Freed to live through the death of another.

A Few Thoughts on Friendship

Friendship is a wonderful thing. Christian friendship is infinitely better. In fact, I think it would be correct to say that only Christians can experience true friendship.

From a biblical standpoint, one’s will and affections are ultimately rooted in his heart. If the heart of an individual is unregenerate, his only love is self-love; he only seeks his pleasure, his heart is proud, and he delights in evil. His will and affections, then, from whence friendship must flow are perverted.

But the heart of a Christian is different. The heart of a Christian is primarily oriented towards the worship and enjoyment of God. From this type of heart, friendship will simply be a partnership in achieving this goal. In other words, a friend is one who loves God by displaying God to me, that in our friendship I might see more of God and thus love God more. In our friendship, I will enjoy God to greater degrees than I had previously known, because I experience the life of God and the mercy and love of God in my friendship with another Christian.

It is at this point in particular (the theocentricity of friendship) where Augustine departed from philosophers who had come before him and had attempted to define true friendship. “While friendship by classical writers is described as a search together for beauty, truth, and wisdom, in Christian friendship, the search ultimately leads friends to the source who is Beauty, Wisdom, Truth, and Love.”[1] God being the ultimate object of all human desire is not a new theme to Augustine in the Confessions, but here it is introduced as the very basis of all Christian friendship: Helping one another pursue our Sovereign Joy.

Perhaps the most profound element of friendship in Augustine’s thought is the idea that in friendship, one will fulfil the twofold commandment. Augustine here adapts Cicero’s definition of friendship, which involved simply doing what is best for the other person, in a reciprocal relationship. “If God is seen as the highest good towards which everything must be directed and if all love must focus on God before all else for it to be truly Christian, friendship among Christians gains a new perspective.”[2] For Augustine then, you are loving God and loving another as yourself by helping him to love God, which is his greatest good, which in turn he will do for you, as this is your greatest wish for yourself as well. Friendship for friendship’s sake—even friendship for the other person’s sake—is no longer in view at all in Augustine’s thought.

This friendship which is centred entirely on God and his goodness benefits all involved by helping them to gain a clearer vision of him. “Sage has observed that the anima una ‘est pour S.Augustin, à partir de 407, l’énigme et le miroir par excellence où il nous est donné dès ici-bas à comprendre, comme nous le pouvons, le mystère de Dieu’.”[3] To Augustine, the most valuable friend in the world is the one who can best reveal God to him and push him to pursue God. In short, “Augustine thinks of friendship as beginning, continuing and ending in God—friendship is participation in the life of God.”[4]

Augustine never reached the goal of friendship he desired in this life, because what he desired was none other than God himself, and the pure unadulterated fellowship with fellow humans which flowed out of that. “His ideal was no earthly society but a heavenly community of mutually loving members of the City of God (described as ‘a perfectly ordered and perfectly harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God and a mutual fellowship in God’) and only here would men be able to know one another completely and to form a perfect intimacy, as friends aimed to do.”[5] But that day has now come for Augustine, and will soon come for us. The lesson for us in the meantime is to pursue God and to pursue friendships in which we can push others in their pursuit of God and find ourselves encouraged as well—and to do so with all the strength and vigour that Augustine did.

For more on this, see here.

[1] Edward C. Sellner, “Like a Kindling Fire: Meanings of Friendship in the Life and Writings of Augustine,” Spirituality Today (Fall 1991, v.43.3), pp 24-257. Also available online at

Carolinne White, Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 197.

[3] As quoted in White, Christian Friendship, 210.

[4] “Ten Augustinian Values: An Introduction.” Available online at

[5] White, Christian Friendship, 205.


  1. Ken

    Your post has got me thinking – no small accomplishment! Ah, but sadly, not all the thoughts are in agreement with what you write.

    The unregenerate ONLY have self love? This is as fine a denial of humans being created in the image of God as I have seen. It is to say that there is nothing but selfishness in unregenerate people and that is quite simply not true and the Scriptures do not say that it is true. Total depravity may mean that there is no part of us that is not effected by the fall but it does not mean that every part is as bad as it can possibly be.
    God uses the unregenerate to accomplsih much good in the world. The ONLY reason people without Christ do charitable works is for selfish purposes? Give that a re-think.

    Also, your thesis here means that it is impossible for a believer to have a non-believer as a friend. The Christian in the friendship then does not so much have a friend as he has a project and the non christian does not have a friend as much as he has someone who will do what benefits him. As soon as the Christian determines that his “friend” is not going to respond to the Gospel he will end the friendship. As soon as the non christian determines that the christian is not going to pander to his selfish requests he will end the friendship.

