I have a Facebook page. On my profile page I’m told I have 226 friends. Some are relatives; some are people to whom I have or have had a ministry; some are present or past acquaintances; some I’m not even sure I know or at least where I know them from. I’ve lost a few: I “defriended” them or they “defriended” me.
Do I really have 226 friends? As I said, there are a few I’m not sure I know. And there are many people in my life with whom I am much closer, but who are not listed on my page.
Checking my Webster’s, I find that the word friend is a bit of a “soft” term. It can be used of a mere acquaintance or of one “attached … by affection or esteem” or of “a favored companion.” Perhaps we could say that the persons we call friends can be placed on a continuum from mere acquaintances to those with whom we share our innermost selves.
A brief article appeared in The Week magazine of November 25, 2011, entitled: “True friends are getting rarer” (page 25). It tells of a survey by Cornell University sociologists that found that of the 2,000 surveyed, “on average they had only two friends with whom they could discuss important matters – down from three in 1985.” It went on to say that “Nearly half … listed only one friend and four percent said they had none”! I’d have to admit, from my own personal experience and that of others I’ve dealt with, that I’d agree with those general figures.
Personally I have many “friends” if by the word I mean “acquaintances” (I’d probably have an innumerable host of friends if I could only remember names). I also have a large number of closer acquaintances, those with whom I share some common interest and/or affection.
And then there are those to whom I have attempted to be a friend; to listen to their problems; to share some of their needs; to pray with and for. I have found in the ministry that this is a necessity and, I suppose, a gift. I believe that God calls us all to “be a friend” to others to some extent. And I’ve found that it’s easier to be a friend than to find one – one whom I can trust with my soul and my secrets, with whom I can “spill my guts,” with whom I can “bare my soul” – one who knows me intimately and still wants to be my friend.
In my life there’s only one person like that – my wife for 55 years and friend for 58 years, Uni.
Did Jesus have friends? Well, yes He did. He is called “a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners” (Matthew 11:19 = Luke 7:34). He calls His disciples His friends a number of times (Luke 12:4; John 15:13-15). He refers to Lazarus as “our friend” (John 11:11). The Greek word used in all these passages is philos, which is related to phileo, the word for the love of deep affection.
There is another word translated “friend” in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus uses it to address His betrayer Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you’ve come here for” (Matthew 26:50). The Greek word is hetairos. The BAG Greek lexicon says that this word is used “As a general address to someone whose name one does not know.” Jesus uses it in the parable of the Vineyard in Matthew 20, where the landowner addresses a disgruntled employee “Friend, I’m not doing you wrong … (verse 13). He also uses it in the parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22, where the king addresses a man who has come to the Feast improperly attired, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (verse 12). So when Jesus uses it in addressing Judas, He is expressing that same disappointment or even something even stronger.
Jesus could be a friend to many – sinners and disciples. I consider Him my Friend. We sing, “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.” However, I can’t help but wonder how much of a friend I am to Him. After all, John tells us, “… many believed in His name … but Jesus, on His part would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men” (John 2:23, 24).
But then I realize that Jesus – God Himself -- has chosen to pour out His heart to me in His Word and has given me His Spirit to open my understanding of His heart. I only hope that that friendship will continue to grow.