YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME
Written by Doug Ponder on February 14, 2016
How to Rent a Friend
Uber lets you rent a stranger’s car. AirBnB lets you rent a stranger’s house, and now comes Ameego, which will let you rent a stranger. For a small fee, you can pay someone to hang out with you.
That someone would invent something like this isn’t all that shocking. The Internet has shown us enough silliness to last a lifetime. But what is shocking is how rapidly this app is rising in popularity. So before you laugh or shake you heard in astonishment, remember this: necessity is (still) the mother of invention.
In other words, there are enough people starving for friendship that they’ll pay good money for a cheap substitute. In fact, a recent survey reports that 11 percent of Millennials claim their dissatisfied with their friendships. And that trend is increasing. We are slowly witnessing the emergence of a generation of who will belong to vast social networks and have connections with people on every continent, but who won’t have anybody to hang out with on the weekend.
But let’s be honest. Many people who do have someone to spend the weekend with still spend a lot of time frustrated with folks they call “friends.”
In truth, this problem isn’t anything new. It’s not the fault of social media or the Internet or the faults of the much-maligned Millennial generation. Rather, difficulty with friendships has been around since the first two friends. Sin messes up everything, especially how we interact with each other. Thankfully, Jesus is in the redeeming business. His grace is able to change anything, including friendship.
The 3 Levels of Friendship
Since trouble with friends isn’t anything new, people have been thinking about friendship for a long time. For example, the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote a classic essay about friendship. Although his work is over 2,000 years old, it’s so insightful that it’s still read by many people today.
Aristotle observed that some people are “friends” only because they both get something out of the relationship. It’s essentially a way for people to use each other. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Tragically, many friendships fall into this category. Maybe your drinking buddy only hangs out with you because they don’t like to go to the bar alone. And maybe you only hang out with them because you don’t like to stay at home on the weekend. Examples like this abound. Aristotle rightly called this level of friendship “shallow,” since it’s not really based on anything except getting your desires met. As soon as one person in the relationship isn’t happy or isn’t getting what they want, the “friendship” is over.
In the second level of friendship, friends don’t use each other—they actually like each other. Perhaps you and your friends share similar interests or passions or life circumstances. You are compatible in areas you both care about, and so you get along easily. This level of friendship clearly isn’t as shallow as the first, but it’s still fragile. Passions change. Interests change. People change. So a friendship based only on similarities and shared interests aren’t likely to weather many storms or stand the test of time.
The deepest level of friendship is found in friends who are committed to “the good.” Aristotle was a philosopher, so when we talked about “the good,” he was not referring to personal opinions about what is good but to what is actually good and beautiful and true. Friends who are committed to goodness appreciate genuine virtues in each other, but, perhaps even more importantly, friends like this are also committed to helping one another change for good. Real friends tell us the truth even when it’s difficult but always out of love for us and with a desire to see us grow. Deep friendships like this are wonderful, but thanks to sin, they are difficult to find and even harder to maintain.
The Transforming Friendship of Jesus
The trouble with Aristotle’s assessment is this: It’s true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. Although he accurately identified three levels of friendship we all experience, Aristotle can’t help us get from where we are now to where we’d like to be with our friends. The truth is that none of us are the third kind of friend to everyone, even though we’d like to be. (Many people aren’t even the third kind of friend toward anyone!) Aristotle can help us figure out where we fall, but he can’t get us out of the ditch.
And here is where Jesus speaks a (much) better word. For Jesus not only defines true friendship, he also becomes the friend we’ve never had but always wanted. For this is precisely what Jesus meant when he said, “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus has already done that for you. He is the ultimate friend who cares for you, not with some shallow or fragile friendship, but with a deep and eternally lasting love.
Indeed, Jesus is more committed to our good than we are. We split our time between messing up things for ourselves and messing up things for others, but Jesus comes alongside beside us to forgive and to heal, to lift up the downtrodden and to fill us with his love. Not only this, but Jesus gives us his Spirit so that we can begin to become the kind of friend to others that he has been to us. That is why Jesus says, “I give you a new command: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
Yet take care not to turn the scalpel of God’s truth into a sword for bludgeoning your friends. Jesus tells us to love others as he has loved us. He does not say, “Make sure that others love you just as I have loved you—and cast them off if they haven’t.” In the end, the deep and abiding friendship of Jesus enables us to be friendly to others without any prideful self-focus and self-absorption that constantly measures their actions against our own. With apologies to Aristotle, only the transforming love of Jesus can make us that kind of friend.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.