Some friendships start because of a shared interest. Others grow from proximity or common life circumstances. Friendships can be based on many things. But there is something uniquely special about a Christian friendship.
A Christian friendship is based upon a shared devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This spiritual unity is capable of drawing two souls into deep, lasting camaraderie, and Scripture points out many facets of this great treasure.
No relationship is perfect on this side of heaven; there are rocky bits even among the best of friends. But remembering the blessings found in the community of believers will encourage and help those who encounter these challenges.
12 Characteristics of Christian Friendship
The following are twelve characteristics of friendships between believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
1. Shared hope in the gospel
That two friends have based their hope on Jesus has monstrous implications for the relationship. Agreement about something as bedrock as the soul is foundational to every aspect that makes a spiritual friendship unique.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel. (Colossians 1:3-5)
2. Realistic expectations
Inherent in the gospel is that all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Because of indwelling sin, we will never be free from sinning until that blessed day when Jesus makes us new in his presence. Christian friends should never be surprised when we sin against each other. The hurt is real and reconciliation takes work. But because we both agree that sin is a part of our human nature, and something we both long to be free from, we don’t give up.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
3. Framework for forgiveness
Christian friends have a model for true forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And they have already experienced the greatest forgiveness possible—the costly pardon of God the Father made possible in his Son. We can never claim a greater cost than the one paid by Jesus, and so we willingly follow in his footsteps.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13)
4. Family commitment
Christian friends are not only friends, but brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a part of the household of faith, and share a special responsibility to each other because of that distinction. We also have the wonderful possibility of deep relationships that cross cultural and ethnic barriers. Two people, unalike in every way, are tied to each other with the bonds of family, when both are joined to Christ.
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
5. Trustworthy discretion
Christian friends have a unique calling to discretion when trusted with intimate personal details. Gossip is destructive and sinful, and Christian friends should have confidence that their private struggles are treated with modesty and care. There is a meekness that comes with the conviction that we are all sinners. We all long for our sin to be covered, and are moved with gratitude for the covering provided for us in the blood of Christ.
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered. (Proverbs 11:13)
6. True generosity
Friends who agree “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1) are called to be free and generous with their money and possessions. There should be no shame in asking for, and no pride in bestowing, that which is not ours to begin with.
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)
7. Encouragement to stand strong
A Christian friend will not counsel you to give up that to which the Lord is asking you to hold fast. The world may counsel you to look to your heart for guidance. But a Christian friend should stand with you side by side, pointing you to the truth of the gospel and to the immovable God whose love for you never changes.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. (Philippians 1:27)
8. Selfless love
A relationship built on a mutual passion for the servant-like love of Jesus will seek to reproduce it.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the form of servant. (Philippians 2:5-7)
9. The rule of peace
Christian friends want peace to reign. They are peacemakers and peacekeepers. The call to unity and love should override self-interest and personal grudges and hurt. Christ died for us while we were still his enemies; so we should be eager to extend the olive branch to those who are also called by Jesus’ name.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
10. A heart of service
Christian friends are not selfish. They do not use their friends to meet their needs, but humbly and sacrificially serve those whom Christ has called them to love. He gave us the vivid example of this when he stooped down to wash his disciples’ feet.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:14-15)
11. Gentle admonition
Christian friends view each other’s holiness as of supreme importance. One should expect a friend in the faith to catch you when you sin, remind you of your great calling to repent and sin no more, and gently restore you with the grace purchased for us at the cross.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
12. Shared eternal life
The eternal nature of our relationships in the body of Christ should motivate us to seek reconciliation when it is in our power to do so. Our final destination is the same, and we will always be together with the Lord.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Heaven on Earth
Meditating on the unique blessings of spiritual friendship fills me with both wonder and dread. Wonder at the prospect of enjoying a relationship like this, and dread because of my total inability to be this kind of a friend.
But Jesus brought me to himself, not merely to instruct me in a better way to live, but to fill me with his life, and produce the likeness of his image in me through his abundant grace. It is by grace we are saved, both on the day of our conversion, and every day afterward. So we remind each other of these truths.
And when the Lord brings a friend into our lives who exhibits these characteristics, it should draw our hearts to thank him for the dearest friend of all, Jesus. His victory over death made him the firstborn of many brothers and sisters who will one day be together, sinless, in perfect unity and love. Any taste of that love and unity we experience now is truly a bit of heaven on earth.