Since the beginning of humanity, man has divided his world into two camps, friends and foes, with the purpose of gratifying his pride and ambition and exercising power, dominion, or compulsion over the other camp.
Military leaders have canonized the expression “friend or foe” and have devised different ways to quickly identify who was who. Early biblical stories tell us about this selection process. At the end of a battle, the Ephraimites were trying to escape through the passages of the Jordan. Unfortunately, these escape routes were already occupied by their enemies, the Gileadites, who had to know who was friend or foe. They asked the fugitives: “Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
“Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right.” (Judg. 12:5–6.)
And that mispronunciation meant death. Forty-two thousand perished that day. Apparently the process was very successful and did not leave room for misunderstanding.
There are not many alternatives to answer the question “Friend or foe?” It is simply one or the other. You may, of course, try to pretend to be a friend because of fear of losing your life, but the end result is almost always the same. We will see that there is an analogy between this selection process used by the natural man and the selection process of finding the potentially divine man.
Since the beginning of humanity, history has recorded that one of the deviations of man has been and still is to create artificial divisions and to fight holy wars because of racial, religious, cultural, or political differences and to justify these crimes against humanity in the name of the Lord.
Today, in our very complex world, we may well be reminded of the true message that comes from Christ himself to avoid constant battles and a final holocaust when he declared: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.” (3 Ne. 12:44.)
However, the essential personal question that we need to consider is whether our relationship with deity will be that of friend or foe. If well understood, because of its eternal implications, this relationship can bring eternal life; if misunderstood, misused, misapplied, misconceived, or misrepresented, it can bring mortal as well as spiritual death.
A warning is given us by James:
“From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”
“Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:1–4.)
What is an enemy to God? A scripture defines it concisely:
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever.” (Mosiah 3:19.)
One might wonder, after listening to this very strong statement, if man can abandon this carnal nature and this belief that earth is his final resource, providing food, shelter, comfort, pleasure, games, and even gods. Can he discover, by faith, that it is our Heavenly Father who constitutes the eternal resource when he knows how to cultivate this friendship?
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8.)
What then is a true friend of God?
President David O. McKay explained the process: “That man is most truly great who is most Christlike.
“What you sincerely in your heart think of Christ will determine what you are, will largely determine what your acts will be.” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, p. 93.)
“By choosing [Jesus Christ] as our ideal, we create within ourselves a desire to be like him, to have fellowship with him.” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, p. 98.)
To become a friend of God is possible because of the Mediator, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Let us now consider additional teachings of the prophet Benjamin:
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19; italics added.)
One of the real purposes of life is to become a friend of the Mediator, our Savior and Redeemer, and not only understand his mission but also support it and then qualify to be called his friend, his disciple, and to enter into the presence of his Father.
“I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.” (D&C 93:19.)
Prophets and Apostles testify of the importance of Christ being our friend. The testimony of President Spencer W. Kimball last year in general conference touched my heart when he concluded his address by testifying: “I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that He was crucified for the sins of the world. He is my friend, my Savior, my Lord, and my God. With all my heart I pray that the Saints may keep His commandments, have His Spirit to be with them, and gain an eternal inheritance with Him in celestial glory.” (Ensign, Nov. 1982, p. 6.)
To be able to say “He is our friend” means that we need to qualify as his friends, to have the same purposes, to be advocates and strong defenders of his cause.
We can learn a great lesson from the friendship of David and Jonathan, which was based on a covenant to be faithful to the Lord. Let me share some excerpts of the qualities of that friendship.
“The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (1 Sam. 18:1.)
“Jonathan spake good of David unto Saul his father.” (1 Sam. 19:4.)
“And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever.” (1 Sam. 20:42.)
As individuals, and especially teenagers, what kinds of friends do we select, adopt, confide in, and visit with? Are we strong enough to refuse to be a friend of the world and its representatives? Are we strong enough to accept friendship with Christ? Is to be a friend to be complacent and surrender to lower standards, or is it to maintain Christlike standards and defend them? Do we consider mutual friendship as a way to maintain and develop the foundation of our testimony of Christ? “Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Ne. 32:3.) The conditions are set; the model is given. Then why not become his disciple by being his witness? Why entertain the constant dilemma of your mind? Be committed to be his friend!
We find the same challenge with teaching our children to build an eternal association of friendship and love. “But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.” (D&C 93:40.) Do we treat our sons and daughters as children of God? Do we teach by example? Do we pray with them? Do we attend church with them? Do we have family home evening regularly? Our spiritual progress and qualifying to become friends with Christ and his Father depend on how faithfully we live the gospel in our homes and how diligently we impart the teachings to our children.
“Ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, … he being an enemy to all righteousness.” (Mosiah 4:14.)
Our challenge is to choose the right, to declare that we are friends of our Heavenly Father. The covenant that we made through baptism is a contract to become a friend of God.
Abraham “was called the Friend of God.” (James 2:23.) Prophets and Apostles down through the dispensations have been friends of God. If you have not done so previously, now is the time to become friends of God. We have the knowledge of the scriptures, the testimonies of the prophets. I know that my Redeemer lives. I want to call him my friend; I want to be called his friend. May we all qualify to be his disciples, his friends, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.