Maintaining Friendships in a Loveless World
“These things I command you, that you love one another.”—JOHN 15:17.
1. Why did first-century Christians need to remain close friends?
DURING his final night on earth, Jesus encouraged his loyal disciples to remain friends with one another. Earlier in the evening, he said that the love they displayed for one another would identify them as his followers. (John 13:35) The apostles needed to remain close friends if they were to endure the trials that lay ahead and to accomplish the work that Jesus would soon assign them. Indeed, first-century Christians became known for their unbreakable devotion to God and to one another.
2. (a) What are we determined to do, and why? (b) What questions will we consider?
2 Today, what a pleasure it is to be associated with a worldwide organization whose members follow the pattern set by those first-century Christians! We are determined to obey Jesus’ command to display genuine love for one another. However, during these last days, people in general are disloyal and fail to show natural affection. (2 Tim. 3:1-3) The friendships they do form are often shallow and self-serving. To keep our identity as true Christians, we must rise above such attitudes. Let us, then, consider the following: What is the foundation of good friendships? How can we make good friends? When might we need to end a friendship? And how can we maintain upbuilding friendships?
What Is the Basis of Good Friendships?
3, 4. What is the basis of the strongest friendships, and why?
3 The strongest friendships are founded on a love for Jehovah. King Solomon wrote: “If somebody could overpower one alone, two together could make a stand against him. And a threefold cord cannot quickly be torn in two.” (Eccl. 4:12) When Jehovah is the third cord in a friendship, that friendship will endure.
4 True, those who do not love Jehovah can also form rewarding friendships. But when individuals are drawn together by a mutual love for God, their friendship will be unshakable. If misunderstandings arise, true friends will treat each other in a way that pleases Jehovah. If opposers of God try to cause divisions, these enemies discover that friendships among true Christians are unbreakable. Throughout history, servants of Jehovah have proved their willingness to face death rather than betray one another.—Read 1 John 3:16.
5. Why was the friendship between Ruth and Naomi so enduring?
5 Without a doubt, the most satisfying friendships we can enjoy are with those who love Jehovah. Consider the example of Ruth and Naomi. These women formed a friendship that is among the most admirable recorded in the Bible. Why was their friendship so enduring? Ruth revealed the reason when she said to Naomi: “Your people will be my people, and your God my God. . . . May Jehovah do so to me and add to it if anything but death should make a separation between me and you.” (Ruth 1:16, 17) Obviously, Ruth and Naomi shared a deep love for God, and they allowed this love to influence the way they treated each other. As a result, both women were blessed by Jehovah.
How to Make Good Friends
6-8. (a) Enduring friendships are a product of what? (b) How can you take the initiative in making friends?
6 The example of Ruth and Naomi demonstrates that good friendships are not formed by accident. A mutual love for Jehovah is the foundation. But enduring friendships are a product of hard work and self-sacrifice. Even siblings who worship Jehovah within Christian families need to work at forming a close friendship. How, then, can you make good friends?
7 Take the initiative. The apostle Paul encouraged his friends in the congregation in Rome to “follow the course of hospitality.” (Rom. 12:13) Following a literal course involves taking a series of steps, one after the other. Likewise, being hospitable involves taking a series of small, regular actions. Nobody else can walk the path of hospitality for you. (Read Proverbs 3:27.) One way you can be hospitable is by inviting different ones in the congregation to share a simple meal with you. Can you make it a regular part of your routine to show hospitality to members of your congregation?
8 Another way you can take the initiative in making friends is by inviting different ones to share with you in the preaching work. When you stand at a stranger’s door and hear your companion speak from the heart about his or her love for Jehovah, you cannot help but be drawn closer to that individual.
9, 10. What example did Paul set, and how may we imitate him?
9 Widen out in your affections. (Read 2 Corinthians 6:12, 13.) Have you ever felt that there is just no one in your congregation whom you can befriend? If so, could it be that you are restricting your view of who can be a friend? The apostle Paul set a good example in widening out in his affections. At one time, he would never have thought of forming close friendships with non-Jews. However, he became “an apostle to the nations.”—Rom. 11:13.
10 In addition, Paul did not restrict his friendships to those of his own age group. For instance, he and Timothy became close friends despite a difference in age and background. Today, many young ones treasure the friendships they have formed with older members of the congregation. “I have a very dear friend who is in her 50’s,” says Vanessa, who is in her early 20’s. “I can tell her anything that I can tell friends my age. And she cares about me so much.” How are such friendships formed? Vanessa says: “I had to seek this friendship out and not just wait for it to come to me.” Are you willing to build friendships with those outside your age bracket? Jehovah will certainly reward you for your efforts.
11. What can we learn from the example of Jonathan and David?
11 Be loyal. “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress,” wrote Solomon. (Prov. 17:17) When composing those words, Solomon may have had in mind the friendship that his father, David, enjoyed with Jonathan. (1 Sam. 18:1) King Saul wanted his son Jonathan to inherit the throne of Israel. But Jonathan accepted the fact that Jehovah had chosen David for this privilege. Unlike Saul, Jonathan did not become envious of David. He did not resent the praise David received, nor did he swallow the slander that Saul spread about David. (1 Sam. 20:24-34) Are we like Jonathan? When our friends receive privileges, are we happy for them? When they suffer hardships, do we comfort and support them? If we hear harmful gossip about a friend, are we quick to believe it? Or, like Jonathan, do we loyally defend our friend?
