Genuine friendship

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, September 3, 2014

by Michael Doty
In the Bible the Greek word phílos means a friend; someone who is dearly loved and prized in a personal, intimate way; a trusted confidant, held dear in a close bond of personal affection. (
To have a genuine friendship is one of the great blessings in life. I say that because I am privileged to have several good and dear friends. I recently got to spend a few days with one in Georgia who is also a retired seminary classmate, and we reconnected as if we had seen one another every day over the past decade. However, in today’s world of social media the concept of “friend” can have a great many meanings, just as “love” can have numerous interpretations. These two ideas are, not surprisingly, closely linked with one another and reveal much about our spiritual values and priorities.
My son, Isaac, got me into Facebook while he was in college as a way we could more easily keep in touch. Insofar as that went he soon realized there are certain things a young man in college does not want to share with his father and so our being Facebook “friends” largely fell into disuse. But to my surprise I began to reconnect in that venue with old high school and college chums with whom I had not spoken in decades and we became friends all over again. Truth be told, though, our friendships are of various depths and commitments, and those variations have caused me to ask myself, “What makes a true or best friend?”
I have come to the conclusion that just as there are different types or levels of love, there are also many kinds of friendship. As it is one thing to gush, “Oh, I just love a good movie,” it is quite another to tell someone they are deeply and truly loved to the extent that no sacrifice is too great to insure that friend’s well-being. Therefore, using no authority other than my own heart, I have come to the conclusion that there exist several kinds of “friends” in differing degrees. (1) remote acquaintances, such as someone met at a party and engaged in small talk; (2) casual acquaintances, being folks one sees occasionally and with whom there is at least one shared interest; (3) close acquaintances, those with whom one interacts regularly but who share very few common concerns; (4) intimate acquaintances are those with whom one shares several common interests and who may be trusted with a few small, personal confidences; (5) a true friend, being someone who knows a great deal about our personal lives and who can be well trusted; (6) an intimate friend, or a best friend, who knows our inmost heart, shares our personal confidences and who can be trusted beyond reproach.
Each of those concepts of friendship reflects differing levels of love from none at all to loving one’s friend more than one’s self. The spiritual aspect of this is can be seen in how Jesus talks to his disciples about his friendship with them, and thereby God’s friendship with them, and how they are to befriend one another.
In the Gospel according to John (15:12-15) Jesus says to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”
The commandment which Jesus invokes for true friendship is that we love one another as he loves us – that is, wholly and completely in self-sacrificing trust and truth. The nature of this love is rooted in the manner in which God loves us through the divine incarnation in Christ. God is our friend, and not just any friend but our closest, dearest and most intimate friend in that in Jesus Christ the divine transcendence of God was set aside in divine sacrifice for our sake – for friendship’s sake. This is the model given to us of what it means to truly be a true friend one to another.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox