Especially in our culture of social media, we present a public image that reflects a part of us for others to see. We do so both intentionally and unintentionally. In part, we do so through the visual images we project — be it photographs, the choice of language we use, or symbols of ideology, affiliation, and material success. We also do so by the friends we choose.
You can tell a lot about someone by looking at the friends they choose. The Bible says, “A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.” (Proverbs 27: 19) Similarly, you can tell a lot about yourself by looking at the friends you’ve chosen; the more you spend time with someone, the more like them you will become. “Be with wise men and become wise. Be with evil men and become evil.” (Proverbs 13:20)
The Bible defines a “friend” in narrow terms. When speaking to his disciples, Jesus stressed that they didn’t choose Him, rather He chose them. (John 15:16) A friend is someone you’ve chosen. In this context, a friend is someone you love as much as yourself. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Live within my love. When you obey me you are living within my love, just as I obey my Father and live within his love… I demand that you love each other as much as I love you. And here is how to measure it — the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends; and you are my friends if you obey me.” (John 9-14) Jesus is the purest example of friendship.
I’ve heard it said that if you can count the number of friends you have on the fingers of one hand, you are blessed. In practical terms, a “friend” is someone you love and who loves you as much as they love themselves, who shares your values, who respects you and who you respect, who intends you no harm, who stands with you in adversity, and in whom you trust. In the purest sense, a friend is someone for whom you would sacrifice your life — and they for you.
In our culture of virtual relationships and professional networking, many people apply the word “friend” loosely or confuse it with something else. Most of us do not invest the time and effort to know people well before we consider them our “friends”. Often, we let our friends choose us — not the other way around. The problem is that in doing so, we make vulnerable our hearts, our reputation, our character, our spirituality, and collectively, our humanity. In doing so, we often believe we have “friendships” when what we really have are “acquaintances”. That disconnect in perception creates expectations that can leave us feeling unloved, distrusting, lonely, and unfulfilled.
For example, it’s not uncommon for users of Facebook to display hundreds of “friends”. I read that the average number of “friends” a Facebook user has is about 338, which roughly corresponds to the number of followers an average user has on Twitter. At the same time, people’s sense of alienation and loneliness is increasing.
In a January 1, 2019 article by Jillian Richardson, a study was referenced that concluded that Americans are craving more meaningful social interactions than ever before. In other words, Americans as a group are “lonely.” According to the study, the average person in the United States perceives they have one “close friend.” One-fourth of the population perceives they have “no ‘confidantes’ at all.” Generation Z (age 18-22) seems particularly affected, followed by the Millennials (age 23-38) who fare slightly better.
Perhaps the reasons for this disconnection relate to the dilution of our relationships. First, our spiritual relationships are under attack: As a culture we no longer prioritize the importance of, nor do we facilitate, a meaningful relationship with God through Jesus, our truest friend. Second, our appetite for the newest technologies and our pursuits in self-interest have contributed to lifestyle changes that undermine meaningful human interaction. We have less and less “face-to-face” interaction and we are often not good friends ourselves, including myself. Third, sometimes we choose our friends poorly.
The good news is that God offers every person a meaningful, personal relationship with Him through Jesus. In this sense, we need never be alone. Further, if we follow what Jesus teaches, we are likely to attract people with whom we can form meaningful relationships. Jesus teaches us to, “Treat others as you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31)
For our protection, the Bible cautions us to choose our friends wisely.
It takes time to know someone well. Only God knows for sure what is in people’s hearts, so we should apply common sense to our relationships and trust our instincts. Although we should seek out human interaction, we should not rush into our relationships. “It is dangerous and sinful to rush into the unknown.” (Proverbs 19:2)
We must learn to distinguish between acquaintances and friendships. “There are ‘friends’ who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”(Psalm 18:24)
Nor should we surround ourselves with angry people. Over time, peer pressure and the desire for connection can lead us to do things that we know to be wrong. “Stop listening to teaching that contradicts what you know is right.” (Proverbs 19:27) “Keep away from angry, short-tempered men, lest you learn to be like them and endanger your soul.” (Proverbs 22:24-25)
Finally, we need to be a good friend to the friends we choose, consistent with Jesus’ teachings. “Most of all, let love guide your life…”(Colossians 3: 14)
Photo by Fabio Formaggio
Author’s Note: This post was edited on April 25, 2019 after Ropekha had “liked” it.