Remarkable Friendships in the Bible
God Places High Value on Friendship
There should be no doubt in our minds that God places a high value on friendship. From Genesis to Revelation, we see hundreds of examples of friendship, and many words of wisdom and exhortations on friendship. Friendship is important to God because He is a friend to us. He created us as relational beings. We were created to have relationships with one another, and most importantly to have an intimate relationship with Him. Our relationships with friends should mirror His friendship with us.
It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to himself."— Genesis 2:18
Adam and Eve: Marital Friendship
Way back in the book of Genesis, God created the first human friendship between a man and a woman in the bond of marriage.
And the LORD said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to himself" (Genesis 2:18).
Adam needed another human being to be a help and friend to him, and he to them. So God put Adam into a deep sleep. Little did Adam know when he went to sleep that he would wake up to a beautiful, lifelong friend, lover, soulmate, and helper (vs. 21-23).
While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.
“At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man’” (NLT).
To say Adam was thrilled is an understatement. Thus we see God's plan for marital love and friendship unfolding at the very beginning.
This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame (vs. 24-25).
Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden together. They enjoyed the fellowship of one another and with God until they sinned together by eating the forbidden fruit, then trying to deceive and hide from God. Being given the boot from the garden, they started a new life outside, toiling together for survival. They also began the first family. Their union and friendship, with all its ups and downs, lasted a lifetime.
Adam and Eve
Elijah and Elisha
After Elijah's victory on Mount Carmel, Jezebel's death threat sent Elijah running for his life. At one point, God met with Elijah in the desert. Elijah was discouraged and hopeless, burdened with the idea that he was the only prophet left in Israel to carry that mantel, and he was still fearful that Jezebel sought his life. God reassured him that there was still a faithful remnant of prophets. Then God gave him a mission to do three things - anoint Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king over Israel, and call Elisha as his replacement as a prophet. Elijah now had a purpose in life and he did as God asked (1 Kings 19:15-18).
Elijah found young Elisha plowing a field. He cast his cloak over Elisha, who understood this to be his calling. After settling his affairs at home, "... he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him." From that day on Elijah was a mentoring friend to Elisha, and Elisha served his mentor and friend with fervent devotion.
When the time came for Elijah to leave this earth, Elisha's loyalty and devotion endured to the end. As they traveled to Elijah's final destination, where God would take him up in a whirlwind, Elijah told Elisha to stay put as they approached different cities - Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho; and then again when he was to cross the Jordan river. Perhaps he was trying to spare Elisha, but at each place, Elisha vowed, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Interestingly, in each town the sons of the prophets tried to hinder him by saying, "Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?" Each time Elisha said, "I know, now be quiet" (you have to chuckle there).
Once they'd crossed the river, in an act of love, Elijah offered Elisha one last blessing before he left for heaven. Elisha asked for a double portion of his spirit and to be his successor. Elijah said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.”
Elisha did see the chariot of fire come for his master and whisk him away to heaven, and Elisha became an even greater prophet then his friend Elijah.
As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you."— Elisha to Elijah
Jonathan and David
One of the most beautiful friendships we see in the Bible is the friendship of David and Jonathan. Prior to David's victory over Goliath, the Lord removed His Spirit from Jonathan's father, King Saul. After that, Saul was often troubled by a distressing spirit from the Lord. Young David, a shepherd and also a skillful musician, was called to play his harp for Saul, which always refreshed him. It was likely then when David and Jonathan became friends.
After David slew Goliath, King Saul ordered David to remain in his service. It was then we hear "...the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (1 Sam. 18:1b). In a covenant, Jonathan turned over his succession to his father's throne to David by placing his robe, armor, and sword on David. What a sacrificial act of great magnitude!
David went out to fight battles for Saul's army and was soon lauded as the greater victor when the people sang out, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (1 Sam. 18:7). Jealous and enraged, Saul feared David would steal his crown (vs. 8). He tried to kill David with his spear but he escaped. Saul then asked Jonathan and all his servants to kill David. Jonathan took on the role of an advocate for David by facilitating a reconciliation between His father and best friend; however, it didn't last long, for one day Saul tried to spear David again. Once again he escaped. Saul commenced a manhunt for David. At one point David sought Jonathan's help.
