The Young Man And His Friends
Mr. Donald K. Steele of Peterborough, Ontario, is an elder at Edmison Hts. Bible Chapel and president of Kawartha Lakes Bible School. He is employed as an audio-visual co-ordinator by the Peterborough County Board of Education.
This is our brother’s fourth study in his series on “the Young Man.”
Friendship is one of the most precious commodities on earth. Someone has well said that friendship is love in action. Nothing can warm the heart or lighten the day like sweet communion with a good friend. John Keats, in reflecting on the makings of human happiness and noble natures, said that “The Crown of these is made of love and friendship, and sits high upon the forehead of humanity.” Certainly most, if not all people, need friends, and this provides the young man with both opportunity and great danger.
How To Get Friends.
It may be that somewhere there is a person who feels that he has no friends. This is a desperate condition, a most unhappy situation, yet I have noted that it is usually of the individual’s own making. If this is your condition, then you must look to yourself and your conduct to determine why this has happened. I have met students who were isolated, without friends in their class or peer group, and invariably it has seemed to me that these friendless ones were unable or unwilling to act in such a manner as to attract the friendship of others. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly,” and there are skills involved in this, which primarily centre around a genuine interest in other people. Those who are friendless are usually so totally interested in themselves that they cannot entertain a genuine concern in the feelings, interests, and problems of others. The latter part of our verse in Proverbs tells us that “there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother,” and while this indicates the wonderful warmth that is possible in human friendships of the David-Jonathan variety, surpassing even blood relationships, it is also often interpreted to indicate the close relationship between the believer and his Lord Jesus Christ. He really is the friend, above friends, who sticks by us through the good and the bad times. Of course, this verse also clearly points out that for the believer, it is impossible to be without a friend, since our Lord Jesus is always there, the dearest friend on earth or in heaven.
What Is Friendship?
Ranging from a social but fleeting acquaintance with a shop-clerk from whom we buy our paper, to a deeply intimate relationship which lasts for many years, friendship takes many forms and is most difficult to define. Theodore I. Rubins put it this way: “There are many different kinds of friendships. They can run the gamut from fleeting social contacts to a complex profound relationship in which each person gives deeply of himself or herself. Friendships can be based on mutual fun, need for emotional support, warmth and love; mutual interests in sports, money, intellectual pursuits and politics — as well as mutual hatred for a mutual enemy. Most friendships, however, involve facets of all these characteristics and more —especially business, marital, parental or professional friendships. To make and keep friends, it is important to realize that every friend has the freedom to end a friendship that is not healthy. Everyone needs to retain his individual identity and freedom in order to be proper friends, to others and to himself.” Dr. Rubin touches on many aspects of friendship, but we note particularly that we must be friends with ourselves, and truly like ourselves, before we can be a good friend to anyone else. Strange though it may sound, you cannot love anyone else effectively if you do not love yourself. People who despise and loathe themselves are just as sick, just as much in need of treatment as those whose narcissistic and overweening love of self excludes all others. Scripture does teach us that love of self is basic, for in Ephesians 5:28 the husband’s love of his wife is based on his love of himself.
What Are Good Friends?
Good friends are those who, through their kind words, prayers, and deeds of love, support us in our daily activities. This is the edifying action described in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as ye do.” There is a touching scene in Acts 17. The Apostle Paul has been brought to Athens by some friends. As they are about to depart, he “commands” to urge Silas and Timothy to come to him “with all speed” (v. 15). Evidently even so great a servant of God as the Apostle Paul felt a deep need to have his friends with him for support and encouragement. Curiously, though he preached even on Mars Hill, we read of no church being established in Athens before his departure, and his friends did not rejoin his company until Silas and Timothy caught up with him in Corinth (Acts 18:5). I see a danger here, and a warning for those who would seek to serve the Lord as “loners” keeping company with no man, or taking counsel from no other servant of the Lord. Inaccurate, even heretical ideas and doctrines will be much more easily detected if we discuss them carefully and thoroughly with others who are also dedicated to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What Are Bad Friends?
The Christian young man may find himself keeping the company of other young men who are not believers. Close friendship with those who are unsaved should only be permitted for one purpose: that of winning the unsaved to the Lord Jesus Christ. If we run with such a crowd, joining in their entertainments and pleasures, hiding our colours and effectively denying that we are different because we belong to Christ, then we are in the greatest danger of losing our testimony altogether. Such friendships have been the road to ruin for many young Christians. An innocent ball game or hockey game may lead on to attendance at the movies, then the use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and chemical stimulants. There are so many dangers today in society that the young Christian man must be ever aware that friendship with the world is NOT compatible. This is the clear, even blunt teaching of James 4:4. Any young Christian, or older one, for that matter, in a crowd of the unsaved, is in danger of adapting to their standards and customs, and God gets quickly left out of the picture. To lead an unsaved friend to Christ, I would suggest that you separate him from the crowd, get him to come with you to some of your activities, introduce him to your Christian friends, and draw him with love and friendship gradually into a new circle, whose activities and interests centre around Christ and the church. This may take time, effort, prayer, and even assistance, but it is exceedingly worthwhile, for “he that winneth souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30b). Experience has proven as well that it is wise for young men to concentrate on winning other young men, while leaving the girls to be sought and won by dedicated Christian girls. Even Bible school graduates have had to learn that attempting to win the opposite sex through intimate friendship can literally shipwreck our own lives and testimonies, much to our own sorrow, and the grief of those around us.
Improving Your Friends.
In any friendship it is a human tendency for each to see the other’s faults and to attempt to improve the other by pointing out to him ways in which he could improve (usually meaning, to become more like me). Opinions differ greatly on this issue. Robert Lyd says, “Friendship will not stand the strain of very much good advice for very long.” Another has said, “One of the best ways to lose a friend is to tell him something for his own good.” In the opposite camp is Frank Clark, who says, “A valuable friend is one who’ll tell you what you should be told, even if it offends you.” An old Arab proverb says, “A friend is one who warns you,” and in Proverbs 27:6 we read, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend …” From all of this, I would jump quickly into the latter camp, for I believe that the Christian has a duty to warn a friend who is going astray. Of course, it is critically important that it be done lovingly, from a pure heart, and with right motives, or we will seem to be hypocritical and insincere to the friend, and may effectively drive him further along the wrong pathway. Beware the all-too-human tendency to judge your friends by a different yardstick than you use to judge yourself.
A Word About Older Friends.
Most young people restrict their friendships and attention to those of their own age. In so doing they deprive themselves of the golden opportunity to get to know older men and women whose experiences with Christ along the road of life could enrich their lives immeasurably. Luis Palau tells of the incredible life-changing friendship he had, as a lad of seventeen, with a missionary who was eighty. The Apostle Paul took young men such as Titus and Timothy with him and taught them faithfully. I am convinced that in the church there are many older men and women who would welcome the opportunity to love, counsel, guide and advise a younger person, if the younger ones were only a little more open to such opportunities. You don’t believe me? I challenge you to try it. Godly older men and women have already made most of the mistakes that you still have ahead of you, and their advice might just be worth listening to from time to time.
This brief article is not the last word on friendship, but I hope that I have challenged you to examine your friendships, and to consider the purpose of friendships. Above all, remember that he that winneth souls is wise.