Often, it takes mankind millennia to discover what God revealed long ago in His Word.
In the Church, we regularly emphasize the give way of life, based on clear biblical principles. Recent studies have found humans have what appears to be a generosity gene, so there is a biological reason giving feels good.
Similarly, engineers design products copying the designs found in nature. Time and again, the genius of God observed in Creation helps solve problems that have long vexed scientists, builders and craftsmen.
Social science, the study of society and relationships, is no exception to this. God laid out the importance of deep interpersonal relationships from the very beginning. Yet researchers are still exploring this today.
For example, a 10-year study by the Center for Ageing at Flinders University found that not having close confidants or friends can be as detrimental to a personâs health as being overweight or smoking. The study concluded that, when faced with major illnesses, individuals with a great social network are in a better position to survive, and the loving support of friends helps them through the healing process. In addition, researchers found that a network of friends was more important than close relatives in prolonging life.
Another study conducted at the University of Virginia compared brain activity between individuals who were under threat of receiving electrical shocks to either themselves, friends or strangers. The results: people who perceived danger toward themselves had the same level of brain activity as those who perceived their friends were in danger.
That is a deep bond!
And for those in their âGolden Years,â the Flinders University study revealed that people over 70 years with an extensive network of friends tended to live 22 percent longer than those with less extensive networks.
Man is just finding evidence of this now. Yet God said in the Garden of Eden: âIt is not good that the man should be aloneâ (Gen. 2:18). Later, King Solomon wrote, âTwo are better than oneâŠâ (Ecc. 4:9). While these verses more specifically reference having a spouse, the same is true for friendships.
God makes it clear that having extensive and varied friendships makes us better individuals.
Members in Godâs Church essentially have two groups of friends: Those who are in the Church and those who are not.
Friends outside the Church can simply be described as acquaintancesâindividuals with whom we work as well as have shared interests. But as this age draws to a close, making and maintaining friends outside the Church can be challenging. Society is growing darker at breakneck speed. Peopleâs morals, values, priorities and interests have become perilously different from ours (II Tim. 3:1-8).
Even the term âfriendâ itself is more loosely applied than ever before due to its broad use in social media. In fact, it is not uncommon for âfriendsâ to begin and end their relationship through the internet without ever having met face-to-face.
Does the Bible add anything to this? Yes. It plainly teaches us to avoid a deep entanglement with the world: ââŠknow you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of Godâ (Jms. 4:4).
Of course, the Bible commands us to be kind, courteous and generous to all, but there should be a special emphasis on those who know Godâs truth. Read Galatians 6:10.
We must realize that our beliefs are growing ever so different from almost everyone in society. This makes it an obstacle to making friends among people with whom we work, go to school and even live.
In contrast, we can and must consider all true Christians as friendsâfull stop.
Why? Look at a biblical definition of friendship. Amos 3:3 declares: âCan two walk together, except they be agreed?â
This is a rhetorical questionâof course not! Do all members of the Church share the same hope? Yes. Despite being separated thousands of miles, living in different cultures and coming from distinct ethnic backgrounds and upbringings, do we not think alike? Yes. And despite our different educational levels and skills, do we not all aim for and pursue the exact same goal? Yes.
Again, not some, but all brethren are considered friends and should be seen as critical to our Christian growth. Granted, there are some friends in the Church whom you have not met yet. There are those whom you have met but see infrequentlyâmaybe once every year at the Feast. Some Church friends communicate regularly. And, of course, there are very close friends with whom we spend significant amounts of time. But all are considered friends.
The Bible supports this. Note that Christ called all of His disciples friends. He stated: âHenceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto youâ (John 15:15).
The apostle John referred to all brethren as friends in III John 14: âI trust I shall shortly see you, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to you. Our friends salute you. Greet the friends by name.â
In both examples, the term âfriendsâ is completely synonymous with Church members.
Friends in the Church
The thought that we need to âmakeâ friends in the Church should be all but gone at this point. It is, however, paramount that we develop our friendships among those who know Godâs truth.
Needless to say, many of us may still find it difficult or are fearful of opening up to others. But taking time to recognize the fact that people in the Church are already considered friends is the first critical step to deepening our relationships with brethren.
Being close to those who share our beliefs is an effective way for us to develop. God instructs us to do so! Science proves it. And current social conditions support it. There should be little doubt that being friends in the Church is one of the most important requirements for being Christians. Again, God and science agree.
The friends we have, whether in the Church or in the world, shape who we become. Note Proverbs 27:17: âIron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend,â and chapter 13 verse 20: âHe that walks with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.â
Meeting and Developing Friends
What are some ways to meet others in the Church? We cannot limit ourselves to one approach. Generally speaking, to meet friends, we may have to go where others gather. But here are some more specific starting ideas:
- Send a letter introducing yourself and expressing your thoughts to a member you read about in a prayer request or miracle report. You can also send an email or call him or her.
- Ask other Church friends to help you connect with individuals you saw or briefly encountered at a social or activity but did not share contact information.
- Rekindle relationships. Maybe you have moved, or the other person has moved and you both are now in different congregations.
- Exchange contact information with those you interacted or served with at the Feast. Mention the positive impression they made on you.
- Enroll in Ambassador Center. Connect with other students to check their progress and encourage them.
These suggestions all show how to increase the quantity of communication with other members. Yet quality also counts.
It is important to strengthen relationships so that they will be available during both good and challenging times. Closer friendships can help you overcome periods of loneliness and remind you of our common hope and purpose. There may also be times we lack confidence, or need help coping with traumatic situations such as serious illness or death of a loved one. And we also need close friends to encourage us when we fall into ruts.
To deepen friendships, it takes more effort than what was suggested for meeting others. Close friends must spend quality time together, which could involve changing your priorities to allow for more opportunities.
Note what Christ said about the effort required to maintain close friends: âA new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to anotherâ (John 13:34-35).
This love is exemplified by the time we give to each other, as Jesus stated: âGreater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friendsâ (15:13).
Consider these points on developing stronger bonds with brethren:
- Take up mutual interests. Get together with individuals who have similar hobbies or interests like board games, sports, activities, cuisine, etc.
- Attend Church events like socials, clubs and other special activities together. Plan ahead so you can arrange to attend as many of these activities with another member as possible.
- Extend and accept invitations. Have coffee, lunch or dinner together. When invited, say yes.
- Exercise together at a gym.
- Regularly take walks, hikes or bicycle rides together.
- Talk about yourselves and each other in a meaningful way.
These efforts are vital because close friends are too. The Bible refers to this level of relationship as âa friend that sticks closer than a brotherâ (Prov. 18:24). We all need individuals in our lives in whom we can confide and trust. These closer-than-a-brother relationships can help us overcome the difficulties we face in life.
With whatever time we have left, giving our lives toward meeting friends in the Church and developing deeper ties with some is a display of obedience to God and will result in physical blessings that science has proven. These efforts will ultimately help us teach this generation how to do the same when Godâs Kingdom arrives!
Remember, it is never too late to meet new or reconnect with old friends.