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Contents

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That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir-not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

Romans 15:3-6 MSG

God is a warm, personal, and relational God.

When Jesus came, he didn’t rigidly or coldly instruct people on what they needed to do; he waded into their mess and met them where they were at. He connected with people, admired them, enjoyed their company, believed in them, and felt their emotions. The more we spend time with God, the more this warmth will come to characterize us too, and the better we will become at being good friends to each other.

It’s easy for me to see building friendships as an inherent talent that you’re born with (or not born with). Some of my closest friends are extremely extroverted and social. They can start talking to the person sitting next to them on a train or at a restaurant and immediately find something to bond over. 

When I watch these friends so effortlessly strike up a conversation, I think I have no chance. As a natural introvert, I’m the kind of person who will practice the same conversation over and over in my head, planning out what I’d say and what the other person would say and how I’d respond based on different answers they may give— and that’s with people I already know, not strangers. 

Luckily, the ability to build good friendships doesn’t come from good genes. It can be learned. Whether you’re a social butterfly or a shy wallflower, we all have ways we need to work on having closer relationships with the people in our lives. It doesn’t just happen overnight; we need to build habits of being a good friend. 

The Bible is full of people who have learned from God how to be friends that understand, connect with, admire, challenge, and love each other. Let’s look at four habits of good friendship builders in the Bible so we can build good friendships ourselves.

Good friendship builders understand their unfinished business 

I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’

Hosea 10:12 NLT

The Bible tells us that if we want to have a “crop of love” in our lives, we need to plow up any hard ground in our hearts. Good friendship builders work to understand the “unplowed ground” in their own hearts and plow it up so that love can grow in their friendships. Bringing a heart full of rocks from the past into a friendship is a recipe for bitterness, blame, and distance. Bringing a soft heart to a friendship is a recipe for closeness, love, and understanding.

In farming, soil isn’t just naturally fertile and ready for growth–it has to be worked at. Farmers use tools to soften the soil so that seeds can grow. The same is true for our hearts. We all go through experiences in our lives that affect our hearts. Some things cause our hearts to harden, including sin (our own or other people’s), emotions, and unresolved relational conflicts. One good habit we need to build to have close friendships is the habit of plowing up any hardened ground in our hearts. 

If we let unaddressed sin, unexpressed emotions, or unresolved relational conflict sit in our hearts, our relationships will suffer. Love, connection, and trust won’t be able to grow. The “rocks” that fill up our hearts will cause us to give up easily on God and other people, jumping from relationship to relationship, riding the high of emotions until love gets hard again:

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

Mark 4:16–17 NIV

In his upcoming book, He’s Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Your Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself, author and Deep Spirituality Editor-in-Chief Russ Ewell discusses this topic of rocky and unplowed hearts. 

Those of us who have unfinished business in our lives will usually be drawn to God or to the church at some point. We often come to the family of God with the same joy that Jesus attributed to the seed that fell on rocky soil in Mark 4:16–17. This joy lasts as long as we have no challenges. But as soon as difficulties arise, we fall away. We leave God and his people.

Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Your Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself

Whatever our unfinished business is, it won’t just stay in one place or relationship. Eventually it will affect how we interact with everyone in our lives:

“Every day, people take jobs, get married, have children, and join churches with a great deal of their personal business unfinished. Eventually, these issues surface and can become dangerous for both the individual and for all who are in relationship with them.”

Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Your Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself

We need God’s help to deal with our unfinished business, and that starts with understanding it. He understands us even when we don’t understand ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9), and can give us soft hearts no matter how long we’ve been hardened (Ezekiel 36:26). 

Like soil, it takes time and work to keep our hearts soft, but here’s a good place to start:

  1. Get aware (Matthew 13:1-23, Matthew 6:22-23). Before you can even move past unfinished business, you need to understand what that business is. If you don’t understand your own unfinished business, you will wind up blaming other people for the distance in your friendships instead of understanding what you are bringing to the table.
    • What are some unhealthy patterns you have gotten into in friendships? Do you tend to have a hard time trusting others? Do you tend to be overly clingy? Do you want to be liked so much that you compromise yourself and your needs? The patterns we get into usually reveal some of our unfinished business, like bitterness or hurt we might have in core relationships in our lives or persistent sins like deceit and envy that we need to address to have healthy friendships.  
  2. Get courage (James 5:16). There’s usually a reason that our unfinished business is “unfinished”: facing it can be scary. It often feels easier to bury it and pretend it’s not there, but as long as it sits unaddressed it will hurt our friendships. James 5:16 tells us that owning up to the things we have done wrong will bring healing. We can’t control what other people do, but we can own up to our own choices and that will bring the healing we desire. 
  3. Get honest (Psalm 32). Being honest with God and then with trusted spiritual friends will set us on the path toward healing. Our friends can guide us with prayer and scriptures on the best path to take to resolve unfinished business in our lives. 

