Many men today struggle with maintaining male friendships. This claim doesn’t need to be argued. We know it. I personally have a sporadic friendship track-record. Particularly in my early years of ministry, my lack of male friendships was actually inhibiting the full expression of my humanity. I still have a long way to go.

But I’m learning. It has become more clear to me that Jesus and his disciples were genuine friends (John 15:15). They spent time sharing deeply of themselves. And even before Jesus had disciples, before he created the world, he was a friend to the Father and the Spirit. By being a friend we show forth the image of God.

By being a friend we show forth the image of God.

So how can men succeed in the old-fashioned but desperately needed art of friendship? Here are eight suggestions.

1. Distinguish Loving Your Neighbor from Being a Friend

God’s children must love all their neighbors, including the hateful ones. But doing so doesn’t mean we have friends. Friends share more than resources and respect. Friends share themselves. They embrace Paul’s call to “be open” (2 Cor. 6:13). They practice fellowship and communion (2 Cor. 6:14), cultivating a common life with shared physical presence, emotional openness, and spiritual understanding.

Being a good neighbor is non-negotiable, but friendship goes beyond the call of neighborliness.

2. Don’t Depend Solely on Your Wife for Friendship

Your wife can be your best friend, but she can’t be your only friend. If you depend on your wife for friendship, you will stunt yourself and stifle her. You’ll end up expecting her to fulfill your need for shared life—a need God intends to be met by a community. Marital discourse can stagnate without fresh insights gained through close same-sex friendships.

3. Be Emotional

John Calvin observed that the Psalms animate “all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the . . . emotions” that convulse our minds. Beautiful, right? Yet men often resist emotional friendships.

David wept over the impending separation between himself and his friend (1 Sam. 20:41–42). At Lazarus’s tomb Jesus sobbed, among other reasons, because he loved his friend (John 11:35–36). The Ephesian elders fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him as he departed (Acts 20:37).

The notion that men should restrain emotion is character-stunting folly.

The notion that men should restrain emotion is character-stunting folly.

4. Define Your Friendship with Words

The best friendships have a quasi-covenantal character, for covenants define relationships. David and Jonathan solemnized the terms of their friendship (1 Sam. 18:3; 20:8; 23:14–18). You might be surprised what happens when you articulate with your friends what your friendship means.

True friends also speak well to and about each other. And remember, your friendship also hinges on how you speak of your friends behind their backs. Jonathan stayed true when friendship to David was a kiss of death (19:4). Blaise Pascal once said that if men knew what their friends said about them, there would be few friends in the world. Be among the few.

5. Practice Celebration

Good friends know how to enjoy life. It’s no accident that God’s coming kingdom is described as a party (Rev. 19:9; cf. John 2:1–11). Celebrating life is a revolt against hoarding by those who know God’s grace is present, not just future. It’s been said that “modern man . . . always keeps on believing that the real thing is going to happen tomorrow.” Celebration reminds friends that the real thing is happening now.

6. Don’t Always Do Something

Kent Hughes acknowledges that “men’s friendships typically center around activities, while women’s revolve around sharing.” Men commonly view friendships “as acquaintances made along the way, rather than as relationships.” As a consequence, he notes, male friendships “rarely approach the depth of disclosure a woman commonly has with many other women.”

Undistracted face-to-face time removes the safety net of the activity and invites sharing. We must resist the urge to protect ourselves from a slow-paced, potentially awkward encounter that might actually move our friendship to a deeper level.

7. Include Jesus

I moved to California by myself at 19. Attempting to escape a destructive web of bad choices, I resolved that new friends must be people who would help me walk with God. And good friendships were one of the ways God restored me from backsliding. But even these friendships often lacked spiritual deliberateness. The night before I moved back across the country, my best friend remarked, “We’ve never prayed together.” We had rarely, if ever, talked about godliness. How is that Christian friendship?

Real men don’t hide their faith. . . . They talk with other men about Jesus as a mutual friend.

Real men don’t hide their faith. They don’t dance around spiritual matters. They are genuinely vocal about their only comfort in life and in death. They talk with other men about Jesus as a mutual friend.

8. Be Energized by the Gospel

On their own, rules cannot make us godlier people or better friends. The gospel alone—the perfect atoning work of God’s Son—is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). And yet as the Belgic Confession reminds us, God’s moral law “regulate[s] our life in all honorableness to the glory of God, according to his will” (Art. 25).

As we practice the laws of friendship, energized by the friendship of Christ, the better we will both know him and learn from him how to live as friends.