I’ve thought a lot these days about the costliness of friendship. When conversations are hard or loneliness sets in, we are often tempted to believe that the work required of us to have deep and meaningful friendships is not worth the effort. To have real friendship, we have to pay up. I don’t know anyone who has friends for free. Friends take up your time, energy, memories, money, food, emotional bandwidth, and considerably more. Friends are not cheap. I’ve known my best friend for over a decade. If I were to sit down and write out how much time we’ve spent with each other, I wouldn’t be able to come close to a true estimate.
When we think of our deepest relationships, the people who know us better than we know ourselves, or those we spend the most time around, we know they cost us something. Our best friends typically come with hard conversations, hurtful words, sins committed, sins forgiven, laughter shared, meals prepared, and needs met.
In college, I remember how diligent I was to keep a tally with my roommates. I would be so careful to pay them back or return a favor so that I was not in anyone’s debt. I walked alongside friends, earnestly seeking to balance what I owed.
Maybe this isn’t your struggle. Maybe you don’t feel pressure to pay back your friends. There are other ways we might avoid the costs that come with friendship.
We might retreat and cut ourselves off from the world because we do not want to be a burden to anyone. When we feel like a burden or inconvenience, we want to remove ourselves from people so they are not burdened by us. When we have a need, we don’t want to ask others to help. We do not want our friends to go above and beyond us.
Or, on the other end, we may demand more attention and time from others than is fair to them. We think that because of who we are or what we are given, we are owed a certain kind of treatment. We are offended when someone says no to time with us. We are hurt when our expectations are not met. We want our friends to go above and beyond for us.
These are distortions of true friendship. We are not called to keep score, to live as an island, or to be a leech to our friends.
We know that friendship is costly, but how do we have real friendship?
For starters, we certainly cannot look to ourselves. God, the Creator of friendship and perfecter of it, speaks to us through His Word. Here are three encouragements from the Bible to help us pursue real friendship:
1. Sacrifice Your Life
“This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” – 1 John 3:16
Followers of Christ are not called to balance the budget sheet of our sacrifices for one another. Jesus did not lay down his life with an asterisk at the end. It was not an “I’ll die for you but here’s what you need to do to make it even” type of sacrifice. He just laid down his life for us. Full stop. No fine print. No hidden fees.
We are called to this kind of sacrifice. We may not ever be in a situation where we can jump in front of a bullet and die for the ones we love, but every day, we have opportunities to lay down our lives for others.
This sacrifice will cost you comfort, time, and resources. Sacrifice costs considerably. But we have the Spirit of Jesus, who was perfect and sinless in all his ways and willing to die for imperfect and sinful people like us. We are emboldened to follow in Jesus’ path of sacrifice by the power of the Spirit.
2. Carry Burdens, Let Your Burdens Be Carried
“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” – Galatians 6:2-3
We are all wounded and burdened with the pains of this world. There is far too much sorrow and brokenness in life for anyone to bear alone. Death, sickness, racism, abuse, greed, selfishness, and so much more shoot daggers at us all day long. Even the ones we love can hurt us and make us feel unable to go on.
Our struggles and suffering are not just for you and me to carry around alone. All the weighty woes of life are alleviated the moment a friend steps in to love us. The church is God’s magnificent gift to us. When we tell our friends about our pain, they can step in and offer another shoulder to distribute the weight. Your sorrows are not just for you to bear, but to be shared with brothers and sisters who can pray, listen, help, serve, and care.
It costs us to allow others to carry our burdens and to carry the burdens of others. The first requires an admission of weakness, the second requires we put the needs of others above our own.
3. Think of Yourself Less
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4
The easiest thing in the world to think about is yourself. Your needs, wants, desires, plans, hopes, and emotions are always on your mind. I bet you can’t even go one hour without thinking of yourself in some way. Self-centeredness is an understatement. We are hardwired to think about ourselves.
This may be the most costly part of friendship because it is the most difficult. How do we think of ourselves less? Consider others, consider others, consider others.
Consider how you can love a friend who is having a hard week. Consider your roommate’s favorite dessert and make it for no reason other than love. Consider your spouse’s least favorite chore and do it for them. Consider your lost neighbor and share the gospel with her. Consider your pastor and pray for him. Consider someone who has financial need and give anonymously. Consider the displaced college student in your church and offer your home as a place to study or hang out.
Filling our minds with thoughts of others is costly work. Keep reading in Philippians 2 and you’ll find that Jesus “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity” (Philippians 2:6-7).
God himself stepped down to our lowly state and considered our lives above His own. When we think of others more and ourselves less, we follow in the footsteps of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
These passages point to the sacrificial and eternal nature of our love for one another. We see this example fully in our Savior. He is the one whose love of us cost him his life. But it was the sacrifice, it was the burden, it was the selflessness – it was the cost that provided us with the blessing. This is the blessing of eternal life that cannot go away. It will not diminish because of a changed address, it will not dissipate because of disagreeing viewpoints, it cannot be taken from us and it will not be broken. Our friendship with Jesus will bless us forever.
Because Jesus blessed us with his friendship, we are now able to receive and be the blessing of a friend to one another. This love is not just a temporary, earth-bound love because we are not just temporary, earth-bound people. Our souls are eternal, purchased by God so that we might love Him and one another. The blessing of friendship on this earth points to the eternal blessing of communion with God and His people forevermore. All the sacrifices, burdens, and selflessness, though costly in this life, fade quickly when we see and experience the love of the church. We may struggle together for a little while, but as believers, we will have infinite fellowship with one another because we have infinite fellowship with God.
Friendship will cost us considerably, but it can and it will bless us infinitely.