Are You A True Friend?

The Social Network has recently won the Golden Globes award for Best Picture Drama, and it might also win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2010. This film is about Mark Zuckerberg, a computer genius who, at 26 years of age, the youngest billionaire in the world. It tells the story of how he started Facebook when he was a student at Harvard University in 2004.

This movie made me think about friendship. The story focuses on Zuckerberg’s relationships with four young men: his best friend, Edwardo Severin, who was the co-founder of Facebook, and three rich Harvard students. Their friendships with Zuckerberg broke down, and all four eventually sued him for huge sums of money.

Why did these relationships break down? Money was an issue. But these relationships were fundamentally flawed from the start, because they were missing a key factor that I believe is necessary for true friendship. True friendship must communicate a spirit of inclusivity. Let me explain this based on Zuckerberg’s story.

In 2003 — about one year before the launch of Facebook — three Harvard students hired Zuckerberg to work for them as a computer programmer. He was supposed to start up a new website called Harvard Connections, which would allow Harvard students to connect with one other online. Though Zuckerberg verbally agreed to work for them, he was intead inspired to start Facebook by partnering with his friend Severin.

Zuckerberg may have done this because the three Harvard students, who were sons of multi-millionaires, came across as rich, exclusive snobs who wanted to use him for their own success. One of them said to Zuckerberg, “By working for us, it will help improve your image.” This implied that Zuckerberg’s status was inferior to theirs. Zuckerberg proceeded to develop Facebook without their knowledge or input. When Facebook became a multi-billion dollar enterprise, they sued Zuckerberg for theft of intellectual property. To avoid negative publicity, Zuckerberg settled the suit for 65 million dollars. To him, that was like a speeding ticket; his net worth is now estimated to be $6.9 billion.

But Zuckerberg was also sued by Edwardo Severin, his former best friend. How did that happen? That story is more complicated. Severin provided startup funds for the development of Facebook, and he served as the Chief Financial Officer. Zuckerberg and Severin had mutually decided upon a joint ownership of Facebook: 70% for Zuckerberg, 30% for Severin. But Severin’s vision for Facebook was smaller than Zuckerberg’s. Severin believed that it could grow into a multimillion dollar venture. But after Zuckerberg met Sean Parker, the enterprising young founder of Napster, Zuckerberg began to listen to Parker and believe that Facebook would someday be worth billions. Severin felt betrayed by his best friend, and he froze the company’s $19,000 bank account, which he had funded with his own money. When Zuckerberg discovered this, he retaliated. He tricked Severin into signing a new Facebook contract which would grant him 30% ownership of the company, but over time that portion was diluted to 0.03% as Facebook increased its shares and grew in size. Severin sued Zuckerberg and was eventually restored as co-founder of Facebook with a 7% share of the company. His present net worth is $2.5 billion.

After thinking about these relationships among Zuckerberg, Severin and the three rich Harvard students, I realized that friendship should be inclusive. The three rich students believed they had an exclusive, elite status, and they wanted to use Zuckerberg’s genius to achieve their own ends. Zuckerberg smelled a rat, so he invented Facebook despite them and without them. Similar dynamics were found in Severin’s relationship with Zuckerberg. When Zuckerberg began to listen to Parker instead of him, he (Severin) felt excluded and betrayed. Severin lashed out at Zuckerberg by freezing the bank account, and Zuckerberg retaliated by diluting Severin’s share.

What can I learn from this and apply to my Christian life?

True friendship is inclusive, not exclusive. To varying degrees and in various ways, we are all proud and sinful human beings. If I, as a Christian, project an attitude that I am better — if I suggest that I am smarter, purer, superior, wiser, richer, older, more spiritual, fruitful, accomplished, experienced, knowledgeable, sacrificial, or hard working than someone else — I will communicate to that person a spirit of exclusivity. That attitude screams out, “You do not yet belong to my elite class!” I may be outwardly kind, polite, gentle, and generous. But if someone detects the smell of exclusivity, I will never be able to win him as a true friend, someone who cares for me and who has my back.

Once I made a church-related decision without seriously considering the objections and differing opinions of other church members. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. But several of them felt hurt, even betrayed, and our relationships wre strained. I made my decision brashly and unilaterallly without consultinag them. They felt that I had excluded them.

The desire to be included is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be a person. Inclusiveness is part of the image and greatness of our God.

