Biblical Keys to Truly Healthy Companionship
By LESLIE LUDY
As I watched Eric’s red Toyota Camry pull out of my parents’ driveway, my heart soared with spiritual inspiration. It was the third time that Eric had driven me home from the music studio where we were both taking lessons. And each time, our conversation during the 45-minute car ride had been deeply stirring. For the past year, I’d been seeking to build my life around Jesus Christ rather than just fit Him in when it was convenient. Every area of my life had radically changed as a result. I had gone from having a large circle of friends to having very few people my age that I could truly connect with. It was difficult to find friends who were as passionate about spiritual things as I was, let alone to find friends who pointed me toward Jesus Christ instead of distracting me from Him. But the more I got to know Eric, the more I realized he was one of those rare few.
Every time I was around him, I found that his fiery spiritual passion was contagious. All my conversations with Eric seem to steer toward one singular topic — Jesus Christ. His love for Jesus profoundly inspired me. After I had spent time around Eric I nearly always found myself on my knees with my Bible in my lap, seeking to know and love Jesus the way that he did.
Later when God began to write our love story, my dad made an observation about our friendship. “I have no doubt your relationship with Leslie is God-honoring,” he said to Eric, “because ever since you have been in her life, she has grown closer to Jesus Christ as a result of your influence on her.”
With that simple statement, my dad enunciated the secret to being a Christ-honoring friend.
Whether in a friendship or a romantic relationship, our human tendency is to want to take first place in the other person’s heart. But a truly godly friend is one who adopts the same heart attitude that John the Baptist had when he declared, in essence, “I am only the friend of the bridegroom; not the Bridegroom Himself; when the Bridegroom is seen, my joy is complete” (Jn. 3:29-29, paraphrase). A truly Christ-centered friend considers it their greatest joy to point the other person toward Jesus Christ and not to themself.
We live in a world where selfish, emotionally-driven relationships are the norm. But I’d like to share three biblical principles that can help us follow John the Baptist’s example in pointing our friend’s hearts to Jesus Christ instead of to ourselves.
After all, who better to teach us how to be a truly excellent friend than the Friend who sticks closer than a brother? (See Proverbs 18:24.)
Friendship Principle #1:
Fasten Your Friends to Christ
Many years ago there was a friend in my life who constantly reached out to me in order to unburden her soul. Whether it was an argument she’d had with a family member, an unexpected financial challenge, or anger over a friend’s insensitive behavior, I was sure to get an ear-full of her frustrations no matter what time of day or night it might be.
I believed that the most loving and spiritual thing I could do was to be available to her and be a listening ear whenever she needed it. But the time demands of this friendship eventually began to take a toll on my relationship with God and other important relationships in my life. Something needed to change.
I’d always thought that being a good listener meant being available to my friends 24 hours a day, always ready to help them process whatever struggle they might be going through. But a closer look at Scripture showed me that I was actually doing more harm than good by never putting boundaries around my friends’ access to me.
Psalm 62:8 gives a very clear directive about how to “process” our emotions and difficulties: “Trust Him at all times … Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (emphasis added).
In making myself available for my friend to pour out her heart to me whenever she wanted, I was robbing her of the opportunity to first and foremost pour out her heart to God in her hour of need. I had unwittingly allowed my friend to develop an unhealthy emotional dependence upon me, which caused her to look to the wrong source for the comfort and perspective she needed. I thought I’d been pointing her to Christ because I always encouraged her with truth. But in reality, I was standing in the way of her intimacy with Him.
It’s been said that throughout Charles Spurgeon’s preaching ministry, people would often approach him at the end of his messages, wanting to pray with him, share their burdens, and get right with God. His response was always the same, “Wonderful. Meet me in my office tomorrow morning at seven o’clock.”
Sometimes other Christians questioned Spurgeon’s approach. Shouldn’t he meet with these men and women the moment they showed an interest in getting right with God? Didn’t it make sense to “strike while the iron was hot” and make the most of their piqued interest and spiked emotions?
But Spurgeon’s response was always the same. “If it is truly the Spirit of God working in their hearts, it will be just as real at seven o’clock tomorrow morning as it is tonight.”
What may have seemed “unspiritual” in his approach actually became a source of great strength in his ministry. His converts were the real deal because he knew how to fasten souls to Christ rather than letting human emotion lead the way.
Amy Carmichael took a similar approach in her ministry and daily relationships. She wrote, “If I slip into the place that can be filled by Christ alone, making myself the first necessity to a soul instead of leading it to fasten upon Him, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
This is the opposite approach many of us take into our friendships. It’s so easy to want to be the person that a friend runs to whenever she’s going through something difficult; to become that one special person that she can really talk to; to be the one she pours out her heart to.
