Friends. They provide us with companionship. They support and stand with us in difficult times. They even challenge and hold us accountable for the bad behaviour or sin we display.
However, keeping these friendships healthy and thriving is by no means an easy thing. I am sure we all have memories of times we disappointed friends or took them for granted.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, we also have fewer opportunities to physically interact with our friends due to various restrictions. Thus it is even more difficult to maintain friendships at this time.
Thankfully, the Bible contains many real friendships that can show us how to be a great friend, so here are five such friendships along with the valuable insights we can draw from them.
5 BIBLICAL FRIENDSHIPS TO LEARN FROM
1. David and Jonathan
Out of the many friendships in the Bible, the one between David and King’s Saul son, Jonathan, is perhaps the most well known.
They were the best of friends right from the beginning. After David defeated Goliath and went to speak with King Saul, the Bible tells us that:
“… Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.” (1 Samuel 18:1-3)
While David and Jonathan grew closer over time, the opposite was happening with David and Jonathan’s father, as Saul developed murderous intent in his heart.
As David had to go into hiding, the two friends met to say farewell. They wept, embraced and shared their emotions with each other before parting ways.
From their example, we see how emotional openness is not only acceptable but integral for God’s design of true friendship.
Unfortunately, such close platonic bonds can be an unusual sight today, especially among males.
This is at least true in my own life, as I am used to being guarded around my friends.
However, I have found it is during the rare moments when I open up with my emotions and show displays of affection that my friendships truly deepen.
Hence, let’s allow ourselves to be vulnerable around our friends. It is good to tell them how much they mean to us.
2. Ruth and Naomi
Ruth and Naomi’s story began with tragedy. Naomi had just lost her two sons, and having already lost her husband years before, she was left without anyone to support her. Hence, she decided to return to her home town.
But as her two daughters-in-law were still young, she compelled them to stay behind in Moab and find new husbands. One daughter-in-law agreed, but the other, Ruth, said this:
“… Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
Having lived together for ten years, Ruth had formed a deep friendship with Naomi. So even though life would be harder if she stayed with her mother-in-law, Ruth committed to being faithful to her.
Further in their story, we see how they overcame their difficult situation together. While working for food for Naomi and herself, Ruth meets Boaz, who takes a liking to the hardworking widow.
Naomi counsels Ruth as she wins Boaz’s affections, and eventually they all make a new life for themselves together.
We can all learn from Ruth by walking with our friends through difficult trials — we may even find ourselves benefiting from doing so.
During my O-Level preparation period, a friend asked me to help by studying with him. I hesitated as I was used to studying independently, and studying together brought problems like having to find suitable study areas.
Ultimately, I agreed to his request to help him out — and surprisingly found that I studied more effectively with him!
So when our friends face tough times, instead of prioritising our own comforts, we should stay by their side and meet their needs as God empowers us to be a blessing.
3. Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar
Not every friendship in the Bible is entirely positive. Job’s three friends — Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar — frequently come up on the list of negative examples.
After all, they are notorious for debating with Job during the darkest period of his life, arguing that his suffering must be because of some personal sin.
However, we should not overlook the fact that before this callous debate, Job’s friends actually comforted him by silently sitting at his side for seven days and seven nights.
To me, they probably had “good intentions” when they argued with Job, as they wanted him to admit his wrongs and repent, believing God would bless him again thereafter.
Like many of us, they were well-meaning but imperfect friends. We can learn from what they did right, which is to simply sit and be with hurting friends.
We can also learn from what they did wrong. When we are unclear about why friends are suffering, let’s not jump to conclusions and provide hasty unsolicited advice.
Most of the time, simply letting someone know you are there for them is actually more helpful than trying to solve their problem for them.
This has been my experience. When I went through periods of hurt, the most helpful friends were the ones who gave me a shoulder to cry on, or told me I could reach out if I needed anything.
This is because like many others, I already knew what I needed to do to overcome my situation. But I could only muster the courage to do it if I knew my friends would support me if I failed.
4. Jesus and Peter
If we could choose one Bible character to be friends with, I’m sure all of us would choose Jesus.
While we are already friends with Jesus in a spiritual sense, the only people who have actually befriended and physically interacted with Him were those present when He was still on earth.
Even our greatest friends can make grave mistakes that deeply hurt us.
One of those people is Peter, who was one of Jesus’s close friends. He certainly acted like a best friend: when an armed mob came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword to defend Him.
Yet, even our greatest friends can make grave mistakes that deeply hurt us. In Peter’s case, he denied any association with Jesus not once, but three times in a single night.
Despite this betrayal, Jesus took the time to reinstate and restore Peter before His ascension into heaven.
We should all emulate Jesus in His compassion, forgiving friends and enemies who have hurt us.
I myself understand how difficult this can be, as I had once been wronged by someone I considered to be a close friend.
Anger and disappointment made it seem impossible to extend forgiveness, especially since he never apologised.
However, as I read stories in the Bible like this one, and reflect upon verses like Colossians 3:13, I am reminded that God forgave my sins even though I did nothing to deserve it.
Hence, I prayed for God to transform my heart and chose to forgive my friend.
I knew I could not truly walk with a God who forgave me even as I refused to forgive others.
5. Paul and his many friends
Besides the twelve disciples, another influential figure in the new testament is Paul. As an apostle, he travelled far and wide to spread the gospel.
Along the way, Paul made a large number of friends, such as his companion Timothy, the numerous people mentioned in Romans 16, and many more.
What struck me about Paul is that when he was unable to meet with these friends due to various reasons like being far away or being in prison, he would write to them.
In Paul’s letters, he would greet his friends, express his desire to see them, give thanks for their faithfulness, pray for them, address problems they faced and encourage them with the gospel.
Paul made the effort to communicate with friends though they were apart. This is something I want to learn from as I am guilty of failing in this aspect of my life.
I rarely communicate through text or calls. Which means if I cannot physically meet up with someone, I seldom speak to them.
Due to this bad habit, I have regretfully drifted apart from many close primary and secondary school friends.
My encouragement to anyone else who struggles with this issue is to make the effort to communicate despite the pandemic.
Every few days, you can give close friends a quick text to check in on how they’re doing. You could also organise group calls or even set up Zoom meetings to chat and play online games.
Small acts like these will ensure you stay connected with people who care for you.
Friendships take work, but they are always worth it.
We should keep in mind that God never intended for us to live in solitude. After all, the first thing God ever called “not good” was how man was alone.
So let’s try our best to be better friends by keeping in mind these five lessons we learned.
May God use us to show a glimpse of His love to our friends during our time on earth.
- Who are the closest friends in your life?
- Based on these 5 friendships, what is one practical way you can be a better friend?
- Take a moment to pray for your friends. Then reach out and see how you can be a blessing to them today!