God demonstrates the most marvelous inclusivity toward sinners. The most elite and exclusive of all clubs is the fellowship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Their joy, satisfaction and fulfillment among themselves is sublime, exquisite and perfect; it can never be improved upon. But what did this perfect trinitarian community do? They decided to open up their fellowship to sinners. They invited the most worthless, vulgar and unqualified scumbags (us) to join their exquisite club.

To his nation of rebellious people, the holy God said “Come now, let us reason together” (Isa 1:18). To his immature, unqualified disciples — whom he knew would all abandon him within a week — Jesus said, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:16). God is present with us through the Holy Spirit, and he will never leave or forsake those whom he has called and chosen (Mt 1:23; Heb 13:5). The Israelites and the disciples of Jesus should never, ever have been included by the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. They were utterly unqualified because of their sins. But through the costly cross of Christ, God, by his mercy and grace alone, by his generous spirit of inclusivity, accepted them as they were.

I am reminded of Samuel Lee, the founder of UBF, who exuded a spirit of inclusivity. Though he was the top leader of the organization, he introduced himself warmly to others as, “I am Sam.” In his communication style, he made others feel welcomed and embraced. He did not come across as belonging to a higher, elite, or untouchable class. He did not want to have an agenda to use people, their gifts and their skills, for promoting himself or the UBF organization. Because of his spirit of inclusivity and friendship, God used him to win countless friends for Christ in Korea and throughout the world.

Nine years after Lee’s passing, has UBF lost some of its spirit of inclusivity? Perhaps we have. When we label certain UBF members as “exemplary” shepherds or missionaries, “fruitful” shepherds or missionaries, Ph.D. professor shepherds, “senior” leaders, and so on, what are we communicating? The gospel that I accepted and believed proclaims that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), and that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10). That applies even to the most exemplary of UBF members. By making and reinforcing these distinctions, we communicate an attitude that some of us are better, more worthy and more honorable than the rest.

Some have alluded, or even explictly stated, that UBF members are the “Green Berets” of the Christian church. (The Green Berets are the U.S. Army Special Forces, one of the world’s most elite military corps.) It has been said that those who belong other churches are “cultural” Christians. We have made negative and unflattering insinuations about mega-churches and “hallelujah” churches. Are we any more sincere and dedicated than Christians in other churches and ministries? Perhaps so, or perhaps not. But regardless, we are in no position to make those judgments. To say such things, or even to imply them, communicates an inner spirit of hubris, superiority and exclusivity. That spirit will discourage true friendships from forming among members of UBF, and between us and Christians in other churches and ministries.

Do you agree that friendship should be inclusive? Does being a true friend to someone else require a spirit of inclusivity?


  1. I do not recall Dr Samuel Lee ever comparing UBF members to the Green Berets. But in quite a few of his messages, he (indirectly, at least)  compared us to The Dirty Dozen. I like that much   better.

  2. Yes, Joe,  Dr. Lee did refer to UBFers as the Dirty Dozen, as well as the Green Beret. Personally, I loved both analogies tremendously when I first heard them, as I considered myself as being among God’s elite forces on the earth! He had a way to inspire and encourage. As someone else said, “Dr. Lee made serving God fun!”

  3. I agree Ben, but I think true friendship in general leads to a spirit of inclusivity, but also entails the risk of being excluded.
    I’m told that Aristotle said of Plato (loosely paraphrased), “If we are to be true lovers of wisdom, we must honor the truth more than our friends, and so destroy even that which touches us most closely if truth so demands.” There’s a proverb in the Bible that says something similar about better a situation where you get wounds from a friend than kisses from an enemy. I’m sure all of us might affirm this in theory, but I wonder if it is more difficult to put to practice depending on our cultural upbringing.
    Once our ministry invited a physician-philosopher to speak before a predominantly UBF audience. After a brief assessment of our ministry and particularly noticing many Asians in our ministry, he wondered aloud whether in non-Western cultures we tend to uphold loyalty to friends over truth. In Western culture (influenced by Aristotle evidently) supposedly we tend to uphold truth over loyalty to friends.
    I have no idea why he randomly brought this point up after observing our ministry as a complete stranger. But his astute observation about friendship and truth has stuck with me every since. For the record, I hope I would value truth so much that I’m willing to risk losing a friendship, but even as a Westerner by culture, I find this very difficult to maintain in practice.

