…Will you love her, comfort her, honor her and keep her, in sickness and in health, and remain loyal to her as long as you both shall live? You guessed it. It’s wedding season. But no one is fooled, not even at a wedding. Though we gather to celebrate a marriage between two people who are in love, everyone knows that difficult times are to be expected. In fact, the declaration of intent (consented to by the bride and groom at each wedding) has this expectation built into it. The bride and groom make promises to each other before a crowd of witnesses, committing to persevere through difficult times. It anticipates sickness and hard times–anyone who gets married but fails to acknowledge the unavoidable hard times is in for a big surprise, they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into! And even verbal commitments are nothing compared to actually living it out.
Just as marriages call for commitment, so do friendships. Now I’m not so disillusioned as to think that friendships are like marriages because they’re definitely different, but there are a few things we can learn from them. During a time of year that is chalk full of vows and promises, oaths and commitments, it’s fitting to look at this aspect of friendships and evaluate our level of commitment to our friends.
Commitment is something that our society is slowly losing it’s grasp of. Divorce rates are up at around 50% (including Christian marriages) and “casual” dating relationships and friendships abound. Friendships have become convenient due to social media powerhouses like Facebook and Twitter (and G-Chat) that allow people to contact each other at their own leisure, and more disconcerting, to answer each other at their own leisure. There is no sense of priority, but everything runs on your own time. You keep up with your friends as much as you want, which usually means keeping low maintenance friendships that don’t interfere with your personal space. If people get too close, you give them the axe; if people have too many problems, you ignore them. Our culture has trained us to exile any friends that cause too much hassle–maybe they talk too much, or want to hang out too much–keeping only those friends who understand your “personality” and who can accommodate your schedule. I mean, it’s hard to keep up with your 3,000 Facebook friends, so why keep in touch with the ones who are difficult to deal with?
Real friendships require commitment though. Just like vows are exchanged at a wedding, commitments are made between friends in Scripture as well. From God and Noah to David and Jonathan, commitments are plenty. But a specific example that I’d like to look at is the commitment Jesus had to his disciple Peter. Although Jesus had an entirely unique relationship with man, he is still our picture of true commitment in a friendship. Jesus was Peter’s closest friend and teacher, a man to whom Peter was loyal. Yet Peter’s reaction when Jesus was taken away by the Judas-informed Pharisees would have devastated any friendship: in his shame he denied Christ three times, turning his back on one of his dearest friends. In John 18:18 we have this incredible picture of Peter, standing with the servants and officers, warming his hands over a charcoal fire. As if denying his closest friend wasn’t incriminating enough, Peter had changed his entire attitude and behavior in order to blend in with those who had taken Jesus away! The extent of his denial was not merely found in words, but it engulfed his entire self! He changed the way he acted because he was so ashamed of being associated with Christ..
Jesus was betrayed and had all the reason to shun his former friend; he had a logical excuse to expel this backstabber from his inner circle. So what we see in John 21 seems illogical. After Jesus’ resurrection, he sits to have a meal with his disciple and asks Peter to take care of his flock. Jesus entrusted Peter with the entire flock of God, telling him to “feed my lambs”! Despite Peter’s betrayal, Jesus was keenly aware of the nature of man and the terms of his relationship with Peter. Not only was Jesus committed to the friendship, but he purposed to use the relationship for Peter’s good and for spiritual growth.
People will always fail you. This is a sobering reality that we must all come to grips with: this side of heaven people will always fail, it’s biblically in our nature (Rom. 3:23). We all make mistakes and we all sin against each other, so it’s unreasonable to expect perfection from anyone. There is only one person who is perfect and that is our Lord in heaven (which should cause us to depend on Him with an unhindered faith). Other than him, we can’t place unrealistic standards on others, not even our closest friends. Yet we find ourselves frustrated when people aren’t perfect, when they don’t live up to our standards. But consider who you’re dealing with, and consider your standards. Could you meet your own expectations? Do you allow your friends to make mistakes and grow from them? Are you committed to your friends beyond their benefits to you? A friendship is a commitment that extends beyond the good times and demands much more than simply bearing the bad, it is seeing others for who they are in God’s eyes and loving them with their faults in plain view.
In fact, friendships are a means through which the Lord sanctifies us. If not for friends around us who show us our selfishness and sins, we would have no desire to learn and grow; if not for the disasters around us, there would be no need to depend on God. He blesses us with difficult friendships and allows us to be stretched in order to deepen our relationships. Too often we’re surprised when our friends make mistakes and it seems like the easiest thing to do in those moments is ignore them. But in doing so we miss out on all the blessings that the Lord brings through those difficulties! We fail to recognize that God is using those opportunities to show us something that we might not have otherwise noticed! This is indeed true according to Scripture (Rom. 8:28) that our Lord uses all happenings–both good and bad–for our own good according to His purpose. Yes, that includes our friendships.
Next Friendship Fundamental: Discernment