence others is of eternal significance.
2. The people you call your friends are the people who have the most influence in your life.
3. The world wants us to think that friends are vital to our lives.
This is — of course — categorically untrue, unless the world is defining “friend” the way God does. If they are, then, “Yes,” friendships are invaluable. But merely surrounding myself with a bunch of people who validate my sinful life-choices, never show any interest in my relationship with God, and model for me a godless lifestyle is destructive. Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” You will not be blessed when you hang out with people who aren’t true friends.
4. True friends love us as God loves us and work toward His best interest in our lives. This may sound like a lofty goal, but it can be done. It must be done.
5. Anyone who doesn’t love us and work toward God’s best interest in our lives is an enemy.
And 6. But that doesn’t mean we should treat them any differently, because God wants us to be everyone’s best friend.
Now, I need to stop here and clarify something really quickly. I touched on this briefly a minute ago, but you do not need to hang out with a bad influence simply because God commands you to love them.
My own parents regret encouraging me to hang out with certain people when I was in high school because they were bad influences on me, and instead of being a good influence to them, I succumbed to their bad influences.
And the same is true as an adult. There are some people with whom it would not be wise for me to interact on a casual basis from day to day.
The most loving thing you can do is not casually hang out with an enemy. We need to love God first and foremost. This is why God commands us not to walk, stand, and sit with people who reject Him and His truth.
In fact, the New Testament tells us that though we’re not to fellowship with people like that, we should have a relationship that allows us to share the Gospel. This is called evangelism. Any opportunity you have to share Christ with that enemy is fantastic, but that doesn’t mean you hang out with them more than you do your true, biblical friends.
I suggest individuals like that can be invited to interact with you and your Christ-honoring friends. I do this frequently. I’ll meet someone from the community to whom I can be a friend, and I invite them over for our weekly game night. And who else is there, some of the people I consider to be my closest, biblical friends.
I can be a good testimony and share God’s Truth and love without giving them the opportunity to have a significant negative influence on me.
Now, I know this topic is big, controversial, and likely should have been covered over at least three episodes to do it justice.
I know we will return to this topic many times over the years, and we still have one more part of this series next time, but that doesn’t change the fact that this countercultural understanding of friendship may be confusing.
Please don’t hesitate to seek clarification by reaching out to counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com. We would love to help you apply God’s ideas about friendship in your life.
There are so many good, biblical examples about which we could talk — David and Jonathan, Paul and Barnabas, Jesus and the Disciples — but we just don’t have the time today.
So, next time we’re going to discuss what to do if you have come to realize that you have a “bad friend.” We’re going to get super practical about identifying those confused double agents, those fake friends.
As always, please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets so that more disciples of Christ can learn to be a friend like Christ, and join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing “What is True Christian Friendship? Part 3 | identifying fakes.”
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AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.