“Be friendly to all, but make none your friends until they know you, and you know them.”
Charles H. Spurgeon.
“Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.”
Charles H. Spurgeon.
In his sermon, “A Faithful Friend,” Spurgeon begins by addressing the human need for relationship and connection. God has not designed us for isolation and companionship is a necessary thread within the fabric of our lives. In this life, we will find ourselves in a myriad of different friendships and relationships. Undoubtedly, some relationships will be easier than others, the kind where you feel refreshed afterward. There will be some friendships where you tend to pour out and give of yourself and service more often than not. And there will be others where you find that you are the individual receiving the care as the other person is pouring into your life. Finally, as we are not static, our relationships are bound to grow, change and shift over time. Some people will naturally drift away. Some will become distant but still dearly loved friends. Others may become hard lessons where God provides us with the gift and opportunity to practice forgiveness.
Looking at the Word of God, we find that this life is not our own. We are called to live a life of service for our King and be imitators of our Saviour, Christ Jesus. Paul often referred to how we should serve one another and pointed to how he served the church. He called us to be imitators of him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Some of his most significant ministries to the early church were his constant service of prayer for believers, his encouragement, and his faithfulness in boldly speaking the truth.
Praying For and With Our Friends
In his book Praying with Paul, D.A Carson discusses how we ought to be praying for one another. When writing to the churches, Paul says, “…constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times…” (Romans 1:9-10). He also asked that others pray for him (Romans 15:30-33). Or take Ephesians 3:14-21, and look at how he prays for those he is writing to. This should be the first and foremost way that we care for our friends. Are you praying earnestly for those around you? Do you lift up your friends in prayer and bring their needs before God. I know even as I write this that this is an area where I lack consistency and discipline. We reach out and ask for prayer, but are we faithfully bringing our brothers and sisters’ needs before God? How often do we find ourselves praying for and with those we call dear friends?
Encouraging Our Friends
The Bible also says that we are supposed to encourage and lift one another up. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25). “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). When we get together, how do we use our time? Is it spent focusing on worldly things, or do we spur one another on to run the race? Do we encourage our friends by caring for their children, sending them notes, making them meals, sitting with them in awkward silences or moments of great pain and sorrow? Do we share burdens and, day after day, pour out of ourselves into the lives of believers and friends around us? Do we celebrate with our friends and rejoice when they rejoice? Do we invest in the encouragement of our friends?
Are You a Bold Friend?
And now, what about boldness? Are you a bold friend? Are we iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17)? “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6). Again, Spurgeon tells us that a faithful friend comes quickly to our side to tell us when we are walking in sin or when we have erred. Having a friend that can boldly speak the truth in love is a cherished friend indeed. If we are genuine friends who desire to run the race together and spur one another on to the finish line, we must also be bold enough to correct a friend in love. If we see our friends walking in sin and turn a blind eye not to stir up arguments, embarrass or hurt them, then we have done more significant damage by condoning their behaviour. In Ephesians 4:15, we are told to speak the truth in love that we may grow in maturity, becoming more like Christ. We are to go to our brothers and sisters in gentleness. But we must go to them! If my sister can see that I am sinning, she should confront me rather than allowing my sin to fester and grow. Being a bold friend also means that we preach the gospel, encouraging one another in biblical truths. We know this to be true – that the gospel is offensive. We also know that the world will not call us friends, that living by the truth of His Word will separate us from those who deem the salvation of the cross foolishness. Yet, may we not bow to the temptation of the world’s companionship but instead remind one another that we are slaves of Christ and safe in the bosom of His word.
Spurgeon describes the difference between acquaintance and friendship, writing that while we should be friendly in manner to all, we should not make anyone our friends until we know that person and they know us. He discusses that friendship is not an object that springs up overnight after a happy encounter, but true friendship is time-tested and proven faithful. We may find that we are attracted to a particular individual’s characteristics, yet how do we know that they are a friend until we have sat with them for long hours, carried their burdens, learned of their character and their beliefs?
As a woman, I think there is an element of Spurgeon’s teaching that is difficult to accept. But consider Christ: He had 12 close friends. Of these, He was closest with Peter, James and John. Often, we adopt the notion that we have to be friends with everyone we meet and connect with. When we think this way, we allow ourselves to believe that we must assume the burden of being close friends with every person who crosses our path. This is an overwhelming and unrealistic standard. We cannot form deep attachments with every person we know. However, we can strive to be friendly and gracious to everyone we encounter while we reserve sharing the more intimate parts of our lives with faithful friends.
Ultimately, we are called to be faithful friends. This means praying diligently for our friends, encouraging them, and boldly speaking the truth in love. If these are the friends that we should aspire to be, we must also aspire to gather these types of friends to ourselves. Do not maintain a friendship with someone simply because they nurse your pride or provide you with a good time. Instead, find dependable friends who pour into your life the same way you are called to pour into their lives. When you find yourself in need of care, will your friend pray with/for you? Will they come to your house and serve you and your family? Will this friend come and speak to you in truth, encouraging you to trust in God and put your hope in the friend who is closer than a brother?
Do Not Forget Forgiveness
In addition to the aforementioned aspects of a friend, I would be remiss if I did not mention forgiveness. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8). Continuously in scripture, we are commanded to forgive and deal graciously with one another. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32). I know that in my own life, I have sinned against my friends and most likely will falter in friendship again. When I consider some of the deepest friendships I have, I can look back and see that these friends have also been faithful through arguments and hurt. Christ exemplified humility for us in His life on earth; as we have already discussed, we are to imitate Him. So let us keep loving one another fervently and practice humility in our friendships. May we strive to be slow to anger, quick to listen, eager to practice humility, and filled with a faithful love for our fellow brother and sister.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Finally, allow me to make a point in light of our current circumstances. In the last year and a half, we have found isolation a more constant command and companion in our world. We have been told by our governments, our local leaders and even neighbours, friends and family to “Stay Home,” “Get Vaccinated,” “Love your neighbour by doing ______.” Many of us have seen our church services change, our homes become emptier, and our neighbours become strangers. We have watched and continue to watch as businesses, churches and public services now begin to segregate. Some of us have seen friendships falter and mentors back away in an effort to respect government leadership and protect others. I believe the Bible is clear on this matter; we are not to give up meeting together; we are not to discriminate based on creed, ethnicity, political affiliation, or vaccination status. Remain steadfast and loyal friends. Ultimately, it is the authority of God that we bow to, and He has commanded that we continue meeting together as brothers and sisters, unified under Christ and His atoning work on the cross. Do not give up the act of encouraging one another in person, laying hands on one another, embracing one another, and breaking bread together. Let us pray together in person, admonish and encourage one another face-to-face without drawing lines in the sand based on any worldly guideline. I believe that we may yet see more challenging days ahead, so let us be faithful friends in all circumstances. And while we seek faithful friendships on this earth, may we never lose sight of the Friend who is closer than a brother.