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The dictionary defines friend this way: “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” Another meaning is “a favored companion.” Other definitions more specific turn up— a designation Quakers use when referring to each other, for example. However, the general meanings listed above seem closest to what the Bible says when it describes both Abraham and Moses as friends of God. Addressing the LORD directly, the writer of 2 Chronicles says: “Are you not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and gave it to the seed of Abraham your friend forever?” (2 Chron 20: 7 my emphasis, as below). The point also appearsin God’s own words: “But you, Israel, are my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, my friend” (Isa 41: 8). James writes: “Abraham believed and it was reckonedto him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” (James 2: 23). Moses is known as God’s friend: “And the LORD spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33: 11).
These verses make an amazing case: The Almighty had friends among humans—“favored companions,” men he was “attached to by affection or esteem”! The thought is almost beyond belief. It stretches the usual definitions of friend, leaving us to wonder. Favored companions are people we hang with. We choose their company, feel comfortable in their presence. Friends are sometimes called “intimates.” In fact, anintimate (the noun) is defined as “a very close friend.” Used this way, the word denotes the closest of relationships.
When one of the participants in this friendship is God himself, we have to somehow deal with the fact that this is the Creator, the one who knows everything about each one of us, friend or not. Contrast that with the fact that unless God tells us about himself, we know only what nature suggests and not even that apart from the biblical encouragement to look for God’s work in the natural order. Moreover, God can do anything while human limitations put us in another order of reality entirely. How can the word friend be used?
Jesus Christ bridges all gaps and makes it possible for anyone to be friends with God, not just heroes of the faith. When we look at the record of what Jesus said and did in his interchanges with people, we find that he used more than one word for friend. Often in the parables we find hetaire, “companion,” the word the king celebrating his son’s marriage uses for a man whose inappropriate attire dishonorsthe occasion: “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” (Mat 22: 12). Hetaire also appears when the owner of the vineyard in another parable answers the complaints of those he pays the same as others working fewer hours, “Friend, I do you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me for a denarius?”(Mat 20: 13). The host of a banquet tells someone sitting modestly in a seat of little importance, “Friend, go up higher” in yet another (Luke 14: 10). Using the same word, Jesus said to Judas, “Friend, why are you come?” (Mat 26: 50)—in the Greek, again “companion.”
Jesus used another word, philos when he described opponentswho mocked him as “a friend of publicans and sinners!”(Luke 7: 34) and again when he addressed “my friends” and told them not to fear those who can kill the body but cannot harm the soul (Luke 12: 4).
Whatever word is used, the challenge of an intimate relationship offered us by our Creator and Savior can beoverwhelming. But the possibility of friendship between ourselves and God must be examined, however difficult the thought. The encouraging hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” comes to mind and Jesus’ saying (Rev 3: 20), “Look, I’m standing at the door knocking. If someone comes to the door, I will go in and eat with this person and this one with me.” I John 4: 7-8 explains it all: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God . . .. for God is love.” Here John showshow a friendship between God and humans can happen and offers a definition of friendship between ourselves as well.Love is at the core. When God calls us “Friend,” he puts asideour mortality, our lack of understanding, all our humanlimitations, and especially our constant sinfulness. The cross is how that happened.