A Theology of Relationships

Friendship: A Gift Given and Received

“Let us love one another, for love comes from God.” -1 John 4:7

Am I in or out? Will she invite me for coffee again? Did I come across too open? Too private? Did we click? I probably said too much. I’m not sure she enjoyed our time together. She already has so many friends anyway. It was probably a pity invite. Ugh, I definitely over-related. Or did I under-relate? Yeah, the whole thing was definitely a bust.

Sound familiar? A simple thing, like coffee with a friend, can often leave our minds reeling. Why is pursuing friendship often difficult and confusing? Personally, I am often burdened and discontent when it comes to friendship. I wonder if others consider me their friend. I look out into a room of women and feel discouraged because everyone already seems to belong, and I don’t. I isolate myself because it’s easier than feeling left out.

But does friendship have to be this way? Are we missing something? Surely it isn’t supposed to be THIS way. Thankfully it isn’t. There is a better way, and it is found in Scripture. Friendship is not meant to stir up insecurity and be burdensome. Friendship is a gift given by God that we receive and give for His glory.

A Gift

Biblical friendship is a gift. The Lord gives it to provide community, accountability, love, encouragement, fun, growth, etc. However, like many of the good things the Lord provides this side of eternity, when we are confused about its purpose, it becomes a source of pain and confusion. A gift intended to bring joy and breathe life becomes daunting at best and soul-sucking at worst.

One of the primary ways we get friendship wrong is the belief it will complete us. This is the age-old struggle of lifting the created above the creator- the gift above the gift Giver. We make an idol of friendship. We tell ourselves if we just had “our people” we would never feel lonely, our lives would be a continual party, and we would always have a place where we are understood. When we bring this unrealistic and unbiblical expectation into our friendships, we set ourselves—and those we call friends—up for the bitter fruit of idolatry. Bitterness, loneliness, jealousy, striving, disappointment, and isolation are all results of placing friendship on the throne. Our friends are not God. He has wisely orchestrated gifts to cause pain if they are lifted above Him. He is our greatest need. Our friends are not. Friendships are a gift, but they are not intended to meet all of our needs. *

A Gift We Receive

Friendship is a gift we receive from God. If God is working all things for His glory and our good, and He is, we must recognize God as the giver of friendship. This means two things. First, the depth and number of friendships we have in various seasons are ordained by God. Instead of comparing current seasons of friendships to old ones or pining after future friends, we need to run to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Yes, friendship looks different in every season. He knows what we need more than we do. Let’s trust Him and receive the friendships He provides with thanksgiving.

Second, we are to receive the friends He gives us. The Lord has placed women all around us—at work, our neighborhood, the gym, and our church. A woman may not be the age you had in mind, have the background you expected, or spend as much time with you as you would have thought, but God is at work. We must shift our eyes from our perceived friendship needs and focus them on the women the Lord has placed in our lives. Pray that the Lord would help you see the gifts of potential friendships He has placed in your life, and that you would joyfully receive them.

A Gift We Give

Friendship is a gift we give and give freely. This is huge. Don’t wait around for someone to befriend you. Be a friend. 1 Peter 4:10 beckons us to, “use whatever gift you have received to serve others.” Primarily pursuing friendships for our own fulfillment is the opposite of serving others. Friendship, according to the Bible, is not accumulating “people” that create a sense of belonging and validation. Christine Hoover states in her book Messy, Beautiful Friendship, “The focus (of friendship) is on what we give to others, not what they give to us. We don’t do these things because we hope to get something in return, friendship or whatever else. We do these things because that is how Christ showed his love toward us and because biblical friendship will always model itself after him.” As Christians, we want to make sure we are viewing friendship as God designed. Instead of our thoughts being muddled with who is hanging out with whom, let’s take the focus off of ourselves and ask, “Whom can we serve in friendship this week?”

A Gift For His Glory

Friendship is not for feeling good about ourselves; it’s for His glory. The primary purpose of our friendships is to point us to God. Hoover beautifully states, “the goal of biblical friendship is to secure ourselves to the sure, steadfast anchor of Christ and, while holding to that anchor, give and receive the gift of friendship, in a way that brings him glory.” He receives glory when He is on the throne of our hearts, and we serve others from the overflow of what He has done in our lives. Let us be reminded of the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Friendship with others is not our primary need. It’s friendship with the Father. A friendship with Christ is the only friendship that satisfies our soul. Through the work of the cross and resurrection, God made a way to reconcile sinners to Himself. When we believe and repent, we can sing, from the depths of our soul, “What a friend we have in Jesus!”

From our satisfaction in Christ, biblical joy-giving friendship grows.
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*Here are a few questions to consider to help spot friendship idolatry in your heart:

-Are you quick to feel left out?

-Do you become jealous when your friend(s) hangs out with other people?

-Do you still feel “unknown” after spending quality time with a faithful sister in Christ?

-Do you have all the friends you need and aren’t interested in making any more?

-Is your mind often preoccupied with finding a “forever” friend?

-Are you often envious of the perceived friendships of other?

Other great resources on biblical friendships: