Friendship is inherently enjoyable. Not always, perhaps, but this voluntary, loving association of our life with another's is simply one of God's great gifts. Because friendship is so incredibly personal and enjoyable, it's possible to lose sight of the bigger reasons for which God has designed friendship. A scan of some of the Bible's best friends reveals the powerful ways God can use our friendships.
Jonathan and David: sacrificing for God's perfect plan
Then Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, 'The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.'" (1 Samuel 20:42)
Jonathan was the heir to the throne. Convinced by God that his family's throne would be given to an outside, to Jesse's youngest son David, Jonathan could have understandably stood by his father's side and raged against God's plan. Rather, the would-be king conspired against his own father in order to give the throne, his birthright, to David. Not only does Jonathan show us the right way to give our own thrones to King Jesus, he also shows us that friendship is powerful when we sacrifice for God's perfect plan.
God uses friendships to achieve His perfect plan in this world. Often one friend will be called to play a supporting role, promoting the other into a place where they can serve God well. This means we can celebrate when God uses us to help someone else do amazing things. Biblical friendship helps us rage against our world's self-centeredness, self-preservation and self-assertion, helping us instead to be like Christ by sacrificing so others would be successful.
Conversely, any honest evaluation of whatever success each of us has had will reveal how much our friends did to get us there.
Job and Company: the power of friends' theology
On the negative side are Job's well-meaning but unsuccessful friends. Here's what God said to Eliphaz: "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of what is right, as my servant Job has." (Job 42:7) When an extraordinary series of tragedies called Job's friends to his side, they ended up revealing how much damage friends can do, and how such times are often the greatest test of friendship.
Job's friends remind us that theology without love and without wisdom is deadly. But in their failures we are also reminded that theology with love and with wisdom is exactly what our friends need in their darkest times. They need to hear the truth about God's mercy and goodness and righteousness and purpose.
Ruth and Naomi: weathering life together
"May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you." Ruth 1:15
United first by marriage and then by tragedy, Ruth and Naomi were forced to return to Bethlehem as beggars, eeking out life together. In time, God used Naomi to guide Ruth to Boaz, where the young widower would find a protector, provider and lover. While Boaz stands as a beautiful Old Testament picture of Christ, the friendship between Naomi and Ruth is also a picture of how God often preserves us through hard times: through persevering friends.
And in the end, despite her pessimism, Naomis succeeded where Job's friends failed, by bring Ruth to Boaz--a picture of every friend's mission to bring our friends to Jesus. Or, as Abraham Kuyper put it, "He is your friend who pushes you nearer to God."
Paul and Barnabas: ministry is a team sport
It's mind-boggling to consider the worldwide impact of the friendship between Paul and Barnabas. And while the impact of their friendship may not be replicated in our friendships, the example certainly can be.
We can learn from Barnabas that God uses friendships to bring outsiders inside the church (Acts 9:27; 11:22). Even though God's plan was already to raise Paul up to ministry (Acts 9:15), He chose to use Barnabas to do it.
We can learn from them how God uses friends to accomplish great ministry (see Acts 13:2, 46; 14:8ff). God has great things to accomplish in Jesus' kingdom--far greater than anything we can do alone, so He gives us friends and partners. Not the least because the central requirement of successful ministry is faith, which is strengthened and protected when paired with another.
We can learn from them how God uses friends to overcome problems. Like any friendship, theirs had deep waters, especially when Barnabas was on the wrong side of the circumcision debate (Gal. 2:13) and when they split over whether to take Mark on their next journey (Acts 15:39). But we see in 1 Corinthians 9:6 and Colossians 4:10 they were eventually reunited. The subtle lesson is that friends are often the iron God uses to smooth out our wrinkles and protect us from foolishness.
The list could go on, but the point is clear: God has designed friendships to be extraordinarily powerful in our lives and in Jesus' kingdom. So let's give thanks to and for our friends. Let's move beyond enjoying our friendships and consider how God may use us in our friends' lives to bring them nearer to God and His great purpose for their lives.