The fourth skill is the most difficult skill of all—forgiveness. Ray Stedman used to say that there three things that we must do for a friendship to last—forgive, forgive and forgive! Proverbs says the same thing. Look at 17:9: He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends. Look also at 10:12: Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions. Both of these proverbs speak of forgiveness in an unusual way. They speak of “covering a transgression.” That doesn’t mean we ignore it; it means we see it and acknowledge it for what it is and by an act of our will we choose to forgive that person and not to make it public. We don’t repeat it; we don’t stir it up so that every angle of the scandal is exposed and every last drop of shame is drawn from the offender. A good friend will try to contain the damage of our sin. She will see all of our quirks and idiosyncrasies and be willing to stay with us and cover them.
Every close friendship progresses to a point where a decision has to be made. Will we cover the offensive actions and annoying traits of that person, and will the relationship then move to a deeper level, or will those things cause us to move away from our friend? Since we’re all sinners every friendship will have to deal with the reality of sin, weakness, failure and conflict. Any friendship that hasn’t had to deal with those things can’t be considered close. Many people get to that point in the friendship and because they’re unwilling to endure through the sin they bail out and move on to the next relationship. But, unless we’re willing to love someone at their very worst we can’t have the very best of friendship.
How are you doing in the skill of friendship? It’s not easy, is it? As a matter of fact, when we start talking about the kind of loyalty and forgiveness described here I would say its virtually impossible in our own strength. But all of this was meant to be a picture of the kind of love God has for us. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples, “No longer do I call you slaves, but I call you friends.” Jesus has given to each one of us the promise of friendship. A friendship in which he displays every one of the skills we’ve talked about this morning—sensitivity, truth, loyalty, and forgiveness. The old hymn says, “I’ve found a friend, O such a friend, he bled, he died, to save me. And not alone the gift of life, but his own self he gave me. Naught that I have my own I call, I hold it for the giver; my heart, my strength, my life, my all are his and his forever.” And here lies the real key to being a friend. To be this kind of friend, we have to know the friendship of God in our hearts.