Today, we have more ways of communicating with one another than ever before – texting, IMing, email, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook … the list goes on and on. But many people are feeling isolated and don’t feel like they have any true friends. People who regularly attend church are not immune to this trend. Some people have been a regular attendee of a church for years, and still do not have anyone who they feel is a true friend.

This isolation is not the way the body of Christ is supposed to work. Followers of Jesus should be so connected that if one person is hurting or in need, then the others should know about it. Hey, that kind of sounds like a good friend. But how can you make friends in such a busy, distracted world?

Most people would be surprised to hear that Jesus actually gave some instructions on just that – being and making friends. Jesus states in John 15:12-16 that being friends with your fellow human beings partially fulfills his command to love one another, just as Jesus loved you.

But if you stop and think about it, being friends with a person is difficult. For starters, just getting to the point where you feel comfortable enough to tell them what is really going on in your heart is usually a long journey. And then things happen. You do things; they do things; you say things; they say things; feelings get hurt – staying friends is difficult. Many times, people wind up without any close friends.  They may have a wide array of people that they know, but no one really gets to know them and can’t be counted on when things get rough. Is this Jesus’ design for your spiritual journey? I don’t think so!

So did Jesus say anything helpful, or was he just giving a command to be followed no matter what? Actually, Jesus did give his followers two things right in these verses that are very helpful in making friends. The first is something that happens when a friendship is developing, but people don’t usually think about it. Notice what Jesus says: “A slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything…” So, becoming friends with another person involves self-disclosure. In other words, you have to reveal things about yourself to the other person. This seems obvious, but in reality, it is very difficult to pull off.

Let’s think about an example. You have the typical college “friends” who go out, drink some beer, talk, argue and supposedly have a good time. But when you look a little closer at the communication in those types of encounters, it usually involves things that are very superficial. Things like sporting events, your favorite foods, your favorite music, etc., but there is very little sharing of your emotional life. In fact, you can talk about those types of things such as sports and music for years, and never progress into a deeper relationship where you actually reveal yourself emotionally to the other person. You are in the “drinking buddies” phase. You have not really made a friendship with that person.

Compare that dynamic with sitting on a secluded park bench with someone you feel comfortable around. There in the solitude of the park, you share something about yourself that you haven’t told anyone else. It could be something you are scared of, or something that happened to you in the past, or simply something that is unique to you, but that “something” is so precious to you that you don’t let anyone else know about it. But for whatever reason, today is different. Today, you tell about this emotional thing that is a closely kept secret about yourself. And that person listens carefully to what you are saying and understands how you feel. And accepts you just as you are. And something happens in your soul. You feel a closeness to that person you have rarely felt before. Now you have a friend! And the difference between “drinking buddies” and “friends” is how much you reveal about yourself.

But that isn’t the only helpful thing Jesus had to say about being friends. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.” But what does laying down your life look like in the context of a friendship? If we think about what Jesus did, it should give us some insight about how friendships work. Jesus was God in Heaven, secure with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but he left all of that to take on the body of a man and die for all humanity. Jesus became a servant. He served everyone. He opened the way for everyone to follow him if they wanted to. So Jesus purposefully chose to pursue a path that was inconvenient and uncomfortable for the good of others. To be a friend, you need to do the same thing.

How does laying down your life for your friend look with the two people talking on the park bench? The person who is listening lays aside their need to talk. Instead, they serve their friend by actively listening and trying to the best of their ability, to emotionally feel what their friend is feeling and understand what their friend is telling them. Laying down your life like that is painful. It costs you something to listen and try to understand. It hurts you and everyone naturally tries to avoid pain. To put it bluntly, being a friend means laying aside your comfort and pleasure for the good of the other person.

Laying down your life is a blessing and a curse. When the other person is serving you in that way, it feels oh so good! But when it is your turn to serve them, it feels like death itself.

So, what have we learned? Making friends requires two things: self-revelation and laying down your life for your friend. Both of those things are uncomfortable. If you follow the course of least resistance, you will choose to do neither. But choices have consequences. If you are not willing to do both of those things, you will be isolated and never experience loving one another in the way Jesus designed you to experience it. The choice to make friends also has consequences. Having a true friend is like adding color to a black and white film. It gives the thirsty soul a drink of the most quenching water available. It gives you strength when you don’t have the will to go on. It gives you joy, even when you are walking through the desert. Having a true friend is worth the cost because it makes you rich.

How can church leaders help? For one, how about completely rethinking your small group ministry based on whether or not real friendships are being formed? How about incorporating two explicit goals into all of your Sunday school classes and small groups? Those goals would be to 1) encourage emotional sharing and 2) laying down your life for the other people in the group.

A couple practical suggestions – one not to do compared with one to do. Showing up to a small group for the first time is challenging. It is hard to be in a group of people you don’t know. Usually people try to make small talk, but long, awkward silences are common. How about giving people a friendship building exercise right at the start of the meeting to help them form friendships?

Here is the exercise to NOT do! “Hi, everyone. Let’s get started. Tonight we are going to have a little trivia game. Let’s see who can answer the most questions in a row about baseball?” Then the leader asks questions about baseball and sees who in the crowd can answer these questions. Sounds kind of fun if you like baseball. But does it help build relationships? NO! It does not help people reveal something about themselves, and it does not encourage you to lay down your life for others.

So here is a suggestion of what to do. “Hi everyone. Let’s get started. Please break up into groups of three to four and then go around the group and let everyone tell the others in the group about their favorite pet. If you don’t have a pet, tell what you would want to have for a pet.” How does this compare with the other exercise? First, you put people in an even smaller group where it is more likely they can form a friendship. Secondly, what you had them talk about is naturally an emotional subject. People love their pets. Thirdly, it is a safe subject. People are usually comfortable sharing about their pet with anyone. Fourthly, if people find out they have something in common with the other person, it sets the stage for them to have something to talk about at future meetings. None of those things happened with the sports trivia exercise.

So, being and having good friends is part of Jesus’ command to love one another. The joy of having a good friend will make you a rich person. Go make some friends.


Jeff Smith is the author of Born to Believe: Understanding the Bible and You. You can see more about Born to Believe at

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