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On Love's Foundation

Do you want a true friend? Then roll up your sleeves. Friendship requires effort.

Charles F. Stanley September 10, 2022

I am blessed to have a friend who always seems to show up when I need him. If I’m facing a challenge or struggling with a decision, he invariably calls or drops by. This man comforts me when I’m down, provides another perspective on my situation, and encourages me to trust the Lord. I am so grateful that God brought us together. But in thinking about our friendship, I realize that it didn’t just happen. It required us to mutually invest in each other’s lives.

God created us to live together in close relationships, and when that’s missing, our lives feel empty.

Wouldn’t you agree that friends are precious and worth finding? Sometimes we don’t realize how valuable they are until we go through a period when we don’t have any. God created us to live together in close relationships, and when that’s missing, our lives feel empty. If you have a satisfying friendship, thank God for that person and never take him or her for granted. On the other hand, if you’re longing for a friend, I’d like to encourage you to ask the Lord for one. Then be willing to do whatever is necessary to strengthen that bond.

The Building Blocks of Friendship

A friendship is like a construction project; it must be built from the right elements and with attention to detail or it won’t last. The advice in Proverbs 24:3-4 applies to relationships as well as to architecture: “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” Like the homes we live in, each friendship is unique. However, there are five components that are common to all.

Time. While there may be a few people with whom we feel an instant connection, the only way to truly get to know someone is by spending time together. One of the problems in our society today is that many people are too busy to do this essential work. If we find ourselves in this situation, we may have to sacrifice some activities on our calendars in order to make room for friends. Also, we should focus on deepening our relationships with just one or two companions. The goal is to get to know a few people very well rather than having many acquaintances.

Illustration by Jeff Gregory

Instead of trying to appear strong and confident all the time, genuine friends reveal their struggles and weaknesses.

Transparency. To develop intimacy with another person, we must be open and candid. Without such vulnerability, the relationship will not grow. Although the beginning of a friendship is usually characterized by conversations about common interests, as it progresses, the interaction should become more personal. Instead of trying to appear strong and confident all the time, genuine friends reveal their struggles and weaknesses. They go to each other not simply for advice, help, or encouragement but also to share both their joys and sorrows.

There have been times when I just needed to unload my burden by sharing it with a friend. Although my situation didn’t change, my outlook did. He helped me lift my gaze upward by reminding me of God’s purposes, promises, and ways. When I kept everything bottled up, my stress increased. But after sharing it, my faith was strengthened, and I felt hopeful again.

Thoughtfulness. Building a lasting friendship requires an unselfish attitude. This means focusing not on what we can get out of the relationship but on what we can give. For instance, when meeting for lunch, you might suggest Mexican food because your friend loves it, even though you would prefer Chinese. Thoughtfulness can be expressed in a variety of ways—an embrace, a note of gratitude, a phone call, a small gift, or even a text message. And believe me, a little consideration really does go a long way.

Every friendship is enriched when we allow Jesus to be third person in the relationship.

Sometimes situations that arise really challenge us to put aside our own desires and self-interests. For example, how would you respond if your friend excitedly told you about being promoted at work when you’ve been plugging away at the same old job for 12 years? Do you think you could rejoice over his success instead of reacting with envy or self-pity? In our own strength, this may seem impossible, but when we walk in the Spirit, He gives us an unselfish heart that is able to put another’s interests before our own (Phil. 2:1-4).

Tolerance. Since there are no perfect people, there are no perfect friendships. That’s why we must be willing to overlook others’ flaws, weaknesses, and annoying habits. Instead of becoming impatient or angry and saying things we’ll later regret, we should stop to consider how valuable the relationship is. For example, I have a friend who likes to tell the same stories over and over again. Because I love and appreciate him, I listen attentively each time rather than get frustrated. Remember, nothing ruins a friendship more quickly than a critical attitude, “but love covers all transgressions” (Prov. 10:12). Friends won’t always live up to our expectations. They may have a bad attitude now and then or say something we don’t like, but that’s no reason to give up on them.

Trust. Another important building block in relationships is trust. Friends need to know we’re honest, loyal, and faithful—that they can count on us to “have their back” and not talk about them behind it. Trust is built when we’re told something in confidence and keep it to ourselves. It flourishes if we say we’ll do something and then follow through. And if others make disparaging remarks or subtle innuendos about our friend, we should be quick to speak up in his or her defense.

Since there are no perfect people, there are no perfect friendships.

However, if we seek to control the relationship, or manipulate it to get what we want, trust is undermined. I’ve known people who are so possessive and jealous that they don’t want anyone else to become close with their friend. Such behavior is rooted in distrust and will ruin a relationship.

The Greatest of These. These five elements are essential, but there is something still more vital: Love is the mortar that holds a friendship together. When we spend time with a person, we are showing how much we love and value him. The same goes for being thoughtful and transparent, exhibiting tolerance, and building trust. All these actions tell a person something powerful—“I love you”—and leave no room for doubt. According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, love is patient, kind, humble, gracious, unselfish, and forgiving. When we let Christ live His life through us, these qualities will characterize our life and our interactions. Every friendship is enriched when we allow Jesus to be the third person in the relationship. He enables us to be loyal, trustworthy, and faithful. If we’ll invite Him into our friendships, He’ll show us what a difference He can make.

Adapted from the sermon “Troubled Friendships” by Charles F. Stanley

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