That was the title of an article with the subtitle “You’re not alone if they are missing from your life”.
One paragraph reads: “In earlier times friendship was a haven from stress. Today our friends or lack of them are frequently a source of stress – just another area in which to fail.”
Several years ago I received a letter from a well known Christian, a form letter that ended, “Thank you for being one of our close, personal friends who understands and cares.” I never met the man, but I am one of his close personal friends who understands and cares?
Another letter I received, this one handwritten, reads “It seems like a lot of people wear masks that have made it hard to get to know them. I know a lot of people, but they all seem to be just acquaintances.”
One prominent counselor estimates that only 10% of all men ever have any real friends. 10%.
By now you’ve probably guessed we want to focus on friendship, but why should it matter to you? I think the best answer is: Jesus calls Himself our friend – if we have trusted Him as our Savior.
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
And He was called a friend of sinners:
The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
…and never rejected that reputation.
So, since you and I are called to be like Jesus that automatically means we are called to be a friend to others.
Let me run that by you again: making friends and being a friend mattered to Jesus, so if you have trusted Christ that automatically means making friends and being a friend should matter to you.
Friendship is powerful. Friendship is life-changing, a place of refuge, a source of needed encouragement and affirmation.
So where should we look in the Bible for help?
Why not Proverbs? It is an awesome book filled with all sorts of warnings and
In Old Testament times it was used as a training manual to help young people become great leaders. Leaders need friends, so Proverbs has a lot to say about friends.
But get this: Proverbs has 31 chapters of warnings and encouragements. What is the first warning?
My son – if sinners entice you do not give in to them. A strong warning not to hang with the wrong crowd.
What’s the big deal? The big deal is Proverbs begins with the incredible menu of what the book has to offer in Proverbs 1:1-6. And where is the #1 place where that menu is to be served? Proverbs 1:8-9 in the home.
The number one spiritual teacher of your kids should be you, parent. Youth leaders and pastors are important, but the primary spiritual teachers of your kids should be you. Don’t outsource the spiritual education of your children to others.
So the point is you can have access to this incredible menu that Proverbs offers you in the first six verses of the book, you can have the best parents on planet earth who teach Proverbs to you, Proverbs 1:8, 9, but if you hang around with the wrong crowd starting in :10, failure is your future. Your friends can make or break you. Your friends can totally ruin all that God would like to build into your life. Friendship is that powerful.
Think about it: 31 chapters of warnings in Proverbs, and warning #1 is wrong friends can ruin your life. We are talking about total destruction. So, mom and dad, when you are snooping around trying to find out who are your kids’ friends you are doing your job. You must do that. Too much depends on that.
Be a good snoop.
That is practical advice, and that is just chapter one.
What else can Proverbs teach us about friendship?
Three key questions will help us get Proverbs’ message:
- What are the responsibilities of real friends?
- What are some roadblocks to real friendship?
- What is some good advice in picking friends?
Let’s look at each of those questions, but first let’s ask the Lord for help.
We are about to look at a super important topic. Failure in having the wrong friends will likely lead to a failed life. You don’t want that for us. May we have teachable hearts. May we be committed to apply what we learn. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.
David Hubbard’s “Proverbs” commentary inspired much of what follows.
Question one: What are the responsibilities of real friends?
You want to be a good friend to others? Good! What should you do?
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity
I’ve got a challenge for you, but it might be so painful you might want to do it only when no one else is around. Take your address book and turn pages. Look at all the names of people who at one time you thought were friends. What happened to them?
Look at some of those names? Who are they? When were they part of your life? Why did you drift apart? Maybe your mind is blank. On and on I could go reading off names from my address book that bring nothing to mind. And that is really my address book?
A survey was taken of several hundred Asian students studying in a foreign country. They were asked what they thought of the people in that country. The overwhelming answer was: people in that foreign country are extremely friendly but make lousy friends.
The man who took the survey concluded: “Those foreigners are nice but too busy and distracted serving themselves to have any room left for building authentic and loving relationships with people different from themselves.” Ouch! That hurts!
Maybe this is the reason the story of Jonathon and David is in the Bible. Jonathan and David become great friends, but Jon’s dad resents David, persecutes David, tries to kill David for quite a long time.
David, doesn’t it make you squirm that your best, best friend is the son of your worst, worst enemy? David, listen up, let me give you some advice: delete Jonathan from your life. You’ve got a great excuse. Do you really think anyone will criticize you for dumping the son of that madman who is trying to kill you?
That doesn’t happen. David’s friendship with Jonathan is terminated only by Jon’s death.
When you see the word “friend” in Proverbs it isn’t talking about casual, revolving door friendship.
Friendship, real Christian friendship, is expected to last especially through adversity. Foul weather friends stick with you during the storms of your life. They call when you are going through depression. They comfort you when your family is in meltdown. They hang with you when you are out of work.
“Foul weather friends are the only ones worthy having – but more importantly – foul weather friends are the only ones worth being.” The point here is not about finding such a friend. The point is about being such a friend.
