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27 April 2012

Have we lost the art of friendship?

Have we lost the art of friendship?

As I watch a plethora of excruciating performances and eardrum-perforating screeches in the Britain’s Got Talent or The X Factor auditions I wonder: “Don’t these people have friends?” Was no-one able to speak some truth-in-love and convince them at an earlier stage to explore other avenues in life?

Similarly, do we really need Trinny and Susannah, or Gok Kwan to tell us what (not) to wear? Are there no stylish friends around we can ask? On a more painful note, how is it possible that relations between parents and children so badly deteriorate that it needs intervention by a Supernanny? The range of such TV programmes tells us that we need specialists – whereas often we just need good friends.

The Bible portrays friendship as a rich gift and a crucial vanguard for life. After all, friends speak with a much-needed candour. Their valuable perspective and sound advice is vital for our growth. We need a circle of people with whom we can share our aspirations and struggles. We need friendships marked by openness and vulnerability in which we allow people ‘in’ and hold one another accountable. Wounds inflicted by them can be trusted – an edge that is missing in a host of shallower contacts. “A man with many companions may come to ruin, but a friend sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 17:17, 18:24, 27:6).

Friendship originates in God. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:11). Jesus models friendship in his relationships with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He teaches that friendship is about self-disclosure and fruitfulness. “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Whereas servants don’t know the master’s business, friends do. He chose us as friends – that we may remain in that bond of love, adhere to his words and bear fruit. Later, he will show the extent of his love in laying down His life (John 15:9-17).

“ A man with many companions may come to ruin, but a friend sticks closer than a brother.”
Proverbs 17:17, 18:24, 27:6

Sociologists have found that never before in western lifestyle has there been such an erosion of the wide range of relationships. In a busy lifestyle, we have neglected not only the role of friendship but also of tribe, extended family, fellowship, and community. This narrowing is causing an increased measure of isolation, and, conversely, places a huge strain on marriages – a weight of expectation the institution was never meant to carry. And, in a context of an increasing rate of marriage breakdown, the only question we are asking is ‘How can we strengthen marriages?’ Whereas, they suggest, we should consider the wider context of such relational poverty and ask ourselves: ‘How do we broaden again the wider range of relationships?’

The rich relational tapestry found in the scriptures shows God’s intentions for society. It’s not good for man to be alone. The inherent incompleteness of our existence causes us to seek community in the form of marriage, family, tribe, friendship, fellowship and society. We are indeed created for community, the whole rich gamut of it.

We detect the invaluable gift of friendship in David and Jonathan. Two are better than one. If one falls down, a friend can help him up. Though one may be overpowered, two can overcome. When life grows cold, friends provide a much-needed blanket. Together they see a good return of their work. These texts portray the strength of this cord of three strands (Ecclesiastes 4:8-11). The measure in which we develop good friendships will be shown in the fruitfulness of our life and the quality of such tenacious, loving bonds. Friends, after all, love at all times and have a  particular stickability in times of adversity.

And, finally, the wider world needs our friendship. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus, “friend of sinners”. Research shows that most people find faith these days because they know me. Or you, even. Most find faith today because of the people of God who pour their heart, prayers, and time out on their friends, disclosing some of the love of Jesus, who after all laid down his life for his enemies – that they may become his friends (Romans 5:6-11).

Marijke Hoek: Forum for Change co-ordinator, Evangelical Alliance

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