By Mark A. Taylor
I once knew a fellow who referred to his every acquaintance as “my personal friend.” It didn’t matter if it was someone he’d only met, or a trusted confidante. To prop up his own ego, this fellow labeled them all the same.
I’ve lost touch with him, but I hope he’s come to realize the truth about friends: our lives may contain only a handful of them, and then often only one or two at a time. Our days are filled with acquaintances and enriched by buddies or pals or coworkers. But a friend someone, as Edna Buchanan said, who will “really know you but love you anyway” is rare. Indeed, we are rich if we have even one such friend in a whole lifetime.
The problem of finding a friend may be more acute for Christians, especially Christians in leadership. Some are afraid to let another know about their private failures or doubts. If we can’t be perfect, we certainly want to look like it with our small group or Sunday school class!
Ministers in training used to be told not to have friends in the congregation where they served. By staying separate, the minister and his wife would avoid many traps of church politics, including the possibility of their own betrayal by a disillusioned church member. Such isolation has bred pain and heartbreak among those forced to cope all alone with everyday problems, let alone life’s inevitable crises.
Many ministers nowadays have rejected that advice. But not all. I wonder how many reading this still suffer because they can’t truly trust anyone in the church where they serve.
The Bible extols the benefits of friendship, especially in the book of Proverbs, particularly in chapter 27:
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (v. 6).
“The pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel” (v. 9).
“As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend” (v. 17, New Living Translation) .
The verses echo a common theme: the value of a friend is in the honesty we share. He knows me well enough to tell me the truth, even when it hurts. I listen to him, because I know he loves me. The more we’re together, the better person each of us becomes.
As I grow older, so does my hunger for this kind of friendship. The need diminishes to impress others as the need grows for encouragement and empathy.
What a blessing to find a friend among the people of God! It’s a treasure to pray for, a relationship worth working to nurture. It’s a blessing not to brag about but to value quietly; its benefits are too many and too private to discuss with a mere acquaintance.