A friend loves at all times. – Proverbs 17:17a
Regardless of gender, ethnicity, or marital status, everyone needs a true friend.
According to Aristotle (and widely accepted both in the ancient world, and by the pre-Enlightenment church), there are three levels of friendship:
1. Pleasure: friendship based on entertainment. These are the people we like to hang out with, have fun with.
2. Purposeful friendships are ones that are mutually beneficial, like, for example, work friends, colleagues, or book club friends.
3. Virtuous or spiritual friendships are the highest form of friendship. Virtuous friendships are unconditional – they last even during times when they are not entertaining or personally beneficial. In virtuous friendships, friends always want what is best for the other person. In a biblical context, these friendships encourage Christlikeness in the other. It’s the kind of friendship Paul appears to have had with Timothy and that Jonathon had with David.
Friendship is good. Friends are gifts from God. It’s good to have pleasure friends, people to hang out with, shoot hoops with, have a beer with. It’s good to have purposeful friendships in our workplaces and neighborhoods. But pleasure and purposeful friendships are usually not life-long.
Spiritual or virtuous friendships are valuable and rare. They are lasting. To be gifted with spiritual friendship – a person who loves you unconditionally, who will speak truth to you nonjudgmentally, who has your back, who always encourages you into deeper spirituality, around whom you become your best self – is truly a blessing.
With a spiritual friend, you can be entirely open, honest, and vulnerable. You can, as my oldest and best friend says, emotionally vomit all over them, and they don’t mind. A spiritual friend will never gossip about you or betray you. They will point you consistently to Jesus and walk with you through anything and everything. They will love you with a pure heart, affirm you, accept you, listen deeply to you, and empathize with your feelings. Spiritual friends like you for you. They aren’t trying to change you. They aren’t in it for what they can get out of it. They enjoy being with you, but aren’t just there because you make them laugh. A spiritual friend’s heart is knit to yours, and yours to theirs.