The Bible has a lot to say about friendship. It doesn’t say much about friendship between men and women – but it’s important to start here before we move onto what it has to say specifically about men and women.
There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice. Proverbs 27:9
There’s an expression ‘blood is thicker than water’ – saying that your blood relationships, your family, are more important than your other relationships. In other words – family loyalties are stronger than friendships. This may be true in many instances – but it is not necessarily the case. As Proverbs says, there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And there are various other commendations of friendship – mostly in Proverbs, as I’ve quoted above.
And the Bible doesn’t just say friendship is a good thing – there are important examples of friendship. To mention but two examples:
- Jesus and his disciples – Jesus specifically calls his disciples ‘friends’ in John 15:15.
- David and Jonathan – probably the archetypal example of friendship in the Bible. 1 Samuel 18:3 says, “Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself”, and in 1 Samuel 20:42 Jonathan says to David, “we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord”.
But – how common are these kind of friendships? Are they rare, or are they supposed to be normal?
Love one another deeply
The apostle Peter wrote in his first letter, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Jesus said, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
In other words, deep love is supposed to be the characteristic of the Christian community – the church. The church is consistently described throughout the New Testament as a family – in fact, Jesus even goes as far as saying that the new family we have in the church is more solid than our biological families.
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting round him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’
‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’Mark 3:31-35
Perhaps blood is not thicker than water after all! – or at least, it shouldn’t be for Christians. For those who now belong to the Lord Jesus, they have a whole new family.
The New Testament letters constantly talk about ‘one another’ – that is, God’s will is supposed to be worked out in community, not in isolation. We need each other to live the way that God wants us to!
It seems pretty clear that healthy, close friendships are supposed to be normal for Christians. We cannot fulfil God’s will for our lives without them. We cannot be the family of God without friendship. And our new family – the church – is even more important to God than our biological family.
Being sinners together
“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” C.S. Lewis – The Four Loves
Friendships are born out of a mutual interest – something in common between the two parties. There is one thing which is common to all of us as human beings: we are sinners – we do not love God or our neighbour as we should. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
And yet, we are called to grow in holiness together, as a church, as a body, as a family. We help each other. How do we do that? James 5:16 sums it up: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” We are open about our sin, we confess before one another, and we pray for each other. That doesn’t mean confessing sin to all and sundry – but rather, there should be people – particular friends – who we are open with. Some people do this intentionally with accountability groups or prayer triplets – whatever you want to call them.
They are friendships between two (or more) people walking together, focussed on Christ, confessing sin to each other. Friendship to help each other walk more closely with God, to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ.
This kind of friendship – the kind of friendship which is open about sin and is Christ-centered – is called a spiritual friendship. Fortunately, there is already a website dedicated to Spiritual Friendship, and I will direct you there for much more information. Sadly, Spiritual Friendship seems to have become something of a rarity, but I would encourage you to change that by seeking to form more of them.
But what about men and women?
I hope that the above has convinced you that friendship in the Bible is encouraged and even commanded by God – it should be expected as a normal part of the Christian life. But how does this fit in with men and women? After all – most of the talk about accountability groups make it very clear that these groups should be same-sex only.
Can men and women be Spiritual Friends? What does the Bible say about that?