Perhaps we should begin our discussion by defining what a friend is. A basic dictionary definition states that a friend is a person you know well and regard with affection and trust. Arthur Ashe, the famous tennis player, once said, “We must reach out our hand in friendship and dignity both to those who would befriend us and those who would be our enemy.” And Oprah Winfrey, the famous television celebrity, once said, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
If someone asked us the question, “What is a friend?” we would each have our own personalized definition. Some people base their friendships on certain criteria, but there are others who find it easy to befriend anyone they meet along life’s pathways.
Personally, my friendships are not based on religious beliefs, cultures, backgrounds, national origins, race, or any other such thing. They never have been, and I humbly pray that they never will be. For example, because a person does not practice the same religious beliefs as I do, have the same political views as I do, or view the world in general the same way that I do, is not a valid reason to exclude that person from being my friend. I humbly believe that we all have our free agency and how someone chooses to live their life, or what they choose to believe, is strictly their choice. Who am I to judge or condemn my brother? For he too is a child of God and is deserving of love and friendship.
I am also reminded of the example that the Savior set before us. During His earthly ministry He did not spend all of His time with only those who believed on Him and what He was teaching. Instead, He spent a large part of His time among the sinners and publicans, and as you will recall, was often criticized and ridiculed for doing so. I believe that He was teaching us all the valuable lesson that regardless of a person’s lot in life, or what they believe, they are all children of God, and we are to “owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). “By this shall all men know that [we] are [His] disciples, if [we] have love one to another” (John 13:35).
There are some friends whom we consider truly special. They are one of a kind friends. Friends that we cherish forever. As someone has wisely stated:
Sometimes in life, you find a special friend. Someone who changes your life just by being a part of it. Someone who makes you laugh until you can’t stop. Someone who makes you believe that there really is good in the world. Someone who convinces you that there really is an unlocked door just waiting for you to open it. This is forever friendship. When you’re down and the world seems dark and empty, your forever friend lifts you up in spirit and makes that dark and empty world suddenly seem bright and full. Your forever friend gets you through the hard times, the sad times and the confused times. If you turn and walk away, your forever friend follows. If you lose your way, your forever friend guides you and cheers you on. Your forever friend holds your hand and tells you that everything is going to be okay. And if you find such a friend, you feel happy and complete because you need not worry. You have a forever friend, and forever has no end.
Now, with that being said, there should still be a certain amount of wisdom and discernment used in choosing who we call our friends. Sadly, not everyone who says that they are our friend, is our friend. There are some people who will claim they are our friends to our face, but the moment we turn our backs, they drive the daggers in as far and as deep as they can. They smile in our faces, but when they around others, they belittle, berate, ridicule and scorn us to shame. These people are actors on their own stage and wear false masks of friendship. And just as the actors in the ancient Greek theatrical world wore their false masks and were referred to as hypocrites, these people are referred to likewise.
If it is true that one whom you call a friend is behaving in such a way, then I would counsel to distance yourself from that person. Notice that I said distance yourself – not hate. There is a vast difference in distancing oneself from someone because of a lack of trust and confidence, and hating someone for those same reasons. Just because we may no longer directly associate with someone, we still have a duty and responsibility as Christians (followers of Jesus Christ) to love that person. Hear the words of the Savior as recorded in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” And in Romans 12:10 we are taught to be “kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” And so beloved, “let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. . . . if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:7, 11).
I close this treatise with the words of Solomon as recorded in Proverbs 18:24 when he said, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” I share these thoughts and leave them with you humbly in the name of that Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. Even the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.