All of us would agree that we have different relationships with different people, classifying some as family, friends, loved ones, acquaintances, and others as enemies. We share our most intimate moments with those who know us the most and who can empathise and support us when something unexpected or troubling happens in our lives. From our collective experience of the COVID lockdown and the implementation of the ‘social bubbles’, we have all had to consider who constitutes our inner circle.
In the book, Making Friends, Making Disciples, Lee B. Spitzer uses the image of concentric circles to identify a relationship hierarchy and the expected number within each group.
- Best Friends: the two or three closest loved ones in the small centre circle
- Special Friends: the 3–5 closest friends outside the centre circle
- Social Friends: the 7–12 people one spends a great deal of time with
- Casual Friends/Acquaintances: the 50–200 people you know by name and might socialise or work with
- Non-friends or Enemies in the outside circles
Spitzer’s assumptions are not a science, but it is interesting to note that Jesus had many followers, twelve apostles and a close circle of three: Peter, James and John. He shared some things with everyone and more personal things with the apostles, eg. Matthew 13:10-11 ‘Then the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do You speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” Jesus reserved His most intimate moments, like His Transfiguration, for His inner circle: Peter, James and John.
There is a lot of evidence that shows that good friends encourage healthy behaviours. Friends can help you set and maintain goals. They can watch out for you and give you notice when any unhealthy behaviours get out of hand and provide emotional support when you’re going through hard times. When Job was experiencing his many trials, three of his friends arrived to “comfort him” (Job 2:11), but they turned out to be “miserable comforters”, in Job’s opinion (Job 16:2).
Studies have shown the depressed were twice as likely to recover if they had happy friends. You will be less likely to perceive a tough time as stressful if supported by a good friend. A lack of friends can cause you to feel lonely and without support, which makes you vulnerable to other problems, such as depression.
Good friends provide a positive influence in your life. If you make friends with people who are generous, help others or are ambitious, you are more likely to develop those values yourself, and in turn become the best version of yourself.
There are lots of examples of good friendships in the Bible to inspire us in our own relationships.
Abraham reminds us of dependability and going the extra mile for friends when he gathered hundreds of men to rescue Lot and all his possessions from captivity (Genesis 14:14-16).
Ruth and Naomi’s relationship was forged between different ages and different cultures. Ruth became friends with her mother-in-law, and they looked out for one another through hard times (Ruth 1:16-17).
David and Jonathan formed a friendship almost instantly. Have you ever met anyone with whom you just clicked, and you knew they were going to be a good friend? David and Jonathan were just like that (1 Samuel 18:1-3).
Paul talks about the loyalty of his friends, Timothy and Epaphroditus, and their willingness to look out for each another (Philippians 2:19-26).
Being a good friend is a form of evangelism; it’s a very effective way of practically sharing our light and salt. Being friendly can reach people who are estranged from church as well as those who would refuse help from a church ministry. The most wonderful thing about being friendly is that almost every Christian can get involved with it and be a practical example of God’s love. “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other” (1 John 4:11).
I would suggest an amendment to Spritzers’ hierarchy circles: the addition of a new centre, which is occupied by Jesus Christ and on which all the others are centred, ie. the God circle.
If God is not the centre of our friendship circle, it will lead to continuous misunderstandings and status confusion. We need a good relationship with Jesus first, if we are to navigate our journey through life into eternity. Matthew 6:33 reminds us: “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”Rev Stephen Brooks is leader of Mount Peniel Church in Stafford
Written by: Rev Stephen Brooks