Take a moment to think about your closest friends. What makes these people so special to you?
Researchers say that we pick our friends based on an unconscious idea that they will support us in our own time of need. At first hearing, it sounds a bit selfish. And, actually, it’s not all that different from how nations select their friends – or allies. I help you, and you help me.
As we look back on the past year, it’s likely that friends played a critical role in helping us get through it. Maybe there’s something to what the researchers say. We do tend to gravitate toward those who build us up.
Over the last several months, I – like many others – have felt isolated and disconnected from meaningful relationships. Recently, I’ve been able to reconnect with several friends that I had missed – friends from college I had really lost touch with. My wife has experienced this same thing, going from communicating with her closest friends from college sporadically via text to having Zoom calls every few weeks.
Most of the past year, we’ve attended church virtually. While I’ve seen many friends on a screen and stayed in touch via social media and text, it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve had real conversations on the phone or in person with some of these Christian brothers and sisters.
Even though I find myself getting more introverted the older I get, this process has been a reminder for me: we all have a hunger to have meaningful relationships in our lives. Friends feed us and refresh us.
Paul writes about the importance of friendships – in particular, his friendship with Onesiphorus – in his second letter to Timothy
“May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.” (2 Timothy 1:16-18
Onesiphorus is not a guy you hear about a lot. Most of us, myself included, are not even sure we can pronounce his name properly. And yet, the impact he made on one of the most influential Christians in history is forever recorded in Scripture.
We all appreciate the benefit of a good friend. But, do we also know how to be one? Here are a few lessons from Onesiphorus to help us be a good Christian friend.
We should be proactive and intentional. Paul says that Onesiphorus “searched for me earnestly and found me” (verse 17). If you want to have good friends in your life, you need to start by being one. A good friend is always thinking of others first: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
Think about others first, and take the first step to reach out and connect with them. It could be a simple text to check on them, a note of encouragement or a phone call. If your eyes are open to see opportunities to be that kind of friend, you’ll surely find them. And, your reward will be closer relationships with the people around you. If you build up others, God will use those relationships to encourage you at the same time.
We should be a source of encouragement, not judgment. Paul says that Onesiphorus was not ashamed of his chains (verse 16). Paul wrote this letter from prison, and we know from the context that this had caused many people to abandon Paul. Perhaps they disagreed with Paul’s approach, or were afraid or embarrassed to associate with him.
It’s important for us to see people as God sees them. We should never be ashamed or embarrassed of our friends for what they are going through. God has given us an opportunity to support them and minister to them, not condemn them. In fact, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). If Jesus didn’t come to condemn, perhaps I shouldn’t make that my priority either. Instead of being ashamed, embarrassed, or God forbid, judgmental, I should focus on being there to help my friends back up when they slip.
We should be a source of refreshment, not exhaustion. Paul says the Onesiphorus often “refreshed” him. (verse 16). You can use your spiritual imagination here. I picture Paul and Onesiphorus hanging out, laughing, breaking bread, praying together and high-fiving each other. Well, the high-fiving might be a stretch, but I like a good high-five. The point is, Onesiphorus invested in Paul’s life. He spent time with him. He interacted with him in a way that built Paul up, instead of tearing him down.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had friendships in the past that I’ve had to move on from. They were either too much work to maintain, or they brought too much negativity into my life. Friendships should not lead us to exhaustion. They should give us the jolt we need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Friendships should show us that we are not alone on this journey. And, they should help us to grow closer to God in the process.
One of my favorite books from childhood – E.B White’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” – has a lot to say about friendship. In the book, Wilber the pig asks Charlotte the spider, “‘Why did you do all this for me?’ ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’”
Friendship is a tremendous thing. To have a good friend, you need to first be one. And, if we follow the model of Onesiphorus, we are sure to bring refreshment and encouragement to the Pauls in our life.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Finn Hafemann
Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart