Without meaningful friendships, we're more vulnerable than we think.
I treasure my friends. But probably not as deeply as I should.
You see, I think I'm given to the temptations of most men when it comes to friendship. I tend to "fall into them" and then let them coast along. For instance, I received an email from a friend I labored with in ministry a few years back. It's the first time we've "spoken" in nearly two years. On the upside, we seemed to pick up right where we left off. But on the downside, speaking once every 18 months could hardly be called "treasuring" friendship.
Now, I have little doubt that, should I call my friend in a pinch, he would drop what he's doing and lend a hand in whatever difficulty. I'm pretty sure I'd do that for him as well. We are indeed friends. We love each other, and we care for one another. But we're simply not as close as we should be. We don't have a deep friendship. And perhaps more problematic, I'm not sure I've seen very many models of such deep friendships between men.
So, this article is an exploration of what such friendships might look like. It's perhaps less "how to" than "for instance," since I readily admit my "deep" friendships tend to be few in number. But this is why I praise God for His Word, which gives us direction and wisdom.
Perhaps the greatest inhibition to deep friendships among men is this scary "I" word: intimacy. What man doesn't get slightly clammy and light-headed at the mention of the word — especially when the object of intimacy is another man! The word itself has been so associated with femininity that it seems to be the direct opposite of manliness or masculinity.
And yet, the Scriptures hold out plentiful examples of deep friendship between men without even the hint of the feminization of men. In other words, the problem with intimacy between men is in our heads, not rooted in reality.
The most powerful example of deep friendship evidencing this kind of intimacy is not the friendship between David and Jonathan, but the friendship between God and Moses. Exodus 33:11 records this striking assessment of God's relationship with Moses: "The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." This description is powerful because the "face to face" nature of it, its intimacy, is embodied in that one word at the end of the sentence: "friend." Somehow, even if we've never thought of it, we know the intimacy meant to be conjured by this word. We know that "face to face, as a man speaks with his bank teller" or drive-thru window attendant or co-worker doesn't carry the same force. When our Lord called His disciples "friends" (John 15:13-15), could He have meant anything less than intimate affection and care?
How, then, do men cultivate intimacy leading to deep friendship? Well, there probably aren't any "slam dunk" activities and programs that magically inspire intimacy without another dreaded activity: sharing. I can hear the "Eeewwws!" and the "Yucks!" all the way down here in the Caribbean. Can't we just watch the game and exchange high-fives when out team scores?
I'm with you fellas. I really am. But of the hundreds of men I've watched a ball game with, of the hundreds of others I've played pick-up basketball with, few if any of them would make my list of deep friendships. Certainly these kinds of outlets give us wide associations, but they don't tend to cultivate the kind of depth and loyalty needed for bearing the weight of true friendship.
The difference between the men I've played basketball with and the men I count as friends comes down to how much we share of ourselves. Friends share the meaningful. They take the courageous risk of becoming transparent, sharing burdens, hopes, joys, fears, failures, triumphs, questions, and resolutions (Proverbs 17:17; 27:9; Ecclesiastes 4:10). Again, our model for this is none other than our Lord Jesus. When He called His disciples "friends" in John 15, the grounds for that friendship was what He shared with them. "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).
Most men don't cultivate deep friendships because such sharing makes them vulnerable. The irony, of course, is that they long for deep friendships but have chosen the path that prevents them.
One thing that pains me as a pastor is to hear Christians say that they find it easier to make deep, lasting friendships with non-Christians than they do Christians. When I hear this, I'm troubled on a number of levels. I ask myself if this person is attracted to godliness or worldliness. I wonder if the members of her church are failing to love. I grow concerned that the marrow of the Christian faith — love for Christ and for brothers and sisters in Christ — is being rotted away. Should not godliness and the things of God be the most attractive things for the people of God and therefore the surest basis for deep, meaningful friendships?
That seems to be the case in God's selection of His friends. For his faith in God, God called Abraham His friend (James 2:23). Jesus calls the disciples friends because they hear and keep the Word of God, they obey Christ (John 15:9-14). Godliness is perhaps the essential ingredient for building lasting, deep, God-ward relationships between men.
Without godliness, the temptation will be toward worldliness, sin and hostility toward God. Proverbs warns, "Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with the easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared" (Proverbs 22:24-25). The Apostle John pens another strong warning. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world" (1 John 2:15-16). For this reason, the Lord commanded the Israelites to put to death their "closest friends" who secretly enticed them to worship false Gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-10).
Friendship either powerfully strengthens or corrupts our worship of God. So godliness in our deep friendships is essential. Consider carefully the psalmist's declaration, "I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts" (Psalm 119:63), and the wisdom of Proverbs 12:26, "A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray."
Nearly everything written above assumes a certain self-centeredness. It assumes that we need or should have friends for ourselves. But everything written above should also instruct us in the kinds of people, the kinds of friends, we should be to others. After all, the essence of Christian love is self giving, not selfish possessing.
A few questions may be helpful to think through in our quest to be and to have the kind of friends we see in Scripture.
- Is this person God's friend? (James 2:23)
- Can I share meaningful things with this person?
- Is my unwillingness to share connected with a character fault in the other or in myself (fear, distrust, etc)?
- Am I being too passive in the cultivation of meaningful friendships? If so, how will I change this pattern of behavior?
- Am I making myself available to other men for godly friendship?
Intimacy created by sharing with godly friends is the path to deep friendships. And such friendships are not only manly, they are necessary and wise. Without them, we are more vulnerable than we think. And with them, we are more settled on the path of godliness than we think. To put it bluntly, the absence of deep friendships and an active cultivation of such relationships may be evidence of real immaturity and self-protective cowardice. No man of God should live that way.
Copyright 2007 Thabiti Anyabwile. All rights reserved.