From blogs by Public Discourse and The Gospel Coalition
A recent poll of 2000 adults in the UK into the nature of modern friendship found that 86% of respondents said that a true friend is one who 'likes and shares' your social media posts.
Is this true friendship?
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist born in the Macedonian city of Stagira in 384 B.C. As Aristotle has said, "Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit”.
In his writings on Ethics, Aristotle describes friendship as reciprocated goodwill. But it is the source of that goodwill that differentiates perfect friendship from two imperfect forms of friendship. With true friendship, friends love each other for their own sake, and they wish good things for each other.
The two imperfect forms of friendship are based on either utility or pleasure. Imperfect friends love the benefits they derive from their relationship: they find each other pleasant, or useful, or both, and their goodwill stems from that. The relationship I have with a golf friend who makes me laugh, for instance, might be a friendship of pleasure. If he plays with me because I have a membership in an exclusive golf club, then his friendship for me is one of utility.
The point here is not that true friendships are not pleasant or useful—they are—but merely that the pleasure or usefulness is not the source of the love true friends feel for each other. A true friend loves his or her friend for who he or she is, for his or her character. Because the love is based on something enduring, the friendship is enduring. Imperfect friendships, on the other hand, arise and die quickly, because they are based on impermanent things: beauty, or wealth, or shared experiences. When one or both parties cease to find the relationship pleasant or useful, the relationship ceases as well.
True friends care more about benefiting each other than about benefiting themselves, but that’s not all they care about or even that it’s the main thing they care about. Far to the contrary. True friends are friends because they care about the same thing: goodness. They love each other for who they are because they see that thing they care most about—goodness—in each other. True friends pursue the good together through whatever activities they share, even when—especially when—the pleasure and utility seem to be gone. They help each other in the pursuit of virtue and, says Aristotle, guard each other’s virtue more carefully than they would each other’s property. They have true concord, because they “wish for what is just and advantageous, and seek it in common.”
Let's build on this by taking a look at Biblical friendship.
Jonathan Holmes in his book, The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship, suggests that friendship as defined by the Bible is explicitly Christ-centered. Here’s his working definition:
Biblical friendship exists when two or more people, bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, pursue him and his kingdom with intentionality and vulnerability. Rather than serving as an end in itself, biblical friendship serves primarily to bring glory to Christ, who brought us into friendship with the Father. It is indispensable to the work of the gospel in the earth, and an essential element of what God created us for.
Hobbies and interests change. Stages and seasons of life shift. Friendship needs to be grounded in something far more stable and enduring than these. Friendship that is truly biblical must therefore begin with our friendship in Christ. Augustine attests to this, praying: “There can be no true friendship unless those who cling to each other are welded together by You in that love which is spread throughout our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us.”
Biblical friendship must be centered on Christ and mediated by his sacrificial death on the cross. A friendship built on anything less—whether short-lived social demographics or digital interactions—cannot bear the same fruit, survive the same tests, or deliver the same satisfaction.
In keeping with this biblical definition, true friendship requires sacrificial love. In a passage whose familiarity has perhaps obscured its profundity, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). A few days later, Jesus will actually live out this truth. He will voluntarily give his own life to bring underserving people like you and me into friendship with the Triune God. His words a few verses later permanently alter our status: “No longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
Sounds great in the abstract, right? But then Jesus commands (not suggests) that the disciples “love one another” (John 15:17). The connection is clear: If love in its highest and greatest form was demonstrated through Christ’s self-sacrificial death on our behalf, then clearly the love we display to one another through our friendships must also be characterized by self-sacrifice.
Yet herein lies the rub: We’re creatures of comfort and ease who generally don’t like relationships that demand much from us. American author Jonathan Franzen observed that our culture doesn’t like to love because real loving requires sacrifice. We’re “troubled by real love” and, as a result, we have “no choice but to trouble love in turn.” Borrowing vernacular from Facebook, Franzen says that instead of loving, we go for the path of least sacrifice, mere liking. He perceptively notes, “Liking, in general, is commercial culture’s substitute for loving.”
The digital like is ultimately about self; its focus is often on being pleased. This is the essential nature of many things today we call “friendship.” But biblical love is about the other; its focus is on serving. Biblical friendships cannot thrive in a mentality of like. To flourish, they require love—self-sacrificial love enabled by the self-sacrificial, unwavering devotion of the Savior who calls us friends.
In and through biblical friendship, demonstrated by self-sacrificial love, we can tell a living story to a world crying out for genuine relationships. In and through such friendship, two people who have nothing in common but Christ can tell the amazing story of the gospel, of the Friend who sacrificed everything to be in friendship with you
Read the full Public Discourse blog here.
Read The Gospel Coalition blog here.
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