The Blessing of Friendship

Proverbs, Friendship, Conflict

There is nothing quite as special as a good friend. A good friend is one with whom you can talk about anything. You know they will listen. They will listen to the whole story rather than make quick judgments. They will make time for you. A true friend transcends times of separation.

Several weeks ago I got in touch with my former College roommate via Facebook. We haven’t seen each other for decades. I was having a rough day and he picked up on that fact. He called me and our conversation picked up as if we had never been apart. He helped me. I consider him a good friend even though I rarely see him.

In spite of what your Facebook page may say, you don’t have that many good friends. You can be “friendly” with many people, but with most of those people you feel you need to be guarded. You don’t feel you can be open and honest (and if you do, you will likely be burned). Friendship is actually something rare.

One author writes,

“Our individualism and our wealth have allowed us to minimize our contact with others – to our detriment. This problem of friendlessness exists even in our churches. In the Friendless American Male, Larry Richards is reported as saying that “in church we sit together and sing together and greet one another cheerily as we leave at the end of a service. We do all of these things, sometimes for years, without forming any real personal Christian relationship. Our words often seem superficial. The church, therefore, becomes a place where Christians live alone together.”[1]

This morning we want to address this problem. We will examine the issue of friendship so we can better learn to find, identify, and become friends.

What is a Friend?

Solomon describes what a true friend is like.  First, a true friend is loyal.

Prov. 20:6Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?

Prov. 17:17 A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.

The point here is that your family members are supposed to stick with you. That is kind of their job. A friend is a person who chooses to be loyal. They take the time to know who you really are (warts and all) and do not walk away. A true friend is the one who remains when everyone else disappears.

A true friend is one to whom you can vent and not have the other person think less of you. They understand your heart and what you do (no matter how foolish) does not change what they know to be true. These are the people you could call in the middle of the night and they would come find you. Your friends are those who rally around you in a time of crisis.

Second, a true friend is someone who will tell you the truth . . . even if it hurts. Listen to how the Proverbs describe this:

Prov. 27:6 Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.

Prov. 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.

Prov 24:26 An honest answer is like a kiss of friendship.

A true friend is not merely someone who flatters you. A true friend is one who is more concerned about your growth than your ego. They want to refine you rather than just flatter you. We all need someone in our lives to whom we can say, “Help me to see what I am blind to in myself. Help me to grow in my relationship with Christ”.

It is true that we can make it in life without anyone. However, we can’t grow as people in isolation. God has designed us to “sharpen each other”. Ray Ortlund writes,

“When iron sharpens iron, it creates friction. When a friend wounds you, it hurts. So, do you see? There is a difference between hurting someone and harming someone. There is a difference between someone being loved and someone feeling loved. Jesus loved everyone well, and some people felt hurt. They were not harmed by him. They were loved by him. But they felt hurt….the truth is, a friend will inevitably hurt you with words that are respectful, true, and blunt. If you will receive it, you will grow in wisdom.”[2]

This is not an invitation to start pointing out the faults of everyone around you. Some people are obnoxious that way. They note every misspoken word and they magnify and spotlight every fault (most of the time a true friend overlooks offenses). These people are not friends, they are a pain in the neck!

A friend is a person who has earned the right to speak to you about things they see in you that are hurting you or the people around you. Two people can say the same hard thing to you. One will provoke an angry response, the other will be received as giving a loving piece of instruction. Why? It is because one person is a friend and they have proved that they care about you. The friend speaks the truth out of love. Lovingly they will

  • Note when you are justifying wrong behavior
  • When you seem to be moving toward a relationship that is inappropriate.
  • When you seem to be compromising your faith.
  • When you are neglecting your family.
  • When you have become obsessed with something and lost perspective.
  • When you are spending recklessly.
  • When you are thinking about doing something foolish.

This kind of a friend is like gold. They are precious and we need to cherish and listen to them. A good friend can help us avoid some real problems in life.

How Friendships Go Wrong

Friendships are special but they can be damaged or destroyed. Solomon gives us several ways we can strain or destroy a friendship.

Prov. 25:18-19 Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow.

19 Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot.

