Strong friendships are one of the greatest joys of life. However, some people are overly self-conscious and shy away from those who could be their friends. Some open themselves up to only a small circle of friends. Some put their friends through a lot of difficulty and pain. And some are outgoing toward everyone, but never cultivate any close relationships.
How can you learn to develop strong, healthy friendships? God’s Word has particularly deep insight concerning human relationships. And it is full of advice on building a high-quality social life.
1. How early in human history did God recognize the need for companionship? Genesis 2:18.
Our Creator made us to need relationships. God created specific relationships in the family. But He also designed us to need relationships outside of our families. These relationships help us become better human beings, stronger in character and more like the loving God in His thinking. Unlike family connections, which we cannot choose, we can choose our friends.
2. What biblical principle explains how we should treat others? Galatians 5:14; Matthew 22:37-40. Does this include our enemies? Matthew 5:43-47.
Loving another person in the same way that you love yourself is a huge challenge. But this command governs our treatment of all other human beings. If you lack solid friendships, examine yourself. How good are you at putting others’ needs ahead of your own?
It is natural to have some friendships that are deeper than others. Though there are levels of friendship, they all must be based on love: unselfish, outgoing concern.
Proverbs 18:24 states, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly ….” The King James Version contains a mistranslation of this portion of the verse. The Revised Standard Version reads: “There are friends who pretend to be friends ….” It takes more than just putting on a show of friendship to develop strong relationships. It takes being a person who shows others that their opinions, needs and desires matter to you—that you value their companionship. It takes a desire to love them the way you love yourself. This attracts others to you.
3. Did Christ say there was an even greater love in a friendship than loving as you love yourself? John 15:13.
This kind of love goes beyond the love you have for yourself. It means even dying for your friend if necessary. In everyday application, it refers to putting your friend’s needs above your own. Do you have friends like that? Are you a friend like that?
Other Qualities of Good Friendships
1. What else builds friendships? Proverbs 14:20; 19:4.
Superficial things draw people to us. But these proverbs aren’t saying we should seek material wealth to draw more friends to us. The word for wealth in Proverbs 19:4 can mean anything from material possessions to wealth of mind or character. This Hebrew word is also used in Proverbs 13:7, which states that even those with nothing physically can have “riches.”
If you are rich in character, your personality will attract others. Proverbs 19:6 states that “every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.” Examine what your personality offers your friends. The richer your character and the more giving your personality, the stronger those friendships will be.
2. What kind of friendships should we seek? Proverbs 27:6, 17.
Rubbing a knife against a sharpening iron makes the edge of the blade razor-sharp—by friction. True friendship goes beyond common interests. Seek friendships that enrich your character and the character of others. Friends should have a positive influence on each other. Showing tough love to help someone through a problem is true friendship.
Not only can your close friends enhance your moral development and character growth, they can also accept you despite your shortcomings.
3. What is a related quality of good friendships? Proverbs 17:17.
The Moffatt version translates this verse, “A friend is always a friend, he is a born brother for adversity.” Struggles and tough times reveal what friendships are made of: They even deepen relationships. They distinguish real friends from fair-weather friends. True friends will not desert you when things get rough or when they discover a weakness in you. They will see you through the adversity and help you overcome.
These proverbs say a lot about the kind of friend you should be, not just the kind of friends you should seek. Show your friends this unconditional love—“at all times.” Be sure you demonstrate “wealthy” character around them, that your influence on them enhances their already strong character.
4. What warnings do the Proverbs give about sure ways to ruin friendships? Proverbs 16:28; 17:9; 18:19.
These verses can refer to gossip that separates other people’s friendships. But gossip can also separate our own relationships if we spread rumors about our friends or share something with others that was told to us in confidence.
If you show yourself trustworthy—able perhaps to be blunt with your friends to their face in private, yet stick up for them around others and in the face of rumors—people will value your friendship.
We all make mistakes, though. A selfish act, an instance of stubborn pride, a hurtful comment—these can test the stability of a friendship. We should be able to apologize, and to forgive our friends when they slip up, to be a friend “at all times.”
Friendships to Avoid
1. Does the Bible ever encourage two people not to be friends? Amos 3:3. Are there specific people we should not associate with? Proverbs 13:20.
Since we can choose our friends, God tells us to consider those choices carefully.
2. Did Paul exhort Christians to avoid close company with nonbelievers? 2 Corinthians 6:14, 16-17.
These verses do not contradict the biblical law of “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Christians should hate the evil that people get involved in, but they should not hate the people. We can and should be friendly, help them if necessary, and even pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). But do not associate with them or seek out their companionship.
There are also many nonbelievers that true Christians can become acquaintances with: people we work with or go to school with that we would not necessarily associate with beyond those situations. You can probably think of several acquaintances you have whose choices conflict with your values or morals in certain ways, but such a conflict does not typically arise in a work environment.
Use caution, however. Once those acquaintances move outside those boundaries, you could be dragged down by the lifestyle they lead. You may think you can be a good influence on them, but that is not what the Bible says. People who are bad influences will pull you down, you will not pull them up.
1. Are there some friendships that should be especially close? Proverbs 18:24 (last half).
Most of us have several good friends, maybe a few close friends, and maybe even one special, best friend. As you grow older, you will probably only be able to count your strongest, closest friendships on one hand. This is normal.
2. As a human being, did Jesus Christ connect more with one disciple than the others? John 13:23; 21:20.
Instead of referring to himself by name in his own writings, the Apostle John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Because Jesus was the great God in human form—the one who epitomized perfect love and friendship—His friendship with the other disciples did not suffer from the special bond He had with John. Jesus loved all men to the point of dying for every man. Still, Jesus referred to all of His disciples as His friends (John 15:14-15) and had a best-friend type relationship with John. In fact, Jesus, just before dying, told John to take care of His mother, Mary (John 19:25-27).
3. Did David have a special closeness with a certain friend in his life? 2 Samuel 1:26.
4. To what level did Jonathan love his best friend David? 1 Samuel 18:1, 3; 20:17.
Here is an example of outstanding love on the human level. Jonathan loved David “as his own soul.” Jonathan’s loyalty went to the point where he told David, “Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee” (1 Samuel 20:4).
This relationship transcended even politics. Jonathan, son of King Saul (who was trying to kill David at this time), was the heir to Israel’s throne. But Jonathan had the courage to serve his friend, knowing that God had chosen David to be king, rather than cling selfishly to his position. It was a marvelous example of loyalty, mutual respect and admiration—unselfish love and upbuilding of character in the other.
Treasure your friendships. Take time to learn who your real friends are. Choose your friends wisely. Then work at building those friendships. Examine the kind of friend you are—what you have to offer. If you do these things, your life can be enriched and your character strengthened!