When we let God help us work out our unfinished business, we will learn to not only understand ourselves better, but also understand those around us. 

Be on the lookout for the release of our new book, He’s Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Your Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself, coming soon!

Paul: An understanding friend

Throughout the book of Acts, we get access to the incredible story of Paul’s transformation. He went from someone with a heart full of rocks, hunting down Christians to have them killed because of his religious zeal, to someone who faced his sins and changed. He became an understanding and empathetic friend, and his example of vulnerability still impacts us today:

I’ve been broken, lost, depressed, oppressed, and weak that I might find favor and gain the weak. I’m flexible, adaptable, and able to do and be whatever is needed for all kinds of people so that in the end I can use every means at my disposal to offer them salvation.

1 Corinthians 9:22 Voice

Paul became a friend who could adapt and connect with anyone and everyone. He helped people embrace their own weaknesses to come close to God and others. When we are willing to face and be honest about our unfinished business, we will become the kind of friend who can listen to, understand, and genuinely love other people.

Pause and reflect

  • What unfinished business has been hardening your heart?
  • Who in your life needs you to be an understanding friend?

Good friendship builders initiate rather than isolate

One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound wisdom.

Proverbs 18:1 CSB

An unfriendly person isolates himself and seems to care only about his own issues. For his contempt of sound judgment makes him a recluse.

Proverbs 18:1 TPT

The Bible calls isolation selfish and unfriendly. Take a second to think about how much time or effort you put into your relationships: are you more likely to call someone to say hi, or do you wait for someone else to? Do you tell your friend when you’re thinking of them, or do you only respond when they send you a text? Do you initiate opening up your heart to be influenced by friends, or do you resist letting people into your life? 

I definitely enjoy being on my own. I could go days without talking to anyone, and often not even realize I’ve totally isolated myself. One time my roommate told me she felt hurt and distant from me, which completely confused me. “We talked three days ago though!” I said. “Yeah,” she responded, “you haven’t talked to me in three days!” 

Though it’s not bad to take time to ourselves, sometimes we can get so caught up in our own world that we don’t realize we’ve shut people out. Even those of us who don’t physically isolate ourselves can emotionally isolate from friends by refusing to go any deeper than “fun” or shallow topics.

Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you.  There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us. I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!

2 Corinthians 6:11-13 NLT

I cannot count how many times this scripture has been shared with me. I get afraid to open my heart for fear of feeling weak, exposing myself to rejection, or even just spending a lot of energy on something that might not work out. But like this scripture says, refusing to open my heart to my friends means I’m refusing to love and be close to them. 

When I get stuck in my fears of opening my heart it helps me to remember that this is how God loves me. God enters into a relationship with me with his whole heart open (Luke 6:35-36 MSG). Even if I don’t reciprocate, God keeps his heart open, and doesn’t hold back any love from me. Believing this helps me do the same with my friends, even when it’s scary.

One way to open our hearts up to friends is to initiate with them. I’ve had to make deliberate decisions to reach out and tell friends I’m thinking of them, express excitement about hanging out with them, and ask them how something specific is going in their lives. Each of these conversations may seem small, but they go a long way. 

Ruth: An initiating friend

In the book of Ruth, we learn about a woman named Naomi who lost her husband and sons in a foreign country. Naomi decided to travel back to her home country of Israel with her two daughters-in-law. Naomi was grieving, and wanted to isolate herself from those who may have understood her the most; she told her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to go home and leave her be. Though Orpah left, Ruth refused, and gave her whole heart to Naomi.

“Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.” But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.

Ruth 1:15-18 NLT

Though Naomi tried to reject Ruth, Ruth refused to let someone she cared for suffer alone. She initiated vulnerability, expressing how deeply she cared about her friend and how committed she was to their friendship.

