Proverbs 17:17; 18:24
Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to two (2) passages of scripture, this morning, in the Book of Proverbs. The first is Proverbs 17:17, and the second is Proverbs 18:24. The Book of Proverbs has an awful lot to say to us about the nature and importance of friendships, and I’ll be referring to several other passage along the way but these are the two that I want us to focus our minds on.
As you’re finding those two references (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24), let me just say that friendship is, of course, I think, vitally important to everybody who lives. Somebody who says that they have no interest in friendship is, at best, either kidding themselves; or worse still, a rather poor soul with something deeply wrong.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a friend is “a person joined by intimacy and affection to another.” That used to be a good definition of friends, but with the advent and proliferation of the internet and social media platforms I’m not sure it’s accurate.
Most of the friends that people speak about today are unknown names and faces that populate a Facebook page, an Instagram account, or a Twitter feed. But so much of that is superficial. So much of that is built on things that are very ephemeral. They’re not true friends. When we think in terms of true friendship, the kind that Solomon talks about, we’re dealing with something far deeper and much better. As one author put it, “Rich is the individual who has one genuine friend in the whole world.”
This morning, I want us to consider what it means to be a genuine friend. And I want us to use these two verses from Proverbs as our springboard. Hopefully, you’ve found your spot. If not, follow along on the screens.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
Our Father and our God, we ask now that with our Bibles open before us that we might hear Your voice, that You will teach us, and that in learning we may not simply be those who store up knowledge in our heads but that this may actually transform the way we live our lives. We ask this for Your glory and for our good. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Today, as always, I want to deal with friendship on three fronts: first of all, to notice a couple of characteristics of true friendship; and then, secondly, to see how those characteristics are ultimately embodied in Jesus; and finally, to ask ourselves how we’re doing being a true friend.
Characteristics Of A True Friend
Well, then, what are some of the characteristics of true friendship? I’m only going to mention three. The list is so much longer, but these are some of the qualities that are repeated over and over in the Book of Proverbs.
First of all, a true friend is faithful. True friends are marked by faithfulness. Proverbs 17:17 says it: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” In other words, this friendship that exists between these individuals is not based on things that are passing away. It’s not the kind of friendship that was known by the Prodigal.
You remember in Luke chapter 15, where, apparently, when everything was going swell, he had plenty of folks who were around him, and “when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs” (Luke 15:14-15). To be fair, the text of Scripture doesn’t explicitly say that he had no friends, but you don’t normally hire yourself out to someone if you have friends that can help.
The real question about friendship has to do with faithfulness. Being prepared to stay with the person through thick and thin, whether they’re successful or unsuccessful, whether they’re still to our liking or not, irrespective of whether they’ve offended us or not. Friendship establishes faithfulness at all times. When you’ve made a fool of yourself and a royal mess of things, you need at least one friend to go to who will say, “But you haven’t made a permanent mess of things. There’s still hope.”
Secondly, genuine friendship is marked not only by faithfulness but also by frankness (or honesty). It’s impossible to enjoy friendship or to establish friendship if dishonesty is part of what’s going on. And dishonesty, of course, appears in a number of ways.
In Proverbs 27:6, we read the “wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Now, doesn’t that seem contradictory? We’d expect to come across that verse and read that “a friend multiplies kisses and you get wounds from an enemy.” But the point that Solomon is making is that when you receive a wound from a friend, you can trust it. But you shouldn’t trust the multiplications of kisses.
Now, of course, this is very important to understand in context. And we don’t want to overstress it one way or another; otherwise, we may become quite skeptical and be afraid of anybody who would show affection to us at all. But the warning is clear. And indeed, the challenge is there: Am I the kind of person who is able, because of the well-being of my friend, to wound them, not in a way to discourage them or dispirit them or bring them down – but on the few occasions do I wound because I long for my friend’s best interest? Do I inflict pain for their progress? Or do I inflict pain just because I’m bad?
Proverbs 28:23 says that “he who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” Listen to that again: “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” Our whole society is put together in such a way that if you go and say nice things to people and butter them up, then that somehow endears you to them, that’s what makes the world go round. And yet we know, deep down, that isn’t true. In fact, Proverbs 29:5 says, “The man who flatters his friend spreads a net for his feet.”
So, a well-timed, well-spoken, well-placed rebuke may well transform us. But flattery will only trip us up. If you reflect upon those friends who’ve been the best of friends to you, I think you will probably find that this truth and this principle is borne out.
