Friendships Are Deepened
Friend is a happy word. It makes us feel safe. It evokes a sense of support, love, security, connection and more.
If you have a good friend you’re better for it. It’s a comfortable place to be, or so the thinking goes, and the Bible makes statements that support these flowery ideas:
- A friend loves through all kinds of weather – Proverbs 17:17 (MSG).
- This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends – John 15:13 (MSG).
- Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor – Ecclesiastes 4:9 (KJV).
- Better is a neighbor (friend) that is near than a brother far off – Proverbs 27:10 (KJV).
- A sweet friendship refreshes the soul – Proverbs 27:9 (MSG).
But these verses represent the ideal. They describe friendship at its best. Can we really expect that? Is any friendship 100% no fault? Or does reality provide a different perspective?
To balance things out the Bible also warns us that friendship can sometimes be a cover-up for questionable motives.
- Wealth makes many friends – Proverbs 19:4.
In other words, if you are wealthy you’ll have an endless number of people wanting to get close.
And sometimes the wealthy give gifts to attract friends.
- Every man is a friend to him that gives gifts – Proverbs 19:6.
In addition to these verses the Bible also provides insight through examples of friends. The examples illustrate both the good and the bad.
Abraham And Eliezer
Eliezer was Abraham’s servant. He was born in the home headed by Abraham and his parents were probably Abraham’s servants also. You might think of them as employees, kind of. Some would call them slaves.
Abraham was like the CEO. His home was a small enterprise, even a small city state. Everyone in the home was protected so each was motivated to keep it running well.
The fact they were mobile means it needed many people to make everything work smoothly.
Eliezer was one of those people. He served under Abraham’s leadership and his talents made him so useful he was promoted to the highest possible position, second only to Abraham.
But there is more. His trustworthiness and decency as a person made him a trusted friend.
That means he moved from a low to a very high status. He managed the day to day operation of Abraham’s household – and it was large – and became a trusted friend to Abraham. Not what you would normally expect where servants are concerned.
Before you get upset about servanthood, alleging slavery, remember that Eliezer would have inherited all of Abraham’s wealth (and responsibility) had Abraham not fathered a child. This was very different to slavery in more recent times.
In the hierarchy of Abraham’s house there were no limits on upward mobility. Servanthood was an opportunity to prove oneself, not a cage locking you in.
But the real question is, how can we be sure Eliezer became a friend? How do we know the two were buds?
One piece of evidence that proves they were close was Abraham entrusted him with the responsibility of finding a suitable wife for Isaac. From a human point of view, Eliezer might be the last person to trust with such an important job.
Isaac’s birth meant Eliezer was no longer the automatic heir, which is a good reason for him to be vindictive. Instead, and just like a genuine friend, he found the best wife he could for Isaac and Abraham was the one who asked him to do find her.
That’s trust! You would only ask a friend to do that.
What we learn from this example is that genuine friendship has a way of bridging large gaps in social status. A servant (slave) can became a most trusted friend to the boss (master).
God And Abraham
Another friendship that bridged a wide gap in status was between God and Abraham. A close look helps clarify issues about friendship with God.
People often make assumptions about God’s relationship to humans. One prominent idea is that God and humans could never relate on a friendship level. God’s too high or holy or deep. He’s out of reach. We could never relate.
Those adopting this assumption try their best to reach Him, sometimes suffering for it, but never feeling any closer.
Martin Luther is a good example. Before he caught on to faith, he tried this approach. He fasted, spent long hours in prayer and confessed frequently.
The outcome of all that effort in his words was, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of Him the Jailer and Hangman of my poor soul.” (Kittelson, James. Luther The Reformer. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishing House, 1986, 79.)
Faith changed all that for Martin.
But there is another assumption just as insidious as the first: that every Christian is automatically the friend of God, that each is on His side and He on theirs.
It is true that God is our friend. He provides for us everyday, even when we aren’t grateful, and Jesus paid the ultimate friend sacrifice to save our souls. That makes God our friend. It doesn’t mean we are His.
We can be His friend. He wants us to be His friend, but that won’t happen unless we do something in return to qualify. Until we do, we are only beneficiaries.
The good news is God called Abraham His friend. He referred to Israel as:
. . . The seed of Abraham, my friend. (Isaiah 41:8)
And James tells us how he achieved that status:
Abraham believed God . . . and he was called the friend of God. (James 2:23)
Abraham qualified as a friend not because he was perfect. Not because he always understood God. Not because he always obeyed. He failed several times in very big ways.
Abraham became God’s friend because he never stopped believing, even after his most embarrassing mistakes. It would take a very strong person to keep believing Sarah would birth a child, and Abraham wobbled on several occasions, but in the end Isaac was born.
What we learn is that becoming God’s friend is not automatic. We must believe.
Job And His Peers
We learn many lessons from Job. One of the most important involves friendship.
Job was a great and blessed man in many respects:
- He had a big family, seven sons and three daughters.
- His children were successful and got along well.
- He was the greatest (wealthiest, most respected) person in the east.
- He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen and 500 female donkeys.
- God said no one was as blameless and upright as Job.
But in spite of that Job went through a calamitous period during which he lost everything but his wife: all of his children, all of his possessions and even his health.
In response his friends came to comfort him. A nice gesture on their part but the sympathy didn’t last long. When it seemed apparent that Job’s situation wasn’t going to get better his friends began to question his innocence.
They interpreted his loss as evidence his life was no longer upright. There had to be sin somewhere and they pressured him to confess.
You have to wonder about their motives. Were they really concerned about his uprightness? Or were they just embarrassed to be associated with someone whose status had changed so radically?
Would they still be his friend if things didn’t improve? Could they still be his friend?
In response, Job maintained two testimonies throughout the ordeal.
- One, he had done nothing to deserve his bad fortune.
- And two, he constantly affirmed the goodness of God.
He never accepted blame or accused God, meaning of course, he saw it as a mystery. He complained about his predicament. He questioned why this happened to him but he had nothing to confess and never blamed God.
In the end God restored Job but would only bless Job’s friends if Job prayed for them. Interesting. In the end Job was more the friend than the others.
From Job we learn that people who become our friends, mostly because we are equals, may be the first to question our motives and morals when things go badly. In other words, the people we assume are friends may become more like enemies.
But it’s also true that they can be restored.
We also learn that calamities provide teaching moments for friendships. Friends learn a lot about each other and God that they might not learn had there been no problems.
David And Jonathan
Normally David and Jonathan would have been competitors. They were contemporaries in line for the throne. Jonathan was the heir apparent by birth. David was the heir elect by God’s choice.
They were also peers, equals in one important sense. They were both very courageous and capable warriors. They were standouts, leaders among men, and this fact generated a lot of respect between the two.
Instead of becoming jealous, they treasured the camaraderie.
Another quality they shared was faith. Both had great faith and they exercised it in all things. David never tried to take the throne and Jonathan never got in his way.
From David and Jonathan we learn that blood isn’t always thicker than water.
We also learn that great friends are jealous for each other. They’re never envious.
It made David a better king. It made Jonathan a better person.