The Master's Friendships

by James Russell Miller, 1910

The need of friendship is the deepest need of life. Every heart cries out for it. Perhaps no shortcoming in good lives, is so common as the failure to be a friend to those about us. Jesus Christ gave us the pattern for all beautiful life—but in nothing did he show us more plainly and more urgently the way to live—than in his wonderful friendliness to man. We begin to be like Christ only when we begin to be a friend to everyone.

Jesus was the friendliest man who ever lived in this world. Many human friendships are narrow, exclusive, selfish. Toward a few people they are intense, devoted, loyal, self-denying, wondrously beautiful—but all the rest of the race they shut out. They have no thought of extending the privileges and blessings of their friendship beyond a limited circle. Christ's friendship was broad, generous, unselfish. He wished all men to accept it and to be helped by it. One of the ancients said that "his aim was to be a friend to man." It was thus that Jesus lived. He did not hide away in caves or mountains so that men could not find him. He lived among people. He did not hedge himself about with rules and conventionalities to protect himself from men's intrusions. He was always accessible. He ever sought to be among men and to reach men. He accepted invitations to social functions at men's homes—that he might get near to those who needed to be helped. He was not the friend of a few men—men of education, of culture, of refinement, of rank, of power. He was as easy of approach to the poor, the ignorant, the crude, the obscure—as to the great, the noble.

Jesus loved the common people, and went continually among them, because they were conscious of their needs and were ready to accept the help he was so eager to give. Indeed, almost no other kind of people came to him or were numbered among his friends. The proud and exclusive did not want him. To the poor the gospel was preached. Most of his disciples were peasants or lowly ones. He was the friend of men. He lived by the side of the road, where the throngs were ever passing, and he was always helping somebody.

Jesus was friendly not only to the good, the respectable, the highly moral—but to the disreputable, the outcast, the fallen. One of the charges brought against him by his enemies, was that he was a friend to publicans and sinners. To them, this was grave condemnation. But really, this was part of the glory of Christ's life. He said he had come to seek and save the lost—that is, the worst. He spoke of himself as a physician. Think of a physician refusing to go among the sick or to be their friend. His mission is to those who need him. A minister used to say, "The man who wants me—is the man I want." That is what Jesus would have said. He was a friend to men—to every man. He had an errand to every man. He had something he wanted to give to every man, a blessing he wanted to bestow on every one. He loved every man.

A colony has been suggested, from which should be excluded all ignorant and vulgar people. That was not the thought of Christ in founding his church. He was not on the quest of pleasure and congeniality when he went among men—but of helpfulness to others, uplifting, the taking of the unworthy, the unholy, the outcast—and making them children of God. Therefore he was a friend to the worst, that he might make them fit to be among the best.

We must remember that Jesus Christ was the revelation of God to men. God could not be understood, coming as a spirit, could not get near to men, could not make himself known to them; so he came in human form, in human flesh, with human touch, human sympathy and human speech. The friendship which Christ offered to men, was more than human friendship, even the richest and the best; it was divine friendship, with infinite blessing and good in it.

We think then of Jesus as a friend to men. We speak of friends, as those with whom we form close and peculiar relations. Every person has one or two or more personal friends who come into the inner circle, who become sharers of the joys and sorrows, the cares, the blessings of his life. We tell young people that they must be most careful in choosing their friends. They must not offer themselves on every altar. They must not open the door to everyone who knocks. Friendship is a most sacred relation. We are to love all men and to seek to do them good—but we are not to be a friend to all in the higher sense, involving intimacy and trust.

In speaking of the friendships of Christ, we must keep in mind this distinction. He also had his near and intimate friends, to whom he revealed his whole heart, whom he took into the closest relations. "All things that I heard from my Father I have made known unto you," he said to his disciples. In this sense he was exclusive in his friendships—but there was a sense in which he was everybody's friend.

The same should be true of all who are the friends of Christ. We are to take into our inner heart, those who have entered into the sacred things of life with us. But we are also to be like our Master—the friend of everyone, ready to do the offices of friendship to all.

As we read the story of our Lord's life, we see him going among people everywhere, with a heart full of interest and sympathy. Most men are kindly disposed to certain people, and are willing to do what they can to help them—but they select those to whom they would thus be friendly, and then close their hearts upon others. Christ never shut his heart on anyone! He was ready to give love to everyone. It is not always the one who is most congenial, who most needs our friendship. It is easy to be a friend to one who is agreeable, who is bright and sunny, who is brilliant and entertaining in conversation, to one who can give as well as receive. We all enjoy being a friend to such a person. It lays no burden upon us. But are we ready and willing to be a friend to those who are unattractive and uncongenial, even disagreeable, who have nothing to give to us in return, who have only needs, cares and burdens to share with us, to those we have to lift and carry? That is where friendship is tested.

