Everyone needs, wants, and appreciates them. Some people have lots of friends they associate with, others have only a close few that they trust and confide in. Regardless of whether or not someone is introverted or extroverted, the need and desire to have friends is universal. Friendship is so ingrained in our culture as a necessity, that it becomes the basic building blocks for many books, television shows, and movies.
Who doesn't remember the sitcom Friends, that followed the relationships of a group of young yuppies living in New York City? It was this show that got audiences invested in the lives of its characters so much that they just COULD NOT miss an episode. Season premiers and finales began to gain a reputation as anticipated events that people would gather to experience together. Friends gathered to watch other friends live fictitious lives.
I know, when I say it that way, it makes it sound trivial and shallow. But, this phenomenon was anything but shallow. It spoke to the greatest human need expressed through sharing and experiencing life together: relationship. Unfortunately, sitcoms like Friends set us up for disappointment in the real world. The relationships portrayed between Joey, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, and Rachael mimicked real life to the extent that people could relate to them, but not the the extent that people could identify with them.
How many groups of friends do you know that could take turns sleeping around with each other for 10 years and remain best buds through all of it? The idea of friendship becomes idealized when it is portrayed this way. Michael W. Smith's statement that "friends are friends forever" has made many people cry at graduations, but how realistic is it? It may happen with some very special relationships, but it certainly is not the norm, even "if the Lord's the Lord of them." Sorry Michael, no offense intended.
Jesus once told an enlightening little parable about friendship in Luke 11:1-13 that seems much more realistic to me. Suppose a friend comes to your house at midnight and bangs on the door asking for 3 loaves of bread for a guest that has arrived at midnight. What would be your response? I would ask him why he just didn't go to the Super Wal-Mart about a mile from my house that is open 24 hours! Of course, there was no such thing as a Super Wal-Mart in Jesus' day, so you would be forced to either get out of bed and grant this request, or to continue lying there.
In Jesus' story, the man's friend keeps lying there. He says that his kids are in bed, the door is locked, and that he isn't budging. Clearly, this man is not a very loyal friend. But, Jesus says in v. 8:
"even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need."
Instead of "shameless audacity," other translations use words like "boldness," and "persistence." In any case, the message is clear. If this man gets up and helps out his friend, it will only be for selfish reasons: to get him to go away, to keep from being embarrassed by others who might see or hear him knocking, or even to subside his own feelings of guilt. I hate to admit it, but this is the kind of friendship I relate to. I may help someone out in the guise of being loyal or kind, but there is often some kind of ulterior motive, even if it is just to make myself look good.
I think Jesus anticipated this response when he told this parable, because he goes on to say in v. 13:
"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Our earthly friendships will never amount to the relationship Jesus wants to have with us. Our media may tend to idealize the subject, but Jesus knew that the heart of every potential friend is evil. As good, enjoyable, and necessary as earthly friendship is, the ultimate relationship we should be concerned about is the one with our heavenly Father. We may do good things out of duty, obligation, or an attempt to keep up appearances. But God gives good things to his children that go above and beyond our pitiful attempts at friendship, because that is who he is by nature: good.
There is no condition upon his good friendship. Think of the greatest gift you've ever given to a friend. "How much more will your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"