Sarah and Kelsey are best friends. They met when Kelsey walked into Sarah’s dorm room to borrow a textbook from her roommate and noticed Sarah watching her favorite movie. Forty minutes later, after discussing plot lines and rehearsing favorite scenes from the movie, they were fast friends. Slowly, over time, they began doing everything together—Bible study, accountability, and finally, the Facebook profile picture with the label “Besties” made it official.
Sarah and Kelsey began to see their other friends less and less. The ease of their friendship was convenient and fun. They began talking every day, sharing deep emotions and feelings, and praying for one another. Eventually, Sarah didn’t feel like her day was complete until she had talked to Kelsey. When Kelsey had a hard day, she immediately texted Sarah for consolation. She knew Sarah would pray for her anyway. It was hard for them to imagine what life was like before they were best friends.
Their other friends at church joked that Sarah and Kelsey were a “frouple”—friends that act like a couple. It was hard to talk to them because their conversations were so intertwined with inside jokes.
Then one summer, everything changed. Sarah went on a mission trip with her church and met another friend, Amy. Kelsey would call to talk to Sarah, but sometimes she was hanging out with Amy and her other mission trip friends. Or when she invited Sarah over, Amy would come too. It was no longer just Kelsey and Sarah. The intense jealousy Kelsey felt was overpowering. She felt betrayed, hurt, and angry.
This is the story of a friendship gone wrong. Somewhere along the way, Kelsey began to look to Sarah for things only God should give: worth, purpose, belonging, and security. This is the story of a friendship infected with idolatry. And it happens far too often.
The First Lie
Since the serpent first opened his mouth in the garden, he’s been trying to convince us that God is not enough for us: “You’re missing out. God’s holding out on you.” (Gen. 3:1–6) Now, the temptation to look to God’s creation instead of God Himself for satisfaction is a common, daily struggle.
Anything we look to for satisfaction other than God is an idol. The subtlest forms of idolatry happen when we put good things above God. Marriage is a good thing. But when we need it more than God, it is an idol. Children are good things, but when we need them more than God, they are idols. Friends are good things, but when we need them more than God, they are idols.
Most Christians assume friendships could never be sinful, especially same-gender friendships. In fact, if you need your best friend more than God, it will rarely be noticed or even considered to be wrong. A best friend can become a god, a functional savior who rescues you from the hardships of life, and no one will call it sin. This is why idolatry in friendship is dangerously deceptive. It’s culturally acceptable to need your friends more than you need God.
But anything that takes God’s place in your heart becomes an idol, even your closest girlfriend.
All We Need Is God
Please hear me, God created us for community. We desperately need healthy, intimate, godly friends. Truly, it is not good for man to be alone. But when any good, and even necessary, thing gets elevated above or even to the same level as God, this is idolatry:
- God created us to need food and water to point us to Him, the Bread of Life and the Fountain of Living Water (Deut. 8:3).
- God gave us His written Word, the Bible, to point us to Him: the Word Made Flesh (John 5:39–40).
- God created us to be in community to point us to Him: the communal, three-in-one Trinity (Ps. 73:25–26).
Idolatry is misplaced worship, and it's nothing new. In fact, Paul traces all sin back to misplaced worship in Romans 1:
For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks . . . and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man . . . because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. (vv. 21, 23, 25–26)
The root of all sin is taking God out of His proper place of utmost importance in our lives and giving more weight (glory) to a created thing or person. This is what idolatry in friendship is: giving more weight and value to a friend than to God.
Over time, friendship idolatry can produce a lot of neediness—needing to be with your friend to be okay, needing to talk to her to feel at peace, needing her presence more than God’s presence. Long-term friend worship can lead to addictive dependencies, deep-rooted attachments, debilitating despair when something interferes with the friendship (friend moves away or gets a boyfriend), and unnatural physical affection. These are all perversions of God’s original intended purpose for friendship and community.
Sign of Friendship Idolatry
Below are thirteen signs you might be in an unhealthy, idolatrous friendship:
- You experience frequent jealousy and possessiveness, you desire exclusivity with a friend (being her best friend), and you view other people as a threat to the relationship.
- You prefer to spend time alone with this friend and become frustrated when this doesn’t happen.
- You lose interest in other friendships.
- You are unwilling to make short- or long-range plans that do not include this friend.
- You refer frequently to her in conversation.
- You feel free to “speak for” her.
- You use flattery and praise often, like, “You are the only one who understands me,” or “I don't know what I would do without you.”
- You have nicknames for each other and refer to things that have special meaning to both of you, and/or have a secret language.
- You frequently need her “help” by creating or exaggerating problems to gain attention or sympathy.
- You exhibit physical intimacy with this friend that makes others feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, including but not limited to: frequent hugging, holding hands, touching, frequent back and neck rubs, tickling and wrestling, cuddling, playful flirtatious touches, etc.
- You lack a measure of appropriate modesty with each other: frequently being naked around each other, etc.
- You make her feel guilty over unmet expectations by saying, “I was going to call you last night, but I know you’re probably too busy to bother with me.”
- You undermine her other relationships by convincing her that her other friends do not care, or you befriend all her other friends in order to control the situation.
The Way Out
Repentance is always the way out of sin. That begins with agreeing with God by calling our idolatry what it is: sin. It is forsaking God, the Fountain of Living Waters, and running to broken, empty cisterns [friends] that can hold no water (Jer 2:13). Let us repent of putting friends in the place only God should be and turn to Him in faith and humility, asking Him to save us, free us, and satisfy us with Himself!