“Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words.”
~ George Eliot
In a previous post, I asked the question, what constitutes a true friend? I thought the responses were great. They were so good I’d encourage you to read them all.
As promised, I’m going to answer the question also.
Let me first say that friendship is paramount to me. I cherish my friends, and I’m always open for God to forge new friendships in my life. For me, friendship is one of the most treasured things in life.
I can’t prove this, but I have a notion that I haven’t yet met the people who will end up being some of my closest friends.
Jesus once said to His disciples:
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
So what makes a true friend?
According to Aristotle, there are three kinds of friendships: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of the good. I think these categories work, but I’m going to put Aristotle’s ideas in my own language.
Three Types of Friendships
- Friendships of Usefulness: I have friends who I never hear from except when they need something. Usually it’s once a year. I’ll get an email from them asking me to endorse or promote their new book. That’s about as deep as it goes. They are “friends of usefulness.” I’ll admit, I sometimes find such annual requests irritating as I’d like to be better friends with some of these people. But it is what it is. Business partners, coworkers on the job, and classmates often fit into this category.
- Friendships of Mutual Interest: The glue of this kind of friendship is a particular kind of shared enjoyment. Think of fishing buddies, or exercise buddies, or golf buddies. You and your friend share a common interest or pleasure, and that’s where your friendship is rooted. If you lose interest in that common pleasure, the friendship ends.
- Friendships of Virtue. The glue that holds this sort of friendship together is the mutual respect you have for one another. Such respect may even rise to admiration. You value one another as people, and you enjoy one another’s company. You are their friend, not for how they can benefit you or how they can bring you pleasure, but simply because you like them. This is the highest form of friendship.
Going beyond Aristotle’s three categories, there’s a fourth kind of friendship. It’s what I call a “close” friendship. Others would use the word “true” friendship to describe it. Though I don’t think the kinds of friendship listed above are “false.” Not all friendships of virtue are close friendships. But all close friendships are also friendships of virtue.
Five Characteristics of a Close (True) Friend
- A close friend rejoices in your joys and sorrows over your pains. A true friend is not just sympathetic, they are empathetic. They share your feelings, weeping with you when you weep and rejoicing with you when you rejoice.
- A close friend won’t defriend you if you disagree. Friendships are tested when there is a disagreement. But true friends don’t cut you off because of it. They may tell you what they think you need to hear and vice versa. But they will do it in such a way where you can receive it. The reason is because you know they love you unconditionally more than they love their views.
- A close friend stays in regular contact with you. I have friends who contact me from time to time and vice versa (once or twice a year). We regard each other as good friends. But a close friend this doth not make. Close friends communicate fairly regularly.
- A close friend is someone whom you trust implicitly. They have earned your trust. Consequently, you don’t doubt that they have your back. And you don’t fear that they will stab you in the back. You trust them enough to confide in them about highly private and confidential matters. Close friendship brings with it disclosure (John 15:15).
- A close friend will stand by you, defend you, even take a bullet for you when you’re under attack. To my mind, this is perhaps the highest measure of friendship or one of the rock-bottom “tests.” The posture of a true friend is, “If you hurt my friend, you’ve hurt me.” It is never, “Well, that person never did anything to hurt me, so it’s not my issue.” This attitude is what separates goats from black sheep. True friends stand with and stand up for each other. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once put it, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”