Friendships are an amazing discovery in life, but strong friendships don’t just spring from nothing. Friendships require wise effort. They require forging. And, in his grace, God has given us wisdom in the book of Proverbs to understand this forging process.
A good summary always helps. No one is better are distilling the book of Proverbs into modern Proverbs like Derek Kidner. In his commentary, Kidner has a brief section highlighting what a good friend is. The good friend has constancy, candor, counsel, and carefulness (Kidner calls this tact, but Tim Keller refers to it as carefulness, which is much better because, you know, alliteration).
A friend is always with you. A friend is committed. He sticks closer than a brother.
Maybe you think you don’t have any close friends—no one who really sticks close to you. Well, maybe you don’t. But it’s very easy to pass the blame onto others without admitting maybe there’s something wrong with you. Good friendship begins with you.
Let me ask a very uncomfortable question: What kind of friend are you? Are you the kind of friend who sticks closer than a brother? Are you a constant friend?
Proverbs doesn’t just help us recognize true friends; it helps us become one.
Proverbs 20:6 reads, “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” Is there a difference between the kind of friend you say you are and the kind of friend you actually are?
Proverbs points out that superficial friends don’t stick around when times are bad. Proverbs 19:4 reads, “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend” Proverbs 19:7 reads, “All a poor man’s brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them.”
But real friends are constant. Proverbs 17:17 reads, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
What kind of friend are you?
The best way to find a faithful friend is to be a faithful friend. Do you seek others out? Are you available for friendship? Do others even know you’re available? And when you find a friend, are you there for them?
British pastor Vaughan Roberts wrote a little book called True Friendship. He writes something really profound:
"Perhaps we are confident that if a friend was truly in need, we would be there for them. But would anyone think of turning to us in such circumstances? Have we kept our friendships in good shape in better times so that they are prepared for the moment when a crisis occurs?"
Maybe the reason you don’t have the friends you need is because you haven’t yet learned to be the friend you need. Proverbs 27:10 tells us not to forsake our friend. We all need a constant friend and that starts by being a constant friend to others.
We are sinners in need of help. We have blind spots and friends are God’s gift to help us repent, change, and move forward.
Real friends don’t just humor or flatter. Real friends deal honestly. They give meaningful input. They sharpen. They make us wise.
So, let me ask you: do you have a friend in your life who can sharpen you? Do you have a friend who can tell you the cold, hard truth when necessary? Furthermore, are you that kind of friend?
Proverbs 29:5 reads, “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” Friends don’t butter one another up. They shoot straight because they don’t want to see their friend ensnared later on. They want their friend free from sin, free from pain. Why? Because in a way, your happiness is tied to theirs.
If your friend hurts, you hurt. That’s one way know you have real friendship—how much you feel what happens to them. But even more than that, we want to stir up one another to love and good works for Jesus’ sake. Our friendships are accountable to Jesus. Are we obeying him? Are we allowing him to use us as he desires in the life of our friends? Or are we ignoring his call to go deep?
You know you have a friend when you can say to them—and they can say to you—what no one else could get away with. Friends don’t hide how they feel. They say what they must without hiding their love. Proverbs 27:5-6 reads, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Friends wound with love. They don’t kiss with flattery.
Oscar Wilde said, “A true friend stabs you in the front.” That’s a harsh way of putting it, but there’s some truth to it. Friends see what we can’t see about ourselves, and their blunt honesty can save us.
That candidness opens the door for counsel. Real counsel is candid. Proverbs 27:9, “the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” Earnest counsel isn’t just “do this, don’t do that.” It’s not detached. As commentator Charles Bridges writes, earnest counsel is “the counsel of his soul.” A friend puts themselves in our shoes and counsels as he would wish to be counseled. A friend isn’t just a prophet speaking truth in the face of sin but also a priest bringing you to Jesus for help. If you have a friend who is candid with counsel, you will grow in wisdom.
Real friends are candid and give counsel, but their love keeps it from being reckless. Real friends are careful with one another. They don’t want to push you away; they want to bring you nearer to themselves and to Jesus.
This is why friendship requires so much wisdom. God wants us to be careful with what we say and how we say it. Is it helpful? Is it necessary? What impact will it make? As Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
So, Proverbs teaches us to avoid three friendship killers: gossip, aloofness, and grudges.
First, we must not be gossips, and we must not make friends with gossips.
Gossip is to friendship what adultery is to marriage. It destroys trust and fractures the relationship. Proverbs 16:28 reads, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer [gossip] separates close friends.” Proverbs 20:19 reads, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler. ”
Gossip is poison. Avoid it at all costs.
Jesus doesn’t gossip. When he speaks of his friends, he has only good things to say because their faults are not talking points for him. He’s not interested in the dark side of your life. He’s bringing you to glory.
Second, we must not be aloof to our friends.
A friend isn’t detached or unsympathetic. Proverbs 25:20 reads, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” Singing happy songs to a heavy heart isn’t just wrong, it’s mean. Real friends know when to weep and when to rejoice. Real friends can read the mood and apply the right balm. They know how to be with present in the circumstance.
Sometimes, however, being a friend means knowing when to not be there at all. Proverbs 25:17 reads, “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” Proverbs 27:14 reads, “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.” We all need space. A friend understands that. A friend knows when they’re wearing out their welcome.
But more than that, a friend is earnest in friendship, treating others with respect and honor. A friend doesn’t deceive. Proverbs 26:18-19 reads, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I’m only joking!’” Friends bring the right word at the right time with the right posture. They don’t treat others lightly, but with the weight of glory others deserve. Yes, you joke around, but the joking doesn’t have a mean streak. No one should question after the comment, “What do they really think of me?” Friends open others up, not shut others down.
Jesus doesn’t stand aloof. He entered humanity. He knows what it’s like to live in this world. He knows what you need and comes in mercy and grace to give help when you need it.
Third, we mustn’t hold grudges.
Friends are forgiving. Proverbs 17:9 tells us, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Every friend will disappoint us, and we will disappoint every friend. But wisdom says, “Okay, you’ve been disappointed. Now what? Now, cover that offense. Seek love. Don’t bring it up again.”
The word “repeats” means to bring it up only a second time. That’s all it takes—one more time. Proverbs 28:13 reads, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” If your friend has not concealed but confessed, don’t bring it up again. God doesn’t keep bringing our sins to the forefront. He covered them with his love at the cross. If we don’t do the same with our friends, things can get out of hand.
As Proverbs 17:14 reads, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks.” Proverbs 18:19 reads, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 11:12 reads, “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” You might be in the right, but is your rightness worth the friendship? A friend knows when to cover the offense, when to quit fighting, when to shut up and forgive.
Jesus doesn’t hold a grudge against you. He’s forgiven you completely. He’s paid for all your sins. He won’t bring them up again. Why would he? When he said, “It is finished,” he meant it.
Tim Keller summarizes a friend as one who always lets you in and never lets you down. That’s a high model for us to aspire in our friendships, and we will fail one another more than once. But with God’s grace in our friendships, we can experience the kind of intimacy with friends for which our heart longs.
To be a great friend, be constant, be candid, give counsel, and be careful.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at David's blog, Things of the Sort.