Editor's note: Rudy is taking a brief hiatus from writing his column, so we will continue to fill in with material from our archives. He plans to be back with new material in March. This comes from the February 2001 issue of Pulpit Helps. Thank you.
No friendship is perfect, because nobody is perfect. Good friendships that honor God are powerful testimonies to our culture. Someone has suggested that too many men in America are friendless. We need friends.
David and Jonathan were close friends or companions. They didn't always agree but they cared for each other with a friendship love that encouraged and edified. Friendships are healthy relationships that exist between people. Companionships are formed and endure because of common goals and the security of belonging, not simply because we share common values. Values are important, but we may share common values with many people who are not really our friends. Friendship transcends but does not disregard values.
Building companionship is hard work. Criticism, insensitivity, jealousy, and unrealistic expectations are major obstacles that must be overcome if we hope to build godly and healthy friendships. I am convinced that a good friendship has at least three fundamental and constant factors.
1) Understanding. When you know yourself and can identify what kind of personality your friend has, you have established a basis for building companionships. It has been pointed out recently that when women meet each other they usually compliment each other on their hair, outfit, etc. When men meet each other, they have a tendency to insult each other in a kind of benevolent way. Whether that is true or not, we must identify what we are like and what our friend is like in order to build a good friendship.
2) Acceptance. There are so many differences among human beings that are not violations of clearly stated moral principles. These preferences must be accepted in order to move forward in a friendship. To accept someone does not mean that we agree with them or have the same preferences, but it does mean we care about the friendship. One person likes a spontaneous, unplanned approach to living while another prefers a well-structured and organized way of life. Who is right? Neither. These are preferences to be accepted. Differing preferences will not destroy real friendship, and may even enhance it.
3) Appreciation. Everybody wants to be appreciated. When we reach the place in our friendship with another person where we can not only accept our different preferences but actually come to appreciate the differences, we have reached a strong place of lasting friendship. I do not really believe we can appreciate differences effectively unless we have the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to do so. Differences usually divide people and prejudices arise because of differences. We are either threatened or angered by differences. When we are secure in our own walk with Christ, we can accept differences without compromising our own character or personal preferences.
Friends who are genuinely Christian in their friendship can and should follow the counsel of Paul in Ephesians 4:29: "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear."
A friend may hurt you with his words, but a true friend will speak the truth in love. His desire will not be to hurt but to help. That is at the core of friendship.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He serves as the pastor of Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.
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