Nearly 40 years ago, David W. Smith – former suburban school superintendent in Chicago, frequent ministry speaker, prolific author of 60+ books – detected a widespread malady and exposed it in his landmark book, The Friendless American Male. Has the situation stabilized, or is it worse?
“According to a recent American Survey report, men have fewer social ties overall than they used to, with only 27% of men in 2021 saying they had at least six close friends compared to 55% in 1990. Men may be suffering a ‘friendship recession’ that is likely affecting their health and happiness.” (Greater Good Magazine)
“That absence of close male friends is a general feature of American society. According to a 2021 survey of 2,000 adults, 15% of the male respondents said they had no close friends at all (in 1990, that was 3%). Fewer than half of the 2021 men said they were satisfied with the number of friends they had.” (Psychology Today)
The sociological diagnosis is confirmed from widespread independent sources. Citing the drought of authentic comrades is pretty easy; creating meaningful confidants is far more daunting. A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal confirmed the challenge: “Forming a friendship in the first place takes a certain number of hours of being together. We need between 40 and 60 hours together for an acquaintance to become a casual friend, according to a study by Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, who surveyed adults who moved to a new location as well as college freshmen in their first two months of school. In order to move from casual friends to close friends, you need to spend an additional 140 to 160 hours together for a total of about 200 hours, the study found.”
When Jesus was on-the-ground and on-mission, he recruited 12 men from the marketplace to be with him 24/7 for 1000 days to experience his ministry so that they’d be ready to replicate what they had seen and heard after he transferred power to them, going forward.
In his last evening with them before his betrayal/trial/execution/resurrection, he had an awesome transition that he made clear to them at what we now remember as the Last Supper, in the Upper Room:
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” — John 15:12-15
For three years, their relationship with Jesus had been understood them to be servants, traveling and working under their Master. They reached a profound juncture as Jesus promoted them from servants to friends based on them meeting the requirements found in the new status. What does it take to be friends with Jesus? Aren’t all Christians friends of God?
Jesus didn’t call the 12 friends through their three-year internship, but now – as they graduated into their future – friendship was within reach. It was a conditional connection extended to these guys who were saved by faith alone, but now had the opportunity to elevate their closeness with their Savior to a new level. What was required? “You are my friends if you do what I command…”
Why is knowing and obeying the expectations of God important, for Christians? Eternal life in Heaven was secured by Jesus’ obedience to his Father on the Cross. Friendship with Jesus is secured by our obedience to his commands in this life.
Here’s the reality: having the right friends makes the minefield of life in a fallen world doable. First among them is Jesus; he’s Friend #1. Adding mutual friends – folks are friends with him, through consistent obedience to his directives – is the icing on life’s cake that elevates your status to “elite.”
Who’s in your circle today, down here? Is rounding-out your relationships a focus for 2024?