Our lives are made up of a web of relationships – with colleagues at work, at home with parents, siblings and children, with our neighbors, and so much more. One important type of relationship, which can take different shapes and develop around a variety of interests, is friendship.
Friendships range from the casual acquaintance or former classmate you bump into or “friend” on social media, to the kinds of friendships where you would entrust your life and the lives of your loved ones into their hands.
Some friends are the people we rely on – we cry, laugh, sing, pray, and do life with – and they can do the same with us. To find and have a good friend is something priceless.
Scriptures on Relationships
What does the Bible say about friendship, and what timeless wisdom can we glean from the Scriptures on relationships to navigate this important part of our lives?
We are built for relationships
One of the realities about us as people is that we generally gravitate toward other people and toward relationships with them. Even if we struggle to trust people or connect with them, we have something of a yearning to meaningfully relate to other people. This is understandable when you realize that human beings were built for relationships.
Do you know why you really, really enjoy your friends and their company? And why we crave connection with other people? Genesis 1:27 says that human beings were made “in the image of God.” This means there is something about us which reflects who God is.
We will get into this more a little later, but one of the things about God is that God is relational by nature. God made us to be in relationship with one another – despite being surrounded by immense beauty and a plethora of animals, God thought that human solitude was ‘not good’ (Genesis 2:18).
We need the company and connection with other human beings. That’s why one of the worst punishments which can be inflicted upon a person is to place them in solitary confinement.
While there may be many complications involved, we are fundamentally built for relationships and connection with other people. The capacity and desire for meaningful relationships is an integral part of who we are as beings made in God’s image.
Friendships are enriching
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” says the ancient wisdom from the book of Proverbs (27:17). When we are friends with someone, we let them into our space, let them get to know us, and allow them to have influence in our lives.
When a friend speaks into or over your life, because they are someone you have grown to trust, you take what they say seriously. And so, our friends have a role in developing and molding our character.
If they tell us something true about ourselves, even though it might be hurtful, “wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6). Deep friendships enrich us because good friends challenge us to be better versions of ourselves. In the same way that iron sharpens iron, good friends help to build us up even as we do the same for them.
The Bible also talks about friendships that are deeper than even the bonds of blood. Proverbs 18:24 speaks about “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” One example of this in the pages of Scripture is the relationship between David and Jonathan.
These two men pledged friendship to one another, so much so that when Jonathan’s father, King Saul, was hunting down and wanting to kill David out of jealousy, Jonathan went out of his way to warn his friend to keep him safe (1 Samuel 20). Some friends will go way out on a limb for us, much more than even our own siblings or parents. Such friends are precious.
This is the positive side of friendship, but there is another angle the Bible also talks about.
Certain friendships can derail us
The dark side of friendships is that they can derail us, depending on the person. Because our friendships can shape us in profound ways, we need to be careful who we befriend and invite into our inmost spaces.
As kids, many of us had at least one friend that our parents warned us about that they didn’t want us to play with. At times these parental bans were reasonable, because that kid didn’t care about school and her influence was affecting your grades.
At other times, parents had their own hang-ups and they simply didn’t want their kids to hang with a kid from a different background, and this was often not reasonable. But when God tells us to be careful who we associate with and who we let into our friendship spaces, it is being done from a place of wisdom and love.
God knows us through and through – our strengths, weaknesses, and so much more. God also loves us deeply and desires for us to flourish. The Bible is full of verses that warn us that we can become ensnared in the bad behavior of our friends, such as being hot-tempered (Proverbs 22:24), plotting violence (Proverbs 24:1) or overindulging in alcohol and food (Proverbs 23:20-21).
Whoever we invite into our inmost spaces to become our friends, to have influence in our thinking and behavior, they will have a profound impact on the development of our character. As Paul puts it, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
This does not mean that we are to be unloving, judgmental, hostile, or unhospitable to people who display some of these behaviors. No; Jesus was loving towards us and hung out with the “lowest of the low.” We are to always be courteous, loving, and kind, regardless the individual.
As Paul put it elsewhere, if we refused to associate with everyone who acted in this and other ungodly ways, we would have to leave the world altogether (1 Corinthians 5:10). Friendship, however, is deeper than mere association. To exercise wisdom in choosing our friends, the question is whether we are letting people into a position where they can influence and counsel us toward what is ungodly, or toward what will build up our character and theirs.
A true friend
There is one friendship we have not spoken about yet. Earlier, we touched on how as people we are hardwired for relationships, and that’s because we reflect who God is. Is it any wonder, then, that one of the friendships the Bible talks about is between God and people?
You may know of the song that goes, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear . . . .” This song is talking about something profound – that God desires relationship with people.
Jesus says that His disciples are His friends, and not just simply followers or servants. Do you recall that verse about a friend who sticks closer than a brother? Jesus – who is the same yesterday, today, and forever – exemplified that.
In John 15:13, Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus said this on the evening before He laid down His life for the sake of His friends, and the world. He demonstrated that great love for us.
What’s remarkable about all this is what another Bible writer says: “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:6-8). It’s not for nothing that Jesus was called the “friend of sinners.”
As people, we are hardwired for relationship. We crave connection with other people, and despite some of the difficulties we may have in forming deep and long-lasting friendships, our hearts always yearn to find meaningful relationships.
By applying wisdom in this area of our lives, we can pursue healthy friendships that nourish us and our friends, helping us to grow more into the people we can become as bearers of God’s image.
“Friends”, Courtesy of Omar Lopez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends”, Courtesy of Trung Thanh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Laughing with Friends”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friendship,” Courtesy of rawpixel, unsplash.com, CC0 License