By Blair Parke, Crosswalk.com
King Solomon said it best when describing a genuine friendship in the book of Proverbs:
“A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17).
Friendships are born in a variety of ways and are meant to withstand the hardships of life. Some friendships may be born from already being family, while others may come from work, hobbies, or even through our children’s schooling.
Yet when it comes to genuine Christian friendships, these relationships are more than just our bond over shared recipes, playing games of golf, or that we work with them eight hours a day.
Genuine Christian friendships employ the need to love others as Jesus Christ loved us, displaying to our friends authentic love that comes from the example of our Savior.
These five characteristics represent the authenticity of Christian friendships that we all want to have but, may not know how to cultivate.
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1. Be Willing to Pray for Them … and Actually Do It
It is kind of seen as the quintessential statement that every Christian has uttered at least once. When people say they need prayer or have opened up about a hardship in their lives, we may be quick to say, “I’ll be praying for you.”
However, sometimes as much as we want to remember to pray for that person, life can distract us and we forget. The mark of a genuine Christian friendship comes when you make an effort not to forget a person’s prayer request.
Instead of just saying you will pray for that person, you follow through by either immediately praying for that person right then and there, or making a note in your prayer list to pray for them along with other requests. It also helps strengthen the reminder to pray by following up with the person to see if the request for prayer was answered by God.
“Therefore, comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).
2. Don’t View Prayer Requests as Reasons to Gossip
We enjoy the opportunity to come together to pray for someone we know, even mentioned in Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
However, sharing a prayer request with others means we should just pray for that person, not pry further into their personal business. Whether the person has shared what is going on or not, you should treat the prayer request as a secret that doesn’t need to be discussed unless the person is present or says you can discuss the matter with others.
Some may think that giving background information about the prayer request would make everyone more inclined to pray for this person, but it could instead cause people to share their opinions on the person’s struggle, and lessen the effectiveness of coming together in prayer for a friend in trouble.
Being discrete with prayer requests allows the person’s privacy to be honored and your friendship to stay authentic as more people join to lift them up in prayer.
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3. Offer Grace as God Gives Us Grace
It is evident that we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for God’s grace showered on our lives daily. And just as we are given grace freely by God, we should do the same with one another, especially our friends.
Jesus speaks of offering grace to each other in the book of Luke, stating that “just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). The apostle Paul, in Romans 10:12, also shares about giving love to one another: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”
When we remember that we have been given godly love and grace from our heavenly Father, not because we earned it but because it’s a gift, we can freely do the same for our friends. It isn’t because they gave us what we wanted and it’s now a transactional friendship, but it is instead one that is filled with love all the time.
4. Always Be Ready to Welcome a New Friend into the Group
Sometimes in friend circles (both non-Christian and Christian), some can adopt the mindset of having enough friends that you can’t make room for one more. However, as Christians, that is a toxic mindset that goes against everything Jesus stood for and God created us for.
We were created as relational beings, people who thrive in unity and love. So, when you don’t believe you have enough time to encourage a new friendship in your group or individually, you miss out on a connection that could be life-changing – for both the other person and for you.
King Solomon refers to this well in Proverbs 27:17, stating that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Even if you are the busiest person ever, the time you take to welcome someone new into your group of friends can bless you twofold in what that person can bring to the group in terms of faith, encouragement, and love. Plus, God may have brought you together at the exact time when you both needed to have your faith restored or be reminded of God’s love.
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5. Don’t Be Afraid of Honesty
Christian friendships can sometimes be built on similar interests, faith, and maybe even being able to carve out time together. But when a friendship can go deeper into being honest with one another about important matters, the friendship changes from superficial to genuine.
King Solomon again provides wisdom regarding the necessity of rebuking to redirect a person’s path back to God: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:5-6).
This does not give a person license to say whatever they want to a friend and believe that it is honest correction to help them. Any correction or rebuke you want to share with a friend needs to be taken to the Lord first, to determine if it is something He has led you to say to them, or if this is personal preference for you.
What does happen is that in being honest with a friend about something that concerns you, you are showing more of the love and care you have for them and the hope that this will be a healthy change for them. Even if they may not accept the correction right away, they will appreciate you saying this to them in a loving way as a friend.
Showing Christlike Love
As the saying goes, you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends. And with friends, they may eventually become your family. But genuine Christian friendships take on an entirely different purpose in our lives than other friendships.
These friendships always point toward the Lord and remind us of our need for God that overflows into how we treat one another.
Whether it is taking the time to showing Christlike love to a new friend, or taking the risk to be honest with a friend you care about, genuine Christian friendships surpass what society may see of superficial friendships. Through these friendships in faith, we can show others a relationship with depth and integrity.
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