This article originally appeared at Christianity.com and a slightly edited version is republished here with permission.
While doing a study on accountability, I came across some articles about the seriousness of friendship. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since.
We tend to use the word “friend” rather carelessly, don’t we? Any person we have a few conversations with, work with, or “like” on Facebook we call a “friend.” This isn’t necessarily bad, but I believe such frivolous usage of the word is making us miss the real meaning of biblical friendship. As J. R. Miller writes,
To become another’s friend in the true sense is to take the other into such close, living fellowship that his life and ours are knit together as one. It is far more than a pleasant companionship in bright, sunny hours. A genuine friendship is entirely unselfish. It seeks no benefit or good of its own. It does not love—for what it may receive—but for what it may give. Its aim is “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
Do you know how your “friends” are doing? How are their hearts? The spiritual condition of their souls? If we don’t know how our “friends” are doing in their walks with God, what hard times they’re facing, or what sins they’re fighting, then we have a superficial acquaintance, not a friendship.
Perhaps true friends are in such low supply these days because of how much it costs to be one. Here are six costs of true friendship:
1. Friendship costs personal convenience.
We often think of friendship as hanging out and having fun. That’s certainly part of it. But the test of our love comes when our friend wants to do something or needs something from us that isn’t so fun. This is when we must be willing to put aside our personal preferences and value others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). Maybe they’re going through a hard season and need us to listen. Perhaps they need a favor we find burdensome.
Friendship can be a personal inconvenience, but when we call someone “friend,” we agree to partner with them in life. That will cost us our personal convenience.
2. Friendship costs time.
We’re made for community. God said it isn’t good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). This was true before the fall, and it’s even more true today. But companionship takes time. You can’t expect a truly meaningful friendship without putting in the time.
I tend to be a homebody, so this is something that convicts me and requires effort. But unless two or more are actually together, it’s hard to truly know and serve one another. Even when friends maintain a long-distance friendship, it’s typically built on a lengthy period of personal investment in one another’s lives.
3. Friendship costs intimacy.
What drew you to your friends? Was it humor or cleverness? Did you admire their creativity and love for family? Maybe you were attracted to their kindness or their organizational skills or a common interest. At first, we only see the good sides of our friends. But if this is all we see, then we’ll have shallow friendships.
Everyone has a dark side. Sin is the great equalizer and our common enemy. Friendship is designed, among other things, for growth in godliness. This means friends help each other identify and fight sin (Eccl. 4:9–12). Doing this requires you knowing their heart and them knowing yours. There must be a willingness to open up our lives and hearts and to let others in. We need to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. Intimacy must be a part of friendship, and it must go both ways.
4. Friendship costs comfort.
Friendship is easy when it’s filled with laughter and everyone’s sipping lattes and getting along. But what happens when storms roll in? What do we do when we disagree? How should we handle harsh words thoughtlessly spoken? Feeling hurt is the natural response. So is the temptation to turn bitter and walk away. True friendship, however, forgives, seeks restoration, and moves on together. This is probably the hardest part of true friendship. Miller observes:
It is a sacred thing, therefore, to take a new friend into our lives. We accept a solemn responsibility when we do so. We do not know what burdens we may be assuming, what sacrifices we may, unconsciously, be pledging ourselves to make, what sorrows may come to us through the one to whom we are opening our heart. We should choose our friends, therefore, thoughtfully, wisely, prayerfully—but when we have pledged our love, we should be faithful, whatever the cost may be.
5. Friendship costs prayer.
Friends pray for each other. If you don’t pray for your friends, you’re not a true friend. A hard word, isn’t it? Prayer is one of the means by which God acts. How can we not lift up the people we say we love in prayer, interceding on their behalf for healing, wisdom, provision, and holiness?
Real friends don’t just pray for each other every once in awhile—they pray frequently. They boldly approach the throne of grace and plead for each other’s needs.
6. Friendship costs love.
Sin will reveal itself the more time we spend with our friends. It’ll come out in our lives and in theirs. But we must continue to love, no matter what ugliness we see. At times we’ll find our friends inconsiderate and weak—just as they will find us. Sometimes unkindness and selfishness will emerge. When God calls us to befriend one another, he’s calling us to love and forgive the sins we commit against one another. This price is so costly we cannot pay it on our own. We need Christ’s power to love like this. As Miller puts it:
As he loves us, he would have us love others. We say men are not worthy of such friendships. True, they are not. Neither are we worthy of Christ’s wondrous love for us. But Christ loves us—not according to our worthiness—but according to the riches of his own loving heart! So should it be with our giving of friendship—not as the person deserves, but after the measure of our own character.
A Costly Gift
Friendship is costly, but it is worth it. It is a gift of God—a gift he himself first modeled for us in the gospel.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
Jesus, the friend of sinners, died and rose for us that we might become the friends of God. Only when we look to and learn from our Savior can we discover and develop true friendships with one another.