By J.R. Miller
"We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God--but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us!" 1 Thessalonians 2:8
We use the word "friend" very lightly. We talk of our dozens of friends, meaning all with whom we have common friendly relations, or even pleasant acquaintance. We say a person is our friend--when we know him only in business, or socially, when his heart and ours have never touched in any real communion. There may be nothing amiss in this wide application of the word--but we ought to understand that used in this sense--its full sacred meaning is not even touched.
To become another's friend in the true sense--is to take the other into such close, living fellowship, that his life and ours are knit together as one. It is far more than a pleasant companionship in bright, sunny hours. It is more than an association for mutual interest or profit or enjoyment. A genuine friendship--is entirely unselfish. It seeks no benefit or good of its own. It does not love--for what it may receive--but for what it may give. Its aim is "not to be served--but to serve" (Mark 10:45).
It costs to be a friend. "For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health," runs all true friendships. When we take a person into our lives as a friend, we do not know what it may cost us to be faithful to our trust. Misfortune may befall our friend, and he may need our help in ways that will lay a heavy burden on us.
It may be in his business or in his secular affairs, that he may suffer. Timely aid may enable him to overcome his difficulties, and attain to prosperous circumstances. It may be in our power to render him the assistance he needs, without which he must succumb to failure. It will cost us personal inconvenience and trouble to do this. But he is our friend. We have taken him into our lives, thus becoming partner in all his affairs. Can we withhold from him the help which he needs and which we can give, without breaking the holy compact of friendship and failing in our sacred obligations to him?
It may be the misfortune of sickness and broken health, which falls upon our friend. He is no longer able to be helpful to us as he was in the days when the friendship was first formed. Then he could contribute his part in the mutual ministering, giving as well as receiving. Then friendship for him brought us no care, no anxiety; exacted from us, no self-denial, no sacrifice. Then friendship for him laid on us no load, no burden.
On the other hand, it was full of helpfulness. It brought strength to our heart by its loving cheer. It was a blessing to our lives, in its warm inspirations, in its sweet comfort, in its satisfying affection. It stood beside us in all our times of trial, with full sympathy, putting its shoulder under our burdens, aiding us by its counsel, its encouragement. It brought its countless benefits and gains. But now in its feeble and broken state, it can no longer give us this strong help and uplift. Instead, it has become a burden. We must carry the loads alone--which his friendship so generously shared. He needs our help now, and can give in return--only a weight of care.
For example, a wife becomes an invalid. In the early days of wedded life--she was her husband's true helpmeet, his loyal partner in all duty, care, work, and burden-bearing. Her friendship brought back far more than it cost. But now she can only lie still amid the cares, and see him meet them alone. Instead of sharing his burdens, she herself has become an added burden which he must carry! But his love doesn't falter for a moment. He loved her--not for the help she was to him--but for her own dear sake. Hence his love doesn't change when she is no longer a strong helpmeet--but a burden instead. His heart only grows more tender, his hand more gentle, his spirit braver. He finds even deeper, sweeter joy now in serving her--than he found before in being served by her.
That is the meaning of true friendship, wherever it exists. It is not based on any helpfulness or service which it must receive, as its condition. Its source is in the heart itself. Its essential desire is to help and serve. It makes no nice calculation of so much to be given--and so much to be received. It stops at no cost which faithfulness may entail. It hesitates at no self-denial which may be necessary in the fulfillment of its duties. It does not complain when everything has to be given up. It only grows stronger and more faithful and loyal--as the demands for giving and serving become larger.
There is another phase of the cost of friendship which must not be overlooked: that which comes with the revealing of faults and flaws and sins. We see people at first, only on the surface of their lives--and we begin to admire them. We are attracted to them by qualities that win our attention. As we become associated with them, we become interested in them. At length our affection goes out to them, and we call them our friends. We walk with them in pleasant companionship that makes no demands on our unselfishness, and that discloses but little of their inner life. We know them as yet, only on the surface of their character, having no real acquaintance with the self that is hidden behind life's conventionalities. Nothing has occurred in the progress of our friendship, to bring out the things in their disposition, which are not altogether lovely.
At length, closer intimacy or difficult circumstances, reveal their faults and blemishes. We learn that under the attractive exterior which so pleased us--there are sins, spots, flaws, shortcomings, which sadly disfigure the beauty of their life. We discover in them elements of selfishness, untruthfulness, deceitfulness, or evil, which pain us. We find that they have secret habits which are repulsive. There are things in their disposition, never suspected in the days of common social conversation, which show offensively in the closer relations of friendship's intimacy.
This is often so in wedded life; the longest and freest acquaintance previous to marriage, reveals only the better side of the life of both. But the same is true in a greater or lesser degree, in all close friendships.
Many times this is a severe test of love. It is only as we rise into something of the spirit of Christ, that we are able to meet this test of friendship. He takes us as we are--and does not weary of us, whatever faults and sins display themselves in us. There is infinite comfort in this for us. We are conscious of our unworthiness and of the unloveliness and vileness which are in our souls. There are things in our lives--which we would not reveal to the world. Many of us have pages in our biography which we would not dare to spread out before the eyes of men! There are in our inner being--evil feelings, desires, longings, cravings, jealousies, motives--which we would not feel secure in laying bare to our nearest, dearest, and most gentle and patient friend!
Yet Christ knows them all. Nothing is hidden, nothing can be hidden from His eyes. To Him there is a perfect revealing of the innermost recesses of our heart. Yet we need not be afraid that His friendship for us will change or grow less, or withdraw itself--when He discovers in us repulsive things. This is the ideal human friendship. It is not repelled by the revealing of faults. Even if the friend has fallen into sin--the love yet clings, forgiving and seeking his restoration.
We are apt to complain if our friends do not return as deep, rich, and constant a love--as we give them. We feel hurt at any evidence of the ebbing of love in them, when they fail us in some way, when we think they have not been altogether faithful and unselfish, or when they have been thoughtless or indifferent toward us. But Christ saw in His own redeemed people--a very feeble return for all His deep love for them, a most inadequate requital for all His wondrous goodness and grace. They were unreliable, weak, unfaithful, sometimes inconsiderate and thoughtless. Yet He continued to love them in spite of all that He found unlovely and unworthy in them.
This is the friendship He would teach His disciples. As He loves us--He would have us love others. We say men are not worthy of such friendships. True, they are not. Neither are we worthy of Christ's wondrous love for us. But Christ loves us--not according to our worthiness--but according to the riches of His own loving heart! So should it be with our giving of friendship--not as the person deserves--but after the measure of our own character.
These are illustrations enough to show what it may cost to be a friend. When we receive another into this sacred relationship, we do not know what responsibility we are taking upon ourselves, what burdens it may be ours to carry in being faithful, what sorrows our love may cost us. It is a sacred thing, therefore, to take a new friend into our lives. We accept a solemn responsibility when we do so. We do not know what burdens we may be assuming, what sacrifices we may unconsciously be pledging ourselves to make, what sorrows may come to us through the one to whom we are opening our heart. We should choose our friends, therefore, thoughtfully, wisely, prayerfully--but when we have pledged our love, we should be faithful, whatever the cost may be!