Excerpted from Living That Matters: Honest Conversations for Men of Faith by Steve Thomas and Don Neufeld. Used by permission of Herald Press. All rights reserved.
Great books and films often depict the important role of friends. Consider Sam accompanying Frodo on his journey in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo wouldn't have made it and completed his mission without Sam. And Frodo's recovery and joy were complete in the end only by being reunited with his friends.
The author of the Book of Sirach (in the Apocrypha) writes on the gift of being and having friends:
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price;
no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine. (6:14–16)
The writer also describes false friendship to show what true friends are like. Faithful friends stand together in times of trouble. They are faithful in conflict. And they are close in adversity (6:8–13). When we have true friends, we can say with the writer, "Wine and music gladden the heart, but the love of friends is better than either" (40:20). The friendship between David and Jonathan illustrates this love that is intimate, steadfast, and protective (1 Samuel 18–20, 23; 2 Samuel 1).
Jesus was a true friend. Consider his concentric circles of friends and what he modeled. We think first of his twelve companions. Within this circle was the inner circle of Jesus, Peter, James, and John. And inside this circle, Jesus enjoyed his closest friendship with John, the "beloved." Even with Jesus, we see different levels of friendship. Outside the twelve, Jesus also had many other friends, like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus looked upon them not simply as followers but also as friends. He made this clear in the end when he said, "I do not call you servants, . . . but I have called you friends" (John 15:15). When Lazarus died, Jesus cried. When others saw Jesus weeping, they exclaimed, "See how he loved him!" Here's a strong man crying over the death of a friend (John 11:35–36). Such was the love of Jesus for his friends.
Notice that Jesus chose to be with others who were significantly different from one another. For example, Jesus chose to be friends with Simon—a revolutionary Zealot—and Matthew, a tax collector and a Roman collaborator. Arguments and conflicts among the twelve disciples demonstrate that these friendships were challenging. But as we discussed earlier, conflict is simply a normal part of relationships. Rather than seeing it as a problem, Jesus saw these occasions as opportunities to learn.
Jesus formed close friendships not only with men but also with women, like Mary and Martha. This was radical for his day. With both men and women, he modeled learning and growing together as a company of companions.
In his relationships, Jesus shows us that friends embody love for one another. In being friends, we receive and extend God's love. And as we include others in our circles of belonging, we widen the embodied circle of God's love in the world.
How can we be better friends? By
- having regular habits of meeting together,
- being vulnerable in order to truly know each other,
- sharing our joys and struggles,
- extending God's unconditional love.
Being friends takes practice—that is, regular habits of being together. I have been in small groups of women and men who meet regularly to share deeply of life and faith. I have also had the weekly practice of walking with a friend at six in the morning before work. And for many years, I've met with a men's group every other week at six in the morning. Sometimes I just want to sleep in, especially on dark winter mornings, or stay home after a long day. When I look at my busy calendar or feel tired, I sometimes wonder whether it's worth the time and effort. So what keeps me going? It's what we experience together as friends by being a shelter, treasure, and medicine for one another.
Living that Matters: Honest Conversations for Men of Faith serves as a men's guide for conversation and reflection and includes 70 topics, like inclusion, for use by individuals or groups. Look for the book's release from Herald Press in January, 2023. Preorder Living that matters: Honest Conversations for Men of Faith HERE.