As Christians, we were created for relationships. Ever since the beginning of creation, God never intended for us to be alone. Jesus, Himself, was surrounded by faithful disciples and friends during the span of His life and ministry on earth. As we share the joyous truth of the gospel, we are united by something deeper and stronger than bloodlines. As followers of Christ, our friendships are founded in Christ. C.S. Lewis puts it, "What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it."
Identifying the beauty and joy in friendship can come with ease, but putting in the effort to maintain and steward our friendships might not. Friendship takes intentionality and effort, and Jesus models this true friendship for us in His life of ministry.
Jesus was present. He spent time with His friends and disciples during His time living and walking among us on earth (John 3:22). He spent time with them and grew to know and understand them (Luke 10:28-42). He walked alongside them in ministry. He shared meals with those He was closest to and enjoyed their fellowship (John 12:1-3). Jesus was intentional with His presence, which grew trust and sincerity among His friends. He put in the effort to know them and care for them.
Being present in our friendships may look differently over time. It might not always look like seeing them often, but it does mean being involved in their lives. Jesus' presence in the lives of His friends didn't look just one way. Though Christ's time on earth was consumed with teaching lessons, healing the sick, and performing countless miracles, He was never too busy for His disciples. He constantly and purposefully made Himself available to them. Intentionality with our presence shows our friends that we are reliable and trustworthy. Being present invites others to reach out to us when they need help and encouragement.
Jesus was servant minded. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45 ESV). Jesus approached His relationships with the heart of a servant. He didn't give demands and expectations for how He should be treated by them. Instead, in humility, He sought to consider others over Himself. In John 13:15, Jesus sets an example of serving others by washing His disciples' feet–an act of humility in love. Jesus had the authority and merit to value Himself above others, but He never did. He led by serving, and He loved by serving. He ultimately gave up His life for those He loved (John 15:13). Jesus lived a life of serving others, purposefully looking to the needs of others over His own.
We may be tempted in friendships to make it about ourselves and our needs. We may set the bar high for how we wish to be treated and cared for by our friends. We may have unrealistic expectations and demands for others. Our approach to friendship may look like, "I'll do this for them, if they do this for me." But it is only when our posture toward friendship becomes less transactional that we can find freedom and joy in serving others just as Christ came to serve. Gospel-saturated friendships with selfless and humble servant-mindedness bring life not only to our friends but to us as well.
Jesus encouraged in truth. An invaluable effort of true friendship that Jesus modeled was encouraging His friends in truth. Throughout the record of Jesus' life, He was quoting Scripture to His friends and reminding them of their eternal hope in Him (John 16:33). Jesus' responses to questions posed were often passages of Scripture from the Old Testament. He knew the hope and healing that comes from God's Word, and He knew what the disciples needed to hear most was the truth it revealed.
Gospel-centered intentionality means encouraging our friends to look at the greatest truth. Words of our own are only temporarily helpful for our friends. As we aim to care for and build them up, the most powerful and long-lasting words we possess are found in God's Word. His Word calms the anxious. His Word gives wisdom to the simple. His Word offers comfort to the broken. His Word brings purpose to our joys. His Word offers far more hope to our friends than we could ever dream or think of.
Lastly, Jesus prayed for His friends. He prayed earnestly and often for them. He even approached the Father before the cross and prayed for them (John 17). Jesus, being omniscient in nature, knew everything there was to know about His friends, yet still, He took the time to listen to their needs and concerns. In His knowledge of them, He lifted up their cares and concerns to the Father on their behalf.
True friends are a prayerful people. Praying specifically for our friends shows a greater care for them. Prayer relieves the pressure we may put on ourselves to solve their problems or change their lives. Making requests to God on a friend's behalf cultivates a humility and dependence on the Lord for strength and wisdom.
Earthly friendship is God's gracious gift to us. It's wonderful, beautiful, and vulnerable. We can easily distort what brings value to our relationships. Our longing for true and full fellowship shouldn't ever fall away from the hope of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect friend. Living in light of this opens the door for true, grace-filled and intentional friendships with others–the kind of friendship that draws us outside of ourselves and points us to the same truth that we share. So, while aspiring to be better and more faithful friends, may we glean wisdom from the truest friend we have in Jesus, and may we find hope for true friendship in His life and ministry.