“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). What a joy it is to have a friend, one we can confide and trust in, receive help and encouragement from, one who knows and loves us just as we are. To have a friend walk beside us in the darkest times is a great blessing.
But friendship, like all things in this fallen world, is broken. Because of sin, we have conflicts with others. We seek our own way. We hurt and betray one another. We know what it is like to have a friend fail us and let us down. We’ve probably had friends betray our confidences with others. Perhaps we’ve even had friends turn their backs and reject us. Certainly we know what it’s like when close friends from the past fade farther away through time and distance. Some of us may know the heartache of losing a friend through death.
As a result, it can be easy to grow cynical about friendship. We can be distrusting and cautious. We might find relationships online or through social media to be more appealing than flesh and blood friendships. We may keep the relationships we do have at a distance, never trusting enough to share what’s really going on in our heart. And some may give up on friendship altogether, preferring to handle life on our own.
Yes, friendship is hard and sometimes even hurtful. But Jesus came to redeem and restore all things, including our relationships with one another.
Our Perfect Friend
There’s an old hymn titled that says,
Jesus! What a Friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Oh! To be able to say ‘Christ is my friend,’ is one of the sweetest things in the world.” While Jesus was mocked for being a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34), those who have been rescued from sin through Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross know the sweet taste of singing the words, “Jesus! What a friend for sinners!”
Though our earthly friends may fail us and earthly foes assail us, Jesus stands by us, our perfect friend. His love for us is unconditional; it’s not based on who we are and what we’ve done. His love is not fickle or temporary. He doesn’t make promises and then fail to keep them. He won’t turn on us and reject us. Jesus’s love for us is eternal, extending all the way back in eternity past, before time even began (Ephesians 1:4–5). And nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:38–39). Even now, he is at work for us, interceding before the Father on our behalf: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
As our friend, Jesus not only wants the best for us, but he knows what is best for us and ensures that only the best ever happens to us. He works out all the details of our life for our good and his glory. He comforts us, guides us, hears our every cry, knows what we need even before we do, and works in us at all times, transforming us into his own righteous image.
He is the friend we never had, the friend we never deserved, the one friend we all need — our perfect friend.
Our First Friend
The friendships we have with other believers are rooted in our friendship with Christ. They blossom and bear fruit out of our relationship with him. In fact, our friendship with Jesus creates and shapes our friendships with others.
Jesus describes himself as the vine and us as the branches,
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5)
Through faith in what Jesus did for us in his perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection, we are united to him. Through this union, we receive all the benefits of what he has done for us — justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification, and more. Just as a branch receives its life and sustenance from the vine, we too receive our spiritual life and health through our union with Christ. We grow and bear fruit from what he provides.
One Friendship Shapes Every Friendship
Every other friendship a Christian makes or maintains stems from this friendship. When we are adopted by the Father through Jesus, we are united to every other believer; they are our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Believers past, present, and even those yet to be born are our siblings in Christ. We are united to them just as the parts of a human body are connected to one another. In fact, we are so tightly woven together that when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt (1 Corinthians 12:26).
We can only love one another because God loved us first (1 John 4:19). Biblical friendship begins with Christ and extends outward, not the other way around. His love flows into us, and out of that love, we love others. As we abide in him, we are fueled to love and serve our brothers and sisters. We receive the nourishment we need from Christ, and then share that spiritual nourishment with others. And because they are drinking from the same vine, they do the same for us.
We all come to faith the same way, by grace through faith. Not one of us has it all together; we all rely upon the grace and favor of God. Because we know the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus, we can be patient and forbearing with one another (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus’s constant grace toward us when we sin and fail him enables us to forgive others when they fail or sin against us.
Jesus is our first friend, creating and shaping our friendships with others. We love out of the overflow of his love for us. Jesus is also our perfect friend, the one who loves at all times. When friends fail us and let us down, we can continue to love them because we know we have been loved with a perfect and unfailing love. Because — as the old hymn says — Jesus is with us to the end.