Friends are the new family. With the traditional nuclear family on the decline in America, people are still searching for some form of stability—and for many, their gaze is turning to friendship. With the largest population of singles our nation has ever seen, we shouldn’t be too surprised.
Megan Gerber of The Atlantic made this same observation in 2017:
Friendships, increasingly, are playing an organizing role in society. Long conceived as side dishes to the main feast—marriage, kids, the nuclear family above all—friendships, more and more, are helping to define people’s sense of themselves in the world. During a time of emergent adulthood and geographic mobility, friendships are lending stability—and meaning—to people’s, and especially young people’s, lives.
This is an interesting development since, as Christians, we know that friendship is incredibly important. In Matthew 12:46–50 Jesus elevates our relationships—our friendships—with others in a profound way. And the Bible clearly doesn’t look down on singleness but actually showcases it as preferential to marriage in many ways (1 Cor. 7:6–7, 32–35). So it’s not a bad thing for friendship to take center stage.
But does that mean any expression of friendship is right? No, it can’t mean that because the Bible exhorts us to “see to it that no one takes us captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). The problem is that most people have never considered how their faith should affect their friendships.
So how does the gospel inform our friendships? What is friendship according to Christ? While the Bible doesn’t speak as directly to friendship as it does to marriage and family, that doesn’t mean it has nothing to say. In fact, there is much we can glean from the fundamentals we already know.
Here are four ways our faith in Christ should influence our friendships.
Jesus demands our ultimate loyalty, to be our friend above all others (Luke 14:26). Our devotion to him should be so paramount that all other relationships look like hate by comparison. But most of us know from experience that it’s all too easy to let God’s good gifts sneak into first place in our hearts. And friendship is no exception.
This means Christian friendship fights to keep itself out of first place. At its core, it’s companionship forged in the fire of the conviction that Jesus alone can satisfy our souls. Our friendships should foster dependence on God, not just on one another.
Of course, an important part of how we run to Christ is with our friends. But there is a difference between looking to our friend to meet our needs and looking to our friend as a guide to the cross. So how can you tell if you’ve placed your hope in a friend, not in Christ? Well, if something threatens to interrupt that friendship (a move, a new marriage, a new friend) and you feel jealous, unstable, or undone, it may signal that too much of your hope rests on your friend.
But the good news of the gospel is that we have all we need in Christ. He is our Savior, our Mediator, our Shepherd, our Satisfier. So when our souls are thirsty, we don’t turn to a friend but to a Savior. When a friend comes to us with their deep longings, we don’t seek to meet that need but point them to Jesus.
Second to our command to love God with all we are is the call to love others above ourselves (Mark 12:29–31; John 13:34). Our friendships with others should be marked by selflessness. But it’s all too common for us to allow our own desire for friendship to drive our actions. We often mask our internal greed with external generosity.
I’ve seen this in my own life. It shows up in my tendency to be extra kind to the popular person who could give my social life a leg up. In the way I’ve avoided speaking truthfully to my friends because I preferred a fake but comfortable friendship rather than something real. It’s all “nice” on the outside but, underneath, my own desires and preferences reign supreme. And as a Christian, that’s never acceptable.
The good news is that Jesus has given us access to God the Father, the source of all love and power. As we find all we need in him, we can come into friendship satisfied, not starving, and thereby find the power to love others sacrificially. We can be the kind of friend to others we wish we had ourselves.
The Bible is clear that God is the architect behind marriage and the family that grows from it. It matters that we preserve the integrity of these relationships, since they’re shadows of greater and more important realities: union with Christ and the eternal family of God.
This doesn’t mean friendship is less important. In a way, it’s more essential than marriage and family, because while not everyone will marry, everyone needs friends. But just because it’s essential doesn’t mean we should practice friendship the same way we practice family.
This means two things for our friendships. First, we ensure our friendships aren’t mimicking the one-flesh nature of marriage. Healthy friendships shouldn’t foster exclusivity, jealousy, ownership, or sensuality. Rather, we hold our friends with open hands and invite others in. We celebrate the formation of new friendships in our friends’ lives and are open to building new friendships ourselves.
Second, we work to strengthen the marriages and families around us with our friendship, not take away from it. If a friend has to check with her husband before agreeing to a girls’ night out, we don’t bemoan that but celebrate it. If a friend is spending more and more time with us to play video games instead of being with his family, we confront the behavior, not enable it.
We’re a saved and sent people. Our time on earth isn’t just a waiting room for heaven but a mission field. There’s a war waging around us, and eternal souls are at stake. We live to serve the One who saved us, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. And a soldier doesn’t “get entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Tim. 2:4).
So what does that have to do with our friendships? It means we don’t allow our goal to become maintaining our comfortable social circles. We must be content with fewer friends and seasonal friendships. Otherwise, while we run from one coffee date to another, we’ll lose the ability to see the lonely neighbor in the house next door or the struggling single mom at the store.
The joy of this truth infuses our friendships with eternal purpose. We become more than friends; we become comrades. War experts tell us that comrades are closer than friends, because they unite for reasons beyond their own friendship. The same is true for us. When we unite together, not for the worldly purpose of satisfying our own friendship desires but with the eternal purpose of fighting side by side to see God’s kingdom come, our friendships will be more satisfying and will easily outshine their worldly counterparts.
Kelly Needham hopes to persuade as many people as possible that nothing compares to simply knowing Jesus. She is the author of Friend-ish: Reclaiming Real Friendship in a Culture of Confusion. She is married to Christian singer/songwriter Jimmy Needham, whose ministry of sharing the gospel through song takes him all over the world. After many years traveling as his road manager and violinist, Kelly came off the road to be a full-time mom to their three kids. This article was found here at gospelcoalition.org.