What is a biblical definition of true friendship?
Friendships can be among the most rewarding and the most frustrating relationships in our lives. From Old to New Testament, the Bible is full of friendship stories and advice. We are told that friends love at all times (Proverbs 17:17), only wound us in ways that are trustworthy (i.e., tough love; Proverbs 27:6), are more loyal than family at times (Proverbs 18:24), provide mutual edification (Proverbs 27:17), can impart wisdom (Proverbs 13:20), and they may even sacrifice themselves for us (John 15:13).
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David and Jonathan are well-known for their close friendship. First Samuel 18:1-5 talks about the knitting of the two men's souls. Jonathan gave his robe and armor to David, essentially honoring David above himself and stripping himself of his kingly position (Jonathan's father was King Saul). Later Jonathan stood up for David to his father (1 Samuel 19:1-7). Jonathan risked his life for his friend (1 Samuel 20). God used the friendship to preserve David for the throne. David, too, had deep loyalty to Jonathan. Second Samuel 1:17-27 is David's lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. Even though Saul had been an enemy to David, the new king sought out someone from Saul's family that he might show him kindness for the sake of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:1-13; 21:7). David's sense of loyalty to Jonathan and his gratefulness for their friendship outweighed the enmity between Saul and David.
Embedded in instructions regarding the Church is some advice about friendship. Paul told believers to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, at peace with one another, loving, and thankful (Colossians 3:13-15). Friends also teach one another and worship God together (Colossians 3:16).
The truest friend is Jesus. John 15:12-15 says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." Friends are like-minded. They love one another with sacrificial love. They share with one another from the heart. Friends know each other well and promote one another's welfare. We are blessed to have been adopted into the family of God and to have been made friends of Jesus. In return, we are called to be good friends to one another.
According to the Bible, true friendship is characterized by love. The Proverbs, the example of David and Jonathan, instructions to the Church, and, ultimately, Jesus' example depict true friendship. A true friend loves, gives wise counsel, remains loyal, forgives, and promotes the other's welfare.
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