Written by: Blythe Freshwater
Friendship has its benefits: shared experiences, laughter, encouragement, and growth. We tend to “click” with certain people, and with others we must try a lot harder to maintain a relationship (that is normal). Still, you can always tell who your true friends are. They’re the ones who don’t talk about you behind your back–the ones who know your likes and dislikes–the ones whom you could tell anything to–the ones who are there to triumph with you in your successes and to walk with you in your trials. However, it is much harder to be a good friend. Having a good friend and being a good friend are two very different things. I’d like to look at two examples from the book of Mark which, coincidently, both took place on hills. I call these my ”hillustrations.”
James, Peter, and John were Jesus’ closest friends. They walked with Him for three years, watching Him do miracles and being given power to do miracles themselves. They were also three of the most vocal and effective apostles after Jesus’ resurrection. These Three Amigos were often very good friends to Jesus, and they got to witness some things that even the other disciples didn’t. They were there for His triumphs, like at the Transfiguration:
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus (Mark 9:2-8, NIV).
This passage describes when Jesus revealed Himself on the mountain to His disciples in His full glory as the Son of God, the Alpha and Omega, He who transcends time. Peter, James, and John got to see Christ at His “best,” and they celebrated with Him as friends.
This is one of the marks of good friendship: celebrating with those who celebrate. Scripture calls us to do this: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:15-16, NIV). Ignoring yourself and rejoicing with others (without jealousy or bitterness) is a huge indicator of how well you’re doing at the “friend thing.” Supporting others in their godly pursuits and acknowledging their accomplishments is important. Walk with them on the mountains, when they feel on top of the world.
Are you doing that for your friends? Or is it all about you and the amazing things you’ve done? Use others’ successes as an indicator of how good of a friend you are.
John, James, and Peter also give us examples of what friendship should not look like. They did a lot of good things, but one thing they failed at was being there when Jesus really needed them. Mark 14 records:
“They went to a hill called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’” (Mark 14:32-41, NIV).
The Three Amigos proved their imperfection as friends. They were not there when Jesus really needed them—when He was emotionally distressed. He, in His humanity, was scared. Other places in Scripture say that He, “being in anguish, prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44, NIV). He told His friends that He was “sorrowful to the point of death.” He wasn’t even trying to hide His distress from His friends, and still they failed to be present when He needed them most. They let their flesh, their tiredness, their lack of concern, rule them. Even when Jesus asked them three different times to stay awake, to keep watch, to pray for Him, they didn’t. And, as we know, things went downhill fast from there: Jesus was left to be beaten, tried, scorned, whipped, and crucified. The best His friends did was watch. In their human failure, Peter and James and John failed to be the friends Jesus needed. He was in the valley of the shadow of death, and they were too afraid, too selfish, and too apathetic to walk with Him. This all changed after Jesus’s resurrection, of course, and these Three Amigos went through a lot of persecution in His name as they spread the Gospel they learned from their friend.
Sometimes it’s easy to be friends with someone when he or she seems to have it all together. Maybe it’s even easy for you to rejoice with them in their triumphs. But when was the last time you walked with a friend through a severe trial? When was the last time you left comfort behind to comfort someone else? When was the last time you stayed awake all night praying for someone, knowing they needed Jesus’s help? Are you willing to hold your friends when they cry? To pray unceasingly for them? To counsel them when they are unsure of a decision? To bring them food when they have a big paper? When was the last time you looked outside your own needs to be a good friend to someone when they needed you most?
Learn from the Three Amigos. Be there on the hilltops. Celebrate and acknowledge others’ successes, build them up, rejoice with them. But be there in the valleys too. Mourn with people, comfort them, and walk with them through their trials. If you’re wondering how to be a good friend, just be there.