Offering support, help, comfort, and encouragement to a friend can be a wonderful way to showcase Christ’s love to her. The danger comes when we allow our friendship to become a replacement for her intimate relationship with Jesus Christ; when we fail to fasten her soul to Christ and instead allow her to fasten her soul to us. The Bible says that we are to “cast all our cares” on Christ because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). When we encourage our friends to cast their cares on us instead, we rob them of the amazing opportunity to take their needs to the God of all comfort.
(It’s important to note that the reverse is also true. When we rush to pour out our hearts to our girlfriend the moment that something difficult happens in our life, we forget that our dearest Friend and Comforter is longing for us to make Him our refuge, our first turn, and our very present help in trouble.)
The reality is that we can never take the place of Christ in a person’s life. And we can never expect a fellow human to provide the soul-level comfort and peace that only Christ can give. Friendships can only be healthy when each person seeks to fasten the other to Christ instead of to herself. If we fail to make Christ the first turn, our friendships will actually hinder intimacy with Christ rather than strengthen it.
If a friend comes to you with an emotional crisis or struggle, resist the temptation to try to be her savior. Jesus Christ is the only One who has the answer she needs. Certainly it is a good idea to listen, to pray with her, and to encourage her with truth. But your ultimate goal should be to point her back to God’s Word and encourage her to take her cares to Jesus Christ. Do not allow your friends to develop an unhealthy emotional dependence on you while leaving their relationship with Christ on the back burner.
Oswald Chambers set a great example in this area. One evening a woman who heard him preach came up to him and said, “Mr. Chambers, I need to tell you everything about myself.” Instead of sitting down and listening to the woman’s life story, he took an unexpected approach. He asked if the woman had ever told God all about herself. The woman said she had not. “Well, go home and first tell God everything about yourself,” he told her, “and you can come back and talk to me next week if you still need to.”
It may seem unfeeling to encourage someone to pour out their heart to God instead of to us. But it’s actually one of the most loving things we can do in a person’s life. The God of all comfort is waiting to meet their every need. Let us not stand in His way by letting others cling to us instead of Him.
Friendship Principle #2:
Adopt a Friendship Code of Conduct
Christ-centered friendships within the Body of Christ are part of God’s design for us as believers. But our friendships must be built upon Christ’s nature and truth or they will quickly become a hindrance to our spiritual lives. The enemy of our souls would love nothing better than to pervert our friendships into sinful, fleshly stumbling blocks rather than life-giving blessings to our Christian walk.
For me, it has been crucial to adopt a “friendship code of conduct” as I seek to interact with my friends in a Christ-centered way. It’s not a complicated code, just a few non-negotiable principles from God’s Word.
At the top of the list is a strict no-gossip policy. Gossip is one of the biggest tripping points in most Christian friendships, especially among women. The more comfortable we become around our friends, the easier it is to freely share criticism towards others or “spicy news” that we hear on the rumor chain.
But gossip is not a light thing to God. Here is just a quick glimpse at what He has to say on the matter:
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV
The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous … whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others. Psalm 15: 2-3 NIV
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. Proverbs 16:28 NIV
In order for our female friendships to truly be healthy and Christ-centered, we cannot allow even a hint of gossip to venture into our conversations. One of Amy Carmichael’s key principles for her female relationships was, “the absent must be safe with us.”
How do we put this principle into action? By God’s grace, we must refuse to give gossip even one moment of our time or attention. As soon as you feel a temptation to speak ill of another person, call upon the grace of God to say no to that bait; to keep your mouth shut, even when the temptation to speak words against someone else is extremely strong. Just because you have strong feelings (i.e. hurt or frustration toward someone) does not mean you need to act upon those feelings. My favorite quote by Elisabeth Elliot says this: “Obedience to God is always possible. It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them.” Remember, God is ready and willing to enable us with every bit of strength and self-control we need, if we call upon Him.
The same is true for listening to gossip in any form. When women share difficult things they have walked through to ask for my advice or prayer, I always ask them not to share specific names or details about the situation. Why? Because I don’t want to be participating in gossip under the banner of “just being a good listener.” I have found that I can be just as effective — if not more so — in sharing truth without needing to know all the details about who said and did what.
The moment you are aware that someone is attempting to place even the tiniest morsel of gossip in front of you, call upon the grace of God to say an immediate and decisive no even if it causes social awkwardness. Never forget that disobeying God is far worse than offending the person who is attempting to pull you into sin. So even if it seems rude, be ready to cut gossip off before it even starts.
