(By Heather Marshall)
One of the things that I have missed the most over the course of this pandemic is getting together with my friends. I know I’m not alone; I hear it from my husband, my kids, my colleagues, and the list goes on. The sentiment seems to be universal.
Yes, we’ve gotten creative and met up over Zoom for tea and facials, but it’s not really the same as meeting face-to-face. My kids' body language tells me they feel similarly: after meeting with their friends in person, they are smiling ear-to-ear.
Having friendships is proven to have a beneficial impact on your health and well-being. A few of the benefits that a Google search on friendship produced are: increased sense of belonging and purpose, boosted happiness and reduced stress, improved self-confidence and self-worth, helped coping with traumas, encouraged change or avoiding unhealthy lifestyle habits, etc.
Research also shows that adults with strong social connections have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure, and an unhealthy body mass index. In fact, studies have found that older adults who have meaningful relationships and social support are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.
Why is friendship so vital to our health and well-being? God designed us as social beings with a need for community and each other. He created Eve so that Adam would not be alone. God knew that we would need each other.
Having godly friendships is sweet. Proverbs 27:9 describes it like this, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” And Psalm 133:1 reiterates the pleasantness of unity in friendship, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
The secular world understands and celebrates the importance of friendship and has even dedicated the entire month of February as International Friendship month. I believe that as Christians we have greater reason to celebrate our friendships with fellow believers, because we are not just friends but also brothers and sisters in Christ. With God as our Father, we are members of His eternal family (1 John 3:1-2).
There are many examples of friendships that we can explore on the pages of Scripture. Jonathan and David, Job and his friends, Elijah and Elisha, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Timothy, and so on. A Biblical example of friendship that caught my attention was one where the 5 friends are unnamed — can you guess the friendship?
Yes! It’s the friendship of the 4 men that carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing. (Matthew 9, Mark 2, and Luke 5). The Scriptures don't implicitly tell us that these 5 men were friends, but can you imagine complete strangers investing that much effort to get this man to Jesus and then muscling their way through the crowds only to lift the man onto the roof and lower him down to Jesus? For sure these men had to be friends.
A significant hallmark of friendship is going out of your way for the best interest of your friend. These men were seeking the best for their friend; they had heard that there was someone who could heal their friend and they made every effort to get him to see this man even at their own expense.
Proverbs 27:17 puts it this way, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” As these men carried their friend, they experienced the tension of the sharpening iron, but in the end, they all experienced blessing. Their friend was forgiven and healed and they met Jesus and witnessed an amazing miracle. It even says in Luke that Jesus took note of the faith of these 4 friends!
One of the best things that we can do as faithful friends is to bring our friends to Jesus. We can do this in a variety of ways. Firstly, we can pray diligently for our friends. In the epistle of James we are told to pray for one another (James 5:16). And in the book of Job we see that “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10). Job’s friends had not been kind to him through his trials and yet he was willing to forgive them and pray for them.
We can also bring our friends to Jesus through our actions and words. Showing compassion, kindness, and forgiveness in our relationships. “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone” (Colossians 3:12-13).
It’s fun to get creative with practical ways to bless our friends — sending a letter or a text with encouragement from Scripture, inviting friends to your home for a special meal, offering to babysit your friends’ children so they can have a date night, going for a walk together, studying the Bible together, sitting to listen when your friend needs to talk, etc. The ideas are plentiful and simply require a willing heart and open hands.
The 4 friends who brought their friend to Jesus had willing hearts and they opened their hands to lift their friend and carry him to the most important person he would ever meet. We can do this too. Just like these men carried their friend, the Bible says that we should carry one another’s burdens. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
They shared the load and got their friend to their destination. It must have taken teamwork, problem-solving, and communication to get their friend onto that roof and then lowered down in front of Jesus. They were determined in their resolve for their friend. The strength of their friendship is aptly described in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up…Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Sisters, as beloved daughters of God may we have willing hearts and open hands to be the kind of friends that these men were to their paralyzed friend. They brought him to Jesus, and as Luke 5:20 says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” They were faithful friends to this man so he could become friends with Jesus!
We are also friends with Jesus, the One who had a willing heart toward us and opened His hands outstretched on the cross so we could be His friends. He truly demonstrated His own words, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).