top of page
  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

What makes for a good friend?

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Photo credit: Jonny Baker

Terry Martin, in another of his occasional essays, has been thinking more deeply about the nature of ‘Friendship’:

Aristotle was one of the first thinkers to discuss the nature of friendship, and he distinguished three types: a friendship of utility, a friendship of pleasure and a perfect friendship.

‘In a friendship of utility, the individuals are connected because of some good that they are able to obtain from each other. Once you take the good that they both desire away, then the friendship dissolves. With a friendship of pleasure, the individuals are only connected by some kind of pleasure that they both can get from each other. Take that away, then the friendship dissolves… Perfect friendship is made up of men who are good and alike in virtue; for each alike wishes well to each other… they are good in themselves. [1]

In this characterisation, perfect friendship is altruistic and would seem the ideal to aim for; the other two being essentially utilitarian. But what is friendship? Friendship

‘is a relationship of mutual affection between people. It is a stronger form of interpersonal bond than an “acquaintance” or an “association”, such as a classmate, neighbour, co-worker, or colleague. [2]

What are the qualities of a good friend? Dr John Delony suggests that good friends have these six key traits: they show up and they are there for you; they listen; they hold you accountable; they have earned your trust; they are committed to your well-being and they are someone you like being around. [3]

Jesus characterised his relationship with his disciples as one of friendship:

‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.’ [4]

Gail R. O’Day places friendship at the heart of Jesus’ gospel ministry:

‘Jesus gave everything to his friends – his knowledge of God and his own life. Jesus is our model for friendship – because he loved without limits – and he makes it possible for us to live a life of friendship – because we have been transformed by everything he shared with us. [5]

Friendship with Christ has to be cultivated. [6] The same is true of all our friendships; we cannot take our friends for granted; they need to be nourished and appreciated.


4. John 15:13–15, King James Version

5. O’ Day, Gail R. (2008) I Have Called You Friends Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University

6. Hunter, Drew (2018) What a Friend We Have in Jesus What a Friend We Have in Jesus | Desiring God

Terry Martin is a trustee of Caraway, a Southampton charity with a team of Anna Chaplains and which is dedicated to ‘promoting the wellbeing and spiritual needs of Southampton's older community.’




bottom of page