If you keep reading the rest of the book, you’ll see that these two women took turns taking care of each other, noticing the other’s needs, and initiating in love. Eventually, both of their lives were impacted for the better as a result of their friendship.

Pause and reflect

  • How do you isolate yourself in relationships?
  • What are some ways you can initiate with a friend this week?

Good friendship builders celebrate other people’s wins rather than competing with them

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

Galatians 5:13-15 NLT

A great habit to build in friendships is looking for ways to serve each other and make each other better. But what if we want to be the better one? When we get competitive, jealous, or critical in relationships, Galatians 5 tells us that we will end up biting, devouring, and eventually destroying each other. 

I am a very insecure and proud person, which is a deadly combo when it comes to building friendships. I want to be the best at everything, and yet feel like I’m the worst at everything, so my confidence ends up coming from how I measure up to others around me. Galatians 5 in The Message translation says we can “depersonalize everyone into a rival,” and that is exactly what I do with those in my life. Rather than seeing a friend to love, I see people around me as a thing to criticize, a body to envy, or a career to resent. This only gets worse when I head over to social media, where I see people my age (or even worse, younger than me) getting advanced degrees, buying houses, looking perfect, and seeming happy and confident. 

A good depiction of how this cycle of miserable competitiveness feels is in the song “jealousy, jealousy” by Olivia Rodrigo.

Their win is not my loss
I know it’s true
But I can’t help getting caught up in it all
Co-co-comparison is killing me slowly
I think, I think too much
‘Bout kids who don’t know me
I’m so sick of myself
I’d rather be, rather be
Anyone, anyone else
My jealousy, jealousy

Olivia Rodrigo, jealousy, jealousy

Our insecurity and jealousy make us bite and devour each other rather than celebrating each other’s wins, which leaves us feeling “sick with ourselves.” But this is not how we are supposed to be evaluating each other or ourselves.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

Romans 12:3-5 NLT

The Bible tells us to measure ourselves by our faith—not by someone else’s job, dating relationship, or seemingly perfect life, but by our belief in God and his love for us. When we see ourselves the way God sees us, there is no longer a need to compare ourselves with other people. We don’t need to think we are better than we really are, nor do we need to think we are worse than we really are. God put us and the people around us in each other’s lives for a reason, and we each bring a unique role to the team. If we all belong to each other, that means a win for a friend is a win for ourselves. This is how we become friends who make each other better, rather than opponents that try to be better.

Deborah and Barak: A friendship built on teamwork

Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment. One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.” Barak told her, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”

Judges 4:4-8 NLT

On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song: “Israel’s leaders took charge, and the people gladly followed. Praise the LORD! 
“Wake up, Deborah, wake up! Wake up, wake up, and sing a song! Arise, Barak! Lead your captives away, son of Abinoam!”

Judges 5:1-2,12 NLT

Judges 4 starts with the prophet Deborah calling Barak to lead the Israelites to fight for freedom, and Judges 5 ends with them singing a song of victory together. I like to read this story as two leaders who respected each other’s strengths. Neither thought they should be exalted over the other. Both respected and admired the other and their roles, strengths, and abilities. 

Though Deborah was a prophet and a leader, she pushed Barak to rise up and take the lead. Though Barak was the one called to lead, he knew he needed Deborah’s help. To me, both cared more about the battle being won than about being the person on top. A victory for one of them was a victory for everyone. 

Imagine what you could do if you stopped envying the strengths, abilities, or even circumstances of those around you, and decided to admire them instead. What could you accomplish together?

Pause and reflect:

  • Who is someone you are jealous of or competitive with right now?
  • How can you choose to admire them and work toward a greater purpose together?
  • What would it look like for you to see yourself the way God sees you?

Good friendship builders care more about being reachable than being right

Like we talked about at the beginning of this devotional, Jesus was the ultimate relationship builder. He believed in his friends even when they abandoned and betrayed him. He saw past their mistakes and flaws and looked ahead at who they could become. 

One of my favorite friendships that shows this is Jesus’ friendship with Simon Peter.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” 

Luke 22:31-34 NLT

Before he was sent to suffer and die on the cross, Jesus wanted to give Peter a heads up – Peter was going to hurt and betray his best friend. Jesus wasn’t saying this to make him feel guilty, but to not let a mistake stop him from growing and caring about those around him. At this moment, Peter could have listened. He could have been humble, understanding that Jesus probably knew better about this than he did. He could have asked what he meant, or what it would look like to not let his faith fail. 