I’ve had to learn the hard way that taking a stand against gossip does not mean waiting politely until you’ve heard all the “dirt” the other person wants to share, and then attempting to sheepishly tell them you don’t want to continue the conversation. Rather, it means cutting them off and boldly saying, “I’m sorry but I don’t want to hear this, please stop right now” before the person even has a chance to get started. It means literally walking away if they refuse to stop gossiping. And it means withdrawing from friendships that are pulling you into gossip. Yes, this can be hard to do. But don’t forget, gossip and slander are something that God hates. If you truly call upon Him for help in every gossip temptation you face, He is ready to supply you with all the strength you need to follow His pattern.
Another key part of my “friendship code of conduct” is to be guarded with physical touch. We typically think of physical purity and guardedness as applying mainly to male/female relationships, but in this day and age, we must be watchful over our physical interactions even with our girlfriends. As it says in Romans 1:26, sensual touch between women is unnatural and dishonoring to God’s pattern.
It is perfectly appropriate to give a friendly hug to a friend or put your arm around her shoulder to comfort her while she is crying. But we must be on guard against sensual forms of affection because this kind of touch is meant to be within the context of a covenant marriage relationship. Another reason to be guarded in this area is because showing excessive physical affection in your friendships can cause others to stumble inwardly. And as it says in Romans 14:13, we are to be resolved not to be a stumbling block in another’s way.
I’ve also resolved that my even my closest friendships should never make others feel overlooked or left out. Amy Carmichael wrote, “If … I seek to attach a friend to myself, so that others are caused to feel unwanted; if my friendships do not draw others deeper in [to Christ] then I know nothing of Calvary love.” How much heartache could be avoided if we all lived by this principle throughout our lives? Most of us can remember the sting of being rejected or excluded when exclusive friendships formed around us in our childhood. And sadly, this still happens in adult friendships all too often because of simple insensitivity. We must never forget that while Jesus shared a special connection with His disciples, He was never insensitive to the needs the multitudes around Him — from the woman at the well to the little child who came to sit on His lap. I’ve learned that if I overlook the needs of those around me because I’m more concerned with enjoying certain “special friendships,” I am not following Christ’s example of selfless love.
I encourage you to take these areas before God and adopt your own “code of conduct” among your friends. When you take a clear stand in your own soul against these common tripping points, you will be far less likely to take any bait the enemy might be putting in front of you as you interact with the women in your life.
Friendship Principle #3:
Don’t Fear Loneliness
If you truly seek to honor Christ in your friendships, you may find that you have fewer friends than other women have. Our culture teaches us to avoid loneliness at all costs. As a result we often compromise our spiritual beliefs in order to gain new friends or hold onto friendships we already have. But nothing is worth jeopardizing our relationship with Jesus Christ. Even if we have to walk through seasons of feeling very alone, He is worth it. And the Bible says that He wants to be our “All in all,” especially in seasons of loneliness.
It’s important to put clear boundaries around the amount of time that we spend with our friends so that we don’t fear times of aloneness. There was a time in my life when I felt uncomfortable and insecure if I didn’t have a friend by my side or on the phone with me. God had to wean me from the incessant need to be constantly surrounded by people, and teach me how to walk through seasons of loneliness, drawing strength and confidence from my relationship with Him.
It’s always fun having someone to do life with — coffee shop visits, shopping days, and outdoor adventures are more enjoyable when you have someone to share them with. But spending all our waking hours with friends is not healthy. Christ desires to give us a confidence and contentment that flows from our relationship with Him. Psalm 16:11 says that “in His presence is fullness of joy.” If we are always in the presence of our friends, we never have time to be alone in the presence of our King. We end up looking to our friends’ company for security and peace rather than finding it first and foremost in Jesus Christ. When our life revolves around time with our friends, we can get to the point where we cannot function as individuals or make decisions outside of their influence and opinion. Prayerfully consider how much time you spend with your friends. If you find that the majority of your free time is spent with them and very little is spent in the presence of your King, then ask God to re-build your habits in this area.
Practice going places on your own, ignoring your phone for an evening, shutting off your computer, and turning your gaze upon Jesus. Learn how to be “on your own with Jesus” and allow Him to show you that in His presence is the fullness of joy. And when you spend time with your friends, be sure that it is not something you look to or lean on as a primary source of happiness or security. Because truly, those things are found only in the truest Friend we will ever have.
The greatest pattern for friendship was set in place for us by Jesus Christ. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (Jn. 15:13-14).
Who better to teach us how to build strong healthy friendships than the Author of friendship Himself? When we look to His Word instead of the patterns of pop-culture, we discover friendships as they were truly intended to be — a reflection of the beautiful, edifying fellowship we have with our King.