The Oxford English Dictionary defines a friend as “one joined to another in mutual benevolence and intimacy.” There are three things we can see in this definition of a friend. First, friendship is mutual—it’s not a one-way street. Second, it’s benevolent—it wants good things for the other. Third, it’s intimate, not superficial. I’d like to say something about what God says about friendship. How can we have better friendships and be better friends?

Friends With Ourselves: Seeing Ourselves as God Sees Us

I suggest that we need to start with ourselves, because it’s not easy to have healthy friendships with others if we aren’t friends with ourselves. So how do we become friends with ourselves? I’m not talking about some self-centred, self-focussed idea that has us putting ourselves ahead of everyone else. That’s spiritually and emotionally unhealthy, and putting ourselves first is unhelpful when it comes to making healthy relationships with others. The way to have a good relationship with yourself is to see yourself as God sees you.

So how does God see you? The first thing you need to understand is, God loves you. For some of you, that’s where you need to start—by really getting it into your heart that God loves you. God loves you unconditionally. No matter what. No ifs, ands, or buts. God loves you. It’s that simple. And because God loves you, you’re lovable, you’re worth being loved. Heb. 3:14 says that we have a share in Christ. In other words, if you’re in Christ, God sees you through Christ, he sees you through the lens of all that Jesus is. I’ll come back to what it means to be in Christ below. Right now, let’s look at a few Scriptures that tell us how God sees us.

Gal. 4:5 says we have received adoption as children. You are God’s adopted child, his chosen and precious son or daughter. But there’s more. Paul goes on in verse 7 to say that if we’re children of God, then we’re his heirs. You are an heir of all that belongs to God, which is everything.

In the book of Revelation we read that the Church is the Bride of Christ. That means you’re the bride of Christ. Ladies, think about how you looked on your wedding day, resplendent in your beautiful gown and jewels. And listen to this description of a royal bride in Ps. 45:13-15:

The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-coloured robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions, her escort, in her train. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.

Is that how you felt on your wedding day? That’s how God sees you. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you,” says Isa. 62:5. You are God’s bride, whom he loves passionately and who is joined to him in the most intimate way possible.

Paul says in Rom. 8:37 that we are more than conquerors in any situation through him who loved us. To put it another way, nothing’s going to happen today, or any other day, that you and God can’t handle together. That’s not a promise that nothing bad is going to happen. It is a promise that when something bad does happen, God will see you through it, and you’ll overcome in the end.

1 John 1:7 says that the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. Think about what that means for a moment. Jesus’ death on the cross has purified you from all sin. Whatever might be in your past, it’s cleaned up and dealt with. You don’t have to carry a load of guilt and shame anymore, because Jesus has taken those things away from you. In his eyes you’re pure and spotless.

Phil 4:13 says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” That doesn’t mean God will help you do whatever you decide to do. It does mean that he’ll give you the strength to do whatever he’s called you to do, whether that’s leaving everything you know to serve in a foreign mission field, bringing God’s light to a workplace where you’re the only Christian, or dealing with your kids.

When we become Christians, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us. Which means that from that moment we have the fruit of the Spirit in us. Gal. 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” And all those character qualities are yours when you’re filled with the Spirit. These are only a few of the Scriptures that talk about who we are in Christ.

Do you see what I’m saying? God loves you, and in his eyes you’re beautiful and lovable. You are his chosen and precious child, his beloved and beautiful bride. Pure and holy. Able to handle any situation because you have all the resources of the Holy Spirit inside you.

But maybe you’re thinking, ‘But I don’t feel like that!’ Well, I understand that. I often don’t feel like that either. But it’s not about what we feel like. It’s about what God says we are. These are things we appropriate by faith. As we believe by faith what God says about us, as we learn to see ourselves as he sees us, two things happen. First, these things begin to show in our lives. As it’s often said, we become what we are. Second, because seeing ourselves as God sees us gives us a healthy relationship with ourselves, that makes it easier to form healthy, God-honouring relationships with others. I should say at this point that all these things I’ve said about us are only true because of what Jesus has done for us and in us, not because of anything we’ve done. So there’s no cause for boasting here. God sees us as he sees us only through Jesus. But through Jesus he sees us as beautiful.

