By Abi Christian

Recapturing the Definition of Friend

I am a sucker for a good mystery. I like the adventure, the cloud of theories, and the clues unraveling to an end. I like the surprise, the discovery, and the revelation. That’s a bit how I feel when I discover God’s personality through the Bible.

In Genesis, the Bible calls God a creator; at other times God is a shepherd or a judge. Each name is a clue, revealing another facet of who God is.

But when I read about how Abraham is friends with God, I’m stumped. I struggle to understand what friendship with God means. It seems so common, devoid of mystery.

We use friend to refer to colleagues, soul mates, and the 200+ people who are connected to me on Facebook. I do not call anyone else my creator or my shepherd, but I do have plenty of friends. It would be no life-changing event to add God to the list. There is no mystery.

But in Exodus 33, there is that sense of adventure in Moses’ relationship with God. Moses begs God to show him God’s glory. And God does. God places Moses in the cleft of a rock to protect him because he could not withstand the sight of all God’s glory. Yet the Bible says that before this intense moment God spoke to Moses as to a friend.

“God’s definition of “friend” is far weightier than our culture sometimes defines it. God lives in friendship in the community of the Trinity, each knowing the others intimately and serving one another – the Father sacrificing the Son for creation, Jesus carrying out the Father’s will, and the Holy Spirit pointing people towards Jesus and guiding them towards revelations about God’s personality. Friendship with God is not automatic. It grows with our knowledge of God and with our response to serve.

Jesus Defines Friendship
In John 15:15, Jesus describes a change in our relationship with God as we grow and mature as Christians. He says, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what His master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father, I have made known to you.”

When Jesus invites us to explore who He is and learn what He is doing, we move towards a friendship with Him. We know Him and we’re eager to keep learning. We can do this because Jesus says we are already known by God first, who knows everything.

This doesn’t mean that friendship creates equality with God. Friendship is not concerned with status. In verse 13, Jesus says the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends. Friends esteem each other higher than themselves and the response is extreme sacrifice.

Christ esteemed us so highly that He humbled himself and died so that we could live eternally. To call God friend is to realize the worth that God gave me when Jesus died for me. To accept that friendship means we seek Him out and lay down our lives for Him in return.

I think Christ’s example is why we resonate with stories of sacrificial friendships, why we’re moved to tears when Sam follows Frodo into Mordor in The Lord of the Rings, when the biblical Jonathan risks his father’s anger to guide David to safety, and when the toy Velveteen Rabbit offers himself as comfort to his sick friend, though he may be burned later for carrying the disease.

None of the characters are on equal footing – Frodo is still Sam’s master, Jonathan is royalty, and the Velveteen Rabbit merely a toy. Yet the characters reflect what God intended friends to be for one another when He called Abraham and Moses “friend,” and when Jesus extended the invitation to us.

Friendship as a Witness
As Christians, when our friendships reflect the friendship that Christ demonstrates, people around us take notice. Our being vulnerable enough to be known and humble enough to serve can transform people when we reach out to them. This is how InterVarsity students engage their campuses. They witness through genuine friendships. As a result, more and more students are coming to know Christ.

This fall, Intervarsity chapters hosted on-campus events as part of their New Student Outreach. These events were fun, food-oriented gatherings, such as outdoor barbeques, movie nights, and Ultimate Frisbee games.

The point of these events was to begin connecting new students with Christians who are intentional about building godly friendships. With fall conferences coming up, these students will have the opportunity to consider Jesus’ invitation to friendship, to know and be known by Him, to recognize how He served us, and in return, serve Him.

One of my strongest college memories showed me that calling God a friend is not trite, but still full of mystery to be unraveled. One Monday night in the middle of fall semester, my InterVarsity chapter’s large group meeting ended, and I bumped into two girls from my small group. While joking around, we ended up sprawling on our backs in a triangle on the floor with our heads on another’s stomach.

When one of us laughed, our shaking stomachs would cause the other heads to bounce. It sent all three of us into fits of laughter. Eventually, we quieted down and our conversation turned quite serious. We reflected on the meeting, shared how we were hurting and what God was teaching us, prayed together, and asked what we could do for each other.

We were becoming known and learning more about each other than we had expected that evening, and it revealed significant opportunities for us to serve each other through difficult situations. I can never know what will happen next or what opportunities may arise for laying down my life for my friends, but true friendship is worth the risks.

Jesus’ invitation to friendship is ongoing. He desires us to be adventurous like Moses and continually ask for new discoveries about who He is. He also asks us how we will lay down our life for Him, our friend.