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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Friendship

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FRIENDSHIP

1. Pre-Christian and Christian friendship.—Friendship was esteemed among the pagans and received memorable treatment at the hands of Aristotle (Ethics, Bks. viii. and ix.) and Cicero (de Amicitia). The latter said, ‘There is nothing in the world more valuable than friendship.’ Jewish literature treated the same subject, as, for example, in Sirach (Sirach 6:15), ‘There is nothing that can be taken in exchange for a faithful friend.’ This appreciation of friendship as one of the chief means of happiness throws light upon the ancient attitude. The mutual kindness of friends, considered necessary to complete the happiness even of the philosopher, but which was confined to those of the same school or character, makes more prominent the absence of benevolence from the ancient system of virtue. Christianity has also a high regard for friendship, has ennobled it, but has at the same time placed limitations upon it.

(1) The enlargement of Christian friendship is twofold. (a) The area within which the grace may be displayed is much extended by the teaching of Christianity upon the dignity of woman, whereby marriage loses any trace of the offence with which even many enlightened Jews regarded it,* [Note: But cf. Proverbs 31:10 ff., and Sirach 40:23 ‘A friend and companion never meet amiss, but above both is a wife with her husband.’] and becomes a lofty friendship. (b) This is further enlarged by the new ideal of benevolence, which is to penetrate all the relations of life. Humanity has been dignified by the Incarnation. Christian Ethics is not the successor to the virtues of paganism, but the new spirit that turned patriotism into brotherhood, elevated friendship into universal love; φιλία becomes ΦΙΛΑΔΕΛΦίΑ. The exceptional exhibitions of goodwill and charity displayed by heathen, remarkable because of their contrast with the prevalent selfishness, are taken for granted among the members of the Kingdom of God. Friendship ceases to be a luxury and becomes a responsibility. Love, the root of all Christian virtues, must pervade all the performances of life.

(2) The limitation placed upon friendship in the new religion follows from the doctrine of the Divine friendship, which causes a complete readjustment of human thought. The pagans found little spiritual rest or inspiration in their religion, and human friendship was neither a reflexion nor a suggestion of a Divine fellowship. With Christ, however, the love for God is paramount, and receives an importance far beyond any other relationship. ‘Ye, my friends, shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me’ (John 16:32). To furnish this higher friendship is the mission of Christ. He has come that we may have the power to become sons of God (John 1:12). Religion takes precedence over friendship: man may not usurp God’s place. The gospel which teaches that man attains his exaltation according as he bows down in humble submission to the will of God, necessarily modifies the view that human companionship is the most valuable thing in the world. The Christian doctrine of God recasts everything in a new mould. Theology reacts upon anthropology. ‘God is the beginning and foundation of all true and lasting friendship’ (Zwingli).

2. The teaching of Jesus on friendship.—This is suggestive and incidental rather than formal and detailed. In parables and conversations Christ indirectly drops sentences which show how general was His observation of all the relations into which people might enter. (1) In the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Piece of Silver, He touches upon the much debated basis of friendship. The joyous discovery of lost possession leads to social communion. ‘He (she) calleth together his (her) friends and neighbours, saying, Rejoice with me’ (Luke 15:6; Luke 15:9). This act is the natural result of the instinct for association. The consciousness of joy breaks through the bounds of individualism and runs over into the sphere of human companionship; for the feeling that life’s great emotions are too strong for narrow limits constrains men to seek this expansion among others. The soul delights in self-revelation. ‘But no receipt openeth the heart but a true friend: To whom you may impart, Griefes, Joyes, Fears, Hopes, Suspicious, Counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the Heart’ (Bacon). This spontaneous overflow, due to the instinct of association, has been implanted by God; and friendship is thus one of the good gifts of Heaven. Cicero also assigned a similar spontaneity to this virtue.