We never know when we say to one, "I will be your friend," what this promise is going to cost us before life ends. When a man and a woman at the marriage altar pledge their troth, promising to love and cherish each other till death shall separate them, they do not know what they are promising. In our common relations in life, what is called friendship does not always mean willingness to be a friend to anyone who needs our help, whatever the cost may be. It may, indeed, be only a very narrow, selfish, unworthy thing—not ready to make any sacrifice, to bear even the smallest burden, to endure the least suffering.

But with Christ, friendship meant the acceptance of any cost of self- denial, pain, sacrifice—which might be required in doing love's duties. He did not choose to be a friend only to those who would bring delight and cheer to him, who would lighten his burdens, at least who would not make his load heavier. He offered to become a friend to all men, regardless of their ability to serve him or to be a comfort to him. His offer of friendship was unlimited, without reserve, universal. The people who flocked to Jesus were chiefly those who were poor, who were sick or lame or blind, or had some weakness or trouble. Every one of them, even the unworthiest or the most disagreeable, found in him a friend.

He was gracious to them—in their distress. Trouble was the key to his heart. He had compassion on grief and all kinds of need. This is always true of Christ. He chooses those to whom he will be a friend, and he chooses especially those who need him. Need is always that which attracts his attention.

That is what true human friendship should always do—think of those who most need to be helped or cheered. If there are two homes to which you may go some evening—one where all is gladness and song, and the other in which there is sickness or sorrow, or over which some shadow has fallen—it is easy to know to which home Christ would go if he were in your place. Need was the magnet which drew him.

Christ had his special friendships. While he built his house by the side of the road where people were always thronging, and was a friend to all men, eager to help any who needed help—he craved, just as every noble heart craves—a few close personal friends, to whom he gave his affection, in whose love he lived, with whom he shared the most holy intimacies of his heart. While he was always feeding others—he needed himself to be fed. While he poured out love in constant streams to bless those who came to him with their cravings, he needed to have his own heart warmed and filled continually with love's inspirations. The apostles were chosen by Christ to be with him in the inner circle. He chose them thoughtfully, deliberately, carefully. It was after they had been with him as companions and followers for months, that he selected the twelve from the larger company of disciples—that he might have them with him all the time.

It is said, too, that before he chose them, he spent the whole night in prayer. So much depended on this choice, it was so important that no mistake should be made, that he must have his Father's approval of the friends he was to take into his inner life. At no time do we more need divine wisdom in our experience, than when we are deciding whether or not we shall accept this or that person as our personal friend. All our future, will be affected by the decision, and all our life colored by it. Many a career is blighted by a hasty, prayerless choice of a friend.

Many of the sweetest and truest manifestations of friendship, are made in almost imperceptible ways—a look, a smile, some simple thoughtfulness, an expression of sympathy which is scarcely conscious, a kindness done in silence, without any mention. Ofttimes friendship's best service is rendered when there would seem to be no need. Destinies have been changed by a word or a kindness—when all seemed bright. It is thus the friendship of Christ serves us, not only when we are crying for help—but also when we seem to have all things, lacking nothing. The friendship of Christ never fails.

Much of the failure of human friendship is negative—in not doing the things that ought to have been done. We are not unkind to our friends—but we are not kind. We do nothing to harm them—but neither do we do the things which would do them good. "I was hungry—and you gave me nothing to eat." We remember that most moving experience of Christ's, when his heart hungered for the love and sympathy which his friends could have given him—but failed to give. Again and again he came to them in his agony and found them asleep! Do our friends in hours of bitterness and longing for love, ever come to us hoping for sympathy, and find us sleeping? Or do those who are to us God's angels of ministering love, year after year, fail of appreciation from us, until they have finished their serving of us and slipped away?

Life for all of us is full of opportunities for being kind, for showing the friendship of Christ—but how many of us fail to note the opportunities, to understand the needs, the heart-hungers, and to be the friend in need!

There is a personal question which concerns every one of us. "Do you know the friendship of Christ?" He is your friend—no other human being is to you, the friend Christ is. He loves you, he knows your needs, he longs to help you. He longs to save you from your faults, he longs to make your life mean more to you. He stands at the door of your heart and knocks, and wants to enter in to fill you with love. Do you know Christ as your friend? Into your life have come human friendships which have meant a great deal to you. Someone asked Charles Kingsley the secret of his life of beauty, of love of gentleness, of service. He answered, "I had a friend." Have you not had a friend, a rare human friend, who has enriched your life in countless ways? Do you know the friendship of Jesus Christ as you know that of this human friend?

"One there is above all others,
 Well deserves the name of Friend;
 His is love beyond a brother's,
 Costly, free and knows no end!"