The Litmus Test of Friendship

The Litmus Test of Friendship by Pastor Brian, Regular Contributor
Working through my current teaching series has me thinking quite a bit about friendship. It's qualities, it's benefits, and its expectations. Also, and more painfully, the many ways in which friendship can be derailed.

Friendships derail and terminate for many reasons. Some we can control and others we cannot. I also acknowledge that certain friendships are for certain seasons and that we as people can and should outgrow both the foundations and dynamics of some relationships. There is also the fact that some 'friendships' can simply be toxic in nature and for the purpose of health and growth, it's better to move on in search of relationships that will contribute health to the economy of our hearts and minds.

 Just like the words we speak, friendships can be life-giving or they can be life-taking. So, there is ample cause for both resignation of some relationships and even more for the initiation of new beginnings. These variables not withstanding, I would suggest the number one reason we part company is on account of personal offense. Or more accurately, for the lack of reconciliation following an offense. After all, in a genuine relationship there will always be an occasional offense.

I believe the litmus test of true friendship is reconciliation and restoration. I believe the best definition of friendship can be found in Proverbs 17:17 (NIV), "A friend loves at all times...". I also like how the New Living Translation puts it, "A friend is always loyal...". A friend always loves, protects, and returns to the friendship. Loyalty is a characteristic of love. Terms like 'always' or 'at all times' are pregnant with responsibility towards the relationship. After we are dealt or we ourselves deal an offense in our friendships, do we reconcile? Do we work to make our relationship right again? Do we forgive and works towards restoration? Or do we write off relationships and walk away?

It also occurs to me via observation (and experience) that in our culture we are less and less tolerant with friends (and people in general) - especially if they bring anything other than agreement to the table. Don't get me wrong, agreement is wonderful. However, not always to our edification. In other words, if I am in the wrong on a matter, it's not beneficial to me to have a friend agree with me. If I am making bad choices in word or deed and my friend 'agrees' with me, they are actually no friend at all! Yet, the self-gratifying nature of our ways resists that which makes us uncomfortable and seeks to remove from our lives the very things (or people) that make us feel that way.

In days gone by, it may have been considered prudent to stop and listen; heed advice, or seriously contemplate feedback and even process criticism. However, in the ever devolving 'do what feels good' and 'my opinion is my truth' type culture around us, we are losing nearly all willful exhibition of qualities such as listening and honest reflection; let alone receiving something as loving as admonishment or rebuke from a friend. Our propensities are towards rejection when offense occurs. Yet scripture tells us:

"Wounds from a friend can be trusted..." ~Proverbs 27:6

"It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools." ~Ecclesiastes 7:5

 "As Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." ~Proverbs 27:17

      What if your friend wrongs you? What do you do when the offense is not as noble or well intended as these preceding bible verses propose? What if you are hurt by the actions and words of a 'friend'? What if you realize you have hurt or unnecessarily wounded a friend? This is where the metal of our friendships are indeed tested. I would also argue these are the rocky crags of friendship where the true riches of relationship can be mined! If you want the best relationship advice, the Word of God is rife with it. You need only to be bold enough to trust in Him at His word and seek grace in its application.

"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." ~Matthew 5:23-24 

"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." ~Mark 11:25

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." ~Matthew 18:21-22

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you." ~Ephesians 4:32

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." ~Colossians 3:13

"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." ~James 5:16

"Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs." ~Proverbs 10:12

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." ~1 Peter 4:8
Are you a true friend? Do you press through the difficult seasons of friendship? Or, do you tend to push away when the going gets tough? Are you a friend who 'loves at all times'?

I want friends in my life who would see our friendship through. I want friends in my life who won't stop pushing for reconciliation in all things and who will hold me accountable when I cease the work of reconciliation. I want friends who when they feel hurt, slighted, or angry love me enough to 'step away from the altar and bring it to my attention.' I believe the evidence of friendship is the demonstration of this kind of love...of this level of commitment...of this brand of loyalty.

1 Samuel 18-20 outlines perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of friendship, the friendship between David and Jonathan. In my mind it depicts the highest heights of human friendship:

"Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself...Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his bow and his belt." ~1 Samuel 18:1-4

The only greater depiction of friendship is that of Christ's love and friendship towards us in His death upon the cross (John 15:13). Friendship in life is not a right nor requirement. It is a benefit. It's a gift from God. It is part of what makes life worth living. And such a gift is worthy of our deepest care and consideration. May we each pass the true tests of friendship, and carry the important work of reconciliation in every relationship. This is the mark of true friendship: that we would love at all times.
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