Friendship, and whole host of other concepts and relationships, has deteriorated over the generations. Few people I know genuinely understand the difference between a friend and an acquaintance. You don’t trust an acquaintance with your most intimate struggles and emotions. So, one day, as a true friend of mine and me were discussing people who had fallen off as friends, I considered one friendship in the Bible that really embodies for me what a friendship could and should be — David and Jonathan. You see, people come into our lives for a reason, a season, and/or a lifetime. There is always a reason why we encounter people along the journey of life. However, the length of time that they spend in our lives varies from person to person. Some are only meant to be a part of our journey for a season — maybe to challenge us to grow in our personal lives in some way, to meet a need during a certain period of time, or even to expose weaknesses and unresolved areas of pain and lack in our lives that need to be addressed in order for us to successfully move forward and stop repeating history. So, as I considered the good, the bad, and the ugly of the relational experiences that I have encountered in my so-called friendships over the years, and as I reviewed the relationship between David and Jonathan, five strong characteristics stood out to me that would define what makes a good friendship great. Good friendships are grown and maintained when those included in such a sacred relationship commit to the following things in their journey together: Love, Loyalty, Honesty, Accountability, and Sacrifice.
One of the first things that we are told about David and Jonathan’s friendship is how much Jonathan loved David:
[1Sa 18:3 KJV] Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.
What a profound statement to make in relation to another person. Love is essential to any human relationship because true love is unconditional. We were created with an innate capacity to love others. And, to love someone as much as you love yourself is an incredible sign of growth and stability. One of the many reasons relationships of any type fail in this day and age is because we fail to love ourselves FIRST. It is not a crime or a sign of selfishness to fully embrace who you are, strengths AND weaknesses. It is something many do not learn until they are well-on in years, and still others never learn this lesson at all. When Jesus commands His disciples to love their neighbor as they love themselves, He clearly understands that loving others flows directly out of a healthy sense of self-love. You cannot provide for someone else what you have not yet given to yourself. It’s just that simple. The wisdom writer of Proverbs put it this way:
[Pro 17:17 ESV] A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Love, true and biblical love, is unfailing and unconditional. Real friends are there for you in ups and downs. They love you when you are great to be around, and they are still around when you are mean as a snake. This is because they know you and they appreciate all of you, because those things make you someone who they want to be around. Shared experiences have bonded you to them, and they know that the sentiment is mutual. Take some time and read 1 Corinthians 13, the most over-read and underused text in the entire Bible. It has been read so many times over the years that the meaning behind the words has been lost. The Message paraphrase translation puts it this way:
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a
Simple yet challenging! Can you love like that?
The second trait that we find with David and Jonathan in friendship is Loyalty. Loyalty sticks around when everyone else leaves. When everyone can’t handle you, or doesn’t feel like dealing with you, a loyal friend steps in and stands by you. Loyalty has been known to take on many forms: that friend that will stand with you and fight when someone speaks ill of you; the friend who will take you wherever you need to go when your car is in the shop; the friend that will run errands for you when you are sick; the friend who will let you crash on their couch when you have nowhere else to go. The list goes on and on. There is a saying, albeit a bit foolish, that says “A good friend calls you in jail. A great friend bails you out of jail. But your best friend sits next to you while saying ‘wasn’t that fun?'” While I would not condone getting into criminal activity with your friends, the sentiment of loyalty stands out. Only those closest to you will stick by you when the going gets tough, and tougher, and tighter, and painful, and all the rest. Loyalty separates the “fair weather friends” from the “ride or die friends.” And the most important thing to remember about friendship and loyalty is this: It is better to have a faithful few than an unfaithful multitude.
[Pro 18:24 ESV] A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
The third trait of a good friend is Honesty. A friend will love you enough to speak truth to you, even when it hurts. If someone does not have the courage to tell you the truth, they really aren’t your friend. This often separates the children from the adults. Telling the truth takes courage, something that seems to be in short supply in this day and age. Instead of telling you that you ought not go out in a certain outfit that does not flatter you, they tell you that you are fly, they have to go! If they are unwilling and too cowardly to be honest with you about how they feel, regardless of whether it will make you mad or uncomfortable, they do not love you, they are not loyal to you, and they are not a true friend. Period. This is one thing that makes or breaks relationships if all kinds. Your real friends are mature enough to speak truth to you even when you aren’t mature enough to hear it. They may say it with grace and love, but it doesn’t keep them from saying it at all.
