Different languages have different words to define a friend but essentially a friend is defined as “a person attached to another by feelings of affection and/or personal regard” and this is not gender specific. In Hebrew the word ‘merea’ is used for a friend and is derived from ‘mirya’ which in Syrian nomads means inseparable companion. Some of the signs or traits of a friend would be – someone you can trust and who won’t judge you; someone who will love you in any situation; someone who encourages you and is honest and much more. In Japanese word ‘kenzoku’ is used but it literally means ‘family’ or sharing of a bond with people having same/similar ideals. But we generally do not share this bonding of friendship with all the people that we meet in our lives. Why do we develop this tie with some and not with others? David developed this tie with Jonathan while his father King Saul hated David and made many attempts to kill him and in like manner Moses took Joshua as his companion and assistant though Caleb had also displayed similar valor while presenting the report of their visit to the Promised Land. And why is it that God chose Abram renamed Abraham to “be His friend”?
Apostle Paul had various companions but not all were friends and many deserted him except Luke who was with him during his final days in prison in Rome. We see clear manifestation of three aspects of friendship in the Bible- close alliance, loyalty to each other and finally affection. Initial alliance developed into loyalty and over a period of time deep affection and respect. In the Old Testament Abraham is chosen and the New Testament eleven of the chosen twelve became close friends and three out of them – Peter, John and James were closer still-“attached to the Lord with feelings of deep affection and regard”. The Lord visited Abraham before inflicting punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah and “informally informed His friend” about the scheduled events and acceded to the request “not to destroy in ten righteous persons were found there” (Genesis 18:32). And the Lord then blesses the disciples in a similar manner “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15). What are the specific traits of these chosen and blessed persons who willingly offered to sacrifice all including his son (Isaac) on the ‘call of God’?
Obedience – Anyone commanded to leave his kith and kin for a place “I will tell you about later” would face a barrage of questions from his wife, friends and other members of his family. Abraham was seventy five years old when he was told to leave for an unknown destination and “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness; and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23). The sole qualification listed here is “believing God” and Abraham did not raise any questions about the place, route or any other such detail. Even when he was asked by God “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:2). Any ambiguity in his mind was well clarified by God- your son; your only son; whom you love; and finally even the name also Isaac and Abraham’s reaction on this was of absolute surrender to the command and “ Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about” (verses 3-4). It was for this trait that James, quoting Isaiah 41:8, called Abraham as a friend of God and the Scripture clarifies about his intimate, close and sharing relationship with the Almighty God.
The twelve disciples were also unaware of their future in obeying the Lord Jesus but all of them left their lucrative, well established businesses- fishing, tax collection etc- to follow Him. They would never have dreamt of the way their lives would take them after just about three years ultimately resulting in their death in the most painful circumstances in places far from Galilee. They all obeyed God, following the heart than the mind, and earned the well deserved sobriquet “Friend of God”. Obedience to the Immortal by the mortal man – made from dust, was accepted by God to grant this honor thus establishing a deep, lasting and warm bond with them.
Faith – David was appalled that Goliath could dare to challenge the Israelite army and blaspheme the Lord’s name without being challenged. David listed out his war qualifications and experience to Saul in two simple illustrations- of killing a lion or a bear while keeping his father’s sheep and the fact that “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this philistine” (1 Samuel 17:34-37). His answer to Goliath was also the same “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands and I will strike you down and cut off your head…. For the battle is the Lord’s and He will give all of you into our hands” (verses 46-47). And David was not old enough to be enrolled into the Army and was facing a giant more than double his physical size.
Abraham answered his son Isaac similarly that God would provide the sacrificial offering while believing in his heart that He who has given this son is able to raise him from the sacrificial death. He was probably privy to the ultimate plan of salvation of mankind through the offering of His own Son by God after a few thousand years. This explicit faith in the promise of God resulted in the branding of David as a “man of My own heart” by God thus clearly implying a close relationship between the two. The basic ingredient of a composite dialogue and relationship is faith “And without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). It is pertinent to mention here that this friendship is not among two equals but between the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, All Knowing God, and the Creator, with a speck of dust gathered together by Him and given a shape. The Creator does not abandon His creation, even when the latter chooses to disown the relationship and prays “that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32) so that the bonding may be re-established when we return to Him.
