The Gift and the Duties of Friendship
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. – C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis always had a way with words, a twist of mind so bright that it shed light on the seemingly simplest of things, giving them a fullness of meaning we had not seen before. He does that again in this quote. He reveals the paradox of friendship here. In short, friendship is not necessary to our survival, but the reality is that true friendship gives our lives, our survival, true, immeasurable, priceless value.
In chapter 17 of the book of Proverbs, verse 17, the writer says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” All of us who have a friend like this know that this is a fact. A true friend is there with us in the good times, making the good times even better. But when times are tough, when we fall into periods of darkness, when we are overcome by fears, or losses, a true friend becomes our advocate, our counselor, our defender, our support.
Of course, this must be true in the other direction as well. We have friends like this, precisely because we are, or have been friends like this to those we call our friends. If we are unwilling to be there in the hard times, the times of trial and test, why should we expect the other, to be there for us in those times. Because we have loved our friends, they love us in return. That is the natural economy of love, isn’t it.
We are friends not just with our presence, but with the very words of our mouths as well. In his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 29-32, Paul writes, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” If we are friends who are worthy of true friends, it will be because we never talk behind other’s backs, because we use our words always to build up the other, never to tear them down.
Have you ever been with someone you know and like, but they talk about others behind their backs, or make jokes about them at their expense. Have you ever wondered what they might say about you in your absence? Well if we are guilty of this kind of behavior, we should not be surprised that others might be leery about trusting us as friends.
The ultimate virtue of true friendship is one that we all know and believe in our minds and hearts, but often fall short of in our actions and words. It has been known from ancient times as “The Golden Rule.” It is put in many recognizable ways, but Luke in his gospel, chapter 6, verse 31, puts it this way, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is the eternal, universal wisdom of God. It is the center of God’s relationship with us, made obvious and clear in Jesus. “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friend.” (John 15:13).
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament tell us how to recognize and make friends too. “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” (Proverbs 22: 24-25) And, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.”
(1 Corinthians 15:33)
C.S. Lewis put it this way, “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.” A true friend, then, is one of life’s greatest treasures. To be a true friend is one of life’s greatest duties.
The most important friendship for us is the one we develop with God. James tells us in his letter, chapter 4, verse 8, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Jesus shows us the friendship that God has for us. We see it in his tears for Lazarus, in his actions toward those who were sick, the poor and the forgotten, and in what He did for all of us on The Cross.
Let us imitate Jesus then, in all our actions toward all who we meet, whether they are known to us, or not. Let us be friends to one another in the manner of Jesus. In this we might help to change the world, at least the little worlds of our daily lives.