There seems to be precious little material written that guides a Christian through friendship. There is far less concerning what happens when two Christian friends have to part because of a job relocation, an educational step, a mission, etc. It is the purpose of our study today to concentrate on some of the dynamics of a Christian friendship and then to focus on the concept of Christian friends having to say goodbye to each other.
The Bible is replete with stories of great friendships. An example of one of these deep friendships is that of David, son of Jesse, and Jonathan, son of King Saul. Their friendship held firm in spite of the storms of life. Their friendship is a model which most people rarely ever encounter in a lifetime.
What exactly is a true friend? The secular world has many different ideas on this, ranging from the comical to serious analyses. I have heard it said that the popular comedian Jeff Foxworthy once defined a best friend, not as someone who would come to bail you out of jail at night, but as someone who would be in jail with you. Friendships, real and imaginary, have fueled history and literature.
Christians also are immersed in the world. Among the things that surround a Christian is the need for true friendship. In the quest for friendship are the normal paraphernalia that surrounds all friendships: honor, honesty, deceit, making friends, and losing them. Yet, Christian friendships are different because there are different demands placed a Christian on selecting and maintaining friendships. A Christian friend must live up to standards that are even higher than those established by the world. An example of this difference is that since a Christian cannot resort to deceit means that he/she cannot retreat into “white lies” to cover over another’s personality flaws. This is because the Christian has to answer not only to the friendship but also (more importantly) to God. Such a friendship will have a high level of honesty.
Christians also have a unique relationship with one another. Coming to Christ and accepting Him as Lord and Savior changes our relationship with Him and consequently with one another. John 1:12-13 states that “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Thus, since we all call God “Father” we can all call each other “brother” and “sister.” We are siblings in God’s Kingdom!
We probably know what it is to have a bad friend. Such a person will just as soon stab you in the back as to help you. To such a person, you are a mere stepping stone to their success. The Bible is replete with references to such people. Look at Psalm 41:9 and 55:12-14. Does the Psalmist not touch a sensitive nerve in each of us? Proverbs warns us to beware of a certain character trait when we are seeking to form a friendship (Proverbs 22:24,25). Jesus certainly knew the effects of a bad friend in Judas (Luke 22:47,48), a man who was numbered among those He called His friends (see below). Paul, to the discredit of the Church, also knew the pangs of being abandoned (2 Timothy 4:9-18) in his time of need! A bad friend is worse than an enemy.
A good friend is also extolled in Scripture. Proverbs 17:17 demonstrates something that some of us already know, that a top-notch, faithful, loving friend is better than one’s own sibling! Proverbs 18:24 warns about false friends but then praises a friend “who sticks closer than a brother.”
Good friends will not hold back the truth. Good Christian friends cannot hold back from being honest and truthful in their relationships. Look at Proverbs 27:6,9,10. A friend who has a bone to pick with you out of friendship and for friendship’s sake may open a wound, but such a wound arises from the loving spirit of a friend. An enemy, or a bad friend for that matter, always ducks the important issues and glosses them over. Such people are “fair weather friends” whose counsel cannot be trusted.
Read John 15:9-17. Jesus laid out His definition of true Christian friendship. Jesus Himself set the perfect selfless example of friendship. Jesus had so much love for His friends that he laid down His life for them! In verse 14, Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “You are my friends if you do what I command…Love one another.” By extension, are all Christians not only His children but also His friends?
Remember in Proverbs 18:24 there “is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” That friend is none other than Jesus who chose to die on Calvary’s tree for our sins, to enable us to become holy children of God! True friendship is fueled by selfless love. Few friendships approach the example set by Jesus, who laid His life down for His friends.
A Christian friend will help you through your day by day walk. He or she will encourage, assist, and will also pray for you and warn you in love as you stray away from your Christian walk (see 1 John 5:16, 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15). Sometimes exhibiting such “tough-love” is difficult, and being a gracious recipient of it is nearly impossible! An honest Christian friend will tell you how it REALLY is but they will also bear you and your needs before God’s throne of grace. Regardless of where you are in your walk or in the world, your name will continue to rise in a Christian friend’s incense of prayer.
Christian friends will also stand by you and encourage you by their presence, their words, and their deeds. Look at Hebrews 3:12,13 and 10:24,25, and 1 Thessalonians 5:11. It is not just a characteristic of Christian friendship – it is a requirement! Is it not great to realize that in our lowest moments God shows His face in the face of a friend?
As with all things in this temporary existence, even friends have to separate. Such separation can arise from different sources such as death or relocation. Surely such separation is never without its grief. In the hymn “Blest be the Tie that Binds,” John Fawcett penned the final verse to include such a separation:
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
We do not ever wish to see the stable and enjoyable times of our lives disrupted. Unfortunately, the pressures of life do cause friends to have to say goodbye. This is true even within Christian circles. Even the disciples had to face the moment of saying “goodbye” to Jesus at His ascension. Acts 1:9-11 sets the stage for all Christian goodbyes. It is never a hopeless goodbye, a never-see-you-again kind of goodbye, or even a hope-to-see-you-again goodbye. It is a goodbye based on the SURENESS of meeting again, if not in this life then in the glory of God’s eternal presence! It is a farewell based upon the fact that Jesus will come again to establish His eternal kingdom.
Even separated by miles, a Christian friendship will still be active. We must keep each other in prayer and supplication. If separated by death, then we can be assured that our friend will be first to rise in Christ and to await the grand reunion in heaven (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58). Yes, there is pain in parting as alluded to in the hymn above, but there is the eternal hope of an eventual reunion. When Christian friends part, they really are saying “see you later” to each other. Every day while in prayer for each other, they will be still bound together as friends. When they meet again on Earth it would be a joyful reunion, but this will be nothing compared to the reunion in Heaven!