Keys to Good Friendships, Part 1

This is the contents of the "Keys to Good Friendships, Part 1" section of the "Developing Great Relationships"

1) Not returning anger or digs right away

Keys to Good Friendships

Part 1

Thomas Hughes said, “Blessed are they who have the gift of making friends, for it is one of God’s best gifts. It involves many things, but above all, the power of giving out of one’s self, and appreciating whatever is noble and loving in another.”

Suppose that I were to take our minivan and swerve off of the paved highway and into some rugged woods. It would not be long before the chassis would be torn into pieces and the car clunk to a halt, now a broken-down wreck. Why so much damage?—because a minivan was not created to be driven over harsh terrain. It functions best when driven on paved roads as the engineers designed it.

We are created in the image of God and thus we have been endowed with aspects of God’s nature such as wisdom, love, justice, holiness, mercy, and patience. A key aspect of God designing us similar to Himself is that we can have a personal and endless relationship with Him. That we have similar natures draws us to each other. We see this principle throughout creation: Lions form a pride, fish swim in schools, and ants live in colonies. Whereas all the rest of creation has only one type that they are similar to—their own species—we are unique because there are two types that we are similar to and, therefore, can form deep relationships with: other people (individually and in community) and God.

When we lack any of these relationships we feel incomplete. When we try to fill any of these voids with something other than with what God intended then we can make a wreck of our lives. But when we delight ourselves in the Lord and with His people, then He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.”).

God designed us to have personal, caring relationships with other individuals. Studies have shown that people who lack social contacts are more depressed and stressed, feel more deprived, and even have more physical ailments.

At the beginning of Creation everything around Adam was perfect. He walked and spoke with God. He was surrounded by friendly animals. He had unblemished health and plenty of food. But we read in Genesis 2:20 that Adam was incomplete, something was missing. Even Adam needed the company of another person. So God created Eve and brought her to him.

God could completely fulfill all of our needs directly. When we need advice He could whisper in our ear infinite wisdom. When we have doubts He could point to Scriptures that would strengthen our foundation. God does meet all of our needs but usually it is through other people. We are conduits of God’s character. God pours His grace through us to someone that is hurting. We are the ones who deliver the Good News of salvation to those who are lost. And, likewise, when we are needy we can go to others.

1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?” A temple was not an isolated building maintained by only one person. It was a central, busy area and the primary place of God’s presence. Similarly, as temples, we should be where many people can come to experience God’s mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness.

One of the first things that we must realize is that every human relationship will fail us at some time in some way.

That failure may be catastrophic or it may merely be a disappointment. But it will come.

And the closer that we get to someone the more likely that we will experience one of those failures.

That is one reason why some people don’t want to get close to other people. It may not be because they are snobs or unfriendly. It may simply be because they don’t want to be hurt.

The problem with that attitude, though, is that they’re missing all of the rich treasures that can come from close friendships.

Proverbs 14:4, “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much increase comes by the strength of the ox.”

This may seem like an odd verse for a study on friendships, but what it is saying is this.

Think about the manger as being your life and think about oxen as being friendships.

If you want a life that is clean and basically unencumbered then keep people out of your life. Your life will be clean. But it will also be empty. And it won’t be used for that which it was created for.

But when you bring people into your life you’re going to have to clean up some messes. But much strength comes from having those people there.

God could have done just as well without us being around. Yet His desire for intimate relationships drove Him to pay the highest cost. And by doing so, He set Himself up for much potential rejection.

So failures and disappointments in relationships will come.

When this happens there are several questions that we need to ask ourselves.

  1. How am I going to react to this?

  • Am I going to be vengeful? Or am I going to be gracious?

  • Am I going to become depressed? Or am I going to look to God for my encouragement?

  • Am I going to become angry and bitter? Or am I going to forgive, if necessary, and move on with my life?

  • Is my whole self-image or self-esteem going to fall to the ground crushed? Or am I going to be confident in how God still sees me?

  1. Is the friendship worth fighting for?

  • Should I make any effort at all to try and patch things up? Or is time to let go and move on?

  1. Will I turn inward and isolate myself or will I draw nearer to God and let Him work with me?

  • Does a failed relationship mean that you should, therefore, pull away from all relationships? Or does it mean that you should draw nearer to the one relationship that will never fail? And of course this is God.

