The Release of Friendship

Mike Focht 3/29/2024

Friendship is an incredible gift from God. Sadly, like everything else in our world, sin has also touched it. That all friendships are a combination of two sinners requires us to refine all that we know and think and experience of friendship by the truth of God. This divine refinement is the only way our friendships can be pleasing to Him and a blessing to us. One cannot happen without the other. 

   Suppose I were to describe the common and often unspoken idea of the ideal friendship. In that case, I think it would go something like this: meeting a person with common interests, enjoying spirited and fun fellowship with one another, remaining loyal through the years, and ending only in the death of one of the two individuals. Other expectations could apply, but those would be the general categories. 

   There are many things the Bible has to say about friendship that would cut across the grain of the general expectation that I described above. I am going to point out just one. The Bible reveals that even the godliest friendships can include the reality of release. 

   Take, for example, the most celebrated and remarkable friendship in the Old Testament, that of David and Jonathan. Their connection around love for God, courage for God, and service to God was immediate and beautiful. Their love for one another was evident even through the scandalous family dynamic that Saul caused. In the end, Jonathan was even willing to surrender his future as king to honor God’s choice in helping to make his friend David king. The culminating reality of their godly friendship was a moment of parting. 

   Friendships that survive because of need are corrosive and ultimately destructive. The idea of rigid loyalty, no matter the cost, is more likely a mask for idolatry than evidence of godly friendship. The more we need someone else, the less likely it becomes that friendship is pleasing to God. The depth of love and holy purity in the bond between David and Jonathan wasn’t proved by their willingness to protect it but by their willingness to release one another. There were great tears and weeping in that parting, but it was the release of true friendship nonetheless. 

   Now we see this reality throughout the Bible. I think the friendship of the disciples is also often understated. Imagine how incredibly close those men became, living together for three years, experiencing Jesus’ miracles and life together, and becoming new men through the work of God. How close and unique their fellowship must have been! Now, imagine how difficult it must have been for them to release one another to the very ends of the earth, knowing that they would never see one another again in this world. It was only because of the maturity and godliness of their friendship that the friendship itself didn’t become an idol. They loved one another dearly, but they didn’t need one another.

   If our friendships become something we must cling to or declare false, there is something wrong. There is something wrong if they become necessary to the point that the idea of release is foreign. If we reject the idea that God may ask us to take a wonderful, blessed, and godly friendship and let it go, then something is wrong. The best friendships might require release. 

   Finally, we see a poignant example of this in the life of the Apostle Paul. What incredible friendships he made in Christ! Think of all the names of those he writes of and prays for. Think of all the sons and daughters he had in the Lord. Imagine the nearness and fellowship they enjoyed as they endured suffering, traveled together, praised God as they witnessed His miracles, and served God day in and day out. And yet, what do we see from Paul with the Ephesian elders on the beach in Miletus? How did Paul speak to them regarding their moment of release? 

   And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.      

   May these precious words of Christ and the godly example of Paul encourage us when we must honor God and our friend with a God-fearing and blessed release.