As time goes on, I imagine that we will see profound changes taking place in the way that we define friendship. And I expect that research will likely indicate dramatic decreases in fulfillment in friendships even as people reach out wider and wider for meaningful connections with others. The reason that I believe that this will be the case is that social applications like Facebook are single-handedly revolutionizing the way people interact and connect. As this continues to unfold before us there are certain implications that we would do well to consider.
Consider the fact that the word "friend" is becoming intricately laced with the internet experience. Not only does the number of "friends" on the social site become a status symbol for many, but one can score "friends" without even knowing who the "friends" are, therefore rendering moot any previous notion of what it means to be a "friend" or the wonder of having a true "friend".
As the careless and casual ways of using the word "friend" becomes more and more integrated into our thinking, the word "friend" itself will likely lose power and significance, possibly obscuring the importance of a kind of relationship that we both truly need and deeply crave.
Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher who may or may not have had Nazi sympathies in the Twentieth Century, once observed that "Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man." While his dubious associations and non-theistic world view may cast his general perspective into doubt, the fact that "language shapes thought" is undeniable: an increasing level of vagueness for the word "friend" will leave us in a quandary when we try to define what it means to truly connect with peers, have trusted confidantes, or faithful companions in the journey of life.
The words for "friend" in the Bible, however, have similar linguistic challenges. The Hebrew word "rea" and the Greek "philos" mean friend in just about all the ways that our English word means it, ranging from "colleague" to "bosom buddy". Nevertheless, the Scriptures talk about a "kind" of friend that epitomizes what friendship is and what it does for us.
First, the Bible talks about the "friend" ideal of acceptance. Proverbs 17:17a says that "a friend loves at all times…." Genuine friendship is not fickle. Likely, we all have had experiences with "fair weather friends" who enjoyed our resources when there was much to be shared, but faded from view when need and sorrow came. We therefore should deeply esteem the treasure of those who love us unconditionally and faithfully, and strive ourselves to be faithful to our friends, in plenty AND in times of need and hurt.
Secondly, a "friend" is one who both says and does what we need, and not merely pays lip service to us. In Proverbs 27:6 you will find that "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." Enemies rarely come to us with flaming swords and obvious hate, but instead approach with friendly ways and flattering words. Why? Generally, either to take advantage of something you have that they want or to win your heart so that their betrayals can inflict greater harm. When a companion says something that hurts, stop a moment and compare what he or she says with the truth of God's Word. If it is NOT true, then simply dismiss the words of this "friend" and guard your heart in regard to your trusting of him or her. But if it IS true, even if painful, then swallow pride, and ask God to help you make adjustments in your life that He sent this true fiend to share with you.
Keep in mind that having lots of friends on our social applications is about the same as referring to everyone with whom we interact on a daily basis as "friend". "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24 NIV).
Look for and treasure the "true friend". At the same time, seek to become a "true friend" to those whose hearts have been knit by God with yours.
"Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother's house when disaster strikes you – better a (friend nearby) than a brother far away" (from Proverbs 27:10).
And obviously Jesus Himself is the very essence of what friendship is and the very best Friend one can have.
"Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends", said Jesus in John 15:13, just before He allowed Himself to be led away, humiliated and falsely accused, to be beaten and crucified for us. One of the highest virtues that we recognize in true friendship is personal sacrifice on behalf of another, especially to the point of death. Dying for another is the mark of true friendship. How marvelous then is the friendship that God has offered to us through Jesus Christ! He laid down His sinless life for us though we were eaten up with sin, guilty and stained!
True friendship has reached down from heaven, looked past our ugly and selfish motives and pasts, offered us hope and healing, and lifts us up from the power of fear, the clinging weight of sin, and sets us on a path of fellowship with God Himself. There is no greater friend than Jesus, and no greater calling for us today than to become true friends to Him as we obey Him and allow His friendship to flow through us into the lives of those around us who are lonely and hapless, lost and hopeless. Trust your Friend to lead you today, and be a true friend to someone who needs one.