The Virtue of Friendship

Friendship needs no studied phrases,
Polished face, or winning wiles;
Friendship deals no lavish praises,
Friendship dons no surface smiles.

Friendship follows Nature’s diction,
Shuns the blandishments of art,
Boldly severs truth from fiction,
Speaks the language of the heart.

Friendship favors no condition,
Scorns a narrow-minded creed,
Lovingly fulfills its mission,
Be it word or be it deed.

Friendship cheers the faint and weary,
Makes the timid spirit brave,
Warns the erring, lights the dreary,
Smooths the passage to the grave.

Friendship–pure, unselfish friendship,
All through life’s allotted span,
Nurtures, strengthens, widens, lengthens,
Man’s relationship with man.

The ancients listed friendship among the highest of virtues. It was an essential element in the happy or fully flourishing life. “For without friends,” said Aristotle, “no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.” Words worth remembering in a world of perishable “goods,” and in a season when we can so easily put long lists together of more perishable goods we would like to unwrap on Christmas morning!

According to Aristotle, friendship either is, or it involves, a state of character: a virtue. There are three kinds of friendship argued for, with different bases: pleasure in another’s company (friendship of pleasure), usefulness in association (friendship of utility), or mutual admiration (friendships in virtue). All are essential to the good life, and the best sorts of friends will not only admire each other’s excellence, but take pleasure in each other’s company, and find their association of mutual advantage.

Steve Wilkins said in his wonderful book Face To Face that friends are not a luxury but a necessity. They are not optional but vital. God, in His mercy, does not save us in isolation from other people but rather in community with other people. If we are to be all that God commands us to be, we must realize that having godly relationships with friends is vital to the whole process.

Proverbs 18:1 says that “a man who isolates himself seeks his own desire, and rages against all wise judgment.” The isolated man does not realize what he is doing, but he is in grave danger. He needs friends! Why? To hold him accountable. To add to his joy. To spur him on to love and good works. For mutual sharpening of one another. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He that walks with wise men shall be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” Without godly friends, Scripture tells us we will spiral toward destruction. Godly friendship is absolute necessity because of how God created us (in His triune image, borne for community), the consequences of the fall, and the manner of God’s dispensing of His grace corporately.

All this talk about friendship of course reminds us of what a blessed thing it is to have a friend who sticks closer than a brother, our kinsman-redeemer, our truest holy Friend. Without Christ as our closest companion, we would be of all men to be most pitied. It is vitally important to have faithful companions for He is the One who is the ultimate companion and friend of His people. We need more Christians to live with one another in the manner of Christ: always with us, never leaving or forsaking, but rather causing us to grow in grace and faithfulness for the sake of God’s glory.

This is the kind of friend we need. This is the kind of friend we should seek to be. This is the kind of friendship we see all throughout the Christmas story during this season of Advent.

Have you ever thought about that? Have you seen friendship in the Advent narrative? The next post about friendship will be concentrating on seeing examples in that particular story arc. But as we ponder this throughout this current week, notice the friendliness or the friendships or the charity or the compassion… in short, notice the acts or words of one person toward another which shout: “now THAT is acting like a godly friend!” and be ready to ponder that anew with me next time.

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