True Friendship

Do you know how many friends you have? Have you counted them lately? If you are on Facebook, this is done for you. It is declared to the world. Some people have 400, 500 even a thousand friends, a young priest I know has 1,416 friends. What a popular man! On Facebook announcements are made declaring new friendships made. If you are considered worthy you may receive a friend request, which you can either confirm or reject and consign the petitioner to the outer darkness of the internet.

I wonder whether Facebook has cheapened the concept of friendship. Do we confuse friends with acquaintances, people we just know? How many true friendships can you enjoy and maintain?

It is said that as blood is thicker than water, we will always be closer to our relatives than to our friends. That is not always the case. The Book of Proverbs says that while a man of many companions may come to ruin, there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. It has been said that friends are God’s apology for relations.

What is true friendship? What marks the distinction between a friend and an acquaintance?

The original meaning of the English word friend is one who is loved. It is seen more clearly in the root of ami in French and amigo in Spanish, which, like the Latin amicus are derived from the verb to love. The Greek word for friend, philo, is also drawn from the verb to love. This is the word used in John’s gospel when Jesus declares to his disciples that they are no longer considered servants but friends. They are his friends, they are loved by him.

The true friend is the one whom you trust that you can say anything to; the one you know is interested in what happens in your life; the person who knows when something is wrong before you tell them; the one that you know will be there for you when you really need them.

As gold is tried in the furnace so friends are tried in adversity.Jesus defines the true friend as one who would go so far as to lay down his to save you. That is what Jesus did for us, and when Jesus bestows the privilege of friendship on his disciples he extends that privilege to us too. To say Jesus is your friend may sound a little trite. To say that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Saviour, Jesus is the Good Shepherd may sound fine, but were you to say that Jesus is your friend, you might well be considered deluded and strange by some people, like a child with an imaginary friend.

But to acknowledge that we are friends of Jesus is to recognize that we our loved by him. He embodies the qualities of true friendship: he is interested in us, and every tiny aspect of our lives, we can trust him like no other person. He is there for us 24/7, even when we are at rock bottom.  

However this friendship is not unconditional. We are his friends, if we do what he commands us. And what is that but to love as he loves us? That love is unconditional. We can say that we love Jesus, that we are his friends, but unless we prove it by loving others in all the challenging ways outlined in his teaching, then that friendship status is as hollow and false as some of the 'friendships' on Facebook. 

In St Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says there will be plenty of people who call him Lord who have not done his will, but done evil to whom he will reply ‘I never knew you.’  They will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

With friendship  comes responsibility. No true friendship works just one way. A friendship is a commitment that you will do whatever you can for your friend. There must be a willingness to accept criticism, to receive an honest answer to a question. George Herbert said that the best mirror is an old friend. A friend is the one who knows all about you, but still likes you.

True friendships are to be cherished and nurtured because they are not easily found. Jeremy Taylor, the seventeenth century divine said that ‘the more we love, the better we are, and the greater our friendships are, the dearer we are to God.’

A friend may well be someone who is a delight to be around, who enhances our appreciation of life.  Winston Churchill declared that meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it. Just look at the fruit of that friendship.


John 15.9-17