When Jonathan sought to advocate for David once again, Saul tried to spear his own son. Jonathan told David to run. What happened next was such a powerful and moving testament to how much they loved and were committed to each other:
"...David arose from his place...fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times. And they kissed one another, and they wept together, but David more so. Then Jonathan said to David, 'Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the Lord, saying 'May the Lord be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.' So he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city" (1 Sam. 20:41-42).
In 1 Samuel 23, David, still running from Saul, sought refuge in the strongholds in the wilderness of Zith. Jonathan found David and encouraged him in the Lord, and they made another covenant together. This was the last time David and Jonathan were to see each other, for both Saul and Jonathan later died together in battle. When David heard the terrible news, he wept and sang a bittersweet lamentation, which he instructed be taught to the children. Here is a portion of the lamentation:
David's Lamentation of Jonathan
Song of the Bow:
Saul and Jonathan—
in life they were loved and admired,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions...
How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of a woman.
How the mighty have fallen!
The weapons of war have perished!
2 Samuel 1:23, 25-27
Onesiphorus and Paul
Saul, also called Paul, had many rich friendships throughout his ministry. I am choosing to highlight the rather obscure Onesiphorus because he went to extraordinary lengths to minister to and be a friend to Paul while he was on death row in Rome.
To set the stage, Second Timothy was the last epistle Paul wrote before his death. He was in Rome, in chains, awaiting his execution as we learn in chapter 4:
As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing (vs. 6-8).
Back in chapter one, Paul shared the cherished faithful friendship of Onesiphorous while in his last days on death row:
This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me...The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus. (2 Timothy 1:15-18).
Likely Paul was abandoned by his Christian friends because their association with Paul could lead to their own arrest and execution. Some were too ashamed to be associated with a convicted criminal, regardless of their knowledge of his innocence. This makes Onesiphorus' visits all the more meaningful. Rome was a big place. The NLT version, says that Onesiphorus looked everywhere for Paul. Other versions say he eagerly looked for Paul. We do not know how difficult it was, or how long it took, but Paul's words indicate his friend Onesiphorus went to great lengths to find him during his last and darkest days of imprisonment. Onesiphorus also visited him often and Paul was refreshed.
How refreshing and encouraging, indeed, to have one faithful friend visit you on death row when all others have abandoned you. Onesiphorus was a faithful servant and friend that we should all strive to be like.
He had a big soul and brought consolation to the manacled prisoner. Many of God’s best servants are harassed with chains of sorrow and of affliction. Let us not shrink from helping them.— All the Men of the Bible - © Zondervan
Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Jesus
Jesus had a rich and tender friendship with Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. They lived in Bethany, a little village just outside of Jerusalem, and often showed hospitality to Him when he was in town. We hear about them in Luke 10: 38-42:
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me. And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
The verses above reveal that it was Martha who welcomed Jesus into the house (vs. 38); that both sisters sat at his feet (vs. 39); and both served Him (vs 40). Martha started off listening at Jesus's feet (indicating she had been worshiping Him), but like any good hostess, she also wanted to serve Him and His disciples a meal. She complained that Mary left the kitchen (indicating Mary had previously been preparing the meal). Rather than rebuking Martha for her complaining and tattling, Jesus lovingly directed her to the priority of worshiping Him (vs. 42).
According to John 11:2, Mary is identified as the woman who anointed Jesus with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair. That story is found in Luke 7:36-50. She is labeled a sinful woman whom Jesus forgave. Her devotion and repentance were used as a lesson for the host, Simon the Pharisee, who privately condemned Jesus for allowing a sinful woman to touch Him. At the end of the passage, Jesus commended her for her faith and told her to go in peace. What friend would love and forgive an immoral woman in those times? Only Jesus.