    You are quite right to point out that christians are oriented toward the worship and enjoyment of God. But it is incomplete. We are also oriented to doing what gives God pleasure. If you factor that in you may find that it is indeed possible to have true friends who do not yet love the one we love and live for. It pleases God when I love my neighbour – even when my neighbour is a man who does not live for God’s pleasure.

    It strikes me as utilitarian to say that we can only have friends who help me accomplish my ultimate goal.

    Just some preliminary thoughts, not very well developed, but I thought I’d throw them in nevertheless.

  2. kerux


    I would like to respond to this: “Total depravity may mean that there is no part of us that is not effected by the fall but it does not mean that every part is as bad as it can possibly be.
    God uses the unregenerate to accomplsih much good in the world.”
    I think you are confusing issues.
    Even though we are not nearly as bad as we would like to be as unregenerate men and women, there remains nothing good in us. Think of Paul and David here…
    “None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
    All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
    So, although you are correct to say that we could be worse, our problem is that our good isn’t really good at all. The fact that God can use evil men for good says nothing about their heart orientation… only that God is powerful.
    So, even though we may have very real relationships with unbelievers, the fact remains that at the very core, the motives of the heart are not to bring glory to God. And anything less than this, altruistic as it may be, is not good. In fact, I would argue at some very base level, it is selfishness. If I am not seeking God’s glory I am most certainly seeking mine.

  3. Ken


    I just lost my response to you that took me a long time to write and I won’t have time to get at it again. I’ll try point form.

    1. Julian says that the unregenerate ONLY have self love. This is simply not true. Unregenerate people honestly care about poverty and war and freedom of religion etc.. The problem is with the word “only”.

    2. If depravity meant we were all as bad as we could be there would be no concern for the poor, war, freedom of religion etc. So my comment regarding the extent of depravity is relevant.

    3. These concerns for others that unregenerate people have carry no weight with God regarding the salvation of people. But those who did good for others will not be surprised to learn that God was aware of their selfish motives. They will be surprised that their genuine concern for others did them no good. But they did have concern for others.

    4. There is a third alternative to doing all for the glory of God or just doing things for oneself. Doing things for the good of others. Doing for the glory of God is the only one that matters in terms of eternity but doing things for others is not doing things out of self love.

    Enough. I have a sermon to write – hopefully not just to make me look good and not even just to benefit the hearers, but to bring glory to the God who enables me to preach.

  4. JLF

    kerux and ken:

    Interesting discussion! Sorry I was away from it for so long (out of town).

    Because much of what I wrote in this entry was a from a longer paper for a course on Augustine’s theology, it presupposed much. One of the things presupposed is an understanding of Augustine’s theology of the human heart. Augustine believed that the will and the emotions of man are ultimately bound by what is in his heart.

    Humans (whether regenerate or not) will always act according to their heart’s desire, since their heart determines the impulses of the will. God’s saving grace, then, is defined as his active changing of our heart’s orientation from delight in self to delight in God; from self-love to God-love.

    Over and over in Augustine’s writings he condemns any love of any thing (person, cause, pleasure, etc.) that is not rooted in love of the great God who gave the gift. Here’s an example:

    “If the things of the world delight you, praise God for them but turn your love away from them and give it to their Maker, so that in the things that please you you may not displease him. If your delight is in souls, love them in God, because they too are frail and stand firm only when they cling to him. If they do not, they go their own way and are lost. Love them, then, in him and draw as many with you to him as you can. Tell them, ‘He is the one we should love. He made the world and he stays close to it.’ For when he made the world he did not go away and leave it. By him it was created and in him it exists. Where we taste the truth, God is there. He is in our very inmost hearts, but our hearts have strayed from him. Think well on it, unbelieving hearts (Is 46.8) and cling to him who made you. Stand with him and you shall not fall; rest in him and peace shall be yours. What snags and pitfalls lie before you? Where do your steps lead you? The good things which you love are all from God, but they are good and sweet only as long as they are used to do his will. They will rightly turn bitter if God is spurned and the things that come from him are wrongly loved.”

    And he’s right! The problem is that sin is ultimately a rejection of God as one’s sovereign joy.

    When one chooses to love any other thing or person in the place that only God deserves it is sin. How can sin be true love?

    Sin is persuasive because something of the truth calls to us in the deepest parts of our hearts… it echoes of the truth. An unbeliever’s love of other people is sin because it gives to another what only God deserves.

    All that being said, you could argue it from a completely different route (which I won’t get into here) about how when I love someone, I ultimately do it for my own pleasure, which is pleasure not rooted in God, but in my experience.

    I think that the other objections you raise would be answered in the body of the whole paper… hopefully… because I certainly wouldn’t argue for the rest of what you’re objecting to. 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts!

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