There’s an old bit of proverbial wisdom that says that the best way to have a good friend is to be a good friend. I think there’s a great deal of truth to that. Certainly it’s an idea that has a central place in the Bible, beginning in Leviticus:
Leviticus 19:18 18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
The importance of this commandment probably can’t be overemphasized because this command is repeated over and over again throughout the Bible. In fact, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said this:
Matthew 22:37-40 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Mark 12:33 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Romans 13:9 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:14 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
James 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
Obviously, this commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves is a big deal. But what does it mean? Well, the best place to turn to find and answer to that question is to Jesus himself. Jesus had a couple of very interesting things to say about friendship.
1. The Circle of Confidence
One of the most interesting is found in John 15:15:
John 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
This is a verse that we quote a lot without necessarily always knowing what it means. It’s interesting that this verse is immediately preceded by John 15:14: you are my friends if you do what I command you. How can we be friends with someone we have to obey? Obviously, Jesus has a different view of what constitutes friendship, and he’s laid that out clearly: he calls us his friends because a servant does not know his master’s business. I have called you friends for everything I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
In other words, we are friends of Jesus because he has brought us into his circle of confidence. In a master-servant relationship, the master commands and the servant obeys, which on the surface sounds like exactly what we have to do in our relationship with Jesus. But the difference is that a servant doesn’t need to understand why the command has been issued. He just has to do it. You know, it’s the old, “If I say jump, your only question should be how high.” But God has opened his heart to us and brought us into his circle of confidence. He’s revealed to us his plans and our part in them. And it’s that opening of his heart to us that makes us his friends.
The implication of this is that being a genuine friend means opening up to people.
2. Serving Others
But there’s another aspect to genuine friendship that Jesus both taught and demonstrated. For this one we need to back up a couple of verses
John 15:12-13 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
To love our neighbors, to love our friends, is to serve them, to look first at what they need from us rather than what we can get from them. That’s what Jesus did on the cross for us and that is what he calls us to do in our relationships with others.
The problem is that we too often go into relationships with a glass that is half full, looking for someone who can fill it the rest of the way up, rather than thinking “I may not have much here, but I think you’re thirstier than I am. Here you go.” Now, of course it might look like this will leave you empty, but you need to remember that while God has made us to find fulfillment in our relationships with others, he has also made us to find fulfillment in our relationship with him and what we pour out into others he can replenish from an infinite supply.
And you know what’s really cool? What we’ve poured into others can come back to us when we most need it, only now in a way that causes our cup to runneth over.
And so we find the balance that God intended for our lives when we understand and live in light of God’s commands about having, choosing and being friends to one another.
Our relationship with God is meant to be personal, but it is not meant to be private.