Charles Spurgeon said that the voices of childhood echo through life in such a way that the “first learned is generally the last forgotten.” The lessons we learn in our earliest years tend to remain fixed to the end. This is tremendously beneficial when the lessons have been sound, but terribly detrimental when they have not. One harmful lesson men often learn early in life is that they should be suspicious of relationships with other men.
From our youngest days we are taught that friendship can only be so close before our closeness threatens to “out” us. When a friendship looks too friendly we may be called “Sissy!” at best, or “Queer!” at worst. We are expected to play rough and tumble games together, to compete, and to poke fun at one another. But we have to be wary of relational closeness or dependency, because the other boys are watching with suspicion and judgment. We don’t want to be seen as needy or emotional. Fathers may even be watching, wondering if relational intimacy may portend weakness, femininity, or even sexual desire. Men are to be strong, independent, and self-reliant. We can have pals, we can be buddies, but we must not love one another.
In this series of articles for men, we have been looking at a number of issues related to godly manhood. Employing the great metaphor of life as a race, we have seen that men who run their race victoriously apply themselves to a number of important disciplines. We have seen that some of these are related to faith and some are related to life. In the final five articles we will turn to matters of relationship, including your wife, your children, and your local church. But first, we will consider your friends. If you are going to run to win, you must foster your friendships.
The Book of Friendship
The Bible has a lot to say about friendship. We could even argue that friendship is one of the Bible’s major themes—the Bible is the Book of Friendship!
God existed from all eternity in the friendship of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, enjoying a perfect, unbroken relationship with one another. God created human beings to enter into that existing friendship, to enjoy what God already enjoyed in himself. Creator invited creature to participate in something beyond wonderful. Tragically, we rebelled against God and, through our betrayal, ruptured that friendship. We walked away and were content to exist on our own, severed from God.
But God is a good friend—the kind who initiates reconciliation even though he is the innocent party. To do this, he sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to be a friend to sinners, to defeat the sin that separated them and draw them back into relationship with the Father. And now, by putting our faith in Jesus Christ, we are restored to what we once enjoyed. Though we cannot now see God face to face, we wait with eager anticipation for the day Christ returns and restores to us all of the intimacy we once experienced. We will be forever with God, forever his friends.
The friendship we experience with God provides the model for the friendships we can and should experience with other human beings. The intimacy God calls us to enjoy with others is not based merely on common interests or shared experiences. It looks beyond gender and color or any other easy division. It is a truly spiritual friendship in which we are bound together by God, in God, and for God. Because it is a spiritual friendship, it will exist beyond this earth and beyond the grave. It will endure forever.
The Man of Friendship
Friendship is a great gift of God. Spiritual friendship, friendship shared in Christ, is an even greater gift. Spiritual friendship with other godly men is one of life’s greatest privileges and highest joys. Do you have a close friend? Are you a close friend to another man?
You need friends for the sake of your well-being. In recent years biblical commentators have looked with suspicion on the relationship of David and Jonathan. Some have read David’s lament upon Jonathan’s death and imagined them as a secretly gay couple: “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26). But David is not weeping for a lover who shared his bed, but a friend who shared his life. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (17:17). Through the turmoil of constant betrayal, multiple marriages, and running for his life, David could always count on his friend Jonathan. Theirs was the truest and deepest kind of friendship that endured every kind of adversity. Who loves you at all times and is at your side during hardships?
You also need spiritual friendships for the sake of your soul. You are a sinful person who can hold tight to your depravity. You are a weak-eyed person who often cannot see yourself as you are. You are a selfish person who sometimes struggles to live for anyone or anything apart from yourself. You need friends who will help you, serve you, strengthen you, equip you. You need friends to temper your weakness, to challenge your sinfulness, to comfort your sorrows, to speak truth into your tragedies. “Iron sharpens iron,” says Solomon, “and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Who sharpens you? Who is sharpened by you?
Truly, friendships are a great gift from a great God. Theologian Hugh Black says, “Friends should be chosen by a higher principle of selection than any worldly one. They should be chosen for character, for goodness, for truth and trustworthiness, because they have sympathy with us in our best thoughts and holiest aspirations, because they have community of mind in the things of the soul. All other connections are fleeting and imperfect.”
Do It Now!
Having looked at the beauty and necessity of friendships, let’s consider some ways to practically apply this in our lives.
Examine your friendships. Not all friendships are helpful because not all friendships are truly spiritual. Wise old Solomon commends good friends and warns against foolish friends when he says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). This does not mean that we cannot enjoy friendships with non-Christians. But many Christian men spend all of their time with those who don’t know Christ and rob their own soul of the benefits of a spiritual friendship. Examine your friendships to ensure you have friends who are wise and that you are not spending inordinate amounts of time with fools. While you may be able to influence them for good, it is just as likely they will influence you for evil.
Pray for friendships. Ask God to grant you friendships. This is a good and noble request to make of the God who is your friend.
Find a friend. The main factor that keeps us from friendship is our pride. We are ashamed to initiate friendships, afraid to look desperate or pathetic as we ask another man for some of his time. Don’t be dumb. Don’t deny yourself something so good simply because you are too proud to seek it. Many men are just like you—desperate for a friend, yet too proud to ask. Man up and go find a friend.
Be a good friend. A friendship, like any other relationship, requires effort—effort that is usually measured in time. Friendships thrive where they are given sufficient time and they wither where they are not. Consider opportunities for face-to-face time (sitting together over coffee or another beverage) and side-by-side time (working together on a project or enjoying a hobby or activity together). Your relationship will grow in different ways in each context.
Run to Win
Of all the gifts God gives, few are more precious than friendship, an enduring, sacrificial commitment to another person. Yet of all the gifts God gives to men, few are more likely to be overlooked than this one. Still, the Bible assures us: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Find that man in someone else, and be that man to him. If you are going to run to win, you need to foster your friendships.