What is true friendship?
Someone once lamented to me about the trials of friendship as we get older (and busier). Friendships become increasingly transient when obligations in the office and stuffed schedules effortlessly drive a wedge in-between persons whom were once fastened together. I found this observation truer than I had previously thought for I have forged way fewer close friendships in university than any time before.
As I pondered over the complexities of “modern-day” friendship, God gently dropped this thought into my heart: “Joseph, the most unreciprocated friendship in your life is the one with Jesus.”
All I could muster in response was: “Oh.” Time collapsed for a moment, as if it were waiting for this phrase to sear through my heart.
I came to an arresting realisation that whenever I looked to Jesus in my life, I would approach Him as my Lord and Saviour, but not quite as my friend. My perception of Jesus was often a glorious figurehead seated at God’s right hand (Mark 16:19) and while true, this entrenched image has somehow created a chasm between Jesus and me — some distance from the intimate friendship that He desires.
We have probably heard that “Christianity is a relationship and not a religion” more than 5,472 times in our lifetime, but isn’t it peculiar how no one has quite specified what kind of “relationship” they were referring to? God is multi-faceted, like the different but complementary roles played by each person in the Holy Trinity, and a heavy responsibility fell upon me to unravel a new attribute of Jesus from that day on.
As I searched the scriptures about friendship with Jesus, I began to ruminate on John 15:15 (NIV), in which He says: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learnt from my Father I have made known to you.” This singular verse set into motion an incredible adventure in learning about Jesus as a friend, from a mere acquaintance to an irreplaceable buddy. I have also discovered a few revelations from this precious friendship.
1. Friendship is purely voluntary, yet He chose me.
In my first reading of John 15:15, it left me reeling in bewilderment as I did not understand why He called me His “friend” when He could have easily replaced it with “brother” and it would not make a difference. It took me some time before I grasped that friendship is all about choice — unlike a familial relationship, a friend decides on his own accord to journey alongside you on this broken road. Just like a band of brothers who have committed to fight this sinner’s battle with me, Jesus has chosen me as His dear friend. John 15:16 elucidates this as Jesus professes that “[we] did not choose [Him], but [He] chose [us].”
Jesus’ decision to call me friend out of His own desire is even more incredulous when (in the wise words of C.S. Lewis) “friendship is the least natural of the loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious, and necessary…[;] we can live and breed without friendship.” He does not need me in any conceivable way, yet He cleaves onto me in spite of my splintered state. It is as if Jesus knew that He was crusading a losing war, but He still chose to remain. This friendship never fails to leave me in awe and wonder considering that the very same person who commands the skies and seas has willingly sworn His eternal allegiance to this helpless chap.
2. Friendship with Christ only leads to perfection.
I believe that a significant mark of someone who “sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24 NIV) would be one who does not shy away from correcting in love; they exclusively long for the best in me. I’ve come to know that this is exactly what my friendship with Jesus entails, as he seeks to perfect my faith (Hebrews 12:2 ESV) rather than pamper me like a petulant child. Life is unequivocally peachy when we have got friends who unstoppably cheer us on, but surely there are times when we fall out of line. Jesus challenges me just like how “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) and His unflinching love keeps me acutely aware that His “wounds” are ever “faithful” (Proverbs 27:6). Friendship can be abrasive at times, however He knows when exactly to cling onto me in spite of my bullheadedness, and when to let go.
3. True friendship centres around sacrifice.
John 15:13 explicates that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This makes Jesus the ultimate friend because no one else has allowed His veins to be ripped apart for my accord and unreservedly bore my cross. While He had no logical reason to do so, He forsook His friendship with God just so that I can be reconciled with God. Instead of inflicting wounds onto me, He took my wounds instead.
My friendship with Christ has not only shown me how He has marvellously modelled friendship for me, but also how herculean the task is in embodying such a friendship to others around me. Maybe the reason why we struggle at times in finding true friendships could be attributed to us being dreadful friends ourselves. I can easily recall times when I’ve been reluctant (at best) to help a friend in need; I have withheld transparency and emotional veracity on numerous occasions; I have habitually spewed contempt without seeking forgiveness afterwards.
Thankfully, my friendship with Jesus also renews me to more like Him, in the same way that close friends gradually find themselves sharing the same vocabulary, iPod playlist, and idiosyncrasies. Thoughts of discontentment used to clump like silt in my mind when it came to my friendships. “Why can’t he be gentler with his words?” — “Why is she so judgy?” — “Why can’t he be more temperate?” I did not pick out the shaft of wood in my own eye until my friendship with Jesus taught me selflessness. He pulled me out like Jonah from the deep, helping me to earnestly care for others more than my own petty expectations and narrow-minded comfort. My heart bends towards the light whenever I remind myself that History was plunged into scarlet for the sake of friendship and He still has the scars to prove it.
If your friendships are in shambles today, where you feel like the city that you built is in ruins, I want to encourage you to look to the ultimate builder of friendships for inspiration. As you cultivate a deeper friendship with Jesus, may your earthly friendships be remade more and more like the intimate friendships exuded in the Holy Trinity. The deeper your roots grow in Jesus, the wider your branches will spread majestically in how you live your life, such that birds shall find shelter in it and sing new songs of spring.