Biblical Perspectives on Friendship by Lynne Baab

This is the fourth in the series of posts by Lynne Baab.  My copy of Lynne’s new book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, arrived yesterday and I am really looking forward to reading it.  These posts have wetted my appetite for more.

Lynne is the author of numerous other books, including Sabbath Keeping and Reaching Out in a Networked World. Visit her website for reviews and other information about her books. Lynne is a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister with a PhD in communication from the University of Washington, currently a lecturer in pastoral theology in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Several friendships can be observed on the pages of the Bible, such as Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi, Jeremiah and Baruch, Mary and Elizabeth, and Paul and Barnabas. Each of these relationships can teach us some lovely lessons about friendship. But their usefulness as models for friendship is unfortunately limited. Each of the biblical writers who told these stories was focused on something other than friendship as the main emphasis of the stories. First and foremost, the writers were trying to convey the acts of God in human history. Therefore their descriptions of the friendships between individuals were a secondary emphasis, and the friendship details are frustratingly limited.

In somewhat the same way, the admonitions about life in the body of Christ so common throughout the epistles have some relevance to friendship. However, they aren’t entirely helpful because the epistle writers were focused primarily on building up the fledgling Christian communities of the first century. They weren’t addressing friendship in and of itself. Certainly the instructions about compassion, kindness and gentleness are relevant to friendship, but sometimes it’s hard to tease out exactly what applies to friendship and what applies to the wider Body of Christ.

I want to propose some scriptures that I do find helpful in evaluating my own friendship behavior:

I Corinthians 13. This classic passage, so often used at weddings, is just as relevant to friendship as to other relationships. When I was a young adult, I memorized the whole chapter, one of the best things I have ever done. In the middle of the night, when I wake up and ponder something that happened the previous day in a relationship, I often recite I Corinthians 13 and allow God to speak to me through these beautiful words about what I need to do next to act in love toward a friend or colleague.

The fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. The metaphor of fruit implies that we don’t make these things happen. Instead, our responsibility is to sink our roots down into the living water that Christ provides and let God grow these fruits in us. However, we can use the list of the fruit of the spirit to evaluate our relationships and to ask God for specific fruit that appears to be lacking in us when we communicate with our friends.

Jesus’ model. The variety of Jesus’ responses to diverse situations is remarkable. He shows compassion, speaks truthful and challenging words, touches a leper, writes in the sand, gets mad, asks God for strength and guidance, and goes off alone to reflect and pray. The variety and creativity of his responses can be an excellent challenge to us in our friendships. Is there a way to respond to a challenge that is new and different? Is God calling us to speak truth? Show compassion? Give a hug? Go off alone and pray?

For many, friendship is a port in the storm and a warm blanket on a frigid, stormy day. Friendship can be a place where we learn how to love and where our values are shaped. I am convinced that the greatest challenge in friendship is not to figure out who is a friend, but to grow in the ability to act like a friend, to learn how to live out the kind of love that enables us to support and care for our friends.

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