Surrender – This relationship of unequal parties is always initiated by God the Creator for right at the beginning when He created man in His ‘image and likeness’. When we chose to rebel and create a veil of separation between us and Him through our sin and hiding from Him; He sent His Son to tear down that veil and restore the dialogue through the indwelling Holy Spirit. The level of desired intimacy can be gauged from the commandment by our Lord “Love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength”. On our part we are required to surrender to His will and obey what the Lord told Satan “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Abraham was commanded “I am El-Shaddai, walk before Me and be perfect” (Genesis 17:1). Abraham surrendered his being, his self and followed the commands. And He is faithful to lead us into His righteousness and perfection.
Dependability – A friend is one who can be used as a ‘sounding board’ to confide the most hidden secrets in the hope that the trust will not be broken. Apostle John- the disciple whom the Lord loved- was witness to many mysteries/future events while being on the “guided tour of heaven” for the Revelation of Jesus to him. But he reported only that what was specifically told for disclosure to others. Moses could have the courage to speak before God “to blot out my name from Your book” if God was unwilling to forgive His brethren for Moses could not bear God acting in- what he considered a wrong decision not in conformity with Divine nature. In this relationship the greater party – God – promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:6) and the Holy Spirit is in fulfillment of this. Abraham was severely tested by God and he came through successful by offering his son on the altar to receive this accolade from God “For now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me” (Genesis 22:12).
God created man on the earth which was covered by darkness and man was and is required to fight being overwhelmed by that. He has willingly provided us all the resources needed for this battle through His Spirit and the ultimate prize to the winner is “sharing of the throne” with the Son in heaven (Revelation 3:20-21). To be counted a friend, who has been provided with the prior information about the enemy battle plans, we must be counted dependable to follow the directions clearly. This trait is put to the test under extreme circumstances and God desires a two way communication always especially when under duress. David poured out his heart before God seeking His hand against his enemies but every time ended the Psalm with a clear declaration- As for me I trust in You, O Lord. He always depended on God and in turn he was counted dependable by God. David was provided the exact details of the temple design by God Himself, provided all the financial resources including what David himself donated, the materials were ready and the workmen available- yet one command from God and David passed on the responsibility of final construction to his son Solomon (2 Samuel:13). Can I be counted to do this and not try and snatch the crown of glory to myself on the ground that I have received all plans and am ready? Walking before God towards perfection and friendship is to confide in Him and enjoy His confidence and to be counted worthy of such trust by God in us- He searches the hearts and calls only those His “Friend” whose heart does not hold any other image. “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to You” (Nehemiah 9:7-8). And God called Abraham His friend!
Be prepared to change – Close friends are those who place the other’s interest above their own and are ready to adapt and change accordingly. Abraham started his journey from a heathen background with no knowledge about Jehovah God but obeyed the command to move to an unknown destination. Abraham could talk freely to God about everything and a similar trait is found in all the Bible heroes considered close to God- from Moses to David to Isaiah and Simon Peter, for their hearts were open before Him and found blameless. God could openly declare about them, like He did for Job to Satan, he is My man and “I have chosen him” for I know him (Genesis 18:19). Abraham learnt about the unknown God directly from God Himself but the details are not mentioned in the Scripture and he changed his old self and beliefs to follow Jehovah. God decided to choose Abram and make him Abraham to bless humanity through him not because of anything in him but for his ability to listen, obey and change.
Lord Jesus clarifies the position further “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you” (John 15:16), each called out to be molded into a new shape in the “likeness and image” of the Creator to be able to fellowship with Him. The message was given to Nicodemus that to be called His friend “one has to be born again” and be transformed. When God calls, to listen; when God commands, surrender and obey; when God appears far away, wait and trust in Him and to this there is no ‘short cut’. For Saul to become Paul it was a long journey undergoing everything that God commanded in fulfillment of His promise to Ananias “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name” (Acts 9:16). The title is a rare blessing but the journey to the “crown” is tough and challenging.
How do we then become God’s friend? – “With man it is impossible but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) and the only option and the correct one is to place self at His disposal. The life of closeness with God starts and ends with leaving our Ur of the Chaldeans and move out to the unknown destination for “God is faithful, who has called into fellowship (sharing of life) with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1: 9) and He will do it. Entering into the new is only possible once we opt out of the old completely for “one cannot ride two boats” at the same time. It is in this attitude when we ‘with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God’ (Philippians 4:6) that He acts in, with and for us to change and transform us into His friends.
God is perfect in every sense and His friends cannot be any less and the Scripture is given by Him and revealed to us by His Holy Spirit is for the same purpose. “The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian” – A.W.Tozer.
And God wants us to be Christ like in everything but the advantage is of the indwelling Holy Spirit guiding and leading us on the path!