True Friendship is Rare But it is Possible (1 John 3:18)
A counseling client once complained he had never had a true friend in his life. According to this individual, when he needed them most his supposed friends always seemed to make themselves scarce. It was as if they thought his problems were contagious. Phone calls to his “friends” went to phone mail and were never returned. Emails and texts went unanswered. Because of this, my counseling client had no one to turn to during a couple of rough patches in his life. These experiences had soured him on friendships.
Unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon. People who need help coping with the hard times in life often find their supposed friends are really just fair-weather friends; people who can be counted on during the good times but quickly vanish during bad times. My advice to this client was two-fold. First, I reminded him he need never be alone because the Holy Spirit is always with him. Second, if he wanted to have true friends, he needed to know what a true friend really is. True friendships are admittedly rare, but they are possible if you know how to be one yourself and what to expect from others you want to call friends.
Let me begin with what a true friend is from a Biblical perspective. By true friend I mean someone who treats you in a Christ-like manner in all situations. I do not mean someone who hangs out with you after work, share hobbies with you on weekends, or joins you in after-hours activities. A supposed friend might do all of these things but so might other people who are not really true friends. Just having things in common with another person does not mean the two of you are friends. While it is good to share common interests with those you consider friends, the person who joins you to watch a ballgame on Friday night or go shopping on Saturday morning won’t necessarily be there for you when times get hard.
A true friend is not just a person who shares your interests. In fact, shared interests aren’t even the most important element of a friendship. Mere acquaintances can enjoy common interests. The key to true friendship can be found in 1 John 3:18 where we read: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” In practical terms, this verse means a true friend is one who is honest, patient, humble, thankful, selfless, and forgiving toward you; a person who cares enough to tell you what you need to hear as opposed to what you want to hear. Let’s look at each of these characteristics of true friendship:
Honesty. Scripture is replete with admonitions to be honest, not the least of which is the Ninth Commandment. True friends are honest with each other even when it is uncomfortable to do so. A true friend will love you enough to tell you the truth you don’t want to hear when that is necessary.
Patience. True friends are patient with each other. Being patient means calmly enduring the everyday trials and inconveniences of life as well as the perceived foibles of other people, and doing this while maintaining a positive and loving attitude. The Bible is clear in teaching that we are to be patient. In Ephesians 4:1-2, we are admonished to live our lives with patience. In Colossians 3:12, we are admonished to put on patience. Impatience, on the other hand, is an attitude of annoyance with the perceived foibles of other people as well as with the everyday inconveniences of life. It is a manifestation of self-centeredness. Self-centered people don’t make true friends.
Humility. God expects us to be humble. Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride is often the cause when friendships breakup or don’t work out. Pride is synonymous with self-centeredness, arrogance, and egoism, none of which lends itself to true friendship.
Gratitude. Gratitude is a powerful concept. People who appreciate the asset their friendship is are thankful for each other. Because of this they never take each other for granted. The Bible is replete with admonitions to be thankful. For example, James 1:17 states that everything that is “desirable…comes down from heaven.” A true friendship is a gift from God that should be appreciated.
Selflessness. True friendships are held together by selflessness. Being selfless can be a real challenge because it requires us to put the interests of others ahead of our own wants and needs. Human nature is such that we are hardwired to be selfish, not selfless. But the Bible is replete with guidance admonishing us to be selfless, to seek not our own good but the good of others. Paul wrote of this in Philippians 2:3-4 where he told us to do nothing from “selfish ambition” and to count others “more significant” than ourselves.
Forgiveness. Over the course of my career, I have seen friendships torn apart because one or both of the parties in the relationship refused to forgive. I have known people who harbored grudges not just for years, but decades. As Christians, we are admonished to forgive others just as we are forgiven. In a sinful world, you must be willing to forgive people you have no desire to forgive and who, in your mind at least, do not deserve forgiveness. Never forget that Christ forgives us, and we certainly don’t deserve His forgiveness. The willingness to forgive repentant friends is essential to lasting relationships. Why is forgiveness so important? First, it is important because forgiveness is a Scriptural mandate. It is so important that Christ included it when he gave us the Lord’s Prayer to demonstrate how we should pray: “…and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Another reason forgiveness is important is that when we forgive friends who have disappointed us, we follow in Christ’s footsteps. If Christ can forgive sinners like you and me, surely we can forgive a truly repentant friend who has let us down in some way.
True friendships may be rare, but they are possible for those who are willing to follow the guidelines provided for us in Scripture.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press.