Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Friendship: God's Unnecessary Gift

“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born to adversity…A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Prov.17:17; 18:24)

In his wonderful little book entitled The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis argues that friendship is the “least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious, and necessary.” He goes on to say, “Without Eros [marital love] none of us would have been begotten and without Affection [familial love] none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it.” But I would say (and he would agree), we cannot thrive without it. God does not command us to have friends, but it’s obvious from reading the Bible that He does assume that we will. It would seem to me that these three loves—marital, familial (especially children), and friendship—can become intermingled in a way that tends to blur the unique qualities of each. Let me relate this to women, in general, and wives in particular.

If we are not careful, we can treat a husband with the same “nurturing” protection (I’m being nice) we would give a child. Making sure he says the right thing, wears the right clothes, meets the right people and, most of all, feels the right emotions (ours!). My husband is my best friend because we share the same philosophy of life (God’s); we have a vital common interest (our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren); and we embrace a common goal in life (to glorify God’s Son, Jesus Christ). And, as an added perk, I happen to be in love with him! But to expect him to share my interest in feminine enterprises, enjoy every writer that I do, or “feel my pain” with a woman’s sympathy, is to ask of him what he cannot give, and, quite possibly, may limit his inclination to provide those things I most need (and can expect) from him. The tears that will elicit a warm hug and comforting words from another woman may either paralyze him, or, worse yet, cause him to spring into action to find a major remedy!

Well, what do our two verses tell us about friendship? First, people who want friends have to act friendly. No...come to think of it, that’s not what the verse says. It says he (or she) must show himself to be friendly. Lots of people act friendly but know nothing about being a friend. For all the fun we may have with our friends, friendship is a serious business. In addition, we learn that a true friend sticks with you through thick and thin—“at all times.” Closer even than a brother, if need be. I find it touching that Solomon considered the closest of natural relationships to be the one of brother-to-brother. As a woman, I would have been tempted to say husband and wife, or mother and child. But, for all our close, often gregarious, manifestations of loving friendship, I suspect men are better at it than we. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.

This kind of friendship assumes that things will be overlooked—not to say, condoned—but certainly overlooked; for, again, the verse says “at all times.” (“When my friends are one-eyed, I look at their profile.”—J. Joubert) This should not be considered too terribly magnanimous on our part when you remember that Jesus calls us friends (Jno.15:15). A friend may wound (27:6), but his love will never wane. This would probably be a good time to point out that a good friend is not always the person who comes to the rescue. A true “kindred spirit” will recognize there are times when one must step back, lest the Holy Spirit be hindered in the life of his friend; for a “friend” who would do this is no friend at all. The mark of a sterling friendship is that refusing to step in will not cool it, nor will coming to the rescue add anything to it. It simply is what it is, and cannot be denied. It may be nurtured by kindness, but it does not need to be needed. Friendship is a meeting of equals, perhaps not in station in life or even intellect, but certainly in worth to the relationship. The only exception is our friendship with the sinless Son of God.

And it is with this unique, glorious friendship that I end. I have said that friendship is not necessary, and it is certainly true in this case. I needed a Savior to redeem me from the wages of sin. Jesus Christ could have done this very well without bothering to become personally intimate with me. Yet He chose to bear His heart to me, admitting that He laid down his life because He loved me, and because He had chosen me to be His friend (Jno.15:13) He did not need this friendship; He wanted it. I cannot pretend to be the kind of friend to Him that He is to me, but He told me, if I do what He has commanded—“love one another, as I have loved you,” He will know that I love Him, and that I am His friend (Jno.15:12-14).

I have been blessed with wonderful, true friends, especially my husband of forty-six years; but the One who stooped to call Abraham His friend (Jms.2:23), stooped farther still to call me His friend. And this friendship surpasses them all!

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