5 key truths about friendship from C.S. Lewis

June 12, 2019

In the modern world, friendship is a lost art, particularly among men. I sometimes wonder what would have become of Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton if they’d met in a chat room or around a video game console instead of at their local pub. Would the same kind of friendship have formed?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading and rereading C. S. Lewis’s reflections on friendship in the fourth chapter of his book The Four Loves. Lewis observed in his own time what I’ve seen as well. Friendship is rare. As Lewis wrote, “Few value it because few experience it.”

But just because friendship is rare doesn’t mean we can’t experience it at all. Lewis’s chapter reminded me of an important lesson my mother once taught me when I was a child: “You won't find a friend by wanting a friend,” she’d say, “To have a friend, you’ve got to be a friend.”

So, here are five key truths about friendship gleaned from Lewis's chapter that will help us develop our own relationships: 

1. Friends walk side by side.

Their eyes look ahead. Lewis writes, “That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any . . . The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends.” According to Lewis, no friendship can arise unless there is something for the friendship to be about, a common interest such as baseball, or a common commitment such as studying linguistics or loving the poor. Friendship arises when two or more companions have something in common that others do not share.

Lewis writes, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’” Until that moment, an individual understands the matter to be his or her own unique interest or burden. But once commonality is uncovered, the friend is revealed as a fellow-traveler, one who walks in the same direction. 

For this reason, those who say you can’t have real friendships at work are wrong. That’s not to say that reporting structures, pay scales, and our human tendency to struggle with trusting authority don’t complicate things. But, in fact, it’s from the matrix of companionship and the common purpose we find working together that friendship can rise.

2. Friendship is freely given.

Friendship is given without any expectation of repayment. As Lewis says, “I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity.” Of course, a true friend will be faithful when there is need for an advocate or an ally. But, in another sense, offering help and care is completely accidental to friendship. 

Friends are always faithful, but faithfulness does not make a friend. In this way, a true friendship is self-forgetting. As Lewis says, “Friendship is utterly free from Affection’s need to be needed . . . The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all.”

 3. Friendship is not jealous.

“The more the merrier” is the old saying. With friendship, it’s true. Each friend in a group adds a little something, and that something brings out the best in the others. C.J. is the comedian. Trey may be a cynic at times, but I need him because he willingly and gently confronts; I can always count on him to speak the truth. Patrick is the spiritual man who always thinks to stop and pray. Clay is stalwart and faithful to plan the next get-together. Jeff’s gift to friendship is accountability. 

Lewis writes, “Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to be a real friend.” The addition of a new friend only makes other friendships stronger. Lewis says, “Sometimes [a friend] wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.”

There is no room for jealousy. On this point, Lewis warns the wife who may be tempted to think her husband’s male friends are a threat her own friendship, affection, and passion with her husband: “A woman of that sort has a hundred arts to break up her husband’s Friendships. She will quarrel with his Friends herself or, better still, with their wives. She will sneer, obstruct and lie. She does not realize that the husband whom she succeeds in isolating from his own kind will not be very well worth having; she has emasculated him.”

On the other hand, he also observes: “Nothing so enriches an erotic love as the discovery that the Beloved can deeply, truly and spontaneously enter into Friendship with the Friends you already had.” Certainly, Lewis’s advice can be abused on this point. There are some men who have codependent friendships and use them to excuse one another’s worst vices. A skilled and properly jealous wife will sniff this out and stand against it. But that’s not every male friendship. And a wise wife knows that the right kind of friends will help her husband to be a better man.

4. Friendship is necessarily exclusive. 

It’s exclusive by definition. Banding together with friends involves a bit of rebellion against the rest of society. Friends unite around what they have in common. As they band together, they are also uniting against the rest of the world. Lewis writes, “The little pockets of early Christians survived because they cared exclusively for the love of ‘the brethren’ and stopped their ears to the opinion of the Pagan society all round them.” In another place, he writes, “Even if the common ground of the Friendship is nothing more momentous than stamp-collecting, the circle rightly and inevitably ignores the views of the millions who think it a silly occupation and of the thousands who have merely dabbled in it.”

Unfortunately, it’s this very resiliency that makes friendship both wonderful and also dangerous. By “becoming deaf to the opinion of the outer world,” a company of “criminals, cranks, or perverts” can survive in much the same way as those who are lovers of good (or simply lovers of stamps). Maybe an even more subtle danger of friendship is the tendency of those who are already attached to become a sort of clique or regard themselves as the elite. Do not be misled; bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33).

5. Friendship is not enough. 

This danger in friendship points us to the last important truth. Friendship is not enough. Lewis writes about how the ancients viewed brotherly friendship, philia, as the most praiseworthy of all forms of love, the cornerstone of our development of virtue. They weren’t completely right, of course. The best of human philia never quite reaches the level of divine agape. In this life, your friends—even the best ones—will at some point let you down. Lewis sees this, and he writes: “Friendship, then, like the other natural loves, is unable to save himself . . . it must . . . invoke the divine protection if it hopes to remain sweet.” As Christians, we know that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). Our best friends here poin us to the True Friend.

What I desire for my own children, as my mother once taught me, is not only that they would be a good friend and thus grow to have friends. More than this, I desire for them to know Jesus, the one who laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13). And, as they grow in their knowledge of Christ, my prayer for them, for myself, and for you is that God would make us better friends—the kind who walk side by side toward the Savior. May we give ourselves freely, throw aside jealousy, and lock arms together, knowing that even when we fail to be good friends, our friendship can be saved by Christ’s greater love.

Jared Kennedy

Jared is the husband of Megan and father to Rachael, Lucy, and Elisabeth. After serving fifteen years on staff at local churches, Jared now works as an editor for The Gospel Coalition, coaches children's ministers through Gospel-Centered Family, serves on the Theological Advisory Council for Harbor Network, and teaches as an adjunct instructor … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24