When Friendships Need to End
12-14. What challenge do some Bible students face, and how can we assist them?
12 When a Bible student begins to make changes in his lifestyle, he may face a real challenge regarding friendships. He may have companions whose company he enjoys but who do not live by the Bible’s moral code. In the past, he may regularly have spent time socializing with them. Now, though, he sees that their activities could have a bad influence on him, and he feels the need to limit his contact with such companions. (1 Cor. 15:33) Even so, he may feel that if he does not associate with them, he is being disloyal.
13 If you are a Bible student who faces this challenge, remember that a true friend will be happy that you are trying to improve your life. He or she may even want to join with you in learning about Jehovah. On the other hand, false friends will “go on speaking abusively of you” because you do not run with them to “the same low sink of debauchery.” (1 Pet. 4:3, 4) Really, it is these friends who are being disloyal to you, not the reverse.
14 When Bible students are abandoned by former friends who have no love for God, members of the congregation can fill the void. (Gal. 6:10) Do you personally know those attending your meetings who are studying the Bible? Are you on occasion able to provide them with some upbuilding association?
15, 16. (a) How should we react if a friend stops serving Jehovah? (b) How can we prove our love for God?
15 What, though, if a friend inside the congregation decides to turn his or her back on Jehovah, perhaps needing to be disfellowshipped? Such a circumstance can be very distressing. Describing her reaction when a close friend stopped serving Jehovah, one sister said: “I felt as if something inside of me died. I thought my friend was firmly grounded in the truth, but she was not. I wondered if she had been serving Jehovah just to please her family. I then began to reassess my own motives. Was I serving Jehovah for the right reasons?” How did this sister cope? “I threw my burden on Jehovah,” she says. “I am determined to show Jehovah that I love him for who he is, not just because he provides me with friends inside his organization.”
16 We cannot expect to remain a friend of God if we side with those who choose to be friends of the world. The disciple James wrote: “Do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4:4) We can prove our love for God by trusting that He will help us cope with the loss of a friend if we are loyal to Him. (Read Psalm 18:25.) The sister quoted earlier sums up the matter: “I learned that we cannot make someone love Jehovah or love us. Ultimately, it is a personal choice.” What, though, can we do to maintain upbuilding friendships with those who remain inside the congregation?
Maintaining Good Friendships
17. How do good friends speak to each other?
17 Good communication breathes life into a friendship. As you read the Bible accounts involving Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, and Paul and Timothy, you will notice that good friends speak freely but respectfully to each other. Regarding the way we should communicate with others, Paul wrote: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt.” Paul was specifically referring to the way we should talk to those “on the outside,” that is, those who are not our Christian brothers. (Col. 4:5, 6) Surely, if nonbelievers deserve respect when we speak to them, how much more so do our friends inside the congregation!
18, 19. How should we view any counsel that we receive from a Christian friend, and what example did the elders in Ephesus set for us?
18 Good friends value each other’s opinion, so communication between them needs to be both gracious and forthright. Wise King Solomon wrote: “Oil and incense are what make the heart rejoice, also the sweetness of one’s companion due to the counsel of the soul.” (Prov. 27:9) Is that how you view any counsel you receive from a friend? (Read Psalm 141:5.) If a friend expresses concern about some course of action that you are taking, how do you react? Do you view the comments as an act of loving-kindness, or do you take offense?
19 The apostle Paul enjoyed a close relationship with the elders of the congregation in Ephesus. He likely knew some of those men when they first became believers. During his final meeting with them, though, he gave them some frank counsel. How did they react? Paul’s friends were not offended. Instead, they appreciated his interest in them, and they even wept at the thought of not being able to see him again.—Acts 20:17, 29, 30, 36-38.
20. What will a loving friend do?
20 Good friends not only accept wise counsel but also give it. Of course, we need to discern when “to mind [our] own business.” (1 Thess. 4:11) And we must also recognize that each of us “will render an account for himself to God.” (Rom. 14:12) But when necessary, a loving friend will kindly remind a companion about Jehovah’s standards. (1 Cor. 7:39) For example, what would you do if you noticed that an unmarried friend was becoming emotionally attached to an unbeliever? Out of fear of harming your friendship, would you hold back from voicing your concerns? Or if your friend ignored your counsel, what would you do? A good friend would seek the help of loving shepherds in assisting a companion who has taken a false step. Such a course requires courage. Yet, no lasting damage will come to a friendship based on love for Jehovah.
21. What will all of us do at times, but why is it vital that we maintain strong friendships in the congregation?
21 Read Colossians 3:13, 14. At times, we will give our friends “cause for complaint” against us, and they too will do or say things that irritate us. “We all stumble many times,” wrote James. (Jas. 3:2) However, the measure of a friendship is not how often we sin against each other but how completely we forgive those grievances. How vital it is that we build strong friendships by communicating openly and forgiving one another freely! If we display such love, it will become “a perfect bond of union.”
How Would You Answer?
• How can we make good friends?
• When might a friendship need to end?
• What must we do to maintain strong friendships?
[Picture on page 18]
What was the basis of the enduring friendship between Ruth and Naomi?
[Picture on page 19]
Do you regularly show hospitality?