Jackie Robinson, a baseball pioneer and legend, broke the color barrier in the major leagues. In doing so, he faced jeering crowds in every stadium. One day in his home stadium in Brooklyn, he committed an error. He stood at second base, while fans ridiculed him.
Then, as reported by Leadership Magazine, shortstop Pee Wee Reese came over and stood next to him. He put his arm around Robinson and faced the crowd. The raucous crowd fell silent. Jackie Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career. The gesture spoke more eloquently than the words: this man is my friend.
According to Harpers Bible Dictionary, friendship is a relationship of mutual trust and congeniality. A variety of sources suggest that the single syllable utterance—friend—is the finest word in any language.
To be sure, our quality of life is directly linked to the quality of our friendships. For example, Howard Hughes, one of the last century’s earliest and most eccentric billionaires, reportedly said about his financial fortunes, “I’d give it all for one good friend.”
John Trent and Gary Smalley tell us in The Hidden Value of a Man, Hughes made this statement when his personal fortune was valued in excess of four billion dollars. In his last years, Howard Hughes became a paranoid recluse, having almost no contact with other humans. In the view of some, his death was a merciful end to a miserable existence. In spite of all his wealth his quality of life was quite poor.
Good friends are our greatest champions. As the wise counselor Solomon states, “The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense” (Proverbs 27:9). Friends will tactfully tell us when our clothes don’t match or when our breath smells bad. A good friend will even find a tactful way of telling us when it is time to go on a diet. Solomon also reports that “wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). As one poet has put it:
Friends are there in good times and times that are bad.
Friends are faithful companions whether we are happy or sad.
And, friends tell us the truth, even at the risk of making us mad.
Thus, “as iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17). Friends enhance and enrich our lives. True friends help us become better people. A person who has friends is among the world’s wealthiest people. Friends are one of life’s most treasured blessings.
True friendship involves a willingness to take risks. It requires that we open our hearts and lay our lives on the line. Sometimes it is as simple as standing by someone with our arm around her shoulder. Sometimes it involves much more, because a true friend is willing to do whatever it takes!
Jesus affirmed this truth when He said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). His dedication to this principle was confirmed with His actions. Thus, surrendering His life to those who would crucify Him was, among other things, the greatest demonstration of friendship ever beheld by human eyes. That’s why one of the finest thoughts we know, one of the finest songs we sing is: What a friend we have in Jesus!
© Bill Williams, a fellow sojourner