What kind of friend will you be?
Back-to-school time has come upon us, and along with it the natural parental instinct to worry about our kids. New teachers, new classes, possibly new schools, and most likely, new friends.
While our culture debates the scientific possibilities and ethical implications of "designer babies," many parents desire to handpick "designer friends" for their children whose character traits, personality types, behavior, family dynamics, and manners match our preferences.
A diligent attention to healthy friendships is a positive desire of most parents. Even the wise father of Proverbs pleads with his son to avoid bad company: "[M]y son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood…Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on." (Prov. 1:15-16; 4:14-15)
The positive and negative possibilities of friendship urge us to train our kids in discernment. We should teach them wisdom in choosing their companions, because foolish friends can be a tremendous burden, even a curse. As parents, we know that bad company has the potential to ruin good character (1 Cor. 15:33), so we should exercise diligence, extend wise counsel, and retain open dialogue with our kids in regards to their choices of friendships.
However, as we help our children navigate their friendships, we must also take care not to simply take up defensive positions to shelter our kids from the "bad seeds," but also go on the offensive to help our children be a blessing to others. Parenting should include training children towards life-giving friendship.
The questions we should ask our kids should range from both sides of the spectrum. Not just, "Who are you going to choose as friends?" But also, "What kind of friend are you going to be?"
Perhaps the best scriptural example of friendship is the relationship between Jonathan and David. Their deep love for each other extended into every part of their lives:
"As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt." (1 Samuel 18:1, 3-4)
True friendship is courageous. Jonathan took a risk in befriending David. His father, King Saul, was becoming increasingly jealous of David. He wanted him dead. Jonathan courageously opposed the most powerful man in the country and risked his own life and status in the process (1 Sam. 20:33).
Knowing David would become king instead of himself (1 Sam. 23:17), Jonathan also took a risk by entrusting his future to David. It was customary for new kings to establish themselves by annihilating potential heirs to the throne. David's ascendency would put Jonathan's future and his life at risk (see 1 Samuel 20:31), yet Jonathan was willing to take the risk because of his love for his friend, David.
Jesus himself displayed the same kind of courage, exemplified in the company he kept: fishermen, tax collectors, sinners, lepers, prostitutes, and outcasts. He hung out with the loners and the losers. He loved the unloveable regardless of their social status, cleanliness, vocation, or sin. He risked his reputation and was willing to be called "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34) Even his own family thought he was crazy because of the company he kept (Mark 3:13-21)!
When we train our children in courageous love, it means we encourage them to do the right thing, not the popular thing. This includes seeking out friendships with outsiders and unlovables—those whom no one else wants to be around. Will they share a table, a meal, a game, or a conversation with those who might cost them their reputation, comfort, and prestige? (2 Sam. 9)
True Friendship is sacrificial. Friends want what is best for the other as much as for themselves and don't make a distinction between their own good and the good of the other person. This is the way Jonathan loved David, "as his own soul" (1 Sam. 18:1,3; 20:17) and how Jesus taught us to love: "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39).
Sacrificial friendship make promises that cost something. Jonathan and David bound themselves to one another with a covenant (1 Sam. 18:3), the deepest kind of promise that two people can make. It cost Jonathan his crown and his right to succeed his father to the throne. When Jonathan "stripped himself" (the language is purposefully extreme) of his royal robes, military tunic, sword, bow, and belt (v. 4), he wasn't just offering to share his wardrobe with his best buddy.
By giving David his royal robe and military equipment, Jonathan affirmed and submitted himself to God's promise to make David the next king. He was submitting himself to God's will that David's status would rise while his own diminished. He was OK with God's plans to pass over him and place David on the throne, even though this would eventually require his own death (2 Sam. 1:4). Giving David his royal robe signified that his concern was for David and his well-being, not simply for his own tenuous position as heir to the throne.
Psalm 15 commends the person who "swears to his own hurt and does not change…," (Ps. 15:4) who commits so deeply to a relationship that they are willing to pay whatever it costs. This is how Jesus loved his friends: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) True friendship is willing to sacrifice comfort, position, money, time, and reputation for a friend.
WHAT KIND OF FRIEND WILL YOU BE?
Courageous and sacrificial love are not just ideals for our children, but challenges for every disciple. We should ask ourselves the same question: "What kind of friend will I be?"
Will I be a courageous friend and take risks like Jonathan and Jesus did? Or will I play it safe and protect my comfort and reputation?
Will I be a sacrificial friend who lays down my life for my friends? Or will I fall prey to petty jealousies and fail to champion the success of others? Will I make promises and follow through on them, even though it might hurt?
Courageous and sacrificial friendship is difficult. But as we and our children learn to walk in the ways of Jesus through courageous and sacrificial love, God will cause his kingdom to break into this world in ways that we can't even imagine.
Mike Phay is the pastor of First Baptist Church. He can be reached at 541-447-7717.
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