  1. How will this affect my relationships with others?

  • Will I drive others crazy with my constant whining? Or will I seek out others so that I can learn from them?

  • Will I take out my frustrations on someone else? Or will I deal with my frustrations in a mature, correct manner?

  • Will I still seek to minister to others even in my own time of need?

The choice of which road you will take when a relationship fails is always up to you. God will always give you the strength to do what is right.

Does anyone have a one or two minute example in your own life where a relationship failed and, if you reacted wrongly, how you could have done better or, if you reacted correctly, what you did and why your choice was good?

But today we are not going to concentrate on how to deal with these failures in relationships but rather how you can become more like Christ and so have better relationships.

Four different levels of friendships

Levels of Friendship

Distinguishing Characteristics



Based on occasional contacts

Freedom to ask general questions: public information


Casual Friendship

Based on common interests, activities, and concerns

Freedom to ask specific questions, opinions, ideas, wishes, and goals


Close Friendship and Fellowship

Based on mutual life goals

Freedom to discuss more deeply life goals and desires


Intimate Friendship and Fellowship

Based on commitment to the development of each other’s character

Freedom to deeply trust each other to be truly concerned about the other

And so we are going to look at several keys that will enable us to move into deeper friendships and to maintain them.

  1. Be willing to be the first to open up to the other person

In boxing there is a situation where the two fighters just circle each and never throw any punches. Neither one of them wants to take the initiative because they are afraid that the other boxer will then get in a good counter punch. This is called “posing.”

Sadly, in relationships this same thing can happen. We can have two people where the relationship is going nowhere and it’s mostly because neither person is willing to take the initiative. Neither one is willing to put himself into a vulnerable position. And so you have a relationship that is shallow.

God wants us to be a people who are willing to be open with our lives.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13, “Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide. You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections. Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children—open wide to us also.”

There are only three places in Paul’s letters where he addresses the church’s congregation by name within the text of the letter.

  • Philippians 4:15 where Paul commends the Philippians for sticking with him and supporting him.

  • Galatians 3:1 where Paul chides the Galatians for living by the law rather than by grace.

  • And here in 2 Corinthians where Paul is pleading with the Corinthians to open up to him.

When Paul is saying that his heart is opened wide the Greek word means that his heart was enlarged. I.e., Paul chose to expand his heart wide enough to give his affections to all of the Corinthians. He was willing to take them all inside; to love them, to care for them, and to share his life with them.

Then he indicts them by saying that the reason why they are restrained around him is not because he has given them any excuse to be tight-lipped. But, rather, the problem is because they are deliberately holding back their affections.

And so, he asks them to be open to him as he is to them.

But what is the key here? On what basis was Paul able to ask them to open up to him? It was because he was first open to them. He was not expecting them to do something that he had not done first. So he was able to say, “Now in a like exchange…”

In the same way, in order to develop friendships we must be the one willing to take the initiative. Don’t expect everyone to come to you.

There was one point in my life where I felt that several of my friends had betrayed me.

That their friendships were all show, that they weren’t sincere. That they were friends to me only because, as Christians, they had to be. So I decided that from then on I would force people to come up to me and initiate the conversation because then that would prove that they were sincere. Well, do you know what happened? For the several years that I tried this I did not make one new friend. Finally I said that this wasn’t going to work and decided to take the initiative again and, as a result, I’ve made a lot of friends.

The key is that you must determine to be the one who takes the first shot. And if it doesn’t work out then you shrug your shoulders, you move on and you try again.

How do you do this? What does this mean?

  • It means being the one who walks up to other people first.

  • It means learning how to ask questions or say things that will get a conversation going.

  • It means learning the skill of making friends.

  • It means being the first one willing to share something personal.

  • It means responding to someone who approaches you.

  • It means remembering what they said so that you can ask them about it the next time.

What does this not mean?

  • It does not mean talking incessantly about yourself. Have you ever been with someone where 90% of every conversation is about them? People are not microphones.

  • It does not mean laying your whole life on the table to someone that you just met. That means that you don’t walk up to someone and say, “Hi, my name is Bob and I just got out of an institution and my entire life is in a shambles. Do you want to hear why?”

  • It does not mean giving up because it isn’t going as well as you had hoped.

