Ronald L. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
Friendship is good. Friendship is necessary. We have been made in such a way that it is not good for us to be alone. We have been made in such a way that we need friends. We have been made in such a way that we have to be a companion of someone.
This is especially true of young people. Have friends they will. Be a companion of someone they will. But the question is: “With whom will they be a friend? Who will be their companion?”
This whole matter of the friendships of the young people is a matter of great concern. It is certainly a matter of great concern to their parents and to the officebearers of the church. It ought to be a great concern to the young people themselves.
Again and again the Bible warns against evil friends and admonishes the believer not to make friends with the world. James writes in James 4:4 that “. . . the friendship of the world is enmity with God; whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” In II Corinthians 6:14, 15 the Apostle Paul exhorts believers, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord (that is, friendship) hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” Solomon warns in Proverbs 13:20that “. . . a companion of fools shall be destroyed,” and in Proverbs 28:7 that “. . . he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.”
The young people of the church are not to make friends with the children of this world. The establishment of friendship on the part of a believing young person with an unbeliever is strictly forbidden by the Word of God. Parents must warn their young people against this. The preaching must address this matter. The elders must confront young people who, not heeding their parents and the Word of God, do make friendships with unbelievers. Caring, concerned young people ought to admonish a fellow young person who falls into this error. Those with whom friendship is forbidden are unbelievers.
Those with whom friendship is forbidden are not only those who live a flagrantly disobedient and carnal life. Those with whom friendship is forbidden are not only the violent, the sexually promiscuous, the drunkards and dope addicts. But those with whom friendship is forbidden are unbelievers. They may very well be clean-cut, neat, polite, outwardly decent young people. But for all that they are not believers. They do not believe in Jesus Christ or in God His Father. They do not regard His Word, the Holy Scriptures, as the authority for their beliefs and their conduct. They are not lively members of the church. With these friendship is forbidden.
There is a real danger that the young people establish friendships with unbelievers. This danger arises from the unavoidable contact that the young people have with the young people of this world. This unbelieving person may be a close relative, or a neighbor, or a classmate in high school or college, or a fellow worker. Perhaps it is even the case that we are personally attracted to this individual, and apparently have many things in common. And so we are tempted to strike up a friendship with them.
Especially is this a temptation to those young people who for one reason or another feel a lack of friendship with their fellow young people in the church. They are left out of the conversations and activities. They feel themselves alone and isolated. The real danger is that, needing friendship, they will with some desperation turn for that friendship to the world.
The consequences of friendships with the world are disastrous for the Christian young person, disastrous in almost every instance. Experience as well as the Word of God bears this out. Inevitably there is a corrupting of the believer. Inevitably there is the influence of a bad example. Inevitably there is the leading away from the church, the Word of God, and the commandments of God’s Law. Think of the grave consequences that came upon the children of Israel because they made leagues, that is friendships, with the ungodly Canaanites. Think of the result in the life of a believer like Samson of his establishing friendship with an ungodly Philistine.
Not only are there disastrous consequences to friendships with unbelievers, but such friendships also expose one to the judgment of God. In Proverbs 13:20Solomon says that a companion of fools will be destroyed, destroyed, you understand, by God. James says in chapter 4:4 that whoever makes himself a friend of the world by that very fact makes himself an enemy of God. And woe to that man who is God’s enemy!
Although friendship is good and ordinarily necessary, it may come to it that the child of God, concerned about his approval before God, must forgo friendship, or even experience rejection at the hands of his friends. Think of David who laments in Psalm 38: 11, “My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off.” Similarly he writes in Psalm 88:18, “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.” Think of Job’s rejection at the hands of his friends. Or think of our Lord’s treatment at the hands of his friends: one betrayed him, another denied him, and the rest forsook Him and fled. We too, for the sake of the kingdom may be required to give up certain friendships. Then for the sake of friendship with God, which is dearer than life itself, we let go the friendship of men.
If we are to avoid friendships with unbelievers, we ought to make friends with fellow believers. As much as the Word of God admonishes us against wrong friendships, it encourages us to friendship with God’s people. The alternative to friendship with the world isnot no friendships at all. But the alternative is friendship with the children of God.
How highly we ought to esteem our friendships in the church! What can compare in value to the treasure of true friendship!
Think of the friendship between David and Jonathan. We read in I Samuel 20:17, “And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him as he loved his own soul.” Think of the friendship of Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. How God used that friendship for their mutual encouragement and strength in the midst of the temptations of Babylon. Solomon says in Proverbs 18:24that “. . . there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother,” a friend who is a friend through thick and thin. The psalmist writes in Psalm 119:63, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.”
Not only was it the case that the psalmist was not a friend of those who did not fear God and who did not keep God’s commandments. But positively he was a companion, and exerted himself to be a companion, of all those who did fear God and keep His commandments. Not only must we warn our young people against evil friends and running with the world, but we must encourage them to be friends of their fellow young people in the church. This is simply their calling, an important aspect of the exercise of the communion of the saints. Then, too, they must be true and faithful friends, friends who have a genuine spiritual concern for each other. Such friendships God will bless.
Such friendships will bring great joy and immeasurable rewards. There will be fellowship, encouragement, exhortation. These are the things that friends are for. There will be someone with whom to share our struggles, someone to confide in, someone to turn to with our disappointments, someone to look to for counsel, someone from whom we can receive the word of needed correction.
There is a saying that goes like this: “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” That’s a true saying. Because they are children of God, may the young people of the church seek their friends among other children of God. The prophet asks the rhetorical question of Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” That’s what friends do: they walk together. We could paraphrase the word of the prophet, “Can two be friends, if they are not agreed?” The obvious implied answer is: “No.” The foundation of agreement, agreement in the worship of God, belief on His Son, and acknowledgement of His Word and commandments. May this be the foundation of the friendships of our young people!