With friends like these...
There is much to be said about friendship, and the Bible is certainly not lacking in this. We all need to have several layers of friends - acquaintances, friends that are not superficial but not very close, and our inner circle of close friends. It has been said that we cannot choose our relatives, but we can choose our friends; and we need to be particularly careful about who we choose as our closest ones. What should we expect from friends? Here is a partial list from the Bible:
Cooperation - Gen 38:12, Lk 7:6
Closeness - Deut 13:6, 3Jn14
No betrayal - Jud 14:20, Job 6:27, Job 16:20, Ps 41:9, Prov 17:9, Jer 38:22, Lam 1:2, Mic 7:5,
Zech 13:6, Lk 21:6
No ulterior motives - 2Sam 13:3, Job 17:5, Prov 14:20, Prov 19:4 & 6, Prov 22:11, Mt 11:19, Lk
16:9, Lk 23:12, Acts 12:20
Loyalty - 2Sam 3:8, 2Sam 16:16-17, 2Sam 19:6, 1Ki 4:5, Prov 18:24, Jn 19:12, Jam 4:4
Kindness - Job 6:14, Prov 18:24, Lk 11:5-8
Faithfulness in adversity - Job 2:11, Job 19:14-21, Ps 35:14, Ps 38:11, Prov 17:17, Prov 19:7,
Prov 27:10, Jer 19:9, Jer 20:4, Jn 11:11, Acts 27:3
Honesty - Est 6:13, Prov 27:6 & 9 & 17, Jer 20:6, Mt 20:13, Mt 22:12, Mk 3:21
Honor - Lk 14:10
Joy in good times - Jn 3:29
Sharing - 1Sam 30:26, Est 5:10 & 14, S.O.S. 5:1, Mk 5:19, Lk 11:5-8, Lk 14:12, Lk 15:6 & 9, Acts
Prayer - Job 42:10
Sacrifice - Jn 15:13
Protection - Acts 19:31
This list is not exhaustive, but it shows that friendship has high expectations. When it comes to marriage, the best thing you can do is marry your best friend (S.O.S. 5:16, Hos 3:1). However, there is another friendship that is even higher - the friendship of God. God offers us the greatest relationship we will ever know, but friendships are two-way relationships. Each participant should expect certain things from the other. There is no higher honor than to be a servant of God, but He calls us to be even closer than that. He calls us to be His friends. He will hold up His part of the relationship, but what about us? He called Abraham His friend (2Chr 20:7, Is 41:8, Jam 2:23). He spoke with Moses face to face like a friend (Ex 33:11). The night before Jesus died, He told His disciples he not only called them servants, but friends (Jn 15:13-15). It is truly amazing that God wants to be our friend, and that He wants us to be His friends.
Then there is another kind of friend. This is the friend that is not intending to be what we would consider a friend, but is fulfilling that purpose just the same. This is the person who appears to be our adversary, but is unwittingly helping us find the purpose of God. Joseph's brothers should have been his best friends, but they plotted to murder him, and sold him into slavery (Gen 37). This was not a very friendly thing to do to someone, but it turned out to be the way Joseph's dreams were fulfilled (Gen 45). It also turned out to be the way God saved Joseph's family from famine and preserved His prophetic plan for all mankind. God Himself will send us these friends. He hardened the heart of Pharaoh in order to arrange the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites (Ex 3-15). God raised him up for that very purpose (Ex 9:16, Rom 9:17). Saul attempted to kill David at least 20 times before he died and David became king (1Sam 18-26). This was David's path to the throne. Nebuchadnezzzar the king of Babylon invaded Judah, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and took Jews captive. God called him His servant 3 times (Jer 25:9, Jer 27:6, Jer 43:10), the same number of times He called Abraham His friend God called the Persian king Cyrus His shepherd and His anointed (Is 44:28, Is 45:1). Even the devil is God's instrument (1Ki 22, Job 1-2, 2Cor 12:7, Rev 12-13). It was Satan who motivated Judas to betray the Lord (Jn 13:2). Yet Judas was just fulfilling the prophecies concerning the death of Jesus, without which we could not be saved (Ps 41:9, Jn 13:18; Zech 11:12-13, Mt 27:3-9). When Judas approached Jesus in the garden to accomplish his betrayal, Jesus called him friend, knowing full well what he was there to do (Mt 26:50). The prophet Zechariah wrote from the perspective of Jesus about His death and said, "And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends (Zech 13:6)." The Lord knew all along Judas was going to betray Him (Mt 26:21, Jn 6:64). Yet Jesus prayed all night before choosing the 12, and still picked Judas (Lk 6:12-16). He knew what the plan was, and that He needed Judas to do what he was going to do. The Lord kept him close to Him for 3.5 years. He let him hear His teaching and see His miracles. He sent him on a missionary journey (Mt 10). He even let him be the treasurer, although he was stealing money (Jn 12:6). How gracious was the Lord to him!
God will not only allow but actually send us such friends at times to accomplish His purpose. God will test our spiritual maturity. He will put a thorn in our life to humble us (2Cor 12:7). He will strengthen our faith through adversity. He will build our character. He will chastise us (Heb 12). God claims responsibility for sending evil (Job 1-2, Is 45:7, Mic 1:12, Amos 3:6). He chooses the instruments by which He does these things, and we must have enough faith to trust that He is in control and is doing what is best for us in the long run and the big picture. He doesn't expect us to enjoy these "friends", but He does expect us to be His friends, and not walk out on Him when we don't like the circumstances. We may feel like Job and say, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?", as long as we remember that God is our friend, and not our enemy.