Now, in this respect, it is very, very important that you choose the right kinds of friends. That’s why we teach our children that they should be careful in making friendships. That they shouldn’t just be friends with everyone and anyone. They should be kind and respectful to everyone, but to establish a relationship which is based on intimacy and affection needs to be done with great care and attention. Because not everybody who wants to come alongside you, not everyone who wants to get into your space, not everyone who is interested in establishing some kind of interest in you necessarily is motivated by any genuine sense of friendship.
There was an English clergyman from the 1600’s named George Swinnock that wrote a book titled The Christian Man’s Calling, and in it he writes: “In the choice of a bosom friend [some respect] ought to be had to his prudence. Some men, though holy, are indiscreet, and in point of secrets are like sieves – [they] can keep nothing committed to them, but let all run through. A blab of secrets is a traitor to society, as one that causeth much dissention. It is good to try him [test him] whom we intend for a bosom friend before we trust him.”
That’s rather important. Because how in the world can you ever share your heart, your life, your mind, your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your aspirations with somebody who’s like a sieve? Of course, that’s one of the great challenges for anyone who’s in a position of leadership. Why is it so difficult for someone in pastoral ministry to form really deep and meaningful friendships? Part of it is right there.
The third (and final) characteristic that I want to mention is fairness. Not simply faithfulness and frankness, but also fairness. Friendship must always carry with them a sense of what’s appropriate. Proverbs 26:18-19 says: “A man who is caught lying to his friend and says, ‘I was just joking!’ is like a madman throwing around firebrands, arrows, and death.” (Doesn’t Proverbs have some good guidance?) Those of us who talk more than we ought (I’m including myself), sometimes we cannot get ourselves out of an awkward situation or dismiss hurtful words by simply saying “Ah, I was only kidding!” or “Oh, it was just a joke!” or “I didn’t really mean it!” ’Cause once the word is out, it’s out, whether you meant it or not.
So, a fair disposition in friendship will say no to gossiping because gossip separates friends. Proverbs 16:28 says, “A gossip separates… friends.” You can take it to the bank. Proverbs 17:9 has another staggering statement: “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”
Do you see what he’s saying? Solomon isn’t saying that we shouldn’t call sin, sin or call something right that’s really wrong. He’s expressing the New Testament understanding that love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). “Yes, I know you did that. Yes, I understand that that was a disaster. But let’s not dwell on it. Let’s seek – by God’s enabling – to remember it no more. After all, isn’t that how God keeps a record: no record at all! Written clear. So, you can look me in the eye, and I will tell you, ‘It won’t go any farther.’” With that kind of friend you can have confidence. But the person who “repeats the matter separates close friends.”
Faithfulness, frankness, and fairness are just a few of the marks of genuine friendship. That’s the kind of friendship that sticks closer than a brother.
Christ As The Truest Friend
“Well,” you say, “I’m not sure that I have found that. I’m not sure that I am that. Where could we find this embodied?” Well, the answer is, of course, in the Lord Jesus. This is where the hymnody of generations past comes in handy. There’s an old hymn that we don’t sing much anymore called One There Is Above All Others, by Marianne Nunn in which we sing,
Earthly friends may fail or leave us,
One day kind, the next day grieve us,
But this Friend will never deceive us,
The Bible says He’s the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Never in a mood. Never letting us down. Never treating us impulsively. There’s another, more familiar hymn by Charles Fry called The Lily of the Valley. In fact, we sang it just a few weeks ago
I have found a friend in Jesus-
He’s ev’rything to me,
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul;
The Lily of the Valley- in Him alone I see
All I need to cleanse and make me fully whole.
Let me quickly offer you three ways that Jesus embodies the truest of friends.
First, is the scope of His friendship. It was a constant nuisance to the Pharisees. It was even a concern to His closest disciples. Because He kept ending up with the strangest individuals. Stopping under the wrong tree to speak to a little thief named Zacchaeus. Remember that (Luke 19:1-10)? “Zacchaeus, come down; we’re going to have lunch at your house this afternoon.”
Or how about this encounter from John 4, “Excuse me, ma’am, do you think that I could have a drink of water?” “I beg your pardon? Isn’t it kind of strange that you, a Jew, would speak to me, a Samaritan? That you, a man, would speak to me, a woman?” (especially since I’ve had five husbands; I have a live-in lover; and, honestly, I have a problem with men, but I’m not telling you that.)
Who is this kindest of friends? It’s Jesus. And the Pharisees said, “You know, the Son of Man has come eating and drinking. And we like to call Him a winebibber and a glutton, because He is the friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’” (Matthew 11:19).
