“To the ancients, friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.” Although C. S. Lewis wrote this over fifty years ago, his words remain true today. Friendship—true and deep friendship—is one of the most needed, yet neglected relationships in our day.
We don’t hear friendship as a compelling or strong word anymore. We’ve often trivialized this word and this relationship. We hear clichés like, “Old friends warm the heart;” “With a little help from my friends;” “Friends are flowers in the garden of life.” These can be charming (to some), but they are not compelling. They make friendship seem like a nice-but-optional cherry on top of the important aspects of life.
But real friendship is much deeper and better than the clichés. Here are four steps we can take to recover a kind of friendship that is better than those tired phrases.
The Necessity of True Friends
First, we must see that friendship is not just a social accessory; it is a relational necessity. When God made humanity, he started by placing one man in a garden, surrounded by land, sea and air that teemed with communal life. And then God said, “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God pronounced this before sin entered the world. Although sin is our deepest problem, solitude was our first. The need for human companionship is essential for living the abundant, “good” life that God designed us for. Which is why he provided Adam with a companion, a spouse who would partner with him to saturate the world with human society.
Second, we must recover a forgotten vision of true friendship. Many spouses attend conferences about marriage. Parents read books about raising children. What about friendship? We don’t give it the same attention or intentional thought. But when we do, we find that it is significantly deeper than shallow acquaintanceship. It is based on more than shared tastes and similar interests.
What is true friendship? It is an affectionate bond forged between two people as they journey through life with openness and trust. It looks like Jonathan and David in the Bible. Scripture says their souls were knit together, bound with sincere affection (1 Samuel 18: 1-3). And once this bond is forged, a true friend “sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Through the ups and downs of life, through seasons of sunshine and days of darkness, a true friend remains constant. And this friendship is marked by truth and trust. A friend is transparent about the true state of his or her soul, and a friend trusts that honesty will be met with empathy and guarded with care. And through all our failures at being faithful companions, true friends forgive one another freely and often. Brotherly and sisterly love covers a multitude of relational sins.
The Meaning of Friendship
Third, we must know that friendship is more than a horizontal, human reality. We were made for communion with God. God made us to know him. Jesus Christ is not just the King of kings; he is also the Friend of sinners.
What does it mean that Jesus is our truest Friend? Just before he went to the cross, he said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13–14). Jesus wants us to understand the cross as history’s most heroic act of friendship. Jesus wants believers to understand themselves as his dearest friends. And this does not diminish his authority in our lives, for he said we are his friends if we do what he commands us. He is not our king or our friend; he is gloriously both.
As we embrace this deeper vision of friendship with Christ, we will also thicken our understanding of friendship with one another. However highly or lowly we esteem friendship with Jesus will correspond with how highly or lowly we esteem friendship in general (and vice versa).
Prioritize Your Friendships
After we take these three steps, we keep walking from here, taking concrete steps to forge deeper friendships. As the early Church Father John Chrysostom preached, “A great thing friendship is, and how great, no one can learn, and no discourse represent, but experience itself.” So, as our esteem for real friendship rises, we’ll need to find creative ways to practically pursue it in our everyday life.
What will this look like? This may mean scheduling a weekly breakfast or lunch with someone. It may mean calling a friend more often on your way home from school or work. It may look like inviting someone over to join you in watching a favorite show, movie or sporting event. It may look like reading a good book or discussing the Bible with someone regularly. Or it will look like setting aside one night each week for hospitality in your home. In all of this, it will always involve asking more questions, listening more empathetically and opening up more transparently.
Every effort we put into deepening our relationships is worth it. Because true friendship does much more than “warm the heart” and give us “a little help.” It is a primary way that we tap into the joy we were made for.