According to statistics, the average Facebook user has 245 friends. Are all those we call "friends" today really our friends? What makes them so?
Friends serve wonderful purposes in our lives, and we can be the kind of friend who is loyal, faithful, comforting, and prayerful, even with our flaws and issues.
Honestly, I'd say that many of the people on my "friend" list are not those I'd have a particular closeness to, and some are "friends of a friend." But Facebook has helped us out. We can designate someone as a "close" friend or "acquaintance," which determines how frequently you receive their news and updates. And we never really have to hear from the "friends" we're not interested in because we can "hide" them. We can even unfriend someone, and they'd never know unless they checked their friend list. With the average friend list of 250, who's gonna really take the time to do that?
But is this how our friendships should develop? Should we be so casual in our approach, or is there more that the Lord has for us in our friendships?
Recently, I've been spending a lot of time in Colossians 4, and it struck me that Paul had a lot of friends. He knew his friends intimately and could give specific commendations about how the Lord was using them in gospel ministry.
So, I think a better approach to defining, establishing, and maintaining friendships comes from the example of the apostle Paul, not our favorite social networking service. Here are the kinds of friends that Paul had and the kind of friends that I value and try to cultivate.
Thick-and-Thin Friend – Aristarchus (v. 10)
This is the friend who is there through the good and bad. They will walk with you through the darkest nights and the sunniest of days, both with joy and loyalty. Aristarchus was by Paul's side during riots, shipwrecks, and prison (Acts 19:29, 27:2; Col. 4:10).
Friend with Issues – Mark (v. 10)
This is the friend we've had some issues with, but we've committed to laying aside our differences to help and encourage one another in the faith. Mark had deserted the mission to return to his home in Jerusalem (Acts 13:13, 15:36–38). We don't know the particulars of the dispute, just that Mark left when Paul and others had expected him to stay and finish the work. However, Paul later commended Mark's helpfulness to him in the ministry and asked the church to welcome him if he visited them (Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11).
Friends Who Are Kin and a Comfort – Justus (v. 11)
Justus, along with Mark and Aristarchus, was among the few Jewish Christians who were with Paul to comfort and encourage him. Paul experienced opposition from his own countrymen (2 Cor. 11:26), so to have these brothers by his side must have been a great comfort to him. There is something special about a friend who has some familial connection, or who at least comes from a similar background or culture and can identify with and comfort us in our struggles.
Prayer Warrior – Epaphras (v. 12–13)
We all need a friend like this, who struggles on our behalf in their prayers! This was Epaphras. He founded the church at Colossae, and most likely filled Paul in on the threats to the Church. It would take volumes to list all the ways I've been personally encouraged, strengthened, bolstered in faith, stirred to obedience, filled with joy, and grown in my walk with Christ because of the prayers of dear friends.
Loved and Loyal Friend – Luke (v. 14)
This was his friend, Dr. Luke. He had accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys and was with him during his imprisonments (Phil. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11; Col. 4:14). Like Aristarchus and others, Luke was a faithful friend who was dearly loved by Paul. We all need those friends whom we love with a godly love, who would come barefoot and pajama-clad with a Scripture, a prayer, and a Snickers in our time of need.
Friends Who Fail Us and Fall for the World – Demas (v. 14)
Demas was with Paul in prison, suffering for the sake of the gospel, and stood alongside Luke as one of Paul's close companions (Phil. 24). We learn later that Demas tried to have one foot in the kingdom and one foot in the world (2 Tim. 4:10). But Paul kept him close and continued to encourage him until his heart proved where his loyalties lay. We all have friends who don't seem to be walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, and we need to follow Paul's example by keeping them close, encouraging them, and praying fervently for them (Col. 1:9–11).
A Friend Who Sticks Closer Than a Brother
Friends serve wonderful purposes in our lives, and we can be the kind of friend who is loyal, faithful, comforting, and prayerful, even with our flaws and issues. But for the Christian, no earthly friendship compares to the friendship that we share with Christ through faith in Him. During Old Testament times, only Moses and Abraham were called friends of God (Ex. 33:11; Isa. 41:8), but now Christ calls us His friends. Why? Because He loved us in a way that no other friend could possibly compare. He gave His life for us.
Jesus Christ, our Savior and Friend, has brought us into His inner circle through repentance and faith in His atoning work. Everything the Father made known to Him, He has made known to us (John 15:13–15). He has shared with us the most intimate details of His life—how He came, how He would live and die, how He would save us by His death.
In whatever ways our earthly friendships may measure up, we can be sure that there's not another friend like Him. We can trust Him with the most intimate details of our and our friends' lives. He promises to be our Comforter. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He is the Friend most worth having, and He is the kind of friend we should most desire to be like.
Do you know Him as your Friend? Take a moment to bless Him and your other friends in the comments section.