Sentimental people and poets like this verse. But the people who are really able to do this verse are those who have allowed God’s grace to melt natural selfishness into genuine Christ-like love.
Adversity shows you who are your real friends. How loyal are you?
What are the responsibilities of friendship?
We’re off to a good start.
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Shallow friendships are not worth much and should be avoided. What we need are a few genuine ones.
This should hit us hard. Let me explain. A professor at a leading seminary interviewed 246 men who had been in full-time ministry (pastors, youth pastors, and missionaries) who had to leave the ministry because of sexual sin. All were committed to Christ. Yet within two years each of them got involved in sexual immorality and had to leave the ministry.
What did those 246 men have in common? All of them thought it would never happen to them, and none of them had someone to hold them accountable. Different races, different educations, different social status but no close personal friend to ask them tough personal questions. Questions like “How are you doing with porn? Is your conduct appropriate with the opposite sex?”
The bottom line: loners are losers. You might be shy about bringing up sexual purity with others. Proverbs is not. In the first nine chapters there are four – count ‘em – four pointed warnings about sexual purity. We need someone whom we trust, who can keep secrets, who will pray for us intensely to hold us accountable on the key issues of life.
It’s easy to have only shallow acquaintances, but that is not the path to success.
And don’t be surprised if your closest friends might not be blood related. Joseph in Genesis found far greater kindness among foreigners than family. David had lots of brothers, but his closest friend was Jonathan – no relation. Jesus in His toughest days didn’t hang with His half-brothers but friends. We need someone who sticks to us with more tenacity than would be expected of a biological brother.
Those 246 men who fell into sexual sin are depressing so let’s focus on five other men to encourage us.
A friend of mine has served God for over 50 years as a missionary and teacher. That got me curious so I asked him the logical question, “What is the secret to you staying on God’s path all that time?”
His secret is Proverbs 28:13
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
40 years ago he attended a Bible study regularly with four guys. He came home from it one day and told his wife he was going to quit. He was tired of it. Wife replied, “You’re not going to quit. Every time you come home from it you are in a better mood than when you left. It lifts you.” He stayed.
Slowly the group started to change. The guys started taking off their masks. One guy confessed he had a lifelong struggle with inferiority. One guy shared he struggled with pride constantly. One guy shared pornography was his addiction. I forget what the other 2 struggled with.
Proverbs 28:13 is the verse that inspires and unites those five men. They see the power of wearing no masks in front of each other. That verse is the secret to my missionary friend’s success in life because that group has met for 40 years
whether face to face, phone or Skype and gets to the point: “How are you doing with porn? With inferiority? With whatever?”
That acceptance and encouragement and accountability and fervent prayer for each other has kept my friend on God’s path all these years. Not gobs of shallow friendships. Just a few close, deep friends committed to each other.
One of the best Christian speakers alive today wrote, “One of my regrets lies in having neglected old friendships that could now warm my life had I only given them the attention they deserved.”
If you have no close friend today why not start praying for one?
For more responsibilities of friendship…
Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another.
My parents had 5 trees that needed to be cut down. Guess who did the chopping? I would be whacking away with an axe, and my dad would swoop in, take the axe from me, turn on the grinder on his workbench, and turn what had become dull into something almost frighteningly sharp.
That is what intimate, spiritually mature friends do to our minds, our ideas, our goals. They sharpen us. Take away the dullness. Get us focused. Make us more effective. And you walk away thinking, “Wow, am I glad he’s my friend!”
Guess what? The more you take the Bible seriously, the bigger impact you will have on the lives of others!
More responsibilities of friendship.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy
One of the surest tests of friendship is whether or not we will tell a friend his blind spots.
Here is the question: “Do you care more about your friend’s comfort or his character?”
If you care only about his comfort you will keep silent about things your friend needs to hear. If you care about his character you will – in love – gently –tell him something he really needs to work on, a blind spot. Rebuke – give it kindly, considerately, prayerfully. Judas could kiss Jesus and pretend friendship. Maybe you have a Judas in your life who pretends in a showy way to be your friend. Such people humor us, flatter us, but their hearts are far from us.
What this verse is pushing us to do is priceless. Years ago I was bitter. On and on I was sharing my bitterness when a friend interrupted and said, “So, you’ve have been through a bad experience. What are you going to do about it? Sit, stew and sour or forgive, forget and move on. What are you going to do about it?”
I thought, “Who are you to talk to me like that?” But then I realized that that person really cared about me, and I needed to hear that. He told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. That is a real friend.
Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend
If you have read much of the Old Testament you know that the country of Israel split in two after Solomon died. Why? Because this verse was ignored.
Solomon’s son had a choice: listen to the advice of his father’s wise, mature friends or listen to inexperienced, immature, proud younger advisors. He made the wrong choice with the result more than ½ of the kingdom rebelled and formed their own country. How can you trust an untried friend? Why not stick with the wise men?
When my dad died I came across this verse. When it was done with me I did something I’d never done before. I spent time with one of my dad’s old friends when he came into town. The point is not whether I enjoyed that visit; the point is I owed it to someone who had blessed my family so much in the past.
What kind of job are you doing in honoring old family friends?