    • Thanks, John, for Aristotle’s advice to value truth above friendship, and the observation  that non-Western culture tends to uphold loyalty to friends above truth. This just came to me that it seems like God did both: God  valued truth/justice so that he condemned his Son who bore our sins (2 Cor 5:21), yet he valued our friendship enough to sacrifice his Son in our place (John 15:15).

      So, how do we emulate what God did? I think that through the cross, and by the help of the Spirit, we may be humbled enough to not feel any superiority or exclusivity toward anyone else, especially among our fellow brother and sisters in Christ.

      Don’t you think that we perhaps should not distinguish between missionaries and “sheep,” that is, indigenous Bible students? As previous posts have raised, it seems as though missionaries or shepherds come across as better or “more worthy,” because they sacrifice for sheep, and therefore the sheep should just be thankful.

    • david bychkov

      great prayer topic, Henoch… During the last CIS directors conference, while having group Bible study (leaded by M. James Kim, thank you once again M. James) we were so moved of Jesus Christ who called himself “a friend of tax collectors and “sinners. (and prostitutes)”.   what is we called for – To have the same attitude (Phil. 2:5). During last 1 or 2 years it was very hard for me to get rid from the feeling that I’m trying to use people somehow in my tries to reach them or to invite for Bible study.   But I think there are so many abilities to reveal God love and Gospel to the people even withouth all our agenda, if I just really try to follow Jesus who was friend for all kinds of sinners.

  4. Ben, thanks for your thoughts on friendship. i have to admit that my way of dealing with friends was very exclusive. For one, i had not realized that virtually all my true friends were UBF people. i hardly had any Christian friends outside of UBF and even worse hardly any friends who were not Christians. When Armstrong was speaking about Jesus who was called a friend of sinners, it really struck me. Armstrong asked the congregation: “how many unbelieving people would call you their best friend?” This question was devastating. There is so much i can and should do about it. I should make every effort possible to nurture relationships with people outside of church and be a generously loving friend. But it is not easy to make that kind of shift and i easily backslide in the old ways of how i subconsciously prioritized whom to write back or not, whom to give a call or not, whom to invite for dinner or not, etc…

    • Thanks, Henoch. I remember the very lecture John Armstrong gave about having non-Christian friends. It also convicted me. So I restored my friendship with a childhood friend who is an atheist, as well as members of my own family. When I did, I realize that I had hurt them by subtly cutting off or cooling off my relationship with them after I had became a Christian. I also began meeting several church planters in Chicago weekly, who belong to the organic house church movement. My wife also began to befriend older neighborhood Catholic ladies. They began studying the Bible with her, and gave monetary offerings to our church out of thanks for friendship. It is surely hard to be a friend to others, like our Lord. It is even harder to get out of my own “exclusive Christian club” mentality.

    • Christine H

      I remember that same lecture from John Armstrong and was equally convicted by the same question: “How many non-Christians would consider you their best friend?” I used to feel like if a friendship I had with someone wasn’t leading them to Bible study in UBF that it wasn’t something I should be pursuing. I felt completely disconnected from the world, like I was in a bubble and didn’t know how to interact with everyday people who I met in my classes in college. I eventually learned that there are many ways to reach out and love others and that God can use all of them. I learned that God has given me the gift of making friends, and now I offer that to Him and pray that as I reach out in friendship that others would experience the love of God through me and that our time spent together could lead to deeper trust and ultimately conversations about the gospel and Christ. It was so liberating when I realized I could be myself and use the gifts God has given me to reach out and love others, and trust the outcome to God.

    • Christine, same was absolutely true for me. If there wasn’t a perspective of having bible study with a person soon i didn’t consider that kind of friendship worth pursuing. But then i realized: isn’t this another way of using people? i was using people and not really loving them. it is a ‘fancy’ way of using people but still wicked and wrong. When i look at Jesus, i see the Son of God genuinely enjoying people just the way they are. This is the kind of friendship i truly long for and the kind of friend i want to become.

      By the way, our main prayer topic for our little one (Sam Paul) is that he may become a friend of God and a friend of people.

