By Mary Fairchild, About.com Guide
But a true friend is there to watch you grow.
A woman named Florence posted this short poem on a forum I visited. I thought it conveyed the idea of true friendship with perfect simplicity. It reminded me of a teaching I heard years ago at a singles retreat. The lessons on three types of Christian friends were taught by Nancy Honeytree, a singer/songwriter who was one of the pioneers of contemporary Christian music. Her simple but valuable teaching stuck with me, helping me over the years to cultivate a few treasured friendships.
3 Types of Christian Friendships:
The first form of Christian friendship Honeytree talked about was a mentor friendship. In a mentoring relationship we teach, counsel or disciple other Christian friends. This is a relationship based on ministry, similar to the kind Jesus had with his disciples.
In a mentee friendship, we are the one being taught, counseled, or discipled. We are on the receiving end of ministry, being served by a mentor. This is similar to the way the disciples received from Jesus.
Mutual friendships are not based on mentoring. Rather, in these situations the two individuals are usually more closely aligned on a spiritual level, balancing the natural flow of giving and receiving between genuine Christian friends. We’ll explore mutual friendships more closely, but first, it’s important to have a clear understanding of mentoring relationships, so we don’t get the two confused.
Mentoring friendships can easily become draining if both parties don’t recognize the nature of the relationship and construct appropriate boundaries. The mentor may need to pull back and take time for spiritual renewal. He may even have to say no at times, setting limits on his commitment to the mentee.
Likewise, a mentee who expects too much from his mentor is probably seeking a mutual bond with the wrong person. Mentees must respect boundaries and look for close friendship with someone other than a mentor.
We can be both mentor and mentee, but not with the same friend. We may know a mature believer who mentors us in God’s Word, while in turn, we take time to mentor a brand new follower of Christ.
Mutual friendships are quite different than mentoring friendships. These relationships don’t usually happen overnight. Typically, they develop over time as both friends progress in wisdom and spiritual maturity. A strong Christian friendship blossoms naturally when two friends grow together in faith, goodness, knowledge, and other godly graces.
5 Traits of True Christian Friends
So, what does a true Christian friendship look like? Let’s break it down into traits that are easy to identify.
Christian Friends Love Sacrificially
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (NIV)
Jesus is the finest example of a true Christian friend. His love for us is sacrificial, never selfish. He demonstrated it not only through his miracles of healing, but more fully through the humble service of washing the disciples’ feet, and then ultimately, when he laid down his life on the cross.
If we choose our friends based only on what they have to offer, we’ll rarely discover the blessings of a genuine friendship. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” By valuing your friend’s needs above your own, you’ll be on your way to loving like Jesus. In the process, you’ll likely gain a true friend.
Christian Friends Accept Unconditionally
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (NIV)
We discover the best of friendships with brothers and sisters who know and accept our weaknesses and imperfections.
If we’re easily offended or hold on to bitterness, we’ll have a hard time making friends. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes now and then. If we take a truthful look at ourselves, we’ll admit that we bear some of the blame when things go wrong in a friendship. A good friend is quick to ask forgivenessand ready to be forgiving.
Christian Friends Trust Completely
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (NIV)
This proverb reveals that a true Christian friend is trustworthy, indeed, but emphasizes a second important truth as well. We should only expect to share complete trust with a few loyal friends. Trusting too easily can lead to ruin, so be careful about putting your confidence in a mere companion. Over time our true Christian friends will prove their trustworthiness by sticking closer than a brother or sister.
Christian Friends Keep Healthy Boundaries
If you feel smothered in a friendship, something is wrong. Likewise, if you feel used or abused, something is amiss. Recognizing what’s best for someone and giving that person space are signs of a healthy relationship. We should never let a friend come between us and our spouse. A true Christian friend will wisely avoid intruding and recognize your need to maintain other relationships.
Christian Friends Give Mutual Edification
Wounds from a friend can be trusted … (NIV)
True Christian friends will build each other up emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Friends like to be together simply because it feels good. We receive strength, encouragement, and love. We talk, we cry, we listen. But at times we also have to say the difficult things our dearest friend needs to hear. Yet, because of the shared trust and acceptance, we are the one person who can impact our friend’s heart, for we know how to deliver the hard message with truth and grace. I believe this is what Proverbs 27:17 means when it says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
My hope is that these five traits will show you areas that may need a little work in your effort to build stronger friendships. But if you don’t have lots of close friends, don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember, true Christian friendships are rare treasures. They take time to nurture, but in the process we grow more Christlike.