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We talk a lot about relationships in the church. There are scores of marriage seminars, retreats, and conferences. There are video series and books for newlyweds and engaged couples. Most every church offers marital counseling and most every pastor preaches somewhat regularly on marriage. And the same is true for parenting. There are dozens of books on raising children. There are Sunday school classes, blog sites, and ministries that focus on the parenting relationship. All this is good.

But have you ever noticed we seldom study friendship? It is the most important-least talked about relationship in the church.

Think about your greatest joys in life. They probably center around your friends-the fun times hanging out, the great conversations, the laughter, the sharing, the pleasure of "clicking" (not cliquing!) with someone else or a group of people.

And now think of the most painful times in life. No doubt, sickness and tragedy are on the list. And yet, oftentimes these difficulties are made sweeter by the support of friends and family. But when friendship goes bad-when things get awkward or you feel like you are on the outside looking in-no amount of health and prosperity can fill the gap. Almost anything bad can be wonderful with friends, and almost anything good can be terrible without them.

The worst summer of my life was the summer I spent holed up in a cabin in the mountains of Colorado working on a national government textbook. For three months I worked 10 hours a day studying political science with a classmate and our college professor. We had no electricity (we charged our laptop batteries in town every day) and no indoor plumbing (we used an outhouse). But that wasn't the main problem. I got used to the rustic lifestyle. The problem was the absence of friends. I was surrounded by amazing natural beauty, engaged in work that I liked fairly well, and allowed time every night and every weekend to read, run, or explore. But I was miserable because I felt all alone.

It's surprising we don't talk more about friendship in the church. Depending on how you define friendship, the Bible may have more to say about the friend relationship than it does about marriage and parenting. Further, I bet church "satisfaction" is largely based on two things. If you find happy churchgoers I wager you'll find these two items present, and where church members are unhappy, I can almost guarantee these two things are missing: quality teaching and quality relationships. No doubt, there are many other important aspects of church life. But for most folks these are the two that matter most. People want a church that teaches them well (which includes sermons, songs, classes, and Bible studies) and a church where they can make friends.

I don't know if making friends is harder than ever. In some ways, with travel and technology, it is easier than it used to be. But there are still a number of factors that mitigate against genuine friendship.

  • We are extremely mobile, moving from place to place, rarely settling down in one spot for a long time.
  • We are consumed by family life, pouring almost all our spare time into our children and what's left over into our spouse.
  • We are deceived by email and Facebook, imagining we have hundreds of spectacular relationships when actually we have lots of well-wishers and acquaintances and few flesh and blood friends.
  • We are entranced by one-way relationships, expending emotional energy as we bond with our favorite sitcom actor, sports star, or American Idol contestant.

Friendship is wonderful, and we all want it. But friends can be hard to come by. This is nothing new. A true friend has always been one of God's most sought after gifts. "Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?" (Proverbs 20:6). Thankfully, the book of Proverbs says a lot about friendship. It won't help you find friends, at least not directly. But Proverbs will help you be a better friend. And the best friends usually have the best friends.

In particular, Proverbs invites us to ask three questions relative to friendship: Are you fake? Are you foul? Or are you faithful? We'll look at these three questions over the next three days. Be a friend and read along.


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30 thoughts on “The Gift of Friendship and the Godliness of Good Friends (Part 1)”

  1. Erik Lundeen says:

    Hey Kevin,
    I’m excited to read what you write about this! As someone who is not currently married or parenting, and who just moved to a new location (your old alma mater Gordon Conwell) I would love to hear what you have to say about Biblical wisdom for friendships. Piper in his biographical sketch of Robert Murray M’Cheyne said a few great things on the topic. Thanks for picking this out to write about

  2. My wife and I were just talking about this two nights ago. This is particularly difficult for pastors. A good article as always. Keep faithful. Keep writing.

  3. Drew says:

    Looking forward to the next few parts!

  4. Daniel says:

    We seldom study “friendship” because we don’t call them “friends”. We call them “brethren”.

  5. donsands says:

    I’m not very good at friendship. I can love others and be there for them, and all that, but the friendship thing is something that I find very difficult.

    I love it when Jesus calls His disciples friends. And what a Friend we do have in Jesus. But for us sinners in the Church to be friends is hard. Before i came to Christ my worldly friends were closer I think. Maybe not. Even now osme of my non-Christian so-to-speak friends are fun to be with, more than some of the Chrstian so-to-speak friends.

    Look forward to your teaching from the Word’s perspective.

