Why we don’t say “best friend”

Written by Kate Stevens
Published on May 26, 2023

Language is one of my favorite subjects to study and think about. I’ve always told my students that whoever owns the dictionary owns the culture. It seems each generation waits in line to add their own evidence to this argument.

When it comes to our speech and adopted phrases, we can never default to a “it’s just a word” mentality. It is never just a word. Words have meaning, purpose, directives, significance, and can greatly change a culture.

Consider that you give away your origin depending on what you say: coke, pop, soda. I’m 37, so when people talk of generation titles I feel the need to defend myself with my “not by proxy nor personality” argument because of the stereotypes and connotations of being a millennial.

Similarly, we had a pastor who helped change the mentality of our church body with language—we don’t go to church because we are the church. Instead, we taught ourselves and our children to say corporate worship and the church building. When I corrected my kids, I would often ask myself “does it really matter? It’s just a word.”

But yes! It does matter because it is a constant reminder to the people of God of who we are and what we do when we gather—no matter the location.

It is important to define words biblically and execute those words with precision. Platforms like Facebook have redefined “friend” for us all, and its usage is wide and ubiquitous, typically aimless. I believe this has attributed to the notion of “quantity over quality.”

And just in the last eight years our American government has re-defined words our parents never thought would be up for grabs—marriage, man, woman, and all personal pronouns. The meaning of those words legally changed, resulting in future generations being forced to reckon with how they will categorize humanity around them.

Classifications for comfort

My daughters are maturing toward more frequent and pointed conversations about how our world prefers labels and classifications to solidify their individualism. But jumping into concepts like that require a foundation, and with homeschooling three daughters there is never a shortage of words to target in our home.

This, then, is our approach regarding language—at their young ages we utilize something common to all and important to them on their level. We are using the framework of friendships.

When we use certain words we are attempting to classify and categorize for our own comfort so others get the right impression of what we are communicating or feeling.

I give a qualifier to my not millennial by personality because I do not want people to immediately associate me with entitlement, excessive technology usage, and avocado toast.

Likewise, when we use the term best friend we are clearly communicating a lot of information with that superlative. We want our hearers to know that with that other person or that group we have a history; we are closer than other friendships because we have shared trials and victories; we have inside jokes; this is my go-to person or people so that I am never alone.

Rachel Jankovic is an author and podcaster who says that terms like “best friend” are typically just handles people use to hurt others or to elevate themselves—even subconsciously or out of habit. And for my own daughters, their best friend changed weekly. It became obvious at early ages that a shift in word choice would help all of us seek out biblical friendships.

Even still, a few terms have been used to attempt to widen the BFF idea—however, it falls into the same category: “tribe” and “your people.”

All the same, it’s a matter of exclusivity.

Jesus’ work

And I know what many naysayers will say: Jesus had an exclusive group with the twelve disciples, and He is perfect. Yes, both of those facts are very true. But how did Jesus walk in that group and with those men?

In Mark 3 He withdraws with his disciples from the city to the sea, but they are not alone for long. Verse 7 says a great crowd followed them, and we see that Jesus did not rebuke the crowd because He had “His tribe” with Him. Instead, He engages them.

In Luke 19 He and the disciples are passing through Jericho, and Zacchaeus intersects His attention. Jesus did not thwart him because He was “with His people” and they had stuff to do—He considered Zacchaeus worth the time and attention.

We do not see Jesus calling His disciples turned apostles (Mark 3) His best friends. In fact, we do not see them getting much of any special treatment in public. It is all behind closed doors that He washes their feet. It is up on top of a mountain that He transforms them into apostles.

When it is just the thirteen of them Jesus uses everyday occurrences to teach them, but when they are in the city squares, His attention and focus is set on the rulers of the synagogue, the sinners, and the sick people of the cities.

In all these occurrences, we see Jesus working and inviting the disciples to witness His work—standing shoulder to shoulder.

Go and make, not sit and stay

The Great Commission says to “go and make disciples”—not to sit around and get spiritually and emotionally fat with “your people.” Yes, we need people in our lives to sharpen us. Yes, we are supposed to be in community. Yes, we need the Church. Yes, friendships are good things—they are biblical gifts from the Lord!

However, there is an upward trend of working harder and harder in the direction of finding where you belong rather than doing the Lord’s work alongside His people. This is what C.S. Lewis had in mind when he said:

“Friends are not primarily absorbed in each other. It is when we are doing things together that friendship springs up – painting, sailing ships, praying, philosophizing, fighting shoulder to shoulder. Friends look in the same direction. Lovers look at each other: that is, in opposite directions” (Equality).

Satan is keeping many individuals very busy with trying to develop, define, and remain in their tribes rather than working toward our actual callings.

Discernment, patience, and un-hurried

It is natural and permissible to have a friend who is closer to you than another. Ecclesiastes and Proverbs speak highly of godly friendships that sharpen us and uphold God’s truth rather than the world’s. We see many friendships in the Bible that are righteous because we know God created us for community. It is no secret to my daughters who my close female friendships are—and it is not because we enjoy copious amounts of road trips, coffee dates, or long conversations on the phone.

What is not okay is touting the label of best. Why does it even matter to communicate that to the world if the two or three of you know that you share a special bond? It appears as if the only real reason is to promote status and set up exclusive boundaries, keeping others out.

And I don’t want to make this sound like this is just something my daughters need to practice, for this is just as much a part of my own life—maybe even to a greater degree because it seems what starts as a motive for security in youth turns into grasping at identity in adulthood.

My girls must learn now, at young and impressionable ages, that it is unholy to show partiality to others; it is unkind to purposely leave others out so they, in return, feel esteemed; it is sinful to claim any other identity than that of being in Christ.

So yes, I do correct my girls when they call someone new their friend—we have to train our kids how to have discernment, patience, and to be un-hurried in who they let into their lives while still maintaining kindness and peace.

And I do help them find another word instead of “best friend,” telling them to reserve that for Jesus and maybe one day a husband. My 9-year-old once responded with, “well mama, if you have a best friend, that means you have a worst friend, and that doesn’t sound like Jesus.”


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Kate Stevens

Kate Stevens is a worshiper, wife, and mom. By vocation, she teaches high school students English, Bible, and debate, and has been doing so for fourteen years.  In addition, she serves as a freelance editor.  You can read more from her as she develops her newly published blog: “HEM-ology: Somewhere between zoology and theology.”

Read more about Kate

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