(2) Several types of false friendship are suggested by Jesus. (a) The parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-9), ‘who made friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness,’ illustrates the commercial type. The material comforts of fellowship are gained by a clever distribution of money favours apart from all sympathy of heart or mind; and though Christ neither commends nor condemns, He indirectly reveals His mind in the remark, ‘The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light’ (v. 8). But true friendship is disinterested, and seeks the welfare of another rather than its own. ‘Friendship is the wishing a person what we think good for his sake and not for our own, and, as far as is in our power, the exerting ourselves to procure it’ (Aristotle, Rhct. ii. 4).—(b) The exclusive type of friendship is displayed in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). The outwardly proper behaviour of the elder brother is marred by the lack of filial love; and his complaint, ‘Thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends,’ shows how blind he was to the lavish affection of a father who bestowed his all upon him,—‘Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.’ The son looked for a friendship apart from the nobler companionship of a loving father. His heart was not really in the home, for his secret longing was for the frivolous joys of the world, the merrymaking with friends, which he will have in isolation from the love of home. The unpleasant impression left by the picture of the elder brother is Christ’s way of giving His opinion of a friendship which shuts itself up within the circle of favourite comrades, and is careless of the higher claims of love and benevolence. It then becomes a refined selfishness.—(c) The irresponsible type is described in Luke 11:5-8, where the householder is so comfortably settled in bed that he refuses to rise and give bread to a friend, who is unexpectedly called upon to show a greater service to his friend. ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me.’ Friendship here recognizes no responsibilities, and will not discommode itself to the extent of getting out of bed. Are we mistaken in seeing a touch of irony in this portrayal of a bond which lasted only with the enjoyment of benefits, but could not stand the strain of any personal inconvenience? Friendship is mutual assistance. ‘A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity’ (Proverbs 17:17).

(3) The claim of old friends was recognized by Jesus when He cast out the devils from ‘Legion’ (Mark 5:19). The evil spirit, always an isolating influence, had excluded this unhappy man from the comforts of home and companionship. But when he is healed and the craving for intercourse is awakened, Jesus directs it to old channels: ‘Jesus saith unto him, Go home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee.’ These associates and guardians of his youth had borne with him through the evil days, and Jesus will not be a partner to any indifference to those obligations contracted by former benefits. He knew how keen was the sting of ‘friend remembered not.’

(4) Jesus placed restrictions upon friendship at the feast given by the rich Pharisee, and condemned the selfish narrowing of the acts of hospitality. ‘When thou makest a dinner or a feast do not call thy friends … but call the poor’ (Luke 14:12-13). The force of the verb is not prohibitive, but restrictive: ‘Do not habitually call’ (μὴ φώνει). Friendship must have open doors, and recognize the larger hospitality. Thus Jesus broadened the stream of friendship by bringing neighbours within the same flow of feeling, as is set forth in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30 ff.). ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Nor did Jesus stop at neighbour. He included enemy also. The Christian must have no foes. ‘I say unto you, Love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:44). The sentiment of love must pervade every motive, filling the soul with gentle kindliness. Cicero had said that ‘Sweetness both in language and manner is a very profitable attraction in the formation of friendship’; but what is with him an accident becomes an essential in the Kingdom of Jesus. The distinctive word with Christ is love and not friendship, and, by reason of this, Christianity excels the pagan ideals. The new commandment, ‘that ye love one another’ (John 13:34), decides all matters of conduct. True friends will not sanction any imperfection, or acquiesce in any weak neglect of talents in those whom they love; while at the same time the charity of the gospel will bear all things, will hope all things.

(5) Jesus also taught that the life of love was endless. The old friendships flourished under dark skies. Fears of an awful end haunted them, and when death came, ‘They dreamed there would be spring no more.’ But Christ has brought life and immortality to light through His gospel. He has spoken with certainty of the future, and has made the darkness beautiful. The Christian poet can rise out of the calamity of interrupted friendship into the repose of faith and self-control.

‘Far off thou art but ever nigh,

I have thee still and I rejoice:

I prosper, circled with thy voice:

I shall not lose thee tho’ I die’ (In Memoriam, cxxx.).

Human affection will pass through the cleansing stream of death, and purified of all selfishness and evil will be made perfect in the presence of God.

3. The friendship of Jesus.—Christianity is a life as well as a system of teaching; and as each virtue or quality is best interpreted in the light of the highest example of its kind, so also human friendship becomes transfigured by the friendship which Jesus offers to all who will receive Him.

(1) The friendship of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels.—These narratives show how approachable Jesus was. His readiness to accept social invitations, to befriend all classes, to reveal His gracious message, testifies to His genius for friendship, and accounts in part for the contemptuous title, ‘Friend of publicans and sinners.’ He chose twelve ‘that they might be with him’ (Mark 3:14), and to these He revealed what was dearest to His heart. On the Mount of Transfiguration He admitted three of them to the vision of His glory (Matthew 17:1-13 ||): in Gethsemane He opened to the same three the door of His grief (Matthew 26:36-46): He told His disciples of the stern struggle with temptation in the wilderness of Judaea. The house at Bethany was a second home to Him, and His love for ‘our friend Lazarus’ was manifested in His visit to the sisters, and in the grief that overwhelmed Him at the grave (John 11).

