Are you friends with your friends for the sake of your friends? Or are you friends with your friends for the sake of yourself? I suspect you don’t really know while you derive some clear benefit from the relationship. As long as the relationship is gain, not loss, as long as it enhances your reputation instead of diminishes it, you probably don’t really know.
A friend and I were recently considering some mutual acquaintances who had fallen on hard times. They had sinned or been sinned against, their lives and legacies called into question, their qualifications and reputations under attack. We noticed a difference between the two. One was deserted by his friends while one was supported. One saw his friends abandon him while the other saw his friends stay by his side. All other things being equal, both men learned something about their friendships. One learned that his friends will distance themselves when that friendship becomes a liability. The other learned that his friends will stand by him even when there is personal cost. One learned he had true friends while one learned he really had no friends at all.
I fear that, judged by this standard, many of our friendships are self-centered. In the final analysis, we are friends with our friends for the sake of ourselves. When there is benefit to be gained by our associations we gladly proclaim people our friends. But when that association threatens to bring us shame, we quickly deny them. Why? Because our love for our friends is less than our love for ourselves. The “friendships” last only as long as they are beneficial to us.
I am grateful to have entered into a number of friendships that I am convinced would endure such challenges. But even more so, I am glad to have entered into the greatest of all friendships with the greatest of all Friends. At a million times and in a million ways I’ve already given this Friend every reason to bail, every reason to walk away, every reason to flee the shame of association. But he remains. He perseveres. He refuses to run. He risks his reputation every day. Yet he remains the nearest and dearest of friends. As the old sage says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”