Instead, he did what I often do: he buckled down and wanted to be right. He wanted to prove to Jesus that he was loyal, and would stick with him no matter what. He cared more about being right than he cared about hearing what his friend was trying to say.

So many of the conflicts I have been in with friends happened because I got defensive, felt the need to prove myself, or got angry that someone disagreed with me. I operate on a level of pride where I assume I’m right 99% of the time (leaving 1% for error which proves I’m humble), so anyone who has a different thought or opinion is just wrong. I rely on pride to feel in control in relationships and avoid potential rejection or criticism. I don’t want to face weaknesses because I think people won’t like me if I admit all my sins and mistakes.

Not only does this often leave me falling flat on my face because no one is right all the time, but it also makes me shut out close friendships. There have been times where I won an argument, or was actually the one in the right, but left feeling empty because I didn’t feel any closer or happier. I just ended up more alone.

Next is your question about eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. On this question everyone feels that only his answer is the right one! But although being a “know-it-all” makes us feel important, what is really needed to build the church is love. If anyone thinks he knows all the answers, he is just showing his ignorance. But the person who truly loves God is the one who is open to God’s knowledge.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3 TLB

Even if I could be right 100% of the time, it wouldn’t do me any good, because being right isn’t the goal. What actually matters and makes a difference is choosing to love. That’s what God cares about most, and it’s what we should care about too if we want close friendships. 

As much as I love being right, this scripture is actually relieving, because I so often don’t know all the answers. I’m flawed, I make mistakes, and I don’t know what I’m doing way more often than I’d like to admit. But if I shift my mindset to be more like God’s, I don’t have to know what I’m doing. I only need to love and be open to learning from and hearing God and my friends.

Peter: A reachable friend

If you keep reading Luke 22, you’ll see that it turns out Jesus was right. Peter did deny that he knew Jesus, which left him stuck in guilt and regret. But when Jesus came back from the dead, he gave Peter a chance to change the way he approached relationships.

They finished eating breakfast. 

Jesus: Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these other things?

Simon Peter: Yes, Lord. You know that I love You. Jesus: Take care of My lambs. [16] Jesus asked him a second time . . . Simon, son of John, do you love Me?

Simon Peter: Yes, Lord. You must surely know that I love You. 

Jesus: Shepherd My sheep. 

Jesus: (for the third time) Simon, son of John, do you love Me? 

Peter was hurt because He asked him the same question a third time, “Do you love Me?”

Simon Peter: Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You. 

Jesus: Look after My sheep.

John 21:15-17 Voice

Peter let his mistakes humble him. Rather than try to prove himself, Peter only cared about his friend, Jesus, knowing that he loved him. Because of that humility, Jesus was finally able to reach him, and Peter could hear what he had been trying to say that whole time: look after your friends. Peter became a very reachable friend, changing countless lives by sharing about God’s promises of forgiveness and playing an instrumental role in building the early church in the book of Acts.

If we want to build deep and lasting friendships, we have to make a choice: Will we love our friends more than we love being right? This is the way Jesus loved us as friends. He decided that loving us meant more to him than anything else in the world – it mattered more than having all the right answers, being powerful, or being comfortable. 

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:12-13 NLT

Pause and reflect

  • In your relationships, what do you care about most right now? Being right, liked, or in control? Or being close and loving?
  • How can you love your friends like Jesus did this week?

Next steps

Each of these people in the Bible built their healthy friendship habits over a lifetime of experiences and choices. None of their friendships were built overnight. The same is true for us. Though it takes time to build these habits, it is worth it, and it starts with acknowledging where we need to grow. Take some time this week to pray to God and then talk to a spiritual friend about which of these four habits you would like to grow in, and decide to take it on together as friends!

4 Habits to Build if You Want Good Friendships, According to the Bible 7

Alexis Colvin is a writer and editor for Deep Spirituality, and is passionate about using her creative skills to apply spiritual concepts to music and other forms of pop culture.

4 Habits to Build if You Want Good Friendships, According to the Bible 7

Alexis Colvin is a writer and editor for Deep Spirituality, and is passionate about using her creative skills to apply spiritual concepts to music and other forms of pop culture.

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