The last couple of years has altered friendship according to a number of studies. 56% report their friendships changed and 20% have become more distant with close friends due to the pandemic according to the UK YouGov Friendship Study (USA data is similar). The drifting has come from isolation, distancing, differing views or changed rhythms in daily life. Experiences vary and no doubt some bonds have been strengthened, but it is the ties with those beyond the very closest of friends that have mainly become weaker. Does it matter that some friends have disappeared from our lives while our world has shrunk? Why is friendship important and what is it for? Scripture helps us answer these questions.
It is worth also observing that modern life has greatly changed relationships and that this is not without theological significance. Exactly 40 years ago John Stott wrote: “It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today. We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power. Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary. In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen. In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.”
Unless you happen to be related to most people in your church, it is the main place where we encounter those beyond our inner circle and work life. Christians and churches should be marked by the determination to offer true, open friendship and to work hard at it. The church is a key place to restore friendship and build fellowship. Job had cultivated good and close or, as he calls them, “inward friends” (Job 19:19). Sadly, however, in the time of difficulty they not only deserted him but turned against him. In Job 6:14 friendly pity is closely connected with the fear of the Almighty, so we ought to extend and make use of godly friends as much as we can.
Alexander Nisbet shows how Scripture emphasises this in commenting on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. Christian society should be a contrast with the selfish isolation of those who live only for the things of this world (Ecclesiastes 4:8). The benefits of companionship are clearly commended here and as Nisbet observes, while this can be applied to any kind of lawful society it is delivered by a preacher to the church. Therefore, it is helpful to apply the teaching and the various comparisons to Christian society. “Two are better than one”; when two or more engage in any commanded duty they have more benefit and success that either could alone.
The first metaphor speaks of fellow-labourers engaged in the same work. They have a good reward for their labour though their mutual help and encouraging one another. Their work succeeds better. This is true in spiritual things also; their reward from grace shall be greater than if each of them had been wrestling alone in their duty, neglecting help each other.
There is another advantage; if they fall, one will lift up the other. If either of them falls into trouble, or by the power of temptation into any sin or error, the fallen may recover by the blessing of God upon their right use of Christian society. Or if they both fall, it will not be equally hurtful, one may soon recover and help up their companion. But woe to the person that is alone, they are in a dangerous and sad condition when they fall into trouble or sin. They have none to help or attempt their recovery, especially if for sinful reasons they have voluntarily chosen to be alone.
The second metaphor portrays fellow travellers on the same journey, as all Christians are. Two travellers lodge together all night and are able to give comfort and strength to one another. Christians are able to help each other in afflictions. But how can one be warm alone? It will prove a great difficulty for someone to have comfort or encouragement if they have none of the Lord’s people to assist them.
The third metaphor pictures fellow-soldiers engaged in the same warfare. If any Christian is prevailed against in their combat against temptations, or wrestling through difficulties, they may expect help and victory by the blessing of God on their use of the society of others. The joint strength of Christians is not easily prevailed against. Alexander Nisbet goes on to apply this teaching in the following updated extract.
1. Godly Friendship is a Great Benefit
It is always much better to be alone than in wicked society (Psalm 1:1). Sometimes it is also better to be alone than in the society of the best e.g. when we are called to devotion in secret (Matthew 6:6). The society of the godly is a great advantage in carrying out weighty duties and bearing great difficulties with greater ease and success.
The Lord alone is self-sufficient, and He has not given to anyone such a measure of light or strength, that would make them have no need of making use of others. He intends everyone to seek help from and everyone to be willing to give help to, others. “Two are better than one.”
2. Godly Friendship Brings Special Blessings
No lawful work engaged in the right way lacks its own reward, the Lord’s people may consider this for their encouragement in doing their duty. Making best use of Christian companionship to succeed in duty has a special reward, not only afterwards, but even in this life. The Lord’s people may expect to be sharpened, and have an edge put on them in their duty by it (Proverbs 27:17). They may also . have encouragements from others against their difficulties (1 Samuel 23:16). Their mutual prayers draw fresh help from heaven by the Spirit for each other (Philippians 1:19). Their work is furthered and their future reward ensured by this: “they have a good reward for their labour.”
3. Godly Friendship Helps Us Overcome Dangers
None of the children of the Lord are beyond the danger of falling either into sin or sad afflictions in their journey to heaven. Their fall (of whatever sort) must not make others of His people desert them. They need especially to prove their affection to them at such a time. They do this by striving to support or restore them. It is a great mercy for someone who has fallen into sin or misery, to have one who will endeavour to lift them up again. The danger of falling is possible for any of the Lord’s people, thus the duty they all have to each other is clear also.
4. Godly Friendship Helps Restore Us
The Lord alone ultimately preserves His own from falling and restores them after their falls (Psalm. 145:14). Yet He makes use of some of His people to restore others who have fallen beside them. Our awareness of being prone to fall and often unable to recover ourselves without help makes us of a more unifying and sociable spirit. The children of the Lord are never left all alone since they have His presence even under their falls (Hebrews 13:5). They cannot be other than blessed therefore even when they lack human help yet ought they to consider being deserted by His people as a great disadvantage. They should therefore be stirred up to make sure His favourable presence is with them and to make use of the help of others when they may have it.
It is a sad judgment on wicked men to be left alone under their falls. This may be the case when they have rejected helpful society in the day of their prosperity. Or it may be when they have conducted themselves or carried themselves so immorally that the godly abhor their company. Or they may have provoked the Lord not only to leave them destitute of His own presence, but to take away all pity towards them from others. “Woe to him that is alone.”
5. Godly Friendship Helps Our Spiritual Life
The children of the Lord should cherish His Spirit and labour to have His graces: love, fear, etc. in such vigour in their hearts that they may impart heat and warmth to others, even when they are in the saddest possible condition. It is implied here that if they are together, they warm one another.
The Lord may, and ordinarily does enliven the hearts of His people by keeping His graces lively in them. Thus, He gives them much comfort in the solitary afflicted condition with which He tries them (Psalm 63:1, 3). Yet if they neglect to make use of Christian society, when they have it and when He allows them to draw comfort and encouragement from it, they may expect their condition will be very sad, when they are deprived of it.
6. Godly Friendship Helps Us Withstand Spiritual Attack
The children of the Lord may expect many assaults in their Christian course, and may also sometimes be prevailed against. Those who have any strength, therefore, are obliged to use it to relieve others who are in combat, and likely to be defeated. They ought not to desert their fellow-soldiers who are engaged in a good fight against spiritual or outward enemies, even though they prove to be weak (2 Samuel 10:11 or Galatians 6:1). It is assumed here that they will be assaulted and prevailed against, and that the duty of others to withstand the evil one, or any of his means, is also shown to be an advantage of Christian company.
The union of the children of the Lord among themselves should be so close that their adversaries lose hope of breaking one of them, unless they break them all. Thus, when the Lord unites them, and keeps them unified, it is no easy matter for their most powerful enemies to prevail against them. This proverb shows that Christian unity and society, contains great benefit.
Will friendship be the same again? It is more important than ever that we understand what it truly means and what the best kind of friendship is. We can help others in the best and most important things. Whether we have identified and practiced this before or not, it is a priority.
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