In this column I have been writing a few things about the various names we find in the book of Acts to describe Christians. One of these names is “Friends.” In Acts 27:3 Luke spoke of “the friends” (see also Acts 4:23; 24:23). Luke did not use this name often; however, it is an important one for Christians. A Christian's relationship to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ is one of friendship. Further, Christians are one another's friends by way of their common friendship with God.
Central to the idea of “Friendship” is loyalty. Through good times and bad times, friends are loyal and committed to each other. Friendship binds them together. The Bible contains some classic examples of friendship. 1 Samuel 18:1 says that the souls of David and Jonathan were knit together. They were kindred spirits. Jonathan, a faithful friend, protected David's life when Saul tried to kill David. Their mutual loyalty extended to the next generation. David was kind to Jonathan's son Mephibosheth for the sake of his friendship with Jonathan.
Another beautiful example of friendship is that of Naomi and Ruth. Ruth revealed her love, loyalty and devotion to Naomi when she said:
Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you. Ruth 1:16-17
Friends are loyal, helpful, and supportive. They share material things as well as happiness and grief. It is no surprise that several texts link friendship with covenant (Psalm 25:14; 55:20). Betrayal of friendship is breaking covenant. The greatest human friendship, marriage, is called a covenant (Malachi 2:14). Divorce is breaking covenant between husband and wife. And that is something which God hates (Malachi 2:16).
God established a covenant with Abraham. Abraham is called “the friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). Moses, the mediator of the old covenant, was a friend of God (Exodus 33:11). Jesus Christ has fulfilled the demands of the covenant. Through faith in Him we are heirs of the benefits of the covenant. Because of His work. God extends His covenant friendship to us.
In John 15:13ff, the Lord Jesus said that a man could have no greater love than that he should lay down his life for his friends. Then he said: “You are my friends.” Jesus Christ calls us His friends. He proved His friendship to us by laying down His life for us. As Proverbs 18:24 says:
“There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
That friend is Jesus Christ. He is loyal. He is faithful. He shares good things with us – righteousness and everlasting life.
The friendship Christ has with us is not a buddy-buddy friendship. It is not a friendship between two equals. Christ is the greater; we are the lesser. And yet, surprisingly, Christ calls His people “friends.”
Through our faithful Friend Jesus Christ, we may enjoy covenantal friendship with God. But being a friend of God means that we no longer have friendship with the world. You cannot be a friend of the world and a friend of God. As James wrote:
“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4
Friendship with Christ means that we will obey His commands. “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” said Christ (John 15:14). Psalm 25:14 says: “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant.”
Choose now! What will it be? Friendship with God through Jesus Christ or friendship with the world?
Friendship with God through our Friend Jesus Christ means that we will also be friends with the other friends of Christ. The common friendship of God which Christ extends to us also binds us together in friendship. By the time John wrote his third letter, “friends” was a common title for Christians. John ended his third letter with the words: “Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them.”
What does it mean for us to be friends? In Lord's Day 40 of the Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 107, we confess that the Sixth Commandment, You shall not kill, requires that we, among other things, show friendliness towards each other. If we go to the proof texts given under the answer, we see what it means to be friendly to one another. We love one another with brotherly affection and outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10). We correct each other in a spirit of gentleness rather than of haughtiness (Galatians 6:1). We put up with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2). We are compassionate, kind, meek and patient towards each other. We are sympathetic and tender to our brothers and sisters, children of God who are our friends in Christ.
Perhaps there are members of your congregation whom you do not really like. Maybe you don't like some of your fellow young people. That is beside the point. They are your friends – friends in Christ. They are your friends because Christ has extended the friendship of God to them as well as to you. Be friendly for the sake of Christ your Friend.