So why is it that some of us just don’t like ourselves? Why is it that for some of us, we’re our own worst enemy? Joyce Meyer in her book Conflict-free Living suggests that it’s because we focus on our weaknesses and failures rather than on our strengths and the times we get it right (I think that women are more prone to this than men). But we are not what we do. We need to separate our identity from our actions, separate our “who” from our “do,” as Joyce Meyer puts it. More than that, we need to see our weaknesses as God sees them. We see our weaknesses and failures as reasons to reject ourselves. But God sees them as opportunities for him to work in and through us. His strength is perfected in our weakness. If we lean on him, our weaknesses become opportunities for him to show his power and glory. That’s what Paul means when he says in 2 Cor. 4:7, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” What we need to do is to live in the truth of what God says we are, and let him do the rest.

Friendship with Others

Now that we’ve talked about our relationship with ourselves, let’s talk about our relationships with others. What does the Bible say about friendship? The place to start is to say that we need friends. Ecc. 4:9-12 says,

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they are warm; but how can one be warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

This means we need each other, for encouragement (if they fall, they can lift each other up), for comfort (they can keep each other warm), and for protection against attack of any kind. As Christians, we’re part of the Body of Christ, and we need to stay connected to the body if we’re going to thrive. When lions go hunting for prey, they don’t attack an entire herd of zebra, or gazelles, or whatever. They look for an animal that’s on its own, isolated from the herd. Sometimes they do the isolating, cutting an animal off from the herd. An animal on its own they can kill. We also have an enemy who’s out to get us. 1 Pet. 5:8 says that our enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. That’s why the writer of Hebrews encourages us not to give up gathering ourselves together, but to encourage one another (Heb. 10:25). In the previous verse the writer brings up another reason for us to gather together. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). It’s easier to live the way God wants us to if we’re around others who can help us stay on track. Conversely, it’s easier to fall into sin if there’s no one around to see us do it. So you see, we need each other. God hasn’t called us to be “Lone Ranger Christians,” he’s called us to be part of the Body of Christ, connected to each other through him.

Another thing that needs to be said here is that the kind of friendship I’m talking about here isn’t the superficial kind that consists of talking about the weather at fellowship time. I’m talking about the kind of connection that comes from sharing your heart and your experiences with others. You might remember that our dictionary definition of a friend mentioned intimacy. That doesn’t happen unless we open our hearts and let someone else in. That’s risky, because if you let someone else in, they’ll see things about you they might not like. What if you let someone in and they reject you? And then there’s the chance that if you let someone in they’ll hurt you in some other way. But building a protective wall around ourselves is not the answer. A Biblical example of this is the friendship of David and Jonathan. They may have chatted about the weather occasionally, but the Scriptures indicate that they talked about more important things more often than they talked about the weather. That said, there will be varying degrees of intimacy in our friendships, and some people that we share more of ourselves with than others. That’s OK, that’s not inappropriate.

As our dictionary definition also says, friendship is not a one-way street. One thing this means is that our friends affect us. This can be a good thing. But it means we must be wise about choosing our friends. Prov. 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” The people we spend time with influence us, whether we intend them to or not. That’s why Paul says at 1 Cor. 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’.” Friendship involves letting people in, and that means they affect us. So we need to make sure we spend most of our time with people who draw us closer to God, not away from him. I’m not saying we should go into a “holy huddle” and never have any contact with sinners. But it’s important to be sure that the people we let in the farthest will be a positive influence on us. A Biblical example of someone who gets this wrong is King Rheoboam, son of Solomon and grandson of David. Shortly after he came to the throne, the people of Israel asked him to lighten the government-imposed burden of taxes and national service that Solomon had placed on them. When Rheoboam asked his advisers how he should answer the people, the older men advised him to win the people’s favour by being conciliatory and lighten their burden. But the younger men, with whom Rheoboam had grown up, advised him to play the strong man and be even harder on the people than his father had been. Rheoboam listened to his young friends, and triggered a rebellion and the division of the kingdom.

