Friendship – A Prize

It is built into the core of our being that we assign value with friendship. Such things as companionship, trust, openness, grounding, protecting, tending, laughing, loving, wrestling and familiarity are ostensive examples of the deeper value of friendship. Friendship is something worth striving for, possessing and maintaining. Friendship is a prize. Not a prize as in a trophy awarded to the victor of a competition, but a prize as in something valuable and cherished. Regrettably, often we confuse these two nuances of “prize” via verbal equivocation. The truth is we not only equivocate our words, but we equivocate our thinking too.

Let’s consider this equivocation of friendship as a prize. When we understand friendship to be a prize in that it is to be cherished then we can say we have a positive. If our understanding of friendship being a prize means we think it is something to be won and competed for then we have a negative understanding. In fact we can say our attitude is itself a malignant cancer festering and killing the friendship.

In this blog, we will consider the cancer. The equivocation in prizing a friend is this: we think that prizing a friend means we need to compete with other friends over that friendship. Maybe an example will help: In 9th Grade, I was in the midst of establishing new friendships since my friends from 8th grade did not go to my high school. I quickly developed friendships with Tony and Keri. Tony and I hung out during lunch and did track together. Keri’s aunt was a teacher at an elementary school behind our school. After school we would go to her class and tutor special needs students. One day Keri told me Tony had said some pretty rough things about me. I was extremely hurt. I hunted Tony down and emotionally unloaded on him. Our friendship was over. I spent more time with Keri. Only later did I discover that everything Keri told me was a lie. Still the damage was done.

Clearly, friendship is not this destructive behavior that seeks to elevate you over someone else in order to be seen as more valuable in the eyes of a third party. Get it? A positive view of friendship as a prize demands we value the other person, a negative view of friendship being a prize demands we are valued more than others in the eyes of our friends. This may be the biggest danger to friendship. We discuss this because, despite how we hate to admit it, we all fall victim to this mentality. It saturates our selfish prideful selves. We are quick to undercut those who are around us. Blogging for me is an exercise in personal evaluation. There are many positives about friendship that I must improve upon, but if I am not willing to be honest about some core weaknesses then I am exhaling hot air out of empty lungs behind a puffed-up chest. Reality is this: I could have told ten fold the stories of my undercutting of others just as easy as I could of Tony and Keri. I know I need to work on what the prize really is in friendship – and what it is not.

This competition over friends has been around a lot longer than us. It goes to the earliest of days. In Genesis 4 we are given the story of Cain’s murdering of Abel. Genesis 4.3-5 reads “So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. 4Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”

Why was Cain jealous of Abel? He was jealous because God did not approve of Cain’s sacrifice, yet he did approve of Abel’s. That’s why in Genesis 4.6-7 God warns Cain of his anger. “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain wanted to be more valuable to God than Abel and so he sought to remove his competition so that he would be a greater prize. After killing his brother, he reveals the depths of his hate by refusing to acknowledge responsibility for his brother (which is part of the principle of friendship considered in a previous blog). Genesis 4.9 “Then the LORD said to Cain, ’Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said, ’I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’” The dynamics of friendship are usually not between two people (as Christians I would say “the dynamics of friendship are necessarily not between two people), but at least three. The outcome is not usually as catastrophic as with Cain’s story, but when we seek to elevate ourselves at the expense of another the outcome is never good.

Peter is a compelling disciple. He seems real because of his quirks. He wore his heart (and temper) on his sleeve. Starting in John 21.15 we find Jesus talking to Peter about Peter’s future and his relationship with Jesus.
Jesus: Yo! Big P – you got my back?
Peter: Pfff! Mac J – you know I got you covered.
Jesus: Then tend to my peeps. Big P – do you have my back!
Peter: why you all up in my grill? You know I’m tru.
Jesus: tend to my g’s.
But where does Peter want to take it? John 21:19-20 “Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man?’” Peter and John, both at times in their relationship show great concern for who Jesus likes better (cf. Matthew 20.19-20). They are two of the closest disciples to Jesus.
Peter: Mighty Master J – why you ain’t buggin’ John?
Jesus: quit draggin’ John into your business. You worry about Peter’s business when it comes to Mighty Master J – and I’ll worry about John’s business. Straight?
Peter: Straight. 😦
We need to be straight on this issue too. There is no room, especially as a Christian, too seek out and compete with others when it comes to friendship. It is antithetical to who we are, what we claim to be and who we represent.

The good news is that God gives us some great tools to help protect ourselves from falling victim to the wrong prize. Ephesians 4:29 “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” This verse is a great life verse! When feeling the need to gossip, lie, or engage in conversation that does not edify those who hear concerning others then we should not do it. Shockingly simple and yet oh, so hard! This is a battleground and we stand on the front lines and we can save friendships by employing this discipline. We have an obligation to our friends even when they are not around. Loose lips are not okay in friendship. Engaging or seeking to ensnare unsuspecting persons into unedifying speak is friendicide.

Another great tool is being bad at math. Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” If the prize found in friendship is the result of competition then we most certainly should keep count. Who calls who, who pays for what, how many times so-and-so did such-n-such. I love math (in a theoretical kind of way), but here it is the kiss of death. Maybe we can take hostage the quote that says “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” and make it say “Friends don’t let friends keep score.” How many times do we keep count? Answer: we don’t. When are we to keep score? Answer: We’re not. As far as I can tell, the sole requirement a person has to meet in order to be your friend is a mutually agreed upon desire to engage in the relationship. That’s it. They don’t have to add any other value to the relationship other then the value of the relationship. So scoring is a no-no.

What happens in competitions? We keep score, we seek outside sources (gossip) to re-support our side, we seek to dominate and lord ourselves and our wills over another. We think we are the prize. The result is a buffet, where our friends are served up to be consumed by our wants. We become a devourer of others. The lay of the land is relationships and we are the predator. Woe to all who lay down before us as prey.

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2 Comments to “Friendship – A Prize”

  1. I think another lie about friendship is that friends are a means to some end. They are our friends because of what they can do for us (ie, befriending all of the popular people to ride their coattails). If people are not means to some end, then all people are ends in themselves and should be treated as such.We started a new book for our friday morning discussion group at work and this one is on virtue. Last week’s chapter was on the importance of friendship and it was quite edifying.

  2. Jacob,I can’t even think of an ends that friends might plausibly be a means to. Anyone? So what is the title of this book you are reading?iz

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