Going back to John 11, Lazarus became gravely ill and the sisters sent a message to Jesus to come immediately. They referred to their brother as "he whom You love." Verse five says, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary and Lazarus." Yet, Jesus held off coming to them a few days and Lazarus died. When He finally did arrive, Martha told Jesus if He had been there sooner, her brother would not have died; yet she expressed her faith in Him by acknowledging that If He asked of God, God would answer. She trusted and loved Him, even though she did not understand the circumstances. He promised resurrection, and she proclaimed that He was the Christ, the Son of God who came into the world (vs 27). Mary went to Him next, trailed by the mourners, and fell at His feet, also saying as Martha, "Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died." Falling at His feet, we see that Mary still had an attitude of faith and worship, despite not understanding. Jesus wept and groaned, then commanded Lazarus to come forth. His resurrection was to bring glory to God in the eyes of Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and the people. The mutual, loving relationship between Jesus and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus not only remained but continued with a greater faith and expanded understanding of God's glory.
Martha, Mary, and Jesus
Barnabas and Paul
Dear Barnabas was the kind of friend we might have appreciated when we were entering a new school or job. From the early part of Paul's new life as a believer in Jesus Christ, Barnabas became not only a friend to Paul but his advocate as well. The newly converted Saul had a notorious reputation as a persecutor of the Church. When he sought to join the disciples in Jerusalem, the disciples were mistrustful and afraid. Enter Barnabas the advocate:
But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:26-27).
Thanks to Barnabas, Paul began preaching freely and was able to receive their help when the tables were turned and the Hellenist Jews sought to kill him. Later, Barnabas went to Tarsus to retrieve Paul and their ministry partnership began. They traveled the world proclaiming the gospel and suffering persecution together. Unfortunately, Paul and Barnabas had a heated disagreement and they parted ways. Barnabas wanted John Mark to go on a mission trip with them, but because he had abandoned them on a previous mission trip for fear of persecution, Paul did not want him to come. I do not believe that Paul and Barnabas dissolved their friendship over this, but only a change in ministry direction. God used this situation to further the gospel, as Barnabas and John Mark spread the good news in one area of the world, and Paul and Silas in other areas. Later, Paul must have heard about the change in John Mark, for he asked for John Mark to join him (1 Tim. 4:11). Perhaps Barnabas' habit of giving the underdog another chance influenced Paul to do the same.
Barnabas' given name was Joseph, but early on the disciples nicknamed him Barnabas, which meant Son of encouragement (Acts 4:33, 37). Oh, that we would all have and be a Barnabas type of friend.
Jesus, Friend to Sinners
One thing that really ticked off the Pharisees was Jesus' habit of dining with sinners of the worst variety. To the Pharisees he said,
"The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" (Luke 7:34)
"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17).
The last verse is very telling. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being a party animal and participating in debauchery with sinners. But the last sentence in Mark 2:17 clarifies why he spent time with sinners - "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." His goal was to reveal Himself to them as a righteous Savior who could offer them forgiveness and salvation. He did not concern Himself with accusations and criticisms of the religious community, especially the leaders.
On another occasion, Jesus was out preaching, healing, and casting out demons among the villages, and "When he saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion for them because they were weary and scattered like sheep having no shepherd (Matt. 9:36)."
Here are several occasions where Jesus reached out to the outcasts and despised by being a friend through healing, and in other ways:
Sinners Jesus was friends with
Matt. 8:2-4; Matt. 26:6-16; Luke 17:11-19
(see also Mark 1:40-45
Matt. 8:5-13; Matt. 15:21-28
(see also Mark 2:13-17)
Tax collectors and sinners
Matt. 9:9-13; Luke 18:9-14; Luke 19:1-10
(see also Mark 2:13-17)
Matt. 9:32-34; Matt. 12:22-30
Luke 7:36-50; John 4:1-26
Ultimate friendship of Christ
All of these examples of friendship display unwavering loyalty, faithfulness, devotion, and sacrifice. The ultimate example of true friendship is Christ. His ultimate act of friendship was going to the cross for our sins, and rising again to offer us forgiveness and eternal life. What a friend we have in Jesus!
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. "— Jesus (John 15:13-15)
Also by Lori Colbo
- Barnabas: A Man Who Lived Up to His Name
Barnabas' name meant "Son of Encouragement." Truly he was a man who lived a life encouraging others.
© 2016 Lori Colbo