The final responsibility of friendship
Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
“The soul is sweetened by the good counsels of a friend.”
Your caller ID tells you a real friend is calling. A smile comes on your face as you take the call. You relax, get a cup of tea, sit in your favorite chair, kick back for a no mask sharing of your hearts. Time with that person brings a nice fragrance to your life that is not for sale. You get encouragement. You are loved and affirmed.
You and I might not be able to afford costly perfume but when you give godly counsel you touch your friend’s heart with a fragrance that even the rich can’t buy. How much enriching of friends have you done lately?
Keep in mind your ability to give good counsel and be a fragrance to others is in direct proportion to your walk with the Lord. You live and apply the Bible to your life and your friends will look forward to seeing your name on their caller ID.
So there are some responsibilities of friendship: practical stuff like loyalty, counseling, wounding, and enriching.
Moving on to
Question two: What are some roadblocks to real friendship?
A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends
This is sick. There are people out there who would get no greater joy than busting up your key friendships. More proof that whatever is important to God is attacked ferociously by the devil. Be aware of that.
Another roadblocks to friendship:
Many seek the favor of a generous man,
and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts
Under the guise of friendship people are being used here.
A girl in my town had a swimming pool in her backyard and that pool was swarming with so called friends every warm day. But when cold weather settled in, they migrated right out of her life. But just wait until May and those so called friends put on smiley faces and tried to work their way back into her life so they could use the pool again. That happened year after year.
When one man became leader of his country he told his kids that they wouldn’t make any genuine friends as long as he was the nation’s leader. He knew that many people want to be friends with the first family to get special favors. That leader’s advice to his kids was to stick with those friends who had been close to them all through the prior difficult years.
None of this lessens our responsibility to be generous to others, but it should remind us not to try to use other people.
Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice,
rising early in the morning,
will be counted as cursing.
Actually there might be two roadblocks in this verse: First is lack of consideration. Phoning at 4am just to chat is rude.
But there is something else here that is insincere at least and sinister at worst. Be suspicious of the person who wants to let everyone know you are his friend. Real friendship doesn’t need to be flaunted.
The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
but the rich has many friends.
If you become friends with a rich person, you know he probably isn’t going to ask you for money. He doesn’t need it. He’s already got it. So there is temptation to make life easy for yourself by seeking out rich people to be your friends.
On the other hand, poor people sometimes might need money so there is temptation to avoid such friendship because you don’t want to be burdened. Hence, the word “disliked” is used here to describe the attitude that some people ave toward friendship with needy people. Money should not warp our friendships.
The final roadblock:
One who lacks sense gives a pledge
and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor.
Rash pledging is a sign of foolishness. This is an extreme commitment you can’t afford to make. No friendship is worth the risk of putting your family in financial jeopardy.
That’s it for roadblocks to friendship.
Which brings us to
Question three: What is some good advice in picking friends?
He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.
Even kings need friends. What should a really wise king look for in picking friends? Look at the verse again. It doesn’t say the king should look for status, wealth, education, or snob appeal in potential friends. The king should look for something more important: someone strong in integrity and sensitivity.
But since we are probably not kings what does this verse have to do with us? You concentrate on becoming a mature Christian, on growing in integrity and sensitivity, and you will be stunned at who turns out to be your friend. Even a person way above your social status might want to be your friend. God has various ways to reward Christian maturity. Giving us friends we never in our wildest dreams thought we would have is one of them.
Stay focused on becoming a strong Christian, and you are transforming yourself into awesome friendship material. And that is what you should look for as you look for friends.
So there you have 3 questions about friendship and Proverbs’ answers.
Look at all those verses and realize…. Christian friendship takes work. But to take friendship seriously is to be like Jesus. And to take friendship seriously yields incredible rewards.
Case in point: the true story of a young Muslim who comes to faith in Christ. He writes: “I had plenty of Christian acquaintances, and I’m sure they would have been my friends if I had become a Christian. But that kind of friendship is conditional. There were none who cared about me unconditionally. Since no Christian cared about me, I did not care about their message.”
Effective evangelism requires relationships. There are very few exceptions. Fortunately one Christian did barge (literally) into his life and became an unconditional friend. You can be sure that at times the friendship was severely strained as the Muslim wrestled with walking away from the false teaching of his family and Mosque.
Today that former Muslim is a Christian evangelist to Muslims. He credits that unconditional love of a Christian as essential to the change.
Imagine how God will use your friendships to deeply impact unsaved people!
What better goal to set for yourself than to go on a friendship offensive – to strengthen some existing friendships and start some new ones with people who need a Savior.
I have been praying regularly for God to give me more unsaved friends. Why not join me in that prayer?
More importantly – What is your friendship like with Jesus right now? Is He a genuine friend because you have trusted Him alone for salvation? Do you see you have a problem and that problem is sin? Do you see that He alone died on the cross as your substitute for your sins?
Why not start a friendship with Jesus now by admitting your sin to Him, agreeing that He paid the price for your sins when He died in your place, and placing your faith and trust in Him alone to deliver you from your sin?