    • david bychkov

      my comment above should be here…

  5. Basically people think that way, that friendship centers inclusion. I also thought that I could be satisfied with a friend whom I wanted to be loyal to me always but that develops selfishness and it’s a childish thought. But on spiritual point of view, including a person, treating them as brothers or sisters may build strong friendship though they’re far from you or they’re not beside you, as long as you value one another and hide nothing. It develops loyalty and trust, and I think that depends on how much you are aware of the things going on between you and your friend? Anyways, I’m not a perfect friend that everybody should desire, besides, why not Jesus be the center of our friendship or why not Jesus be our friend?

    • Thanks, Noah. We all love a friend who will share their inner heart with us, and thus communicate to us a spirit of trust and inclusivity. I am personally moved by my wife because she trusts me with her heart and life, though I know that I am not worthy of her love and trust. But because she does, my heart is moved and touched by her spirit of inclusivity toward me.
      As you implied, we human beings are too sinful to truly love others with. We need Jesus, who though he should have excluded us because of our sins, yet, he included us at the cost of his life. Praise God!
      May God bless you to be a friend to many, as Jesus is a friend to you.

  6. Mark Sadie

    To be truly included and accepted in a circle of friends where everyone accepts you as you are, is indeed amazing. But it’ll be more amazing if our friends introduce us, like my UBF family did, to Jesus Christ, that like Dr. Ben said, included as his friend and best of all, He died for me and you.

    • Hi Mark, Thank God that you enjoyed your amazing spiritual family in Christ in UBF. It reminded me of Tim Keller’s new book, King’s Cross. The first chapter is about the Trinity. Since the Trinity is utterly different, “Instead of self-centeredness, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are characterized in their essence by mutually self-giving love. No person in the Trinity insists that the others revolve around him; rather each of them voluntarily circles and orbits around the others.”

      Surely, this is the very essence of friendship, and of Christianity, since we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26,27). In Keller’s words, “If this world was made by a triune God, relationships of love are what life is really all about.”

      Thank God that you enjoyed trinitarian love and friendship in your spiritual family. May God bless you to pray for and include other friends, as you were included in this family of triune love and friendship.

  7. I remember before while I was testifying about who am I before God change me or how God change me to a group of students. They were so amazed because they thought that I am sinless like Jesus because I teach the word of God. From then on one by one they also shared their struggles and they  felt that they can I can still accepted them and will not turn my backs on them. Our relationship became more meaningful. I remember Jesus how he approached sinners like the samaritan woman, the tax collectors or even judas who betrayed Jesus he did not  condemned  them instead he show his undying love and grace and helping them to repent and have new life with him. Jesus is our true friend and if we imitate the way he approaches us we could win new true friends in Jesus.

    • Thanks, Grace, for your influential friendship in the love of God. As I have personally witnessed each time I have visited you over the last few years, the spirit of honesty, openness, and transparency is truly refreshing and uplifting and transcendent. May the Spirit of the Lord anoint you all the more as many more students come to see the joyous friendship of Christ through your community of Christian love.

  8. At the time I wrote this, the Social Network was favored to win the Academy awards for best picture. But then the King’s Speech gained momentum after that and subsequently won.

    It is interesting that these 2 front runners for Best Picture dealt with themes regarding friendship:

    * In the Social Network, the friendship failed among 4 friends, for what I considered a deadly spirit of exclusivity and elitism.
    * In the King’s Speech, the friendship of the king and the speech therapist blossomed beautifully through out the movie.

  9. christian

    As a Christian, true friend we must have a pure heart, Good behavior, especially good relationship with God. If we have a good relationship with God more peoples think that you are good in physical and spiritual life. But before you have a good relationship or being a true friend we must to know God personally through follow and knowing his words.
    In this passage in social network i learned that money cannot buy happiness, because money is an temporary things that anytime can will  lost. But being true friend or have a good relationship in one another it is everlasting.
    i conclude that we must trust and depend on God always, especially in difficult situation.also put our hope to God …

  10. This is an edifying statement, Ben, for people who have been excluded from the organizations of men:

    “God  demonstrates the most marvelous inclusivity toward sinners. The most elite and exclusive of all clubs is the fellowship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Their joy, satisfaction and fulfillment among themselves is sublime, exquisite and perfect; it  can never be improved upon. But what did this perfect trinitarian community do? They decided to open up their fellowship to sinners. They invited the most worthless, vulgar and unqualified scumbags (us) to join their exquisite club.”

  11. Thanks, Brian, for reminding me of God’s inclusivity, though He is THE most exclusive Being.