[Pro 27:6 NKJV] Faithful [are] the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy [are] deceitful.
If someone is constantly in your face telling you how great and wonderful you are, to the point of obnoxious and excessive, be warned: Do not trust them! Those people mean you no good. They will smile in your face and make you think that you are headed in the right direction, when the reality often is that you are headed toward your demise. It is also important to understand that there are people who exhibit a false sense of truth. They will tell you “truth” to discredit and undermine you in some way, and it is usually publicly. These people mean you harm as well, because they are often operating under ulterior motives. They try to embarrass and humiliate you, so that those who witness such a display will lose respect for and confidence in you. Beware the haters, and understand that how you respond to them will determine whether those watching lose respect for you or not. Sometimes, in those scenarios, the best and most mature thing you can do is NOTHING. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, however, by refusing to acknowledge such attacks in the heat of the moment, you maintain your character and your dignity in the face of slander. There are better and more effective ways of dealing with those people. But that is a topic for another time. Bottom line: Your friends will always love you enough to speak truth into your life, no matter how painful or uncomfortable as it may be because they want the best for you and they want you to grow.
The fourth trait of a friend is Accountability. This one is another that is tough to find because this requires that you have standards that you live by, goals that push you to reach higher and dig deeper. It is a sign of a healthy and mature person when they are surrounded by people who push them to grow. People who don’t want to grow tend to gravitate to other people who do not wish to grow, and they become stagnant together. No one wants to be around death or dead weight. Good friends are always challenging you to grow. They share their dreams and visions with you and vice versa, and together, you hold each other accountable to reaching; and attaining those goals. The hard part of accountability is challenging each other to think outside one’s box and learn from each other’s unique perspective. Good friends challenge you verbally. Great friends inspire by the way they live. The way they approach life both challenges and inspires you to press and stretch and test the limits in your own journey. They support and encourage your dreams, while pushing you when you get comfortable or lax in your ambition. They see your potential and push you to live up to it. Real friends will never allow you to settle for “good enough.” They will challenge you to embrace greatness. Great friends spark brilliant conversation, where you challenge your ideals and your perspective to a point where you are both broader and stretched as a result of your interaction. Together you ask tough questions, and seek answers. You challenge faulty thinking, shallow dreams, and mediocre practices. In short, you become better because of your friendship. This is one of the most amazing and beautiful gifts that friendship provides.
[Pro 27: 17 NKJV] [As] iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
The fifth and final trait of a good friend is Sacrifice. In gang culture, it is often the case that members are known to be willing to die to protect or save other members of the gang. Sacrifice is tied to loyalty and love. If you love someone, you are more than willing to make sacrifices for them. Hopefully, you are in a healthy and thriving friendship, and the feeling is mutual. Whether it is gas money or groceries, watching a child or sitting in a hospital room, you are willing to share resources in order to make sure that they are not wanting. Sacrifice requires that you set aside your own wants and needs to a certain extent in order to meet the needs of another. The ultimate showing of love is sacrifice. Jesus loved us so much that He gave His life in order to restore the relationship between humanity and her Creator.
[Jhn 15:13 ESV] 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
It’s not always easy to do physically, but when you are connected to someone in friendship, it never seems difficult when they reach out for help or need your help. It becomes an outpouring of the first two traits — love and loyalty. In the greatest sense of the phrase, you become your brother’s keeper. Looking out for one another sometimes requires a sacrifice from you or the other person from time to time. Even if it is sitting with them and listening, your effort becomes invaluable in the moment that you decide that what they need is more important than what you want or need to do at the time. These moments of selflessness and sincerity are the moments that bond friendships for the long-term. The moment someone is unwilling to make a sacrifice, even in the smallest way, is the moment when you realize how valuable the friendship is to that person. Granted, there are circumstances and situations that prevent friends from being there, and, if you are always leaning on them, you have to reevaluate your own situation to make sure you are not taking advantage of the friendship and the person you claim to care so much about. Friendship is about balance and mutual commitment to caring for one another and making each other better.
So, that’s the fab five, in detail. I hope and pray that you find two or three people who embody these traits, and I pray that you grow these traits in your own life. Water your own garden so that you can share that water with others. Good friends really are hard to find, but I guarantee that, when you find them, they will enhance and illuminate your life. See them as an extension of God’s love in your life, and you will never miss His voice or His love in your life. Love to all!