“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey –
Next to loving God, loving others is our primary responsibility (Mark 12:28-34).
God is easy to love in a sense, because He completely deserves my adoration. People…not so much. They can be complicated, confusing, changeable, cranky. Bottom line: they don’t always deserve love. Then again, neither do I.
I’ve seen friendships last fifty years…or fifty days…and I wonder if the life-long friend is becoming a rare breed.
I’ve seen heart-breaking misunderstandings where one person assumes too much. I’ve seen warmth cool until people stop speaking entirely, over the most unimportant of things.
So, from one friend to another, let’s talk about how to be a friend. I’m not interested in shallow platitudes or cure-all formulas. I’m interested in what the Bible tells me about friendship. I’m interested in being wise with my relationships, so that–to the best of my ability–I will be at peace with my friends.
The Talk of a Friend
1. Mean what you say
Friends have jokes. I get that. But be careful. What’s funny to you might not be funny to her, especially if the joke is poking fun at her. I’ve heard friends say, “I hate you” in jest. Uh oh. Too much room for mistakes there. Why even joke about that? There are plenty of funny ways to express friendly rivalry without risking your relationship over a dumb misunderstanding. It’s okay to tease…but be cautious. A hurtful quip is not worth losing a relationship. It just isn’t.
2. Do what you say
Be trustworthy. If you promise to send them an email, do it. If you say you’ll help out with a project, be there. It’s not hard…but it is. Just take your words seriously. Being a friend that can be counted on is HUGE. You will be the one that people will come to for help and advice, just because you are faithful. Follow through.
3. Don’t tell everything you know
It’s okay to not tell your friends everything there is to know about you. With today’s flood of social media, people often feel the urge to share every intimate detail of their lives on the internet. Instead, I’d encourage you to set boundaries. It’s okay to have thoughts that are yours alone. It’s okay to have family secrets that don’t go beyond the house. It’s okay to keep quiet. You don’t owe your friends knowledge of every secret. As long as you are straightforward and sincere, you don’t have to share everything there is to know about yourself. And sometimes it’s better that way.
4. Tell the truth with grace
“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent.”
― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
Sometimes you need to ask your friends hard things–or tell them hard things–about themselves. Whether its a sin that needs confronted or a sticky emotional issue, being a friend means telling them the truth. When you think you need to say something hard, be careful. First, is it necessary? If not, don’t. Confrontations, though sometimes necessary, are not easy on friendships. Don’t risk a relationship over a non-issue. However, sometimes you have to speak. Approach with love and humility. Don’t act like a teacher or a second mom. If you can, tell how you’ve been in the same boat. If your friend still gets mad, you have to give the situation up to God. He can change hearts; we can’t.
The Walk of a Friend
5. Take the first step forward
“Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry”. This movie line turned into a catchphrase, and it is about the farthest thing from the truth that I can imagine.
Love means saying you’re sorry. Love means doing whatever you can possibly do to bring reconciliation. Love means laying down our dumb pride and being the first one to take a step toward the other person. Honestly, it doesn’t matter who “started it.” Dying on a hill of “being right” is a terrible way of killing a friendship.
If you’ve sinned against a friend, it is your job to take a step toward them. It is your job to ask their forgiveness.
But if you’ve been sinned against, it’s your job to take a step too. That’s what Jesus did. He came to us even when we were His enemies. This is radical love. This is friendship that is only possible with the grace of God filling your heart. This is Christlikeness.
6. Love when you don’t want to
Just like discipleship, Love is a call to die daily.
The saying has almost become trite. People say, “Love is an action.” I don’t know if that is all love is. Love is also a choice: a choice to act for another’s good, even if they don’t deserve it. Jesus, again, is our ultimate example.
It would be great if our feelings always kept up with our choices. But sometimes, you need to smile and give hugs and spend time with a friend, even if you’d rather be doing something else. “But that’s so hypocritical,” you might say.
Let me say something about that. Hypocrisy is living a lie, fooling someone so they’ll think better of you. Imitating Christ, even when you’re operating on bare choice, is not hypocrisy. I can choose to thank God even when I’m not feeling particularly thankful, because it is the right thing to do. I can choose to get up and put on a smile even when I’m not feeling terribly joyful, because that’s what I’m called to. Or…perhaps it’s not so much a choice as a surrender.
“Loving when you don’t feel like it” is not easy. It is a living sacrifice. It is laying down your desires and your contrary feelings and saying to God, “Not my will but Yours.”
The funny thing is…usually our feelings are not all that far behind our choices. What we practice is what we become.
7. Don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve
I’ll admit something to you. Growing up, I hardly ever saw my parents take offense from friends and family. We just…didn’t really get offended.
It’s not because we’re some rare breed, I assure you. It is just that many things are not important enough to get ruffled up about. Remember a lot of the things we’ve talked about? What happens if your friend calls you a name in jest? What happens if she forgets to do something she said she would? What happens if she confronts you about something painful?
See, love is not a 50-50 sort of thing. It is giving up yourself completely. So even if your friend messes up, you have a choice in that moment: You can be offended and assume the worst, or you can immediately let go of the offense. We take a lot of things too seriously. Don’t let bitterness get even a single talon in you. “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’ ” (1 Peter 4:8, NKJV).
The Heart of a Friend
8. Pray for your friend
This is an obvious one…but also one that I need reminded of myself. It is easy to hear our friends’ deepest needs and then simply forget to pray about them.
Let me tell you a little secret about prayer–it is like glue. If you pray for someone, something special happens in your heart. They become a part of you. Their victories become yours. You feel their pain or sorrow. So pray for your friends. It will bind your hearts together in a way only prayer can.
9. Don’t make…or be…an idol
Friendships are precious, without a doubt. But they are not ultimate. Some people, it’s true, are too independent, but others are too dependent. Do not allow yourself to set up your friend as your idol. If you don’t think you can survive without a particular friend, you should check your priorities. Beware of letting a person sit on God’s throne in your heart. And beware of letting your friends put you on that throne. We were never made to fill that kind of need in one another. Let’s strive, instead, to constantly point one another back to Christ, our only Savior. No one else is worthy to fill His throne.
10. Give up control
I’ve begun to fear, sisters, that you will take these words of Biblical wisdom and make them a set of rules to live by. This is not my own list of “10 Commandments of Friendship.” Not at all. These are lessons I have learned and observed–things that will make your friendships better if you take note. But NONE of these things will make you righteous and NONE of them are possible to sustain in your heart unless you have been radically changed by Jesus Christ’s grace and forgiveness and are filled with His Holy Spirit.
So, taking that to heart, let me say this: Give up control of your friendships. If you ever thought you could control people, let go of that lie. You can’t make people be your friends. You can’t make your friendships secure. This world is insecure and unsteady. You can’t make things go perfectly.
One day, all things will be made new and friendships will blossom eternally. There will be no rifts in eternity. But until then, keep your eyes on Jesus. Following His example of radical love, let yourself be poured out for your friends. We can only give ourselves. It is for God to make things grow.
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
– Ephesians 4:29-32 –