By Aaron Brown, Crosswalk.com
Friend. We all know the word. We all have at least one. We see them when logging into social media, going to work, in our neighborhoods, gyms, restaurants, everywhere. We use that word to refer to most people in our lives, or rather, that’s what most of us do. But are these people really friends?
I have an infamous reputation in my social circles. Aside from having very few friendships, those who know me well, know me to be both honest and direct. If you don’t want an answer, don’t ask the question. Still, one question comes up time and time again. A question I dread answering because people hate hearing the answer.
“You consider us friends, right?”
Yikes. But since they asked the question, I must give an answer. No.
And I don’t simply say, no. I take time to explain why. What I wished more people understood is that I’m probably not their friend either, that’s just what they call me. Somehow, we as a society have grown too accustomed to the word friend. Such an endearing term has lost meaning with overuse.
We expect to be called a friend and throw that label on almost everyone else. Instead of working up to an actual friendship, as long as someone makes us feel good, they’re a friend. Sadly, Christians fall into this category too. Instead of calling someone an acquaintance, we opt for social convention and call them a friend. But are we being honest? Are we being Biblical?
While we can easily point to social media as a culprit for this problem, pointing fingers doesn’t offer a solution.
What is the solution? If we act in accordance with Scripture, modeling relationships after Jesus, and using Biblical wisdom, we should come to two realizations. First, a select few genuinely hold the title of “friend.” Secondly, we learn how to properly define the word friend.
If you want to better define the relationships in your life, here are 4 ways to know you’ve found a friend.
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1. Quality Time
“One with many friends may be harmed, but there is a friend who stays closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
Aside from family, we spend a great many hours with friends. Whether we hang out at the mall, the movies, the park, whenever we get together with friends, good times ensue. Usually. Not only do we enjoy our time together, we actively seek more time. There are certain people, acquaintances, whom we enjoy spending time with, but we can live with or without seeing them. Friends, on the other hand, we need to spend time with. They satisfy the longing for human connection within us. Thus, we want to connect with them over and over.
Not only that, they want to connect with us too. There are people whom we can chase after, vying for their attention, but friends are people who will express mutual interest. They want to stick close because of how much they value you. Acquaintances may express interest in hanging out, but don’t expect a ton of effort.
Acquaintance or friend, what’s also true about the people we spend time with is that they shape our values. There’s an aphorism that goes something like, “You are what you eat,” meaning what you put into your body has an effect. Your appearance, weight, confidence, etc. There’s a less popular saying – one that I heard or made up – which says, “You are who you hang out with.” Though a better way to put this would be, the people we hang out with are a reflection of our character.
The next time you consider spending time with someone, consider how much you value them and how much they value you. Are hangout sessions usually fun and full of laughter? If so, they may be a friend.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:27)
Whether someone is liking our posts or offering a compliment, validation sure feels good. But just because someone offers validation does not make them our friend. Friends speak more than just flattery words, they tell us the truth. Sometimes when we don’t want to hear the truth. That’s how they sharpen us, and they do so even if that causes conflict.
One good reason I’ve learned not to call everyone a friend is because of how many people handle conflict. That is to say, they don’t handle conflict at all, let alone well. Natural to any relationship, even our relationship with God, is the human penchant for conflict. Sometimes things happen that we dislike, disapprove of, or downright make us angry. How do we respond to such circumstances? Or rather, how should friends respond?
According to Scripture, we are all natural-born sinners (Romans 3:23). There’s no surprise then that we inevitably find conflict with others. What has surprised me is how often people shy away from handling conflict. Many people are willing to brush things under the rug. And when the lump beneath the rug gets too big, they cut out of the relationship, never discussing the issue at hand. Have you ever been ghosted like this?
If iron sharpens iron, then we have to work together in order to grow. Communication fosters growth within any relationship. When there’s conflict, the best response is to discuss the issue when things happen. If you want to let something go, you can, but you can’t hold onto it either. Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). Keeping a record is equivalent to brushing things under the rug.
There’s no good reason to keep a record either. We should welcome friends calling us out. They do so because they care, and by challenging us, help us become more like Christ.
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“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
Here’s a scenario: you’re driving home at midnight and hit a deep pothole. The quick and sudden mistake renders your car inoperable. You pull over and wonder how you’re going to get home. Aside from the tow truck and maybe the police, who do you think to call?
Who would be willing to leave their home at midnight to come help you?
Friends are people willing to serve, not just when we ask and when they want. Friends serve at times that are inconvenient for them. They are willing to make that sacrifice. Friends put your needs ahead of their own. Of course, this is not true all the time, but more often than not. And definitely more often than acquaintances.
Another reason the service of a friend is so special is because they know how to serve. Anyone can invite you out to eat, but a friend will invite you to a spot you like. With all the time and communication we have with friends, they learn and understand our needs. They know what we want and what we don’t, and they act accordingly.
If someone isn’t willing to serve you, let alone get to know who you are, they’re probably only an acquaintance.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time.” (Proverbs 17:17)
Friends make themselves known by showing unwavering commitment. Most of us have had the experience of people coming into our lives, then seemingly overnight, they vanish. Their reasons for leaving vary, but they leave nonetheless. This is true for relatives, partners, and sometimes those we call friends. However, a true friend, an actual friend, is not someone who would so easily abandon us. They spend time with us, talk to us, serve us, and yes, also commit to us.
Through the thick and thin as the old saying goes. The life of a Christian is not easy. We need like-minded and loving people to help us get through life. Friends don’t just do that. They devote themselves to doing so. We know this is true because friends care about us.
The next time we consider calling someone a friend, we should look at how often they have our backs. Do we have to ask for their support or do they volunteer? Are they there when we need them? Are they understanding? Do they help us grow closer to God?
If we can answer these questions, and find all the aforementioned traits in them, then we should consider ourselves blessed – we found a friend.
You’ve Got a Friend in Me
“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
“You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” is a classic heartwarming song by Randy Newman. If you’re like me, you know the sound from the blockbuster Toy Story. Much like the loving lyrics that touch us, friends mean the world to us. They are the people we can call when our car breaks down in the middle of the night. They are the people we call after a breakup. They are willing to be with us in our highs and our lows. They challenge us, not just affirm us. Friends do so much more for us than our social media followers, coworkers, or neighbors ever will.
So how many do you have?
As Dr. Harold Sala says, “Should you count as many as you have fingers on one hand, you’re blessed. And should you count as many as fingers on both hands, you should shout with joy.”
I’ll be the first to tell you – friends are not easy to find, but when you do, they are so worthwhile. There will be seasons of life where your connection to friends dwindles or maybe a season where you don’t have any friends at all. I’ve been there.
But I stand by what I said earlier. We all have at least one friend, the one above all. God. So, whenever you feel alone or need someone to talk to or spend time with, seek Him. He’s there. He’s available. He loves you. He always will.
He’s a friend to the friendless and a friend when you already have plenty!
“I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15)
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