understanding four levels of friendship
Friendships are important to God because of the tremendous influence they hold over our lives. We often make many decisions based on the counsel of friends, and through friendship, we can significantly impact the lives of others. Therefore it is critical to follow God’s guidance in establishing friendships.
Every Christian is instructed to “be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. . . . [He is to] follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (II Timothy 2:22).
Discern the Four Levels of Friendship
Many people lack a clear understanding of the levels of friendship, which involve specific freedoms and responsibilities, depending on the closeness of the relationship. The four levels of friendship are (1) acquaintance, (2) casual friendship, (3) close friendship (fellowship), and (4) intimate friendship.
This level of friendship is characterized by occasional contacts. Regard each introduction to a new acquaintance as a divine appointment. Learn and remember his name and greet him by name during your next encounter.
Be prepared to ask him general questions that will provide “public” information. For example, you might ask a person, “Where do you work?” or “Where do you go to school?” Your questions will demonstrate your acceptance and sincere interest in him.
Questions can be like arrows in a hunter’s hands: Take a question out of your “quiver” and guide it to its destination. If you miss the target, that is, if your question does not help you get to know the person better, take another question out of your quiver and try again. When you are prepared to ask good questions, you are free to concentrate on what the other person says and then use additional questions to maintain the conversation. Be a good listener as your new acquaintance responds to your questions.
A casual friendship can develop quickly, even during your initial contact with an individual. As you discover common interests, activities, and concerns, you may be given freedom to ask more personal questions. For example, you could ask questions about his goals, wishes, or opinions.
As your casual friendship develops, it is important to discover your friend’s strengths and praise him for positive character traits that you observe. A good friendship will build Godly character in both your lives. Be honest about yourself and acknowledge your own weaknesses when appropriate.
Be a trustworthy friend. Learn about his hopes and goals in life; show interest and sincere concern if he shares problems with you. Pray for him.
Close Friendship (Fellowship)
A casual friendship involves oneness of the soul (the mind, will, and emotions), but a close friendship—fellowship—reflects oneness of spirit. We can have many acquaintances and casual friendships with both believers and non-believers. However, true fellowship requires that both persons share the same life goals.
The Lord instructs us to “consider [observe fully] one another to provoke [incite] unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). This third level of friendship carries with it the responsibility to picture true achievement for one another, exhorting “one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Discuss specific goals in your lives; identify potential hindrances to achieving those goals; creatively design projects to help you reach your goals.
Fellowship is “walking in the Light.” “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. . . . If we walk in the light, as he [Christ] is in the light, we have fellowship one with another . . .” (I John 1:5, 7). Your fellowship should include investments in projects that will equip you to achieve your life goals.
The fourth, and deepest, level of friendship should be based on a commitment to generously invest in one another’s lives with the goal of helping each other mature in Godly character. Honesty, humility, and discretion are requirements of an intimate friendship. Comfort one another through trials and sorrows; pray diligently for one another.
At this level, friends have freedom to correct one another and point out each other’s blind spots. Don’t simply point out character deficiencies; discern their causes and suggest solutions. Search the Scriptures for keys to solutions, and be a faithful, loyal friend as you encourage one another to pursue spiritual maturity.
Decide to Seek God Concerning Friendship
Friends influence our lives daily, encouraging us to pursue a closer walk with God or discouraging us from following Christ. Every believer should make three basic decisions about friendships:
- Let God choose your friends based on their desire for God’s best, your ability to share with them, and their ability to share with you. “Exhort one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). True friends exhort and encourage one another.
- Purpose to verbally identify with Christ whenever you are asked to compromise. Learn to “stand alone” against evil. With a loving and meek spirit, be quick to explain, “I have given my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am not able to do that.”
- Realize that those who reject Christ should reject you. You can have casual friendships with non-believers, but you should not have intimate friendships with non-believers, because you do not share the same goals. (See Proverbs 13:20.)
Discover Biblical Insights About Friendship
Does God have anything to say about your friendships? He sure does! The Bible shares a lot of instruction on this subject. Here are a few examples of what God has to say about friendship:
- “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17).
- “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul” (Proverbs 22:24-25).
- “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
- “. . . A whisperer separateth chief friends” (Proverbs 16:28).
- “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
- “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6).
- “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20).
- “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).
- “Henceforth I [Jesus] call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15).