There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship. – Thomas Aquinas
A curious idea started forming in my mind as I read Song of Solomon 5:16 – “His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” Here the woman is speaking, talking about her love and loyalty towards her bridegroom, and the second sentence is what stands-out to me. Inspired by God, Solomon here links together marriage and friendship, with the words “my beloved” and “my friend”.
I’m obviously entirely inexperienced and mostly unprepared to talk about something such as marriage, and that isn’t my point in writing this, yet in order to get to the bottom of the idea of friendship that I was meditating on, we need to begin where my thinking process did. Most marriages start-out with some form of friendship, with that great sense of happiness and satisfaction glowing on the faces of the newly-weds. Yet how do many loving couples grow so quickly from friends into business partners, or even from friends into enemies? We’d like to imagine every marriage as being near-perfect, especially in the Church, but let’s not allow ourselves to be so blindly naive.
Another question comes to mind: why does having children seem to be seen as a struggle, difficulty, and stress in today’s culture (it’s even coming to Latin America!)? The statistics speak for themselves, where most in the Western world have less than 2 children per family anymore. Scripture teaches that children are a blessing from God, and that marriage is the central nucleus of society. Didn’t God say that it was “not good” for Adam to be alone? Did He not instruct them to “be fruitful and multiply”? Now, in certain cases having less children can prove to be a true benefit and even God’s will, but that’s not the point here. The great and original gift that God gave to humanity was family and children, so I would argue that it is a Biblical view of friendship that turns these things that culture has deemed unnecessary and negative into the blessing they were envisioned to be.
This is how we come to the question: What would marriage be like if friendship was at the center, instead of job descriptions, tasks, and demands?
Having “business partners”, a way of viewing both spouses, other members of our church, and friends in our modern culture, is a truly self-centered way of living. It’s wanting to give in order to receive, do my part so you do yours, or as we like to say, trying to “have your cake and eat it too”. In reality, this is losing sight of the purpose of living – which includes finding eternal security in salvation through Jesus, loving God in order to love others, building community, investing in things which will last for eternity, etc. Perhaps we can put this into one word, friendship. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a message on the importance of friendship in marriage, neither have I heard many messages on being a true friend with brothers in the Church, even less-so have I heard a message speaking of God as our true and eternal Friend.
Perhaps many of you are similar to me, being very task-oriented, trying hard to do things instead of making friends and becoming invested with people. We have a lot of excuses for not doing so – we’re introverted, too busy, or as one missionary once told another: “I’m glad you have time for such things, but I’m much too busy with important things to be visiting people and chit-chatting.” Yet at the end of the day, the things which last forever are our friends, our relationship with God, and the Word of God. Therefore being a good friend is worth more than all the money, completed projects, and success we will ever achieve.
There is no greater consolation than the unfeigned loyalty and mutual affection of good and true friends. – Augustine
How do we recognize a “good and true” friend? Scripture teaches that a true friend says the hard and even hurtful things (Prov. 27:6), even at the cost of loosing the friendship, seeing the best for the friend and not for himself. Scripture teaches that a true friend is loyal no matter the circumstances (Prov. 18:24), and he will be there for us in our hardest times, our most shameful times, especially when everyone else has left us. Scripture teaches that a true friend loves the other more than himself (Prov. 17:17), seeking always his good. The friendship between David and Jonathan comes to mind, where Jonathan would have freely given up his right to the throne to have David placed there, knowing it was God’s will.
Looking over those qualifications, I realized that there are very few people in our world that fit this description, and perhaps none. Have I ever had a friend like this? Have I ever been a friend like this to another? In Proverbs 18:24, but only according to the KJV, it teaches that “a man that [has/wants to have] friends must [show] himself friendly.” True friends are hard to come by, and we may only have one or two of them in our entire life, so perhaps we should be more eager to use words such as “acquaintances” for others more often, or at least to view them that way in our mind. To those who we do truly deem as friends, may we strive to be their truthful, loyal, and loving friend.
Friendship seems to play a crucial role not only in life, but in Scripture, so we must dig deeper. As I meditated on that curious link in Song of Solomon between marriage and friendship, I got to thinking – is grace also founded in friendship?
Perhaps we need to start with another question to lead to this one, namely – is God/Jesus my friend? In a trying and difficult time, Augustine reflected on this question:
What agonizing birth-pangs tore my heart, what groans it uttered, O my God! And there, unknown to me, were your hearkening ears, for as I labored had in my silent search the mute sufferings of my mind reached your mercy as loud cries. You alone knew my pain, no one else, for little of it could I express in words to my closest friends! Could their ears have caught all the tumult that raged in my soul, when even I had neither time enough nor eloquence to articulate it?
God is not only our Friend, He is our truest, most intimate, and most perfect Friend of friends. Nowhere else do we see this displayed but in Jesus Christ and His disciples. Christ is more Father than any father, more Brother than any brother, more Friend than any friend.
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. (John 15:15, ESV)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Christ Jesus is your friend and my friend in so many astonishing ways, perfectly exemplifying what it is to be a friend – true, loyal, and loving. Perhaps the greatest single facet of Christ’s love for me, which brought me to the conclusion of my thinking on the topic at hand, was the fact that He loves me, stands by me, and even lifts me up in spite of how sinful I am.
As humans we constantly commit spiritual adultery against God, looking for satisfaction in some other place but in Him, the Giver of all good things. God often called Israel His Bride, as does Christ the Church, but time and time again both Jews and Christians have and do terribly offend Him, looking for love in the wrong places, and worshiping the created instead of the Creator.
How many times could you forgive your husband/wife for openly committing adultery? Would you do it once, twice, or never? It is God in Christ who says “always”, and that is absolutely undeserved, mind-blowing, and beautiful:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)