As we might expect, the world’s definition of a good friendship is not quite the same as the Christian’s.
But they can look very similar at times. Just consider the fact that the Huffington Post (a non-Christian website) published an article titled, “11 Signs of a Genuine Friendship.” Among these signs were points that we would agree with even as believers: #2 explains the importance of pointing out each other’s flaws; #5 is about supporting one another in suffering; and #10 is about forgiveness.
Yet there are some essential things missing from worldly friendships that are absolutely necessary in godly ones.
First, godly friendships care about glorifying God above all. The top priority isn’t the health or happiness of the relationship, but honoring the name of the Lord–displaying His righteous character in everything we say and do.
Second, godly friends seek to benefit each other’s souls. And only a biblical worldview can tell us what the human soul needs: primarily, the gift of a reconciled, obedient heart that loves God and her neighbor as herself. Unbelievers who celebrate their friends’ rebellion and sin reveal that they are not true friends at all.
We can see these truths plainly enough. But what if, while in the midst of a Christian friendship, we find ourselves looking more and more like the world? It’s not hard to do. Maintaining rigorously godly friendships is tough business. It’s much easier to adapt to the world’s style, for the sake of convenience and enjoyment.
But the more we slide down that path, the more our Christian relationships lose their saltiness.
Jesus warns us: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matthew 5:13).
Why salt? Salt magnifies the taste of food and is a powerful preservative. Likewise, our lives as believers should be markedly different from those around us–seasoned with grace, and maintaining the distinct “savor” of the gospel. Our saltiness protects us and keeps us pure from the putrefying corruption of the world.
But if we allow worldliness to creep in and neutralize our saltiness, we will begin to lose the flavor of Christ in our relationships–rendering them useless and in danger of being “trampled underfoot.”
So how do we guard ourselves against this and ensure that God is glorified?
For one, we can examine our friendships more closely and see if we’ve established any unbiblical patterns. Here are nine indicators of a “salt deficiency” in our relationships:
1. We avoid correcting one another biblically, because approving seems nicer, easier, and safer.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:6)
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
At times, we must correct, admonish, and exhort one another to greater holiness. We are all sinners who require help in our sanctification. Friends who spend enough time around us can spot unbiblical behaviors that we’re too blind to see. Sin is deceitful, and we need all the help we can get to uncover it and put it to death. Sometimes, this correction requires confrontation, and pointing out sins to one another can be painful, embarrassing, and uncomfortable. But as long as it is done with love and gentleness, and with the aim of benefiting the other person’s soul, we need to embrace it rather than avoiding it.
It’s not loving to “kiss” our friends by ignoring or even approving of their sins for the sake of keeping the peace. It actually makes us enemies of each other.
2. We don’t mutually share the “work” of the relationship.
“A man who has friends must himself be friendly…” (Proverbs 18:24a)
“A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1)
We’ve probably all experienced it–a friendship that went south because we were the only ones trying to “make it work.” Or, perhaps, we were on the flip-side and failed to do our part to help the relationship thrive. Either way, we know that a God-glorifying friendship cannot survive if it is a one-sided effort. Both parties must initiate time together and offer biblical encouragement and comfort. If one person isolates herself, or always waits for the other to pursue the friendship, then it’s not going to succeed.
Now, we can’t be close friends with everyone! But it’s better to choose a small number of relationships to dig our roots into, rather than spreading ourselves too thin and neglecting the people in our lives.
3. We spend most of our time on fun and games, rather than spiritual edification.
“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” (Romans 15:2)
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17)
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)
The key here is balance. There is no need to completely avoid recreation in our friendships–we need laughter and joyful company. Fun and games do have their place in a healthy, biblical relationship. But they can also threaten to dominate and keep us from spending time in the Word and prayer together. In excess, those kinds of activities become harmful and dishonoring to Christ. If they are more prevalent than sharpening and stirring conversations, we need to reorder our priorities.
4. We discuss worldly topics much more than heavenly ones.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)
It can be so difficult to take our gaze away from the constant distractions and attractions of this world and to fix our eyes on Christ. Our faith is mostly invisible; it hasn’t yet become sight. Talking about heavenly things is not always easy, but we must pursue it– because wherever we focus our speech, our hearts will follow.
Need ideas for conversation? Consider meditating on a Bible passage together, discussing a theological doctrine and how it impacts our lives, or just praising the Lord and recounting His works–both in history and in our personal stories.
5. We drift apart because we aren’t walking in the same direction.
“Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3)
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
It’s a common but sad reality, that some who profess to be Christian end up departing from the faith. It’s even harder when one of those people happens to be a close friend. One day you’re on the same page, both seeming to love God’s Word and serve Him–and the next, your friend is denying the Lord and living unrepentantly like an unbeliever. In those cases, the relationship is almost bound to take a plunge.
While we should certainly call our friends to repentance and try our best to keep them from that path, we should also expect our friendship to change–or possibly even come to an end. The farther they walk in rebellion to the Lord, moving into darkness, the farther we will drift apart as we stay in the light.
