What Does the Bible Say About Friendship?

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When I asked my son to name a famous set of friends in the Bible he quickly said, “David and Jonathan”. Their friendship begins fast and remains fierce, “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (1 Samuel 18:1 ESV)

David and Jonathan made a covenant with each other and both of them protected and served one another all their lives. What a beautiful example of a friendship! It’s not every day you hear about a friendship with such strong emotions and ties. I want my children to have this in their lives!

The friendship of Ruth and Naomi, a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law is also a relationship to admire. It’s another one you don’t hear of working out very often. What a gift to have in-laws serve each other so humbly!

And what about Paul and Timothy? Paul, the teacher longing to be with his padawan (so to speak!) above almost any other person. This multi-generational friendship is something not everyone gets to experience.

It’s interesting because it seems like friendship would be the main goal of relationships. We want everyone to be our friend, right? Well, maybe. But the real theme seen over and over in the Bible is less about gaining friends and wooing people and more about how we treat those other people—friends, neighbors and even enemies.

Proverbs 18:24 reminds us that a good friend “sticks closer than a brother”.

Proverbs 17:17 says that a real friend “loves at all times”.

Then, we see a switch in the lesson. It’s not so much about friends, but more about “neighbors”.

The disciple, Matthew writes that Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves” (22:39). John writes that Jesus’ command is to “love one another as I have loved you”. (15:12)

Jesus doesn’t talk too much about being a good friend but simply about serving others. And we see this repeated again and again in the apostles’ letters to the early churches. Here are just a few of their words:

James 2:8 (ESV)

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

Galatians 5:14 (ESV)

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

1 Corinthians 10:24 (ESV)

Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

Romans 13:10 (ESV)

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Being a good friend then is not about accumulating and keeping friends the way we collect Facebook friends today or gathered friendship pins when we were little. Instead, we see the real lesson is not about the other person, it’s about us. We are to put others first. We are to love, stick close to, remain loyal, and serve others regardless of the relationship to ourselves.

As parents leading our kids to have good friendships in school, on sports teams, at church, and even within our families, let’s point them to the strong command and lesson from Jesus and echoed by the apostles,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)

Family Activity Idea: Give everyone in the family a piece of paper and have them draw the outline of their body on it. Inside the body, write things they like or desire (clothes, food, kindness, movies, books, etc.) Then, have them switch with someone else and look at the words written inside. Use those words to think of 1-2 ways to serve the other person this week. (For example, your brother wrote “movies”, plan a movie night and let him pick the movie. Your mom wrote “books”, give her a coupon that says, “I’ll fold the clothes for 30 minutes while you read a book.”) Talk about how we can love and serve others instead of ourselves!