Written by Alwin Thomas, Singapore
Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory—these are a few of my favourite shows I grew up watching. I remember thinking to myself, how fun and awesome it would be to rent an apartment with a couple of close mates, and live like these characters did. We could have movie nights, game nights, and just late night hangouts (preferably on the balcony) chatting about romance, life, and everything else. What a dream!
That dream became a reality for me when I started my first year of university in Melbourne, where I stayed in a residential college. However, not all dreams are pleasant, and during my time there, I experienced all sorts of heartbreaks, betrayal, and even disappointments.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with broken relationships. Perhaps these negative experiences might have tempted us into thinking that maintaining true and deep friendships are unnecessary and bothersome. But the Bible tells us otherwise.
In the Bible, we see all kinds of friendships, not all necessarily warm and fuzzy. But still, the Bible tells us that we are made to relate to others, and not live in isolation (1 Cor 12:12-27), as is evident from what we have experienced during the lockdowns around the world.
From my own personal reflections on life and the Bible, I would like to suggest three type of friends we all need in our lives, and how we can learn to treasure these gifts of friendship:
1. The “We Will Figure it Out Together” Kinda Mate
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17
Growing up in an Asian household, we often hear our parents telling us to “choose our company wisely”. But we all know that’s not how it works. One quote that I really like goes, “Friendship is so weird. You just pick a human you’ve met and you’re like, ‘yep, I like this one’, and you just do stuff with them”.
My best friend, is a great example. There’s a lot about him that my parents probably won’t be too excited about (e.g., he’s tardy, always seems distracted and appears unambitious . . . or so they think). But he’s the bud I can count on when I’m going through tough times and is always up to listen to me rant. And even if all he has to say in response is, “Bro that’s rough man, let’s go play tennis next week,” sometimes that’s all I need to hear to feel better.
In the countless letters written by the Apostle Paul, he also testifies about the many brothers and sisters who have stood by him in the toughest of times. Whether through persecution or poverty, and from great evangelical success to imprisonment, Paul was always wealthy in relationships. And it was these very relationships that continued to push him on, and to help him persevere in the work of the gospel. Not all of them had wise words to offer, nor wealth to spare, but Paul’s ministry grew nonetheless, from their support in prayers, and their simple acts of love.
Sometimes, that’s just exactly the kind of friend we need when we are going through difficult times. Someone who’s willing to stand with us and weather through the seasons of life together with us.
2. The “I’m Telling You This for Your Own Good” Kinda Mate
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” – Proverbs 27:6
In Paul’s letters to Timothy, his affection and concern for his spiritual son is evidently clear. However, Paul’s encouragements are not always easy to hear, as they often contain harsh realities and truths. We see, for example, in 2 Timothy 4:3-5, Paul exhorting Timothy to “keep your head in all situations, endure hardship . . . discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
Paul does this, because he knows that Timothy’s ministry is challenging, full of opposition and people looking down on him for his youth and inexperience. Paul wants to provide firm guidance and support to Timothy in the midst of the many voices that are threatening to undermine Timothy’s authority.
In the same way, we shouldn’t despise friends who, in their efforts to love us, may express their thoughts and advice in ways that we don’t want to hear. I remember being told off by a close friend for wanting to turn down an opportunity to study abroad. Initially, I was really annoyed, because I felt like I had strong reasons for wanting to remain in Singapore.
But in hindsight, I was really thankful that my friend remained unrelenting, even though it meant leaving my comforts and changing some of my life plans. Because it was in my time away from home, where I felt like I truly rediscovered my faith in God, and realigned myself to His plans.
One piece of advice I find particularly helpful when it comes to hearing tough but loving things from friends, is to focus on what is being said, rather than how it is being said. When we can do so, we might realise that our friends are able to detect blind spots or areas of growth that we need help seeing.
3. The “Let’s Remember the Bigger Picture” Kinda Mate
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” – Proverbs 13:20
This is the kind of friend who might not always make their presence known. They won’t necessarily go out for suppers, nor rally people for impromptu group meet-ups. However, you can be sure that when you most need them, they will always be ready to provide solid advice—ones that will help you deal not just with your immediate predicament, but the consequences thereafter.
Their words may be few, even cryptic at times, but it’s because they will always keep in mind the bigger picture, acknowledging that the situation can be more or less than what it really seems.
This brings to mind the way Jesus often spoke in parables in the gospels. The people around him were all looking for practical solutions to their immediate problems: sickness, poverty, injustice, and the need for a ruler to free them from their captors. However, Jesus never lost sight of his true mission on earth—to preach about the Kingdom of Heaven and the forgiveness of sins.
As believers, it’s important to keep friends close who are gospel-minded, and who will never fail to point us back to God’s words when we are floundering. Because while the world will have all sorts of wisdom to share (e.g., how to invest, what kind of house to get, how to land your dream job), gospel-minded friends will keep us grounded and rooted on the view of eternity.
That sums up the three type of friends we all need in our lives! They may come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they may fail or disappoint us, or their words may be painful and difficult to hear at times. But they’re the very people that God has placed in our lives to help us grow.
I know I am certainly thankful for the friends who have helped me to grow in maturity, compassion, and also in dealing with the craziness that comes from living in this world.