The Bible uses a lot of words and ideas to describe the relationship between Christians.
Brothers and Sisters. Fathers and Sons. Mothers and daughters. Babes, young men/women, elders, etc.
And for the most part, their familial terms. They speak of intimacy and care, and they’re very informative for how we should think about ourselves with regard to other Christians—and particularly with those to whom God has placed us with, within our own local churches.
And so depending on who you’re talking to within your local church, you’re going to take on a different familial role (or category) with respect to them.
Example: When you talk to someone your own age, you’re going to be talking for very differently, then the way you speak with an older man, or even a younger man. To one you’ll relate as a brother, to another you’ll relate as a son, and to another, you’ll relate as a father.
Now age, of course, plays into this. No matter how spiritually mature you are, you would be unwise to speak to an older woman as a daughter…You’d be very unwise to rebuke her (or harshly correct her), even though you might be a “mother in the faith” within your local church.
There’s just a sociological design to the way that God created people. So typically, an older person is going to respond to a younger person, but usually only when they approach them with honor and respect.In fact, that’s why Paul commands timothy (a young pastor, even though he’s an elder), never to “sharply rebuke an older man”—even though He may want to (and thinks he needs to)…
1 Tim. 5:1 – “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters…”
So there’s just a right way to speak (and act) as a younger person.
On the other hand, to the older, younger people are going to gain your respect when you speak to them with respect, but because it communicates love and care. However, sometimes younger people do need to be corrected with a stronger word.
They’re not as disciplined, or yet harnessed, and so it takes a stronger pull of the reigns at times. Furthermore, nowhere does Paul command an older person not to “harshly rebuke” a younger person. However, it should be done with love and care, especially if they’re not your physical son or daughter.
All that to say, there’s a lot of ways in which the Bible identifies the relationships between Christians, and they’re very helpful, in terms of thinking about the nature of Christian relationships.
For the most part their familial, and they do help us think through how we might be relating to any given person within our local church. They’re never just “people.” Rather, every single person in your church is in relationship to you in some capacity, and we should understand it as a familial relationship. And so it’s an untaught (or immature) person who just looks at people within their own local church as simply a person (or a generic attender of the same church). And so they should train their eyes to see everyone as a mother, daughter, father, son, brother, etc.
Having said all this, one of the most intimate ways that the Bible speaks about the relationship between two people (within the context of a faith community, especially) is that of true friends.
In fact, the book of proverbs is very empathic about this.
So while we live in a culture that defines “friend” as just someone we might like, or have fun with— (or has similar interests, and humor)— the proverbs defines a “friend” as someone in whom we greatly trust.
In fact, the dominant usage of the term in proverbs refers to a person’s close inner-circle (or even confidant). And so they’re a person in whom we not only put a lot of trust in, (but are actually willing to entrust with certain things), and because they’re of proven character and proven trust. They’ve shown themselves to be loyal and faithful. They’ve always had your best interest in mind.
So this goes beyond just entrusting certain pieces of secret information to a person (though it often includes that)… but also includes things like emotions, desires, dreams, and especially a host of vulnerable realities—things you wouldn’t normally just share with anyone (an even, perhaps, things that would be unwise to share with people in general).
So a genuine friend is someone you can lay a burden on, and use as a sounding board. They’re going to carry (and actually conceal) certain knowledge of you, that the typical person doesn’t get the privilege of knowing.In fact, this is why the bible at times, will almost implicitly speak of a genuine friendship, in covenantal categories:
(e.g., Jonathan and David: 1Sam. 18:1-3 “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” )
The proverbs also speaks of a true friend as stronger (and often times better) then even family.
Prov. 17:17 – “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.”
Prov. 18:24 – “A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than even a brother.”
Some qualities of a true, biblical friend:
They’re not afraid to speak difficult words into your life.
This is incredibly rare.And if you can find a friend like this, you would do well to work hard at nurturing that relationship.
Prov. 27:5 – “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”
A true friend isn’t one who should just support you in whatever folly you might want to pursue. That’s not a friend. A friend is willing to speak.They’re willing to say the hard word.They’re willing to cut you with the knife of truth.And so a true friend speaks truth at all times.
Rather, it’s the enemy, here, that’s described as a flatterer. This is a person who just tells you what you want to hear, not what you might need to hear. Now that doesn’t mean that a friend should just be a jerk (and try to break you down for the sake of breaking you down). But nevertheless, they’re willing to tell you things that they know are going to sting.
Furthermore, a true friend is willing to speak the truth to you, even full-well knowing, perhaps, that it might actually cause you to hate them (or to reject them as a friend). But the point of the proverb is to help us recognize that the reason that they’re willing to speak the hard words of truth to you in the first place (and often times in the form of a correction, or by exposing your ways of folly), is because they’re most interested in your livelihood, and not your approval.
In fact, notice, he uses the language of “kisses.”
So nobody, likes a punch to the gut. Rather, we’d prefer kisses. It feels better in the moment. However, the true friend isn’t interested in flattery. Rather, they’re interested in your good, not in making you feel good. And so they’re willing to speak wounding-words, even though they know, that it might ultimately loose you as a friend.
But when a person does this, it takes guts. It requires some tremendous integrity, and faithfulness.
And so it’s a wise person who works hard at surrounding them self with these kinds of people.
It’s really easy to shut down (or shrug your shoulders) when someone tells you something that you don’t like. It’s easy to make them feel like they’ve got it wrong (or don’t understand), but it’s a wise person (and the mark of a good friend) who can actually thank a friend (in the midst of the hard words) for being willing (and faithful) to speak those wounding words. This kind of person (or friend) is incredibly rare, and actually gift that should be nurtured.
On the flip-side, a true friend knows how to overlook an offense.
Prov. 19:11—“A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
So a wise friend is one who confronts patterns, not one-off offenses. Now if it’s a big sin (i.e., adultery) that’s a different story. But being a biblically faithful friend to someone, doesn’t mean that you’re the sin-police. Rather, it means you come to them out of a genuine care for them, and point out a hindering habit (i.e., the way they speak, act, dress, eat, etc.).
There’s actually a way to speak to them about something that you recognize is hindering them, but in a manner that builds them up. Your goal isn’t just to fix them because they’re annoying to you. Rather, the goal is help them see a potential blindness, so that they’ll be better off.
So on the flip-side, a true friend knows (and is wise on this)… on how to overlook an offense.
A true friend looks for what he can give, not merely what He can get.
What are many (and everywhere) are leeches. In fact, Ecclesiastes is ruthless on this. The moment a person comes into money, or fame, or success, then long-lost cousins come out of the woodwork. (i.e. Very common in rags-to-riches stories.)
Prov. 14:20— “The poor is hated even by his neighbor, But those who love the rich are many.”
So everyone wants to be a friend to someone that they can get things from, but what’s incredibly rare, is someone who sticks by your side (and actually seeks your good) when you have nothing to offer them. (Indeed, when you’re actually a drain on them).
And why? Well because a true friend (or a biblical friend) is one who’s first and foremost, interested not in what you might be able to give them, but what they can offer you in their friendship.
So someone who just wants to be around you because of what they can get from you, isn’t a friend. That’s just a leech that will eventually suck you dry. They’re not there to build you up and care for you, (or even allow you to care for them in a true manner), but they just feed off you.
Prov. 19:6—“Many will seek the favor of a generous man, And every man is a friend to him who gives gifts.”
It’s a host-parasite relationship, not a genuine friendship.
So a true friend seeks to give, not merely to get.
So again, to the earlier point, this is why a friend is able to speak those hard words. They’re more interested in your good, rather, than your liking them.
Pace your presence.
Prov. 15:17 — “Let your foot rarely be in your neighbor's house, or he will become weary of you and hate you.”
Essentially, it’s to old expression—“Familiarity breeds contempt.” We should work hard at keeping a sense of freshness with our friends. Since both parties are sinners, it won’t take for a person’s countenance to fall. So while there’s something very healthy (even right) about letting a person see your weaknesses, there’s a point in which you can wear on them, and cause them to become weary of you.
And (in fact) most of the time this happens because the relationship is one-way. (But that’s a mentor-mentee relationship, not a friendship). Friendships must go both ways. Friends do care for others (in a deep way), but they also let others care for them.
If you never let a person in, or allow them to help (and serve you), then you’re not letting them be a true friend to you.
So let them serve you as you much as you might serve them.
A friendship, by definition, is symbiotic – it’s a two-way organism.
Choose your friends wisely – they will shape you.
Prov. 13:20— “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Daniel Estes comment on this verse: “Here, the wise teacher focuses on the negative side of this issue in his warning in 22:24-25: when he says, ‘Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.’ From the positive perspective, ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another’ (27:17). The influence of a wise friend can sharpen one’s discernment, perspective, and insight in ways that one could not achieve by individual efforts. Because of the significant effects that friends produce in those who are close to them, to a large degree the friends we choose determine what kind of people we become. Consequently, we must choose our friends wisely, for in choosing them we are likely choosing our own future.”
Such good counsel!
His point is that it’s easy to tell if you’re in good company or bad company by simply asking yourself if these “friends” bring out good things or foolish things in you.
As pastors, this is what we look for when deciding who we let be of influence.
It doesn’t take long to observe the product of certain people’s relationships (e.g., just look at their friends, or disciples). If the people in their areas of influence never seem to grow or mature, that’s an indication of this person. They might be a nice person on the surface, but there’s something deeper going on. There’s something fundamentally weak in them. They’re friends or disciples will be a product of them.
So if you’re wondering who you should get marriage, parenting, relationship, advice from… first consider the fruit of a person’s labor. If they don’t produce something you desire, then why would you seek their counsel or relationship. If they’ve produced something you desire, work hard at spending time with them to learn what they do.
This is basic discipleship. In fact, if you trace out a biblical theology of friendship, you quickly discover it morphs into discipleship.
So what is a friend, biblically?
--- It’s not merely someone to enjoy, laugh, and have fun with.
--- It’s not someone who will support you no matter what your endeavor (or desires) may be.
--- It’s first and foremost, someone who makes you into a godly person.