Other times, relationships are strained, not because one person has left the faith, but because there are irreconcilable differences between the two friends, whether theological or not. Think of Barnabas and Paul and their sharp disagreement in Acts 15–they had to go separate ways, at least for a season, in order to preserve their own “saltiness.” So it is with us sometimes.
6. We neglect to carry each other’s burdens.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
If one of our friends is caught in sin, we should gently and lovingly restore her (Gal. 6:1). If she is troubled, we should comfort her; if she is in need, we should seek to assist her.
In our flesh, we can feel sometimes like we have enough on our plates to deal with–let her handle that situation on her own! But that’s not the Christlike way. Salty friendships are about loving our neighbors as ourselves. The more we carry for each other, the more we treat one another like Jesus, who carried our great burden of sin to the cross and suffered the Father’s wrath for it, to have it roll off our backs. Let’s not be so preoccupied with our own trials that we neglect to rejoice with the Body and weep with the Body. We are one in Christ.
7. We lack honesty and betray trust.
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him….” (Colossians 3:9-10)
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
As Christians, we should never lie. A lying tongue is a specific characteristic of Satan–who was a liar from the beginning (John 8:44)–and never of God, who “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). We are new creations and should be known for our truthfulness, just as Jesus is the Truth.
There’s no easier way to destroy a relationship than through lying. It crumbles every foundation of trust and loyalty, sometimes beyond repair.
But there are more subtle ways dishonesty can take away from the saltiness of our friendships. If we ask each other, “How are you? How’s your relationship with Christ?” we should respond truthfully. But all too often, we pretend to be much better than we are. We don’t want to confess our sins, so we hide them instead. We don’t seek the prayers of our friends because of our pride.
Of course, we can’t share everything with everyone. Discretion and wisdom are necessary here. But we also can’t be women who refuse to open up to other women for counsel and prayer. Nor can we lie for the sake of self-preservation or to avoid conflict. Let’s humble ourselves to be honest and speak the truth for the sake of our souls and God’s glory.
8. We refuse to forgive and forbear with one another.
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” (Colossians 3:12-13)
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” (1 Peter 4:8)
This is pretty straight-forward, isn’t it? Yet it can be so hard to forgive each other–to let go of the wrong that a friend has done against us, and not hold a grudge. When we struggle to forgive, we must remember how we’ve been forgiven–that our debt to God is infinitely greater than the debt our friend “owes” to us. This thought should soften our hearts and urge us to be reconciled, just as we’ve been reconciled to Christ by His blood.
Sometimes, this looks like the wrongdoer confessing her sins, and the offended party expressing forgiveness. But other times, we must display forbearance and long-suffering–by not pointing out every single thing our friend does that offends or annoys us, but “covering” over it with love.
These decisions are antithetical to our flesh, and our sin nature resists, wanting to become bitter, resentful, and quarrelsome–but we put it to death. We’ve been conquered by Christ and He alone rules over our hearts.
9. We are more self-centered than self-sacrificing.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16)
Jesus calls His disciples “friends” in John 15. They were no longer just servants, taking orders, but friends, with a real, dynamic relationship with Christ. And so it is with us. Isn’t that amazing?
Christ tells them the ultimate meaning of true friendship: laying down one’s life for another. And then He displays it–by laying down His precious life on the cross, so that we could receive new life in Him. How truly great a love He has bestowed upon us!
While we can’t necessarily die for one another physically, we can, on an everyday basis, die to our own desires and wants, and lovingly seek the best interests of our friends. We can be willing to suffer ridicule, embarrassment, and rejection in order to say or do what is right for them. And we can serve the whole church with a fervent, Christ-centered love that doesn’t insist on its own way, but seeks to glorify the Head of the church, Jesus Himself.
A FRIEND THAT STICKS CLOSER THAN A BROTHER
The truth is, we can do our best to preserve the “saltiness” of our friendships, and yet watch them fail as the other person refuses to commit to the same cause. At those times, we may feel lonely and abandoned.
Christ underwent this type of suffering. He was betrayed by one of His disciples, and the rest scattered and abandoned Him. He was left alone–though not truly alone, for the Father was with Him (John 16:32).
Let’s remember that Christ is our most loyal Friend, the one we should trust above all others. He loves us enough to discipline us for our good. He is eternally committed to His relationship with us. He gave up the pleasures of glory and the riches of earth to make Himself poor, so we could become rich. He strengthens us and directs our spiritual growth. He teaches us the truth, and He intercedes for us in heaven. He forgives us and is patient with us as we follow in His steps, from humiliation to glory. He truly is a friend who “sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24b).
Friends will disappoint us (and we will disappoint them). But Christ will never disappoint us, and it’s in Him that we place our hope. We also have a sinless eternity to look forward to, where our relationships will be perfect as we worship God together forever. Until then, we do the hard work of “salting” our friendships, knowing in the end, it’s always worth it–because Christ is glorified in us.