True Friendship by Vaughan Roberts
We don’t talk about friendship enough. This is a sentence I’ve said many times, usually accompanied by a rant about the devaluing of friendship in media and Western society, and often received with a resigned eye roll. It is a subject I am passionate about, not just in terms of media but also in Christian teaching: for every word we say about friendship, there are hundreds of thousands about hospitality, or parenting, or marriage. However, towards the end of May, a few things happened in quick succession: I decided to make more of a conscious effort to prioritise media which prioritises friendship; I had a thought-provoking conversation with my Dad about the portrayal friendship in literature; and my church’s sermon series in Proverbs meant we had the privilege of an entire sermon dedicated to Biblical friendship. The sermon served as a great reminder that we need to devote more time to hearing what the Bible says about friendship, and the preacher recommended some great resources for doing so. I bought True Friendship from the bookstall afterwards, and I was so happy to be able to take some time to read more about the Biblical view of friendship.
Vaughan Roberts states at the beginning of True Friendship that his aim was to make this book accessible, and for it to be possible to be read in under an hour. However, he makes a plea for prayerful reading since, for all its briefness, this is a challenging book which includes helpful questions for reflection at the end of each chapter.
Roberts begins his look at friendship by taking the reader back to a central truth: our God is relational. From the friendship within the Trinity to the friendship between God and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Bible shows that humanity being made in God’s image includes a deep longing for relationship. A desire for close friendship is universal. Roberts states ‘let us certainly keep promoting marriage but, as we do so, let’s not forget the great emphasis the Bible also places on friendship’ (p. 36). I have to say, I found this reminder refreshing.
With this Biblical truth as a foundation, the challenge of the book comes in the middle chapters as Roberts describes what it means to be a true friend. Close friendship takes time, effort, and emotional investment. This definitely made me rethink my attitude towards my friendships: how often am I intentional about them? How selflessly do I give my time to my friends? How many of my friends would consider me someone they are able to turn to in hard times? Am I a friend who would stick by my friends in their worst moments? Am I a friend who points my friends always back to the good news of Jesus? Am I a friend who will humbly accept the criticism of a friend as we walk together in the gospel? I don’t know that I have answers to these questions, but I do know that my response should be to commit myself to intentionally love my friends.
However, Roberts concludes the book with an acknowledgement that human relationships are flawed. Human friendship cannot fully fulfil our longing for a perfect relationship, just as human marriage cannot fully fulfil our longing for a perfect relationship. The fulfilment of that longing is found in Christ alone. Roberts puts it in this way: ‘There can be no more constant friend. He has promised his disciples, ‘I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20), and God says, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5). Never! We have often let Christ down, but he is faithful.’ (p. 87)
Overall, this was a great book which challenged me to think a lot more intentionally about my friendships and the time I put into them. I know that I have failed many times in my friendships: I have said hurtful things; I have let jealousy get the better of me; I have been selfish with my time and energy. But Roberts gives us a great reminder that though we cannot hope to be true friends in our own strength, our relationships have hope through the love of God in Christ. I would definitely recommend this book as a starting point for anyone wanting to think through the Biblical view of friendship.