(Apocrypha) Ben Sira 9:10 -- Do not abandon old friends, for new ones cannot equal them. A new friend is like new wine; when it has aged, you can drink it with pleasure.
I think that God has given us many people. God gives us family so that through them love can flow to us. We are given a spouse so that we can learn to express and receive the love of God. One of the ways that God expresses love to us deeply is through the friendship that we make in our lives.
We’ve heard the expression, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” Family is very important, yet friendships outside the family can bring much value, new perspectives, and a fresh view of reality.
A friend is someone to whom we have revealed our soul. If they were ever to betray us, we would go to prison ... metaphorically speaking. But you know what I'm saying. Friends are people that we trust, and they know us better than we know yourselves.
God blesses us with these people in our lives, and if we are ever in the position where we are somebody's friend, we should feel a sense of responsibility. If somebody trusts us enough to speak privately to us, to provide information to us that is personal and intimate, they shouldn’t have to say, “By the way, Patrick, don't share this with anyone.” Our lips should be sealed. It's like the confidentiality between the lawyer and the client, that agreement exists between friends. There's a confidentiality, there's a trust, there's a pact that friends make.
C.S. Lewis also wrote: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Without the friends I have had over the years my survival wouldn't have been quite as secure.
Some people need to learn that friendships take a while to develop. We are making a serious social error to assume we know someone well enough to share unsolicited criticism with them or to suggest life course corrections. Prior to speaking our mind to someone there must be a solid foundation of trust, mutual respect, and shared personal life experience before we move into the category of true friends.
Upon examination we see a hierarchy of relationships in our lives:
1) People we choose not to have in our life. Our love for these people is broad and general: we wish them no harm and would help them from a life-threatening situation. This is the Good Samaritan type love.
2) People we choose to love from a distance but not have as an integral part of our life. Spending time with them can be draining and negative; they weaken our immune system.
3) People who are strangers. These are neither negative nor positive influences. There is a broad spectrum of how people respond to strangers: from highly accepting to highly suspicious, and everything in between. Christ encourages us to move toward being more accepting. We never know when we might meet our new best friend.
4) Then there are acquaintances: people who we know and recognize, and even like, but we have little facetime with. These people could easily move up this hierarchy if more time were spent together.
5) There are associates, who are people we spend time with because of work, or other mutually shared social occasions. We like them, but we do not share private, personal, and intimate experiences or information.
6) There are casual friends, people we say ‘hi and bye’ to but we don’t spend a great deal of time with, not because they are negative influences but just because the proximity is unfavorable, or time is an impediment.
Good Samaritan type love applies to all of the above, as well as below. But with closer relationships, more commitment is involved and greater trust, and with it more willingness to extend ourselves on their behalf.
7) Then there are good friends: People we seek out to spend time with and share with. We like them and look forward to interacting with them regularly on a personal basis. Good friends feed us with positive energy, and we have a growing commitment to their welfare. But still, we are not to the point where serious confidences are shared. It is not time to disclose our ideas about how we think they are injuring themselves, at least not overtly. We might mention things in passing, but we do not have permission to confront on issues.
8) Close friends are those we feel more comfortable with sharing secrets. There is a foundation of trust, appreciation, and respect developed through experience and repetition. Close friends can feel safer divulging their concerns and receiving concerns with each other. These are who I would consider “true friends”. They are forgiving, tolerant, and consider each other valuable, even precious, perhaps indispensable.
9) Then there are the best friends. These are the closest of the close friends. There are no secrets, nothing that cannot be shared or forgiven. Nothing is withheld. Some people have one best friend; some have two or more. But this type of friendship is rare. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Few value it because few experience it.”
I have not made many profound friendships in my life. Like most people, I have important people in my life whom I enjoy, respect, and trust. They are valuable to me. But the person I share my soul with has not come around very often in my life. The closest people to me when I was growing up were Dan and Mike. And these two guys are still my friends even though we don't see each other. For the last 39 years Mary has been my best friend.
There are times when we have negative relationships in our lives. Although we may share history and experience with these people, we do not consider them as friends, or even ‘bad friends’. We just share a bad, negative, and destructive relationship with them, and we can choose not to. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says that “bad company will corrupt someone with good character.” My dad once told me that the most important job of a parent is to choose their children’s friends, to monitor and manage who our children are choosing to associate with.
There is a Spanish expression: “Dime con quién andas, y te dire quién eres.” It translates as: Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.
We are told in the Bible to choose our friends carefully, as my dad did when I was a child. But when we are grown, we must make our own choices. Who are we befriending? In James 4:4 we are warned: “Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” When we live through our small self, our ego-based choices and desires, we are cheating God, blocking the love and joy that otherwise awaits us.
Tell me who you walk with, and I will tell you who you are. Tell us who you listen to and follow and we can tell you who you are.
When we think of the message of Jesus, of love and forgiveness, and his extreme adeptness at delivering that message, we can’t help but think he could have done it all on his own. But instead, he developed a network of friends. He hand-picked them and they lived together, prayed together, ate together, celebrated together, and mourned together.
He told them in John 15:12-14: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”
You are my friends if you do as I command – if you love each other. It’s as if Christ is saying, “I have chosen you because we share similarities. Like me, you are Children of God, and because we are loving and willing, we are joined in friendship. And because you are joined to me in friendship you are changing and accepting the other similarities that are growing between us: you are becoming more loving, open, tolerant, more joyous and peaceful. Our friendship and relationship flourishes as you accept these changes in you.”
Christ does not command that we seek out our neighbors to be friends. We can love people that are not our friends. In fact, we are commanded to love even our enemies. Loving people has nothing to do with making friends, but it is a start. To love someone is just the beginning of our Christian journey.
It seems that God intends for us to meet particular people. Sometimes they enter our lives to be teachers, tormentors, guides, companions, lovers, or spouses. Some are Lighters of the Way; some are friends.
The power of friendship can purify us as we release our ego-selves and serve our friends. Paramahansa Yogananda said, “God’s effort to unite strife-torn humanity manifests itself within your heart as the friendship instinct.”
Spending time with beloved family members and friends enriches our lives and increases our joy. It is not weakness to reach out to friends; it is a source of strength. It is why they are in our lives. When challenges arise, sharing our feelings or remembering the brighter side of life with a trusted friend can significantly lighten our heart. Our soul is nourished by our friendships, and our joy increases through the blessings of true kinship and love.
Ultimately, our greatest friend is God. As we call upon Christ and allow love to express through us, we draw the perfect friends to us, our old friendships deepen, and we are rich in the abundance of friends. As author, pastor, and educator Charles R. Swindoll wrote: “I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let's face it, friends make life a lot more fun.”
No, we can’t choose our family; we are borne into that situation and have no choice in the matter. Years ago, Bill Bowersock, a wonderful friend of this church, was asked his idea of what a friend was. His response: The family you would choose.
My prayer is that we open our hearts to the power and significance of the friends that God has supplied us, and to the friendship that God offers us in our lives.