"Remember no man is a failure who has friends."
Clarence the Angel from It's A Wonderful Life
Friendship is rare and most folks will only have a very few true friends before they die. That being said, we should pursue friendships. But what kind of friendships should we cultivate?
The Puritan, Thomas Brooks, wrote: Let them be thy choicest companions, that have made Christ their chiefest companion. Do not so much eye the outsides of men as their inside. Look most to their internal worth.
J.C. Ryle in his book, Holiness, writes that we should be cautious about friendships. Nothing perhaps affects man's character more than the company he keeps. We catch the ways and tone of those we live and talk with, and unhappily get harm far more easily than good. Disease is infectious, but health is not. He goes on to say, Now if a professing Christian deliberately chooses to be intimate with those who are not friends of God and who cling to the world, his soul is sure to take harm. It is hard enough to serve Christ under any circumstances in such a world as this. But it is doubly hard to do it if we are friends of the thoughtless and ungodly. Mistakes in friendship or marriage-engagements are the whole reason why some have entirely ceased to grow. He then quotes from James 4:4. The friendship of the world is enmity with God."
Notice what Ryle does not say.
1. He does not say that we are to have no association with ungodly folks. Life requires rubbing shoulders with all sorts of folks in numerous settings. We are never commanded in Scripture, nor does sound wisdom ever guide us, to avoid those who do not love the Lord.
2. He does not say that we are never to have close encounters with unbelievers. As Christians we are to be "salt and light" and that requires bringing the gospel to people who do not know Christ. If we avoid unbelievers then we fail in the mission that Christ has called us to. Certainly one of the problems of some Christians is that they tend to isolate themselves from as much contact as possible with unbelievers. They retreat behind safe walls and never engage the wicked. It only takes a quick glance at the life of Christ to see that he was "moved with compassion" as he saw the multitudes as "sheep without a shepherd." He ate meals and interacted with sinners.
What then is Ryle saying?
1. Be aware of the power of friendships. The folks that we spend time with have a great ability to affect our character. He is calling for discernment in friendship.
2. He is warning against being "intimate with those who are not friends with God." It is one thing to be friendly as we associate with all sorts of people in all sorts of situations; it is quite another to make those folks our intimate friends. An intimate friend is one that we might share the depth of our heart and experiences with. True friends are bound by the closest of bonds. Christians love Christ and as Thomas Brooks wrote, Let them (friends) be thy choicest companions, that have made Christ their chiefest companion. Christians share the most important relationship with one another. That relationship is Christ. They love the things of God and are in hot pursuit of knowing God. Christians are going the same direction. That cannot be said of any unbeliever. Non-Christians might be nice, kind, fun and pleasant. They might be interesting and compassionate. But when it comes to spiritual things they are not aiming towards the same target as Christians.
What kind of friends must we pursue?
J.C. Ryle writes: Let us seek friends that will stir us up about our prayers, our Bible-reading, and our employment of time--about our souls, our salvation, and a world to come. Who can tell the good that a friend's word in season may do, or the harm that it may stop."
Ryle gives wise instruction.
1. We should seek friends.
2. We should seek friends that will stir us up about important matters (prayer, Bible-reading, employment of time, our souls, our salvation, and the world to come).
You may be frustrated in your pursuit of godly friends. What should you do?
1. Ask God to provide godly friends for you.
2. Be friendly.
3. Look for friends in all the right places
We should take initiative in the pursuit of friendships. The best place to find godly friends is in a godly church. We should be friends with all Christians and yet there will be some people that we will become very close to. C.S. Lewis wrote: Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one. Your own church, bible conferences, events with other like-minded churches and Christian groups are some of the places that you might meet a friend. However, sometimes the meeting is a complete surprise. I met a dear friend in a bookstore. I met another friend as he stopped his car to ask for directions. I was not looking for a friend in either of those situations but God surprised me with, what is now, long-term friendships.