We can learn from the Bible what strengthens relationships and what kills them. For example, taking offense easily kills friendship. Amy Carmichael, in her little booklet If, says, “If I take offense easily–if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” Again Amy says, “If I do not give a friend the benefit of the doubt but put the worst construction instead of the best on what is said or done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” And, “If I can hurt another by speaking faithfully without much preparation of spirit and without hurting myself far more than I hurt that other, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
Ruth Bell Graham is often quoted as saying, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Good forgivers make good friends too. This is not contradicting what I have said about saying things that need to be said. Remember, “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6, KJV). But when necessary hard things are said, afterward forgiveness is needed to heal the rough edges of those painful conversations. Sometimes we even have to forgive our friends for being faithful friends and telling us the truth!
David had two good friends, Jonathan and Nathan. Jonathan loved David to death. In Jonathan’s eyes, David could do no wrong. We all need that sort of friend. Nathan loved David too. But when David did something wrong, Nathan called him on it! We need a “Nathan” too.
Encouragement isn’t always “soft.” I well remember a great friend of mine listening to my litany of woes and then saying firmly but kindly, “Have a good cry, then wash your face, get up, and get on with it.” It worked. The word “encourage” means to “put courage into.” She surely put it into me!
We also need to be a Jonathan and a Nathan for others, as well as looking for those types of friends for ourselves. In fact, if we try to offer these two elements of friendship we will probably find the friends we are looking for. In other words, be a friend and you will find a friend!
A friend loves at all times, and it is this element of “Calvary love,” as Amy Carmichael puts it, that helps us listen to our friends’ loving encouragement and act on it. Paul said, “I have you in my heart” (Phil. 1:7) and then proceeded to correct and rebuke his friends. When you know someone loves you and has you in their heart, you can hear their words of correction. It’s called “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) or sometimes we call it “leveling in love” but when it happens you aren’t “leveled.”
Friendship needs to be based on biblical principles, and it also needs to be practical. For example, we can offer words of encouragement but we also need to think of concrete ways to help. It’s more than talk–it’s offering a meal if your friend is sick, a ride in your car if she needs it, help with her kids if she is exhausted and needs a break. Sometimes your help will be verbal. As Ecclesiastes warns, however, there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7).
A friend of mine took a risk on our friendship by talking to me about a problem that had arisen. First (she told me afterward), she fasted and prayed about whether to talk to me at all. That is a good start. Second she told me she decided she would not say anything more than she had to say. The old saying, “The less said, the sooner mended” is a very sound principle! My friend did it right, and said it right, and I was pleased to respond to her. What does “Calvary love” mean to you? What are some ways you can make this a reality in your life and relationships?