As single and married people, we often get caught up in looking for the perfect “one” (whether it is a getting a current spouse to that state or a future spouse). This is nice, but we tend to forget that in order to have this “perfect man/woman,” we first need to have him or her as a friend. Friendship is the all important, yet forgotten foundation to relationships which is why so many end so horribly. We see that God did not forget this step as the people He entered into covenants with were His friends. For example, Abraham is called a friend of God (Is. 41:8; Jas. 2:23). Abraham’s friendship with God allowed him to grow in trust of God and eventually become the Father of all of God’s people. So if this is a necessary step for relationships, we must first define friendship, then distinguish true friendships versus false friendships, and then look at some practical advice about friendships.
C.S Lewis defined friendship by comparing it to lovers. He wrote, “Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” In order to become absorbed in one another; the couple must first walk side by side with one another. We see this in the very beginnings when God made Eve from Adam’s rib showing that they are equal or friends. Then they were able to become lovers as Eve became “Mother of all the Living” (Gen. 3:20). Scripture continues to reinforce this as it tells us, “Such is my lover, and such my friend” (Song 5:16). All lovers or those in love must have a common interest in order for the relationship to survive. This lack of common interest is what leads to break-ups, heartaches, and other sad situations. This common interest is what maintains the friendship and the friendship is what solidifies love.
Therefore, we should not build on false foundations and so Scripture warns us about three false friendships. These friendships concern people who “are friends in name only” (Sir. 37:1). So let us look at these false friendships briefly. The first false friendship is described as “the sort of friend [who] is a friend when it suits him, but he will not be with you in time of distress” (Sir. 6:8). These are called friends of utility. These are people who are your friend when they need something or if you can help them with a new job, popularity, to “fill a void or emptiness, etc; but if you need something from them, they are nowhere to be found. These are not people walking side by side or as equals, but more like an owner to a useful piece of property.
The second false friendship is a “friend who becomes an enemy, and tells of the quarrel to your shame” (Sir. 6:9). This “friendship” is not real as it does not stand the test of disagreement or sacrifice because it is only concerned with having everything okay and avoiding disagreements. Ironically, St. Francis de Sales speaks of this as a sure-sign of a false friendship. If in your “friendship,” you cannot be frank/honest with one another and are always “getting your feelings hurt,” then your friendship is not on solid foundation and probably will not last.
The third false friendship is “a boon companion” (Sir. 6:10). These are friends of fun or people who will be your friend because you can make them laugh or because you are the life of the party. Sadly, these “friends” are like the previous “friendship” and tend to leave as soon as your usefulness subsides.
So we see that these three “friendships in name only” are false precisely because they do not have those involved walking side by side. In these, the only reason one person walks with the other is because the “common interest” is the person him or herself. In other words, “As long as you are useful, agreeable, and/or fun for me, we have a common interest.” A person could not walk side by side with someone for very long with this state of mind as it is self-interested not other oriented.
This orientation towards the other is what defines a true friend. It is only once you have this type of orientation, that you can truly fall in love. Again, the book of Sirach tells us this: Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them. Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship (Sir. 6:14-17).
Thus, Scripture tells us this simple lesson: if you want a real friend, you must be a real friend. You must have the common interest of the other regardless of what’s in it for you, or if it’s fun, or even if it means a disagreement or two.
Practically speaking, if you are looking for a true love, or a renewal of the love that you once had in marriage, you must follow the footprint God laid out in Scripture: Get back to true, authentic friendship. Don’t let your spouse or dating partner just “become useful” or “fun to be around.” Allow them to find something in common with you besides just you. Allow the common interest to become God who is “the way, the truth, and life” (Jn. 14:6). If you and your friend walk side by side toward Him, you will eventually find the way to truth, love, and life itself.
You will realize the more you give for the other, the more you will get from each other. Together you will get a loving relationship; a rekindled flame to a friendship based on divine love. Two friends walking side by side dwelling on the face of God and seeing one another reflect the image of God in one another. Thus, the friendship reaffirms God, your friend, and yourself. This is why we shouldn’t forget friendship. Jesus reminds us of this when he says, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends” (Jn. 15: 15). It’s not that being more than friends is a bad thing, but we have to have friendship as a stepping stone to a deeper love. Christ used this method as He invited us into friendship with Him and in doing so, helped us to obtain the true love that satisfies or eternal life.
If friendship was the relationship that Christ started with to find us, shouldn’t we think about finding those lost friendships as well?