“This is my commandment that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15)
The above words of Jesus to His disciples are really astounding, especially in an age when the value of the individual person was very low. Jesus, the Son of the Living God and Creator of the Universe, is talking about a friendship relationship between Him and the men standing before Him, who are his disciples. They are not servants, or lower than Him, but friends, which implies a relationship of much more equality, like he was raising them up. Wow! Jesus was still the Lord, though, and their friendship to Him was shown by their obedience. Jesus seems to be saying that, if you obey me consistently, I can trust you enough to share with you awesome truths concerning my Father.
The relationship of friendship does not appear to be a casual one in Jesus’ mind. Quite the contrary! Friends are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, and to help and defend one another to the point of dying, if need be. Nothing casual about that! Nothing temporary, either. Jesus means that friends are people who voluntarily relate to one another out of mutual interest and caring, and relate with genuine integrity. In short, they can trust one another and are loyal. Committed.
Not all friendships need to involve the same level of commitment and closeness, though. Jesus seems to have had a hierarchy of friends, with John being the top favored, then the three, John, Peter, and James, then the group of twelve disciples, plus miscellaneous others such as Lazarus. Mary Magdalene is thought to have been a very close friend of Jesus. As far as we can tell, Jesus was indeed loyal to his friends, considerate, care-giving, nurturing, and etc. Jesus is a very perfect role model of someone who knows how to be a good friend.
What is especially awesome is that He offers His friendship to all of us who want it and who obey Him. What an incredible privilege! In doing so, He raises us up, even when we don’t seem to have the capacity to handle such a friendship wisely. (If we will only be really committed, the Holy Spirit helps a lot.)
Well, on the whole, probably not so good. Although many people still have quality, committed friendships which they maintain over the years, most friendships today seem to be temporary and situation-based. That is, people are friends as long as they are in proximity to one another in a situation, but when the situation changes, the friendship dissipates. In so many ways, this is an age of disposable relationships, including marriage. Years ago, when this nation was still being formed, people needed those around them. People would spend their whole lives in small towns, having lifetime friends there. Now, people are very transitory. We go to impersonal businesses to have our needs met. In so many neighborhoods, neighbors don’t neighbor anymore. Any real sense of community has been lost, with all the security and stability neighborhood relations afforded. Especially in the past few years, general trust in people has deteriorated, so people are hesitant to open the doors to potential friends. They tend to keep relatedness superficial, shunning any hint of commitment, or of future plans together.
Humans have been created gregarious by nature, as are many other species. We need relationships with others of our kind, to be at our best (although animal relationships surely help, too). We need the support and interest of others to even maintain a firm sense of our social identity. If we have a close family network, we are really blessed. But, even then, we benefit much from good friends. What about people who don’t have close family networks? Such folks really need good friends.
If people don’t have quality relationships, the cost to their personal physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual systems can be, and usually is, chronically very stressful. Loneliness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, anger, bitterness, and the like plague them mentally and emotionally. In today’s world, such maladies are ubiquitous. Alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, eating disorders, school drop-outs, crime, and so forth are all related to lack of, or paucity of, good friendships. Troubled people team up a lot of times, though, and become fast friends in their mutual misery and destructiveness. Physically, all the stresses related to loneliness contribute to high cortisol levels in the blood stream, which causes problems throughout the system. I have read that cortisol and insulin are called death hormones, because they can kill and/or have very bad effects upon body cells. Depression becomes not only an emotional disorder, but a physical one, too, having wide systemic consequences. In summary, lack of good friends really compromises people’s quality of life and their health.
If we wish to follow Jesus’ example, and be really like Jesus, we need to open the door to being good, nice, trustworthy friends to His children, however old or young they may be. There’s no room for being like a “zombie,” with little or no facial expression, or for “flat-lining it” by not letting people know what we are thinking or feeling. No, we need broad smiles and welcoming, friendly attitudes and expressions. Just as Jesus needed to know He could trust his disciples, others need to know they can trust us, because we truly are trustworthy. One caution, though – we should be careful who we open our hearts and lives to. As we know, not all people out there are trustworthy. We demonstrate real interest in others, and not just because we’re trying to sell them something, or to “minister” to them. We come through with commitments and are considerate. We don’t abandon friends or ignore them for long periods. .
Friends help one another get through life better. Find friends. Nurture them, keep them. In doing so, we are really being friends of Jesus and are loving one another as He commands us to.
Dr. Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org