Take a minute and chew on Galatians 6:1-5 before you read the rest of this.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.”  

Tim Keller is founder and pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and he tracks with one of my favorite dead guys, Jonathan Edwards, who wrote a very well-known treatise on why we need to help the poor, the needy, and the people around us.

Keller says that Edwards would preach about this often, and people would say something like, “Well, I know I probably ought to help people with needs, but I can’t afford to. I have nothing to spare.”

Edwards replied in his treatise: “In many cases, we may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves […] else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we be never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burdens at all?

What is Edwards saying?

And what are we really saying when we tell ourselves or others, “I’d love to help, but can’t because I can’t really afford it, or am strapped for time”? If I’m honest with myself, here’s what I’m really saying. “I can’t help without burdening myself. I can’t afford to help because I’ll suffer in some way – and I’d prefer not to suffer, thank you very much.”

Edwards is getting to the heart of what it means to be a friend. I’m talking about a real friend. Not a FaceBook friend. A real brother, a real sister, a real friend will take on some of the other person’s burden to help bear the burden of the person he or she is trying to help. A real friend is very different from an acquaintance. Very different from most Facebook friend lists, which research shows are not comprised of true friends.

Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

And there’s one big thing that sticks out to me as I think about my real friends. They stick around through thick and thin. They’ve stood so close to me as friends that even some of my burdens have even made their way onto them. And they’ve still hung around.

That’s friendship. Wicked different than acquaintances. And in the end for me? I’d rather have a few real friends than a million random people who would not stand anywhere near me when times get tough, or I get tough to deal with (which is often).

At the incarnation, Jesus Christ did not just stand near us. He became a human being in that dumpy, smelly manger, and on the cross, Jesus Christ didn’t avoid our sins or just let a little bit of our suffering slide onto him. He bore all of it.

When I come to see that, and am being changed by that, only then by the grace of the Spirit working change in me, am I truly able to get and be what a friend really is.

So here’s what I’m left to wrestle with — and I’m challenging you, if you’re reading this, to consider a few questions. Who am I a friend to? Do I help people only when it doesn’t cost me anything emotionally, financially, physically, or spiritually? Or am I all in, rain or shine, good or bad? What needs to change in me in order to be a real friend to someone?

I’m thankful to have a handful of real friends in my life. And by the grace of God changing me from being a completely self-centered individual, I’m hoping I’m growing at being a great friend to others that God has placed in my life.