In the second part of the Fourth Gospel the affection of Jesus is seen to lack the slightest ‘grain of depreciation,’ which Schopenhauer recommends among friends. The constancy of the perfect Friend is the first theme of this intimate writing (John 13-17), a constancy unimpaired by sorrow or joy. The foreboding of death (‘knowing that he would depart out of this world’) threatened to draw away His mind, as also the vision of a transcendent glory (‘that he would depart unto the Father’) imperilled His attachment; but neither the excess of grief nor the ecstasy of gladness availed to weaken His fidelity to those whom He had chosen; ‘having loved his own, he loved them unto the end’ (John 13:1). In the following chapters the love of Jesus is unfolded with the eloquence peculiar to St. John’s Gospel. Christ breathes about them the atmosphere of God’s glory, lifts up their thoughts to the heavenly home, filling them with the fragrant truth of the endless love of God, all of which is summed up in terms of friendship in John 15:13-15. (a) Jesus is a perfect friend because of His personal sacrifice: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend’ (John 15:13). Sacrifice is the most convincing evidence in the world, and the surrender of personal advancement for the sake of others is proof of the noble emotion of love. As there is nothing that a man can give in exchange for his life, the death of Jesus for us is the highest evidence of His perfect friendship. Sacrifice is also the food of love, and friendship is growth in self-sacrificing love. Each self-denial strengthens the bond of attachment, and when sacrifice is allowed its perfect work it forms a deathless union. Jesus experienced every stage of self-denial, suppressing His own desires, until His love, perfected through suffering, received its crown and goal on the Mount of Crucifixion. The sacrifice which was the evidence of His perfect friendship was also the only sustenance by which perfect friendship could be nourished. (b) Christ’s friendship is an ethical constraint: ‘Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you’ (John 15:14). He is our kindest friend who makes us do our best, and who helps us to do what we thought we could not do. The consciousness of expanding power is purest joy. Christ arouses enthusiasm for the holy life, imparts new resolves to master temptation, and is the most effectual aid in the attainment of the ethical life. His friendship is our better self, our conscience. (c) There is intimate communion in the friendship of Jesus: ‘Henceforth I call you not servants, but I have called you friends: for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you’ (John 15:15). Friendship is fellowship in which undue reserve is cast off. When Christ spoke out on the most sacred matters of religion, and shared with others His knowledge of the Father, He did the friendliest of acts. Christ’s love was the most intimate relation into which any man could enter, and His constancy, devotion, communion, and inspiration gave Him the first place among friends.

(2) The friendship of Jesus as revealed in Christian experience.—The limits of human friendship are many, and suggest the blessings which all believers in Christ have enjoyed by their union with the living Saviour. In our human relationships no words are adequate to express the subtler and more refined emotions and convictions of the soul, so that when we strive to reveal our true self we stammer. Besides, we often cannot define these things to ourselves, and we require one who will first tell us our dream and then interpret it. Inhospitality of soul and our native bashfulness impede communion, while the sense of defect or unworthiness restricts our fellowship. Differences of experience separate us, so that we cannot match each other’s moods. Distance and change of occupation place physical barriers, while too often the faults of temper and vexing cares drive apart those who once were knit together in sympathy. How precarious is our hold upon a friendship which ‘death, a few light words, a piece of stamped paper,’ can destroy. But Jesus transcends all these limits of human friendship. His spirit can commune with our spirits apart from language. He knows us altogether, and needs not that any should tell Him. He is master of large experience, having been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. Physical barriers are all removed, since He will never go away from us or forsake us. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. The universal testimony of the Christian Church is that as we abide in the presence of Jesus by prayer, self-denial, and meditation, we are uplifted in soul, encouraged in our holy endeavours, and made partakers of spiritual joy. The believer finds that Christ is the way to the Father, that Jesus leads us to that communion with God which is the greatest fact of all the world. Religion is friendship between the believer and the living Christ.

Literature.—Aristotle, Ethics; Cicero, de Amicitia; PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , art. ‘Freundschaft’; Lemme, Die Freundschaft, Heilbronn, 1897; Bacon, Essays, Golden Treasury Series, 1892, p. 106; Hugh Black, Friendship, 1900; Hilty, Briefe, Leipzig, 1903; Tennyson, In Memoriam; Martensen, Christian Ethics, iii. 72 ff.; Stalker, Imago Christi, 93 ff.

James W. Falconer.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Friendship'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/f/friendship.html. 1906-1918.

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