What is the highest and most important of human relationships? In our overly-sexual culture, we are most likely to answer “marriage” or we might answer “love”, a word that has all too often become synonymous almost exclusively with sexual attraction and attachment. After all, the Bible clearly places an extremely high value on the institution of marriage: the first human relationship was a marriage (Genesis 2:18-24), and the book of Song of Solomon is all about marriage. Our relationship with the Lord is also compared to marriage in several very key passages of Scripture (Isaiah 54:4-8, Hosea chapters 1-3, Ephesians 5:21-33, Revelation 21:9-11, and more.) as well as throughout the tradition of the Church. Science and logic also affirm the importance of marriage as it is vital to continuing the human race.
However, when it comes to defining moments in Scripture, especially the gospels and more specifically the words of Jesus Himself, the relationship label He uses to describe us is “friend”:
When Jesus defines “Greater love has no man than this….”:
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”John 15:12-13 RSVCE (Emphasis mine.)
He doesn’t say spouse, parent, child, brother, “lover”, but friend. It’s an interesting word choice for those of us who have fallen into little cultural traps like when we say things such as “Oh, we’re just friends.” or “We’re nothing more than friends.” in a way that intentionally or unintentionally puts down a friendship that isn’t also a sexual relationship, because it’s a non-sexual relationship.
Again, when Jesus goes on to define what He calls us….:
“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.”John 15:14-17 RSVCE (Emphasis mine.)
It makes sense too, when you consider from a logical and psychological approach too, what category every other healthy human relationship can and should fall under: it’s friendship. Spouses and potential spouses who are doing it right and enjoy a healthy relationship of true love as a result, will not hesitate to use the term “best friend” to describe the other person, whether or not any other labels enter into or remain in the picture. After all, when Scripture describes the nature of how a husband loves his wife….:
“Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'”Ephesians 5:28-31, quoting Genesis 2:24 RSVCE (Emphasis mine.)
On the other hand, when Scripture describes how a friend loves his friend….:
“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul,….”Deuteronomy 13:6 RSVCE (Emphasis mine.)
And again here:
“When 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.”1 Samuel 18:1 RSVCE (Emphasis mine.)
“And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own soul.”1 Samuel 20:17 RSVCE (Emphasis mine.)
Last I checked, the value of the soul outweighs the value of the body, so if the Bible is comparing the way friends are meant to love each other to the way we love our own souls and the way spouses are meant to love each other to the way we love our own bodies, it sounds here like the Bible is putting the love of friends above the love of spouses. Again, we see an interesting word choice here. (If spouses are friends, though, and not just spouses, they won’t be missing anything either.)
Which seems to reflect another interesting verse here, where David mourns the death of his friend Jonathan:
“I am distressed for you, my brother Johnathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”2 Samuel 1:26 RSVCE (Emphasis mine.)
I truly believe that if the rest of the world were to understand the value of friends and what it means to be a friend, people would not be afraid of being friends only, or exclusively friends or nothing else besides friends, and that all human relationships would be healthier and happier because we would be friends first, both in order and priority. We would nail down the most important part first before adding on other stuff, and we would also not be so disappointed if it were left at that, because we’d already be enjoying the most important part.
To this end, I am proposing a “FRIEND Bible Study” to my Bible Group, that will start in September of this year. In it, we will look at the value Scripture places on friendship, what the Bible means for friendship to be like, and the true love Scripture calls us to provide for our friends. The Bible study will also be copied to the document linked above if you don’t or are unable to follow my Bible Group. If you would like to participate and prepare ahead of time for this Bible study, you can search “friend” in your concordance (biblegateway.com is an excellent free and online concordance.) and reflect on the listed passages with Bible Study Questionnaire #11:
- What is the Bible saying about “friend” in this passage?
- Is this passage’s teaching on “friend” being presented as a command, example, promise, statement/proverb, or warning?
- What is the lesson intended for us in this Scripture’s teaching on “friend”?
- How can I apply this lesson to my life?
- Do I know someone who can benefit from this teaching?
God bless you!