“I hate you! You’re not my friend anymore!”
I can vividly recall yelling such words to numerous childhood friends over the years. It’s what kids do. You’re best friends one week, then the next you’re sworn enemies. One minute you’re sharing lollipops; then the next you’re pulling each other’s hair out.
I met one friend at a “Pioneer Girl” meeting once when I was around four years old. The both of us secretly agreed to become best friends right on the spot – “Hi, my name is Bridget. Do you want to be my best friend?” – “Okay! My name is Katie! Let’s be best friends!” A few weeks later, we couldn’t stand each other.
It’s not that little kids have terribly calloused, mean hearts. It’s just that when you’re little, going through a dozen or so friendships every month is easy – you simply use each other for however long the fun lasts. And then, when the other guy starts getting on your nerves – well, there’s plenty of other kids to pick from, so why bother sticking it out with this piece of mold?
We laugh at such childish attitudes, and yet, how many of us still harbor this same kind of mindset even when we’ve grown? Of course, we probably (and hopefully!) don’t act the same way as children, but in all honesty, many of us still do foster that same kind of mentality. How many of us see friendship as something to use for our own benefit and enjoyment, rather than as a means to benefit others and make others happy? How many of us have dropped good friendships over the years simply because we no longer enjoyed the other person’s company?
I’ve come to realize that, for the most part, I have viewed friendship in this way – as something to primarily benefit me and make me happy. I am annoyed when I feel as if I’m being ignored. Irritated when a friend refuses to listen to my advice. Hurt when he or she would rather do something else instead of hanging out with me. It’s a philosophy that says, “I am in this relationship for my benefit, and I want you to make me feel special.” Perhaps I never think this outright, but in application, I far too often do.
How many people out there have viewed friendship as a means to benefit themselves? I can’t imagine I am the only one. It is a simple testimony to human nature, the selfish tendency to place ourselves before others and before God. It is this tendency that has completely twisted the meaning of friendship and turned it into a self-serving, self-loving concept.
You see, friendship should not primarily be something we benefit from; instead, it should be an opportunity for us to benefit others by drawing them closer to God.
Jesus is called a “friend” of sinners. If Jesus were a friend of sinners according to the self-serving definition, do you think he would have stripped himself of power and glory and born the punishment for our sins so that we might have a relationship with God? What did we ever do for him? He befriended us and loved us long before we ever even knew his name. That’s not exactly what I would call a beneficial relationship on his part. And yet he did it anyway, at great cost to himself, so that we might know God. It’s perfectly selfless, and perfectly loving, and perfectly amazing.
Christ died so that I might know God. So that I, a perfectly undeserving, utterly sinful human being who took no interest in Christ whatsoever, could share in Christ's glory and actually know God Almighty on a personal level. Christ's friendship with me has given me the ultimate relationship with God. It's amazing. The only thing I can conclude from such an astounding fact is that my own earthly friendships should try to emulate in some small way this kind of love. In other words, like Christ, the ultimate goal of my friendships should be to strengthen the other person's relationship with God, the only friendship that will ever bring lasting joy. It's a simple thing to recognize, yet more often than not I find myself failing to apply this to real life.
But when you think about it, this is the only way we can become true friends, not by having a good time and enjoying each other’s company, but by building each other up and drawing one another closer to Him. Christ’s friendship with us has given us the ultimate relationship with God. Therefore it only makes sense that the primary purpose of all other relationships should be to strengthen this ultimate relationship with Him.
It all boils down to our worldview. If we recognize that God is ultimately the only being in existence who can make things matter, then we will naturally seek to place Him at the center of all our relationships. And if we place Him at the center of all our relationships, then it will only be natural for us to draw one another closer to Him. And furthermore (stay with me now!), if we are primarily focused on drawing one another closer to Him, then we won’t be busy sulking over bruised egos and damaged self-esteem when we are ignored, or forgotten, or taken advantage of. Instead, we will use these moments as opportunities to imitate Christ's own love toward us.
But just how many of us are this kind of friend?