Second, Jesus’ friendship is the standard. In fact, in John 15:14, Jesus puts it round the other way; He says, “You are My friends if you do what I command [you].” In other words, the enjoyment of friendship with Jesus and all of His faithfulness, frankness, and fairness is directly related in the Christian pilgrimage to the issues of obedience. That’s why disobedience, willful sin, and assurance never go hand in hand in the same Christian experience. If you and I are flat out disobeying the law of God, if we’re living in disregard for His Word, if we’re playing fast and loose with His commands, if we’re becoming very skillful hearers and yet not doers of the Word, we should not wonder why it is that we feel such a diminished sense of His companionship. Not that we earn it by obedience, but our obedience is on account of love. His friendship is our standard; it’s our calling.
And finally, there’s a security in His friendship. Human friendships are passing. If for no other reason, death will separate us. Geography may remove us from the intimacy of day-to-day affection. Time may diminish some. But it’s never true with Jesus. If you make friendship with Him the first choice of your youth, if we sustain friendship with Jesus in the maturing years of our lives, if we look forward to His friendship for all of eternity, then no matter what we face, we can rest in Him. Again, the hymn writers of the past offer us guidance. James Small wrote these words:
I’ve found a friend, O such a friend!
[He] loved me ere I knew Him
He drew me with the cords of love,
And thus He bound me to Him;
And round my heart [so] closely [twined]
[These] ties that naught can sever,
For I am His, and [He] is mine,
Forever and forever.
And of course, who could forget Joseph Scriven’s hymn What a Friend We Have In Jesus:
What a friend we have in Jesus.
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
Challenge To Be A True Friend
As we close let me borrow a line from the Kairos Prison Ministry. There’s a theme we use with the inmates on the inside, and it goes like this. Make a friend. Be a friend. Bring a friend to Jesus.
First, there’s make a friend. It’s easy to wait for someone else to make the first move, to make the first phone call, to send the first note, to offer the first invitation. The fear of rejection stimulates inaction. Thankfully, God didn’t wait for us to approach Him, “We love because He first loves us” (1 John 4:19). If there’s a friendship in your life that’s smoldering like an ember, rekindle it by taking the initiative. If you know of someone that seems to be looking for a friend or needing a friend; follow Jesus’ example and take the initiative.
Second, be a friend. Although Jesus enjoyed perfect friendship and community in the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – nevertheless, He demonstrated His desire for relationship when He became one of us. He took on Himself the cloak of our humanity, and through His redemptive work on the cross, Jesus made a way for us to become His friend(s). This is a wonderful motivation for evangelism, yes! And that leads me to my final point…
Finally, bring a friend to Jesus. Most of us are fairly good at “making friends” and “being friends,” but we’re not generally as good at “bringing our friends to Jesus.” That’s part of the reason for our 2021 evangelism initiative: Who’s Your ONE? Sometimes, I wonder if our emphasis on “making friends” and “being friends” is actually our excuse for indefinitely postponing gospel proclamation.
Weeks and months (maybe even years) go by, and we’ve made friends, but no disciples. We still haven’t spoken about our Christian faith and what it means to trust in Jesus. And just in case you think your pastor must do this all the time, let me disappoint you. I attend basketball games in high school gyms and church gyms and recreational leagues all over the upstate, and on most occasions, I don’t turn to the person or family sitting next to me or in front/behind me and tell them about Jesus.
No, just like them, I’m there hollering at the referees (absent the curse words, mind you), and coaching up my sons on what they need to do or should have done. After the game I’m either joining the other parents retelling the wonderful shots and stories of the victory, or lamenting the bad calls and poor execution of our team. I’m not saying that every conversation has to end with an altar call. But it worries me when we can become “good friends” with non-believers without revealing our Christian identity.
When our Christian faith runs deep, Jesus has a way of making an appearance – sooner rather than later. Our identity in Christ should be such an integral part of our lives that it’s impossible for someone to know us without also understanding how our Christian faith informs our lives.
Will you commit yourself? Will we commit ourselves to being good friends? To see Mountain Hill as a place that creates friendships that literally last for an eternity? We can’t all be the bosom buddies of everybody. That’s an impossibility. We tyrannize ourselves if we say, “Well, I don’t know him or her as well as I might or may” or whatever. Don’t worry about that. But in the sphere of your influence, in the realm of your contact, say, “Lord Jesus, you who are the perfect friend, make me a friend. Make me a friend.”
Father, we bless You again for the privilege of these moments. And we thank You for the love that drew the plan of salvation, for the grace that brings it to us, for the great span that You have come across in redeeming us. Grant, that the scope, the standard and the security of our friendship with Christ may challenge and encourage us, not only in the hours of this day but through life itself. In Jesus’ name we pray.