Like most other things in life, developing good friendships takes practice and patience.

God is our ultimate example of this.

He did not wait for us to come to Him.

Instead, he came down and did all that He had to in order to forge a relationship with each one of us.

So ask yourself.

  • Do you have a heart that clenched as tight as a fist or do you have a heart that grows in response to people?

  • Do you build a stone fortress around your affections or are you willing to be unrestrained in your affections?

  • Are you willing to settle for a life that is clean but empty or are you willing to put up with some messes for the sake of strength that friendships bring?

  1. Understand that not every situation will work out the way that you might have hoped

  • Sometimes things just don’t click.

  • And sometimes that person is not looking for a new friend at that time.

  • And sometimes that person is going through their own battles and doesn’t really need or want a new situation.

  • And sometimes, some people are just a cold fish or are bitter.

That doesn’t mean that you are unlovable.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a poor friend or a bad person.

You can’t take every interaction personally as though everything that someone else says and does is a reflection of you. It’s NOT all about you.

People do have other things going on in their lives and that may affect their ability to get along with someone else; no matter who that person is.

If something isn’t working out then just let it go and move on. If you want to communicate your displeasure at how things are drifting apart, then fine, go ahead. But don’t cling to people like a leech. Move on. Learn from the situation and make new friends.

If you and one other person are the only survivors of a nuclear war and you can’t get along then that is a problem.

But until that is the case, there are plenty of other people around.

Don’t become fixated on one person.

You will drive yourself crazy if you think that every relationship has to last forever.

Just as you’ll drive yourself crazy if you think that every failed relationship is a reflection of you.

What does Jesus say in Matthew 10:14 to His disciples? “And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet.”

Shake off the dust. I.e., let go of it. Leave it behind and move on.

Not everyone got along with Jesus Christ and He was perfect.

But just because a relationship doesn’t turn out the way that you might want, that doesn’t mean that the whole thing must be chucked. Maybe you can settle very nicely into being just friends and that may be the one of the best friendships that you have.

Does anyone have any thoughts as to why some relationships just won’t ever really click no matter how hard you try?

  1. Learn to listen

Listen to what people are saying and then ask appropriate questions based on what they just said.

What that means is not just hearing what they are saying but listening to it.

Proverbs 18:2, “A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.”

A fool doesn’t care what the other person is saying; he is only waiting for an opportunity to talk.

And go even one step beyond listening and that is remembering. When someone tells you something significant then try and remember it. Then the next time that you see them ask them about it.

Who is our example here? It is God, of course.

God loves to listen to our prayers every second of every day.

Psalm 116:2, “Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.”

The word “inclined” in the Hebrew means to “bend over.”

Now, of course, in your goal to be more of a listener that doesn’t mean never talking.

Being a good listener means listening to the other person. That is very different from not talking.

The quietest person may never listen to anything that another person is saying.

The goal is not to let the other person talk more but to listen to what the other person is saying.

People are not microphones for us to talk in to. They are people with goals and desires and opinions and struggles just like us. Don’t you turn a friend into nothing more than a tape recorder.

  1. Don’t return anger or digs right away in like manner

Someone attacks you or gives you a little dig.

The attack could be unwarranted and mean.

Right to your face he may call you names or impugn your motives or make false accusations.

Or the dig could be subtle.

Things like

You should know better.”

No wonder why you’re… “

That was really dumb.”

How did Jesus react to these little digs?

Matthew 4:3-4, “And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’”

What was the little dig here?

Hey, if you’re so high-falutin; if you’re so special; if you’re such a big deal; then do this.”


Satan came at Christ with that little dig, “If You are the Son of God…”

But what did Jesus do?

Did He jump right in and defend Himself and say, “I am the Son of God and you know it!”

No. Actually, He didn’t even address it. He just let it go by.

Matthew 27:39-43, “And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him, and saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him. HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET HIM DELIVER Him now, IF HE TAKES PLEASURE IN HIM; for He said, “I am the Son of God.”’”

They abused Him. They mocked Him. They made fun of Him.

Again, what did Jesus say in return? Nothing.

Proverbs 26:4-5, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

How is a fool wise in his eyes here? It is because he just put you down with some snide remark and what did you do? –You fell right down to his level and responded in kind. Therefore, in his mind, you proved that you are just as low as he made you out to be. So he was right.

