The Power of Friendships
In this Power Up series so far, we have seen that the key to spiritual growth is disciplined habits. However, friendships is another of the tools that God uses to help us in our spiritual walk because our friendships play a vital role in our spiritual growth.
Jesus says, "I demand that you love each other as much as I love you ..." John 15: 12-13TLB. The quality of our relationship with our friends is important to Jesus. We, therefore, need to be very intentional about the friends we make, to help us Power Up our spiritual growth, and it is critical to follow God's guidance in establishing friendships.
Charles Swindoll made an observation that, "The neighbourhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants us to give His church. It's an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality - but it is a permissive, accepting and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets, and they usually don't tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers."
In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NKJV, it says, "Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion ... Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him ..."
BENEFITS OF FRIENDS
The writer of Ecclesiastes wants us to understand that:
1. Friendship is a good investment. In the passage, the words "good reward" can also be translated "good return" - dividends paid on a wise investment. The very best investment you will ever make in life will not be a financial one, but rather the investment made in relationships.
2. Friendships help you when you're down. We need friends to help us when we fall. "For if they fall, one will lift up his companion ..." Often, it's not the big, life-changing tragedies that are most destructive, but the daily disappointments and minor setbacks that over time drive us to despair. That's why we need friends all the time.
3. Friendships provide emotional or physical warmth: "...if two lie down together, they will keep warm ..."This is more than just about keeping each other physically warm. Sometimes we face circumstances and wonder, "How am I going to make it through this right now?" That is the time we need a friend to give us emotional strength. Friends are the channel of God's love and affection. Friends provide emotional strength when we do not have enough of our own.
4. Friendships protect you or your reputation: True friendship demands that we watch each other's back. A friend stands up and fights for the other when the situation demands it. The other person's reputation is important to them.
5. Friendships means being committed to help each other grow spiritually: True friends want to see us continue to grow. True biblical friends are always challenging each other and even pushing one another to be all that God wants.
So who is a friend and how do you know what friends look like? Many people lack a clear understanding of the levels of friendship, which involve specific freedoms and responsibilities, depending on the closeness of the relationship. The levels are:
i. Acquaintances: This is a casual relationship; all friendships start here. Your interaction is about things that are public information and generalities. As you get to know these people, some of them transition from being acquaintances to the next level:
ii. Casual friend: As you discover common interests, a casual friendship develops. Here, you pass from public information to sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings about issues, among other things. A friendship should build a Godly character in both your lives.
This may then transition into:
iii. Good friends: At this level, persons start having significant influence in your life as you give them permission, but true biblical fellowship requires that both persons share the same spiritual perspective.
Finally there is:
iv. Close/intimate friendship: Close friends have the freedom to correct one another and point out each other's shortcomings, discern their causes and suggest solutions. This level is reserved for very few people.
We are all interested in advancing our spiritual lives, but no man is an island. If Jesus needed friends, how much more do we? Proverbs 18:24 NKJV states, "A man who has friends, must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."
The whole concept of true friendship starts with God. Jesus said to His disciples, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends ..." John 15:15 NIV. God the Father and Jesus the Son recognised our need for an intimate friend, one who is closer than a brother.
They decided that what we need is so important, that Jesus - God the Son - decided to come and die for our sins. Jesus broke down the wall of hostility between us and God so that we could become friends. Jesus wants to be your friend. It is our choice to accept His friendship. Won't you do that now?