Another thing we can say about friendship is that it’s discreet. Prov 17:9 says that gossip hinders friendship. And Prov. 16:28 says, “A whisperer separates close friends.” And Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:7, “Love bears all things.” The Greek word translated “bears” is actually better translated “covers up” or “protects.” It’s the word used for making a ship waterproof, covering the wood with pitch so water doesn’t get in. The Greek word for “roof” is related to this word. This means that love doesn’t uncover or spread around what would hurt or embarrass another. A friend protects a friend’s reputation by not telling others what’s told in confidence, or what might be embarrassing or hurtful.

Another principle of friendship we can draw from the Bible is summed up in Prov. 17:17: “A friend loves at all times.” William Shakespeare said in one of his poems, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” In more modern language, that means, real love doesn’t change when circumstances change. There are people who want to be your friend as long as things are going well for you. But if difficulties come into your life, they aren’t there for you. We used to call people like that “fair-weather friends.” And then there’s the “foul-weather friend,” who expects you to be there for them when the going gets tough, but when things are better for them, they get going. They don’t want you around for the good times, only to be a shoulder to cry on. But genuine friendship isn’t like that. Real friends share the highs and lows of life. Jonathan didn’t abandon David when things were going badly for David, even though it was risky for Jonathan to be David’s friend then. There’s a caution here, though. We should be able to depend on our friends, and they should be able to depend on us. But we must never allow ourselves to depend on our friends more than we depend on God (women are more likely to fall into this trap than men, because our need for intimacy is greater than men’s). We must be careful to save that “first place” for God alone, because he is the only one who is worthy of it. Even our best friends will let us down occasionally. God is the only one whom we can rely on totally. He is the only one who will never let us down.

It may be that you’ve been in that situation. Maybe someone close to you has let you down. I want you to know that Jesus knows how that feels, because he’s been in that situation too. The night he was arrested—the very time he needed his friends the most—they all panicked and ran away. Worse than that, it was one of those friends who told the authorities where they could find Jesus and arrest him. If you’ve known the pain of being let down by a close friend, forgive them and give that pain to God. He’ll help you heal.

The Most Important Friendship of All

Let’s conclude by talking about the most important friendship of all—our friendship with God. We could have talked about this first, because it’s hard to have a healthy relationship with ourselves or with others if we don’t have a healthy friendship with God. The good news is, God wants to be friends with us. Our sins would have blocked us from being friends with God, because God can’t be friends with sin. Hab. 1:13 says God’s eyes are too pure to behold evil, and he can’t look on wrong. And there’s nothing we in ourselves can do about our sin. But God wasn’t satisfied to leave things that way, or us that way. So he sent his son Jesus to deal with our sins by dying on the cross. 2 Cor. 5:21 says that for our sakes God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin, so that in him we could become God’s righteousness. If we ask God to forgive our sins, he will. 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins to God, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Jesus’ death has opened the way for us to become friends with God. And our having a right relationship with God is the first step toward having healthy relationships with ourselves and with others. The way to come into a right relationship with God is to confess your sin and repent of it, receive God’s forgiveness, invite Jesus into your heart as Saviour and make him Lord of your life. That’s what I meant when I mentioned being in Christ. Jesus is the best friend we can have. He’ll never abandon us or let us down. We can tell him anything in prayer, and know that he’ll always hear and he’ll never think we’re foolish. And once we become friends with him, what he does in us will gradually bring our relationships with ourselves and with others into order. But it all starts with him.