The Qualities of Friendship
To many Protestant Christians the Apocrypha is a strange and somewhat suspect collection of Books. Our Anglican tradition tells us that while we do not read the Apocrypha to establish doctrine do read it for “example of life and instruction of manners.”[i] In short we can read the Books of the Apocrypha for devotional purposes and within its pages many secret treasures are hidden.
One book of the Apocrypha was highly regarded by the Early Church and that is the Book of Ecclesiasticus, written by Jesus son of Eleazor son of Sirach sometime before 180 BC. Two passages from Ecclesiasticus, including the Benedictus es, Domine,[ii]are beloved canticles in the service of Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer.
One of the most thought provoking is the following from the New Revised Standard Version:
Pleasant speech multiplies friends, and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies. Let those who are friendly with you be many, but let your advisers be one in a thousand. When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not trust them hastily. For there are friends who are such when it suits them, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble. And there are friends who change into enemies, and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace. And there are friends who sit at your table, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble. When you are prosperous, they become your second self, and lord it over your servants; but if you are brought low, they turn against you, and hide themselves from you. Keep away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends.
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; and those who fear the Lord will find them. Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright, for as they are, so are their neighbors also.[iii]
The development of relationship with good friends takes time, testing, and the growth of trust. Christian’s are required to treat everyone in a loving manner, but they are not required to trust everyone. We are blessed in life if we find two or three very good friends with whom we can share everything. There is a larger circle of more casual friends with whom we can share a lot on varying levels, but not the deepest secrets of our souls. As for the rest of those whom we know, we can trust them to be themselves.
Even Jesus had circles of friendship. John, was his closest friend, then Peter and James, then Andrew, then the rest of the twelve, except for poor old Judas who, in a graphic way, proved himself untrustworthy. Jesus knew many other people but we are told that “he did not trust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”[iv] Friendships take time, they take effort, they take patience and persistence. Good friendships are a labor of love.