  6. Louis Tullo says:

    It’s so funny you posting this today because this past weekend I was thinking about the great friendship I’ve found with a brother in Christ, who I’ve reconnected with after some time. It put me face to face with how important that type of relationship is, and by comparison how many people in my life I actually consider true friends. I’ve come to realize that true friendship requires extraordinary effort and it’s impossible to have hundreds of friends on this earth – while time, space and so many other things get in the way. I’m beginning to find out the more you invest in those friendships God has put in your path, the more it causes you to realize the awesome friend we have in Him.

  7. Andrew says:

    It isn’t completely avoided. Just two weeks ago at church we spent out entire Sunday school class discussing friendship in Proverbs, and what a good, faithful friend truly is. But yes, it does need to be discussed more. Such an important topic. The friends you choose end up influencing who you will become.

  8. Michael C. says:

    Michael Haykin in his book “The God Who Draws Near” tackles this in one of his chapters – his book is basically on Spirituality so it is interesting for this to be a topic – and one that I (and my professor who assigned this book) thought was a great chapter (and much needed).

  9. John Thomson says:

    ‘Depending on how you define friendship, the Bible may have more to say about the friend relationship than it does about marriage and parenting’.

    I agree Proverbs speaks a fair bit about friendship. David and Jonathan seem to be good examples. Job had three rather doubtful friends. Jesus called his disciples his friends (more intimate than followers and a metaphor for those to whom he would reveal his plans). Yet I am not sure there is much more than this, in the NT at least.

    That is not to dismiss what is there but to observe that the NT relationship of brothers and sisters in a family is the chief emphasis. This language seems to fall into disuse. I often read of people addressing you (and others) as ‘pastor’, I feel ‘brother’ would be more appropriate. Perhaps if pastors were thought of as brothers they would have more friends (who were not pastors).

    Still, a series on friendship would be welcome.

  10. Brent Johnson says:

    That whole part about being surrounded by the beauty of nature yet feeling miserable resonated so hard it hurt. I live and do ministry in the great outdoors but struggle with loneliness. It keeps me on my knees though. Thanks for the words, Kevin.

  11. Doyle says:

    So at a church, which is more important – the theology or the friendships? I think I know what most people would answer if posed the question but in reality I have many friends that stay at a church where the theology has deteriorated because “that’s where my friends are”. So is it more important to maintain those friendships and suffer through bad theology, bad worship, and no spiritual growth or leave for a God honoring church and have to build new friendships?

    My observations are that most people will stay in bad theological situations because the social atmosphere is the most important part of church for them.

  12. Rich says:

    I am serious. really! What happens when the idea of living in an isolated cabin without people seems very appealing? That’s me. In fact I used to live that way for a brief period in the Sierra Nevada’s. I loved spending entire weeks in solitude.
    I am well adjusted. I am very happily married and have two sweet daughters. But I am also very capable of spending great lengths of time alone. I make friends easily, but often tire of them. I am 34. I would rather read or kayak. Fish, or work on a motorcycle. I usually feel like others need me more than I need them. Horrible I know. Yes, I am a member of a local church. Yes, involved. But, friendship is pleasurable only with my wife and kids. The rest are just kind of there…
    What do you (anyone) suggest? Be blunt please.

  13. Kevin Nunez says:

    Good stuff. A topic that is really needed to be discussed in the church (in a good sense). Community is vital! Looking forward to reading the following parts.

  14. John Thomson says:

    Rich

    Don’t worry. That’s just how you are. We are all different. Most of us can take friends only in small doses… and the older you become the smaller the doses become. Fellowship is not friendship. How we treat friends is more to do with godliness than the number of friends we have or how often we want to see them. If they are true friends they will know what you are like anyway and pretty much accept your need for solitariness.

    If there is one point to make it is do not give into excesses in your own nature. This goes for all of us. We are all wired differently but should not let ourselves be totally controlled by our ‘wiring’.

  15. Looking forward to the next few posts. Maybe a little late for the final touches on my sermon this Sunday on Job 32-37 and Job’s friend Elihu, but thought provoking nonetheless.

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  17. Spring Rain says:

    Thank you very much for this post. I’ve been struggling for the past month because it seems that our friendship is already on the rocks. This has been a great encouragement for me to reread Proverbs again and see how I can be a better friend.

  18. T. Webb says:

    Rev. DeYoung, I too wish that more would talk about friendships and relationships, especially with the advent of social media, which seems to make such even more difficult. There is some truth, at least among most middle-class people, to the fact that if you aren’t on social media (which I choose not to use), then you don’t exist.

  19. french toast says:

    Certainly what can I say other than nice post.
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    I definitely would continue visiting this blog.

  20. Chris Black says:

    Any recommendations on a group study of friendship?

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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