Think of your favorite buddy films. What do they have in common? Whether it’s The Lord of the Rings, Clueless, Lethal Weapon, or Steel Magnolias, these vastly different films have themes in common that keep us cheering and watching: Good friends are loyal. Good friends encourage one another toward greatness. Good friends provide comfort and presence during loss. Good friends defend.
As it turns out, God is cheering on friendship too. Friendship is often underrated, yet integral in the family of God. There are leaders who need mentors (Moses and Jethro); there are people in crisis who need an ally (David and Jonathan); there are folks who need to be encouraged and advised to take the next step (Barak and Deborah); there are older people who are relationally and economically vulnerable (Naomi and Ruth); and there are talented individuals who need the honing help of more experienced people (Apollos with Priscilla and Aquila). Spiritual friendship reflects the love of Jesus; the “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
Don’t underestimate the power of story and testimony in inspiring hope and spurring one another on to good deeds. Share your histories of faith and doubt, share your mistakes, share your lessons with one another. This is essential for discipleship and growth—and fostering an atmosphere of safety to grow, make mistakes, and take risks. Hebrews 10:23-25 teaches us that we can be motivated to hold fast to the faith by fellow believers: “stir up one another to love and good works,” the passage says. Intentionally running life’s race with believers of different economic and educational backgrounds, ages, stages, races and ethnicities, marital statuses, with and without children is guaranteed—guaranteed!—to help us run our best race with Christ. Call it the “cloud of witnesses” effect. When we see someone beside us or ahead of us who has pushed through a similar obstacle, we are inspired to endure.
friendship gets messy
Jesus has given us a gracious example of friendship. In John 13:12–20, right before His betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus kneels and washes the soiled feet of his disciples—a lowly duty that Peter is hesitant to accept from his Master. Jesus says, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (v. 15). Jesus’ love looked like attentive service, closeness, care. His friendship didn’t condescend or scold; it was observant and gentle. His ministry to the disciples was not sterile; it entered into the grime, brought fresh water and a towel. Wisdom tells us that in order to love our friends as Jesus loved His, we get to use our words and actions to challenge, cover, and care for them. Wisdom reminds us that we know a good friend by whether we can trust them with our messiness…because they won’t ignore it, and they won’t leave us in it.