There are different grades of friendship in our lives and also in the wisdom writings of the Bible. Our research confirms the Biblical experience that friendships are vital for lowering suicide risk, improving life and work place satisfaction, social cohesion (communities and neighbourhoods that work), physical health and longevity, psychological resilience and successful intimate relationships. The question is, how do we recognise and nurture friendship? [Audio | Notes]
For further thought
Readings: Proverbs 3:29; 16:28; 17:29; 18:24; 24:17,19; 25:8,9,17,21 22; 27:6,14,17; 25:20; 26:18,19; 28:23
Our research tells us that friendships are vital for lowering suicide risk, improving life and work place satisfaction, social cohesion (communities and neighbourhoods that work), physical health and longevity, psychological resilience and successful intimate relationships.
Q: Given what we know about the importance of friendships, what is our experience of friendship?
In our age of framilies, friendships have sometimes taken over the the job of family. We often find that a worshipping community of friends provides a surrogate family where we can re-learn values and the skills required for successful relationships.
Q: Do you find navigating friendships complex or simple? Why?
Q: What are the different types of friendships you know of?
In the book of Proverbs there are two words for friend. One word is also translated as neighbour in Hebrew (you can say the famous command from Leviticus 19 as: ‘Love your friend/neighbour/associate/colleague as yourself.’) the other word is much rarer and is used of especially close companions or partners – for example, of marriage in 2:17. This means that the idea of friendship occurs with the broader idea of neighbour throughout the Old Testament even while different grades of friendship/relationship are recognised.
Here are three headings under which I have tried to summarise the principles Proverbs teaches us are wise for navigating friendships.
Reliability / Constancy
Q: 14.20 and 19.4,6,7 describe shallow, passing friendships – why are these so common?
Q: 18.24; 17.17 and 27.10 describe committed friendships – why are these so uncommon?
Q: What kind of discernment do we need about friendships in 27.6, 9, 17; 12.26; 24.24,25 or 26.18,19?
Q: How have your friendships formed you?
Respect is owed to a neighbour as a friend but it is not rudderless or sentimental friendship that Proverbs has in mind. For example: respect is also due to enemies in 24.17-20; 25.24, 25. We must also be careful about our words about our neighbours/friends as they say more about us than we intend: 11.12; 14.21. Respect also extends to meeting needs in 3.26,27
Q: What does true friendship look like?
Can God be our friend?
Though Jesus speaks of his disciples as friends and his death as a death for his friends (John 15.9-17) and it is common for us to sing about Jesus as a friend (for example: ’What a friend we have in Jesus..’) it is rarer for us to speak about God as our friend. Yet the encouragement is there, for example we are taught to imitate the practical faith of Abraham because he is known as a friend of God (James 2, Isa, 2 Chronicles). But we see friendship more so in the desire of God to be with his people as a compassionate, loving and caring neighbour (Genesis 3.8-9, the tabernacle of Exodus and Leviticus, Revelation 21.1-4). Of course, the ministry of Jesus is based on the mutual the desire he shares with his Father and the Spirit brings us the presence of both Jesus and the Father (John 14.15-21)
Q: In what ways does your relationship with God show the marks of friendship we learn from Proverbs? How is this friendship forming you?
Q: Many of the characters in the Bible have very robust discussions with God (Abraham, Psalms, Job). Is this a mark of your relationship with him?
Q: While we can be casual about our friendships or make the mistake of being over familiar this is as unwise in human relationships as it is in relating to God. We see this with Jesus, our friend (John 15) but also our creator (Colossians 1) our glorified Lord (Revelation 2 & 3), our High Priest and mediator (Hebrews 4) to whom our judgement has been given by the Father (John 12). How do we maintain our reliability with discernment and respect in this relationship?