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Monday, March 7, 2016

5 Traits of Deep Friendships

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

God designed us to have deep relationships.  God created us to have a deep relationship with Him--to know Him, to talk to God, to love and admire Him.  However, God created us for more than just a human/God relationship.  God created Adam and Eve so we could have deep relationships with other people too.
A deep relationship is a profound, caring connection of mutual support, cooperation, and trust.  Deep relationships can be with family, friends, someone we date, a spouse, or a co-worker.  However we find them, our souls yearn for deep relationships.  The goal of this blog is to share five traits about strong, faithful, meaningful friendships. 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Types of Friends
As part of our discussion today, I want to share 5 traits of true friends.  But before we get to those traits, it will be important to discuss the different types of friends we find.  As I see it, there are three different kinds of friends and it is vital to understand the differences.  Friends will fall along a spectrum with these general categories.
            First off, some of your friends will be companions.  People who are companions keep company with each other.  Another word for this might be “acquaintance.”  Now, a companion is a sort of friend, but not at a deep level.  You probably aren’t deeply bonded with a companion; your friendship with a companion is often unplanned.  For instance, you may associate with your companions because of a mutual interest—maybe you work or go to school together, you might share a hobby, or maybe you have a mutual friend with whom you both hang out.  Thus, you may spend time with a companion—you may even enjoy each other’s company—but you didn’t deliberately choose your companion, it just sort of happened.  Companions are usually friendly to each other, but they aren’t necessarily deeply committed to each other.  Companions may grow to become your best friend, but at this stage it is only a very casual relationship.  And that’s vital to remember, because trusting a companion like a close friend can get you into real trouble. 
            Another type of friendship is a mentor/mentee relationship.  A mentor is someone who teaches or gives advice to someone less experienced.  A mentee is someone who is being mentored.  Mentors usually have their mentees best interest in mind and give freely to encourage or improve their mentee.  Charlie Green was my pastor when I took my first job as a minister.  Charlie saw potential in me and took me under his wing to teach me how to be a good pastor.  Now, I didn't have a lot to offer Charlie, but he sacrificially helped me become a better minister.  He was a mentor to me and I have always appreciated him for it.  Now, over the years, our friendship has grown deeper than just that of a mentor and mentee.  It is more of a mutual relationship now.
            It’s important to note that mentor/mentee relationships aren’t an equal or mutual friendship.  Knowledge, expertise, or advice is being exchanged.  It’s somewhat like a business or consumer relationship.  It’s important for the mentee to remember this and give their mentor some space and/or be grateful and respectful.            
            Another type of friend is what I call a true friend.  A true friend is a much deeper relationship than what you have with a companion.  And unlike a mentor/mentee relationship, a true friendship is mutual—with both people contributing equally to the friendship.  A true friend is a real blessing.  They are someone you can trust in thick and thin because they have been with you in thick and thin.
            Listen to what the Bible says about friends. Proverbs 17:17 – "A friend loves at all times…"  Proverbs 18:24 – "...there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."  John 15:13 – "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
Let me give you five traits of a true friend.  These five traits will help you recognize a true friend and also teach you how to be a true friend to others.  I hope you will also notice that Jesus demonstrated all five of these traits.  So ultimately, if you want to see what a true friend is—look at Jesus Christ.  If you want to be a true friend, seek to treat people like Jesus treats you. 

Five Traits of True Friends
Number one – sacrifice.  True friends sacrifice for each other.  Jesus was the ultimate example of a true friend—he laid down his life for us.  Not all friends will sacrifice to that extent (though some might), but a true friend will sacrifice.  A true friend will give up his time for you, will sacrifice his comfort for you, will go to great lengths for you.  And the deeper the friendship, the farther friends will go to sacrifice for each other. 
My best friend is Eddie Bradford.  We have been friends for 21 years.  Eddie is the kind of friend I can call at 3:00 AM if I have a real problem (and yes, I have called him at 3:00 AM before).  The same goes for Eddie.  He has called me at times when there was no one else he could talk to.  Eddie and I would do almost anything for each other.  That’s a true friend. 
Number two – unconditional love.  Christ died for us while we were still sinners.  He didn’t die for us because we deserved it.  He did it because we didn’t deserve it, but needed it.  That’s true friendship.  A true friend loves us unconditionally.  They are our friend—not because we deserve it—but purely as a gift of love.  This is a deep level of friendship.  That is why a true friend will often stick with you when times are terrible—when you are at your lowest point and have nothing useful to offer.  That kind of friendship can make all the difference in the world.  Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of friend?  Maybe you should seek to be that kind of friend to someone else.
Number three – trust.  A true friend is someone you can trust.  They won’t go around town telling everyone what you said when you told them something confidentially.  You know a true friend always has your best interest in mind.  You can count on them.  They will be there for you when you need it.
People often get into trouble with their “friends” when they misunderstand how trust and friendship work.  Proverbs 18:24 says, A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Remember, companions are not true friends.  They are just casual acquaintances.  But when you trust an acquaintance like a true friend, you can get in real trouble.  Trust must be earned.  Have your friends earned your trust or are they more like companions?  Furthermore, what kind of friend have you been?  Are you trust worthy or are you acting more like a mere companion?
Number four – healthy boundaries.  True friends develop healthy personal boundaries.  In her blog about Christian Friendship, Mary Fairchild writes:  If you feel smothered in a friendship, something is wrong. Likewise, if you feel used or abused, something is amiss. Recognizing what's best for someone and giving that person space are signs of a healthy relationship.”  Do your friendships have healthy personal boundaries? 
Number five – truth.  True friends tell the truth.  Do you want to know how my best friend and became friends?  Eddie was the new youth pastor at East Cobb UMC in Marietta.  I was a volunteer working with the youth group when he started.  After a few months on the job, Eddie called all the volunteers and asked our opinion about how he was doing.  I told Eddie what I really liked about his teaching style (he really was doing a good job).  However, I also told Eddie a few things he wasn’t doing well.  Now, some people would have gotten upset, but Eddie recognized I wasn’t trying to complain or be mean.  I genuinely wanted to help him do his very best.  Eddie told me a few years later—after we’d become good friends—how much he appreciated my honesty that day on the phone.  Not only had it helped him be a better youth minister, it revealed to him that I would be honest with him—and that’s the kind of friend he wanted.
Proverbs 27:6 shares God’s great wisdom about this when it says, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”  A true friend will be honest with you.  Are you being honest with your friends?  Now, to be sure, you have to have some tact.  You don’t always want to be complaining to your friends about their every flaw.  Think about it.  If you have a booger hanging from your nose, would you rather your friend tell you or just let you walk around all day like that?  What if it was something more important than a booger?  You'd want your friend to be honest with you even if it was hard or embarrassing or upsetting.

The Truest Friend
The truest friend you will ever have is Jesus Christ.  John 15:13 – “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  And John 15:15 says, "Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me."
It’s amazing that Jesus calls us his friends.  He has already done everything to earn your trust.  He always has your best interest in mind.  He loves you unconditionally.  He tells you the truth even when it’s hard.  But he won’t force you to be his friend.  You have to decide.
Until you let Jesus be your friend, all your other friendships and relationships will struggle.  But when you get your heart right with Jesus, everything else will start to fall into place—your family, your friends, your romantic life... everything.  Why don’t you turn to Jesus today—let him be your True Friend, your Lord, and your Savior?

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