What is a True Friend?

“What is a friend? A single soul in two bodies.”—Aristotle

As a junior in college, my roommate, Ted, and I would regularly challenge each other with exhortations and encouragements to become more than we were and grow into all we could be. I clearly remember his calling me out after I complained about the quality of our dorm food while sitting in the cafeteria among several others from our floor. He was absolutely right, even though I was embarrassed to hear his comments at the time. We both agreed to call each other on complaining about food, classes, homework and people, even if our complaints were only to each other.

The results were surprising. Our dorm floormates started to come to us more frequently with their personal concerns and spiritual questions. One told us that he felt like he could trust us with deep issues, and that we would take him seriously and keep things confidential. Friendships grew and, over that semester, eight guys came to faith.

All of that started with a friend who was seeking my highest good.

Youthful idealism? Maybe, but college provides an amazing context to form real friendships—bonds of trust and caring love that will continue long after college. These friendships are visible witness to the power of God and the work of the Spirit in our lives. This is very attractive to the people around us. They long for such friendships as well.

You can have a lot of acquaintances, but only a few people will become your best friends. These are kindred spirits, much like David and Jonathan, whose souls were “knit together.” Friendships like this will endure, even though the intensity of the friendship will ebb and flow over time.

One of the dangers in this kind of friendship is co-dependency. The sheer delight of having such a friend can also create weighty expectations in the relationship. A good question for friends to ask regularly is, “Are we truly seeking the other person’s highest good?”

In his article The Art of Friendship, Joseph O'Day writes: "The Bible has quite a lot to say about friendship, especially in Proverbs. But its perspective is different from what we might think. Our preoccupation is usually with having friends. The Bible’s focus is on being a friend. This subtle shift of simple participles creates an antithetical view of staggering proportions. The difference in perspective is paramount, and the implications are life-changing."

“A true friend stabs you in the front.”—Oscar Wilde

Leave it to Oscar Wilde to lay out an important truth with such wry humor. A true friend is one who helps you see the truth, even if it hurts. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted . . . ” (Proverbs 27:6a). This doesn’t mean we can go around stabbing our friends with hurtful words. Rather, it means being up front with friends about important issues, raising gentle questions with tact and love and never gossiping or putting them down to others behind their backs.

“I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Real friendships don’t just happen, and they aren’t maintenance-free. Ask questions both in conversation with your friend and when you’re alone:

  • How would you describe our friendship?
  • What is God doing in each of us, separately and together?
  • How can we help each other become all God wants us to be?

Being a good friend to others has lasting effects, far beyond ourselves. Student leaders and staff who are good friends to classmates, roommates, faculty and to each other can break open all kinds of opportunities for God’s kingdom on campus.

About the Author
Director of Campus Web Ministries

Jeff Yourison serves as Director of Campus Web Ministries. He and his wife, Judy, live in Madison, Wisconsin. They have two grown children, daughter, Rebecca, and son, Timothy. Jeff has been with InterVarsity since 1977.