Friendship is one of the most difficult relational subjects in our culture today. How do you define friendship? What do you look for in a friend? I don’t know how you answer these questions but I know it’s a struggle.
If you spend any time on social media you’ll see posts, tweets, and memes that go like this: “People inspire you, or they drain you. Pick them wisely.” There are all kinds of variations like, “Some people come into your life just to teach you how to let go,” or “Avoid negative people, for they are the greatest destroyers of self-confidence and self-esteem. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.” I’m sure if you’ve spent more than 15 seconds on social media you’ve seen something like these. (These are all quotes directly from the internet by the way).
But have you ever stop to think about what they’re really saying? Is this how friendship is supposed to be? Here’s the issue:
Friendship is incredibly misunderstood in our culture today. Sadly, so many times we look for people to be our friends it’s in order to fill some kind of void in our own lives. We enter into friendships with expectations of what that person will do for us. Will my friend be there for me? Will my friend make me a better person? Will my friend make me feel better about myself? Will my friend text me first? If not, is this person my friend?
The dark side of this view of friendship is that it simply cannot last. The truth is your friend cannot live up to these kinds of expectations because these expectations are, in fact, unrealistic. When we place parameters on our friendships like these, friendships break—and we are all witnesses a lot of friendships falling apart for these reasons.
This, then, is the more important question: what is the purpose of friendship? Or, should I be friends with someone who doesn’t make my life better?
There’s obviously no better life example to answer these questions than Jesus. One word used in the Gospels to describe Jesus is “friend.” Not just friend, but “friend of sinners.” (Matthew 11:19)
Here are three friendship principles we can gain from Jesus’ life:
1. Being a friend is more about the other person than me.
If Jesus is the standard of a friend, the greatest fact of his friendship is that he was friends with people who could do nothing for him. As a matter of fact, he befriended people at the expense of his own life. His friends would ultimately be the reason he died. That’s why he said:
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Obviously, there was no one in which Jesus could come in contact with that could add to his life. He is, in fact, the Son of God. So Jesus’ motive behind who he befriended was always others, not himself. Jesus was always looking to better others not be made better by them.
Jesus’ choice of friends was about them, not him.
2. Being a friend is more about my character than theirs.
Jesus’ closest friends were a band of men who weren’t exactly on the “A” list of society. Matthew was a tax-collector; hated and mistrusted by just about everyone. Peter, James, John, and Andrew were fishermen; viewed as dirty, smelly, working-class stiffs. You also had Simon the zealot, a guy who was pretty much fanatical about everything; and of course, there’s Judas—everyone knows his story. Jesus’ friends were a bunch of guys no one wanted to hang with. But, Jesus did.
Jesus didn’t spend his time trying to find people of greater character than his and weed everyone else out. He searched for the broken, the weak, the struggling, the sick, the outcast, and maybe most importantly, the people that the arrogant, religious elitists wanted nothing to do with—sinners like me.
Jesus’ choice of friends was about his character, not theirs.
3. Being a friend is about what I can give not what I can get.
Jesus both taught and demonstrated this truth to his disciples. Jesus taught that the way friendship really works is the opposite of our world. Friendship in our world is defined by people looking for other people to live up to expectations, fill voids in our lives, and make us better. No one on earth can make you better, by the way. All of these expectations can only be lived up to by God who created you.
Jesus said it would go like this: “the ones among you considered to be the greatest will be the ones who serve.” (Matthew 20:27 paraphrased by me)
Jesus demonstrated this truth when he, the Son of God, wrapped a towel around his waist and washed the feet of the people for whom he was going to give his life. (John 13) Yes, Jesus even washed the stinky, dirty feet of fishermen. Why? because “the Son of Man came to give his life…” (Matthew 20:28)
Jesus’ choice of friends was about what he could give, not what they might give.
What is friendship all about? Really, it’s about you and me looking for someone who needs a friend and being that friend. Being a friend is not about convenience and not about gain. Being a friend is not about trying to make ourselves feel better but actually trying to help others be better. If you want a great friend, find a person who needs a friend and be the friend they need. Change your expectations of what you may receive from them to the expectation of what God may do through you.