The temptation is always to defend yourself and to give digs in return.

But don’t do that. If you have something to say to someone then just communicate it in a mature manner.

Too often we want people to pay and to pay immediately for something that they said to us that we didn’t like.

Learn to keep your mouth shut at these times. You should be able to get with this person at a later time and discuss things in a more reasonable manner.

There have been so many times in my life that someone gave me a dig and I had to bite my lip to keep from nailing him back. But by the next day or maybe even an hour later I am so glad that I didn’t.

Learn to be gracious even in the midst of adversity.

1 Peter 2:19-23, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

When it comes to hostile relationships or situations it says here that Christ left us an example. What was that example?

  • When He was reviled; He didn’t revile in return.

  • When He was suffering because of others; He didn’t threaten them.

  • He left the judgment to His Father.

This is your example. And what is the point of an example? For you to do it.

This doesn’t mean that you should be a doormat. But what it does mean is that you shouldn’t stoop to their level of name-calling. Deal with it in a gracious manner. If that means dealing calmly and maturely by giving your perspective then do that. But if that means being silent; then be silent.

When being attacked or verbally abused it is definitely hard to be gracious in return. Besides not responding in kind, what are some other ways that you can be gracious in this situation?

  1. Do not judge other people.

Matthew 7:1-2, “"Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”

How can you tell if you are judging someone?

Here are six possible tests. If you fail at any of them then there is a good chance that you are guilty of being judgmental.

  1. His failure improves the opinion that I have of myself.

  • Do you now feel spiritually superior to that person? “Thank you, God, that I’m not like him.”

  1. His failure decreases my concern for the faults that I know I have.

  • Do you find yourself more easily justifying sin in your own life? “I thought that this one sin in my life was pretty bad but look at him. If anyone has to work on their life it’s him; not me.”

  1. His failure gives me a desire to see him punished.

  • Do you hope that others see what he is doing or find out about it and then they will take him to task?

  • Are you glad when he fails at something so that you can quickly blame his failure as being directly caused by his sin?

  1. I’m eager to tell others of his failure.

  • Can you hardly wait to run into so-and-so so that you can tell her what this other person did or said?

  • You know that gossip is wrong so you just can’t blurt it out. So you lead the conversation so that the other person brings up the louse’s name. So since they brought him up first that somehow enables you to open up the floodgates of gossip.

  1. His failure promotes me to review his past failures.

  • You start thinking about everything wrong that the other person said or did.

  1. His failure causes me to feel that I cannot forgive him.

  • This one thing that this person did was so horrible that you can’t find it in yourself to forgive him.

When you judge someone else, God is basically saying

  • OK, I’m a God of mercy and I want you to be a person of mercy.

  • I’m a God of forgiveness and I want you to be a person of forgiveness.

  • I’m a God of patience and I want you to be a person of patience.

But since you prefer to use your own standard of judgment then that’s the one that I’ll use with you also since it’s the one that you seem to like so much.

Matthew 6:12, “‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

If you are a critical, judgmental person then don’t be surprised if you find yourself being isolated. Nobody likes a back stabber.

Max is an only child who lived in a military family and his family moved around quite a bit. He rarely spent more than a few years in any one place. The result was that he learned not to bother to try and make new friends. His father eventually retired from the army and they settled into the Old Bridge area. By now Max was 25 years old. However, even though he knew that they were here to stay, Max found it difficult to make new friends. He would come to church once or twice a week but didn't feel comfortable reaching out to people because he never really learned how to. You've tried to talk to Max a few times but he was always pretty quiet and never really made much of an effort to carry the conversation any further. Then one day you notice that Max seemed rather glum so you went over and asked him what was up. He responded that he was lonely and can't seem to make friends.

What do you think that Max's biggest fears are?

What specific advice would you give to Max?

What are some truths or experiences about relationships that you have learned that you can share with him?

What are some topics that you can suggest to Max to use to open up channels of communication? And what are some specific questions in these suggestions that you can give to him? For example, you might suggest that he ask about a person's employment. Within that topic he might ask where they work, how long that person has been there, is there a lot of interaction with the other employees, are there any Christians there, etc?

What do you think are some additional keys to establishing good friendships?

What are some things that can kill a friendship?

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Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: