We did an episode on friendship a while ago, and it was well received. We thought it would be worth the time to expand a bit.
Friends are far and few between. To have a good and faithful friend at the end of your life is a rare thing. Too often you find that you must part ways for one reason or another.
What do you look for when deciding if someone is a friend? What should you seek to be as a friend? We have several points primarily out of the book of Proverbs related to friendship, and we hope that as we bring each of them before you that they will help you to be a better friend.
Friendship is strange because it is something we tend to talk about or think about, but not necessarily experience. It is common to hear people refer to themselves as being an introvert or extrovert when it comes to human relations. To a degree that is fine, but often people use both of these as an excuse to not be a true friend.
Before you freak out, just consider our words, and then watch people for a bit.
The introvert is one who is more comfortable being by himself for extended periods of time. They enjoy times of solitude to think, read or create and having people around tends to unset those delights.
However, this quarantine is showing that even the strongest introvert realizes that they get lonely. For many, it is simply laziness in the area of friendship. They don’t enjoy the presence of people all of the time, so they don’t pursue relationships that result in true friendship.
Instead they avoid the messiness of having a friend, and being a true friend under the guise of being an introvert. They can fool themselves into thinking that their friendships are few but truly deep when in reality they merely have few people they enjoy being with.
The extrovert, on the other hand, enjoys people and activity and would prefer to be around others than merely by himself. They tend to have many people around them, and they find that it helps them create and think well.
But again, often this is only an excuse for being a poor friend. They don’t actually get deep into the life of the others. Rather, they confuse activity and busyness as being a lover of people. But people think they have many friends when in reality they don’t, they merely have a lot of other people who are like them but it never moves into true friendship.
It is interesting that Proverbs 18:24 says this, “A man of many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”
It is not saying that having many friends is bad in itself. Rather, by understanding the parallelism it is that often the one who has many friends really has no friends. They are only there on a casual level at the surface.
There are those types of friends who are exceedingly precious and rare who are closer even than a blood relative. For most people we tend to move from being an introvert to an extrovert throughout any given day or week.
One of the points we are making with our church as we teach through Philippians is the nature of relationships and community. The letter is not written to a group of individuals, but to a body of people.
Because of their union with Christ through the Holy Spirit, there is a corporate reality that is far more important than the individual. We noted the prefix, "sūn," throughout the book. It denotes togetherness and being associated with someone else.
Two common passages that are not understood well by people are Philippians 1:6 and 2:12.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”.
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
It might be of interest that we just taught on this via video for our church. If you ever wondered what and how we teach as pastors we invite you to go visit our YouTube channel where you can hear us deal with these passages in detail.
In both of these passages Paul uses the plural pronoun for “you” and “your,” but the singular for the “good work” and the “salvation.”
The point, simply made, is that God is not merely at work in us as individuals, but as a corporate body. We are not to just mind our business and worry about our own Christian walk.
We are to be actively involved in the lives and faith of all who are part of our local assembly of believers. And this requires the extrovert to go deeper than merely being in the company of others, and the introvert from avoiding being with people.
It requires you to be friends with others. But not just a friend, but a Christian friend and a godly friend.
A GOOD FRIEND IS FAITHFUL
Fair weather friends are easy to find, but faithful friends in the times of difficulty are much harder to possess.
"The poor is hated even by his neighbor, But those who love the rich are many."
"Many will seek the favor of a generous man, And every man is a friend to him who gives gifts." (Prov. 19:6)
A true friend is there in the times of hardship as well as in the times of rest and plenty. They are not with you, and for you, because of what you give, but because they are committed to you as a person.
"A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity." (17:17)
In the story of Ruth we see this played out in a wonderful and very touching way. Naomi has suffered nothing but adversity. She is now a widow and childless. Both of these create a huge amount of vulnerability. She is to return to Israel and bids her daughter-in-laws to stay behind.
But Ruth, who is a true friend, will not honor that request. She sees a woman who is in need and she desires to be with her.
So she says, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
It is through that faithfulness in one relationship that leads to a new marriage and new offspring and the line of David leading to our Savior is accomplished.
A British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following: The winning definition read: “A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” (Bits and Pieces, July, 1991)
Being a faithful friend is not always pleasant. And it is not merely always being there for the person. There are times when he needs to deal with a problem in the life of his friend. And a faithful friend will do so.
A GOOD FRIEND REBUKES US WHEN NECESSARY
There are things which may need to be said to a friend that are not easy to say. A true friend is the one who is honest enough to tell us what we need to hear, rather than to flatter us.
A flatterer is no friend. He is one who will ultimately betray you in one way or another for usually a flatterer wants something from you. "A man who flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his steps." (Prov. 29:5)
Rather, it is better to be that person who seeks the well-being of your friend and this means correcting or rebuking when it is needed.
"Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy." (27:5-6)
This is not fun to do, but it is good to do. It is here that when you examine a friendship you realize that it is not a true friendship. The two people are so busy trying to be nice, and have fun, that they don’t say what should be said.
At times this is simply because they know if they were to correct the other person, then they would become fair game too. And they don’t want their weaknesses and folly to be revealed.
The hard reality is that most people want to change as long as it costs them nothing and the change makes things more pleasant and comfortable.
This is something that should be a part of the marriage. The closest of relationships on earth is that of husband and wife and there must be the ability to give a word of rebuke or correction to one another.
This is also a basic passage for all parents. Too many seek to be the friend to their children and it is approached by not wanting to hurt them or rebuke them.
A key part of biblical parenting is functioning as the Lord’s arm in the discipline/rebuke side of a true relationship. You are teaching your children on what needs to be corrected in their life. You are revealing to them what is lacking. You are also helping them learn to take a rebuke properly and in a redemptive manner.
This is also something that often will end budding friendships, and that must be accepted by us. This is hard for us often as we don’t wish for the friendship to end. Out of fear, we hold back when we should not. At that point we become their enemy; kissing them when a wound is what is needed.
This is a two-way process that is often missed by us. A true friend will wound us at times. A true friend will also be willing to be wounded.
If they don’t wish to learn or listen or grow and change, then likely you have reached the limits of that friendship. They have put up a “do not enter” or “do not cross” sign in some key part of their life, and you are not welcome there.
A wise person understands that and accepts it even though it is discouraging and hurtful.
A GOOD FRIEND IS THOUGHTFUL AND TACTFUL
A good friend is sensitive to our needs and weaknesses, and seeks to be redemptive and helpful. This is a good balance to the prior point for some people love being that cudgel, but are very poor at binding up a wounded soul.
A wise friend understands that it is not always appropriate, nor appreciated, to speak into a situation at that specific time.
“It matters not only ‘what’ we say, but ‘how,’ ‘when’ and ‘why’ we say it.”
“Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart.” (Prov. 25:20)
“He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, It will be reckoned a curse to him.” (Prov. 27:14)
Paul says it this way, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15)
There will be times when a person is struggling in some way that is beyond his ability to even understand it.
You may have experienced this, but we have as pastors. Things have crashed around that person in ways they did not expect. The brokenness of this age we live in is fully upon them. Perhaps, they are trapped by foolish decisions that finally came to fruition. Perhaps, they are suffering a loss of something or someone very precious.
"Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad."
This does not come by accident. This comes through making it your life’s work to become a wise woman or man. You learn to know the Word of God but also to be a skilled applier of it.
It is a rare person who brings peace into a mind filled with the storms of life.
A GOOD FRIEND SHARPENS US
Not only do we need to be challenged when necessary, but sometimes we need to be probed or stretched in our thinking. A good friend does not allow us to become intellectually, emotionally and spiritually stagnant, but prods us on to higher and greater thoughts.
"Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another." (Prov. 27:17)
"A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out." (Prov. 20:5)
Again this is something that requires wisdom or we find ourselves just seeking to get along. We can foolishly settle for the type of friendship that challenges nothing in us or the other person. The result is that years later nothing changes. The same folly, the same shallowness, and the same thinking is upon us.
Again, this is where many friendships ultimately part ways. It is sad but it is a reality.
A GOOD FRIEND OFFERS US WISE COUNSEL
Those whom we choose as friends should be marked by wisdom and thus have godly counsel to offer.
"Oil and perfume make the heart glad, So a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend."
"A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless."(Prov. 14:16)
One common thing that everyone has happened at least once in their life is they get deceived or tempted toward something that is evil. It happens for no other reason than that we are sinners and are unable to perfectly discern all things.
However, this is where surrounding yourself with wise and faithful friends helps. A true and wise friend will see evil and warn you, and because they are someone you know you can trust, this becomes a huge help in your Christian walk.
They love you and it is out of that love, as well as a love for the glory of God, that they are willing to speak honestly and even bluntly to you.
While we should seek those with the above-mentioned qualities to be our friends, we must also shun those who have characteristics which would hinder our walk in wisdom.
This is not to say that we show them unkindness, or treat them with no love. They should be given ample opportunity to change and grow into a love of wisdom and godliness. We need to be patient with them as well, looking for when they attempt to put away foolish things.
We would also say that these people should not be taking up the bulk of your time and energy. It is not your job to “fix” them, nor is it wise to spend so much time that they become your influence in life.
We should remember also those with whom we should have little time in our day-to-day living.
We have witnessed the cost of not avoiding the fool in the lives of countless people. At times you might hear a person say that they won’t turn their back on their friend, and the result is that they are led down a path that brings harm to them and their family.
Somehow, they confuse loyalty with being a wise or faithful person.
The bible also warns us to avoid certain types of people as close associates. And so we want to take just a moment to consider those as well, for they will never be true and faithful friends.
WE OUGHT NOT ASSOCIATE WITH A FOOL
"He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm."(Prov. 13:20)
"Leave the presence of a fool, Or you will not discern words of knowledge." (Prov. 14:7)
WE OUGHT NOT ASSOCIATE WITH THOSE WHO HAVE AN UNCONTROLLABLE TEMPER
"Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, Lest you learn his ways, And find a snare for yourself." (Prov. 22:24-25)
"Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife."(Prov. 26:21)
WE SHOULD NOT ASSOCIATE WITH THOSE WHO ARE EVIL
"Do not be envious of evil men, Nor desire to be with them; For their minds devise violence, And their lips talk of trouble." (Prov. 24:1-2)
"He who is a partner with a thief hates his own life; He hears the oath but tells nothing."(Prov. 29:24)
WE SHOULD NOT ASSOCIATE WITH THOSE WHO HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THEIR APPETITES
"He who keeps the law is a discerning son, But he who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father." (Prov. 28:7)
"Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise." (Prov. 20:1)
WE SHOULD NOT ASSOCIATE WITH THOSE WHO CANNOT CONTROL THEIR TONGUE
"The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body. Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross Are burning lips and a wicked heart. He who hates disguises it with his lips, But he lays up deceit in his heart. When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart." (Prov. 26:22-25)
"A worthless person, a wicked man, Is the one who walks with a false mouth, Who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, Who points with his fingers; Who with perversity in his heart devises evil continually, Who spreads strife." (Prov. 6:12-14)
"A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends." (Prov. 16:28)
Friendship is a rare thing to find but Christians should be a beacon to the rest of the world as to what true friendship is.
Jesus is our true Friend according to John 15:12-14. He laid down His life on our behalf. In Him we are to live out changed lives that come through belief in the gospel.
The Holy Spirit indwells us and as we yield to His power and submit to the Word we find the fruit of the Spirit naturally working itself out. Surely the qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are qualities of a true friend.
All of us want a friend who can walk with us through our various seasons of life. But the bigger question we want to leave you asking is: if you are a true friend to someone else? Would your spouse see you in this way?
We hope this little episode helps you to reassess your own qualities as a friend, and also to consider those whom you call your friend. May it be done in wisdom, grace and love, but also, may it be done for the glory of God.