Because friends are so cherished, and because we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to them, we can also be hurt. If someone says something bad about you it hurts, but if a friend says something bad about you, it wounds much more deeply. Solomon’s description is powerful, if we hurt a friend it is like wounding them with an ax, a sword, or shooting them with an arrow.

If someone lies about you it is one thing, if a friend (who you know knows better) lies about you then it is much more devastating. In these cases it feels like a betrayal. The hurt inflicted and (we believe) intended is much greater.

The one thing we all want from a friend is someone who is reliable; someone we can depend on. If we discover that our friend is not reliable, the reality is very painful.

Prov. 17:9 Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.

A second thing that can ruin a friendship is an unwillingness to forgive. Someone told me once in regard to marriage: “in every marriage there is as much evidence of a person being a good spouse as there is of them being a bad spouse. It all depends on which evidence you want to focus on.” The same is true often in friendship. Sometimes we are unrealistic in what we want from our friends. If we focus on all the little “slights” we have experienced, then we will create a wedge with our friend. Bitterness and resentment will grow, and the friendship will be strained and may die.

The antidote is to forgive quickly. Friendships are maintained because we trust the heart of our friend and overlook things that others might determine are offenses. We understand that everyone has a bad day. We know that sometimes our friends are preoccupied. No one is at their best all the time (truthfully, none of us are even at our best most of the time.) Sometimes forgiveness and silence can save a friendship.

Prov. 25:17 Don’t visit your neighbors too often, or you will wear out your welcome.

Ben Franklin is noted for saying, “Guests, like fish, stink after three days.”

If we are constantly demanding things from our friendship; if we are becoming a “pest,” that friendship will start to erode. If you always show up at dinner time, if you always call the moment you see that someone has returned home (that is creepy on many levels!), if you text them constantly, your friend is going to start avoiding you. Obnoxious people don’t have a lot of friends.

Prov. 18:19  An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.

Conflict can separate friends. Being overly sensitive will create conflict.

In 1 Corinthians 6 the apostle Paul asks an important question: “Why not rather be wronged?” In other words, “isn’t it worth absorbing an offense rather than losing a relationship?” Let’s say you were planning on doing something with your friend. At the very last minute things were cancelled. You were out a little money and your friend didn’t offer to offset the loss. You can become really angry. You can lose the friendship over this hurt. Or, you could overlook the offense, absorb the loss, and conclude that your friendship is worth more than the money.

Restoring a Friendship

So, what if your friendship has been strained? What if what used to be a cherished friendship is now damaged? Here are two suggestions from Solomon,

Prov. 20:22 Don’t say, “I will get even for this wrong.” Wait for the Lord to handle the matter.

In other words, stop trying to “fix things”. Entrust the problem to the Lord. That means extending forgiveness, releasing bitterness, and seeking reconciliation. I know it doesn’t seem “fair” but God knows “fair” better than anyone. He sees motives as well as actions. Let the past be the past. Let it go. Reestablish your relationship with your friend. If you wait until your friend comes to you, you may lose the friend forever. I know what you are thinking: If my friend really cared they would make things right with me; they would call; they would try to fix the relationship.  Is it possible that your friend is thinking the exact same thing about you?

Second, Proverbs 28:13 says,

“People who conceal their sins will not prosper,

but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.

This is the hardest thing of all. We are told to admit our part in the problem. We are to apologize for what we know we have done wrong!

No one likes to apologize. Sometimes we would rather let a relationship disintegrate than have to humble ourselves and admit wrong. We would rather justify our behavior than admit we were wrong. We are much better at excuses than apologies. But we can’t make a relationship right until we acknowledge our contribution to the pain that caused the strain in the relationship.

So, what if the other person doesn’t apologize for what they did? Let me answer that simply: you are responsible before God for what YOU do. If you do what is right YOU will receive mercy. God is honored when we do what is right before Him.

Friendships are precious and must be cared for. There is so much hurt in the world. The best way to maintain a friendship is by showing love. It is the love of Christ that brings change in a relationship and in life. Harshness, taking a stand, and not backing down, only bring hardness. If we want good friendships we need to be soft rather than hard.

The Best Friend of All

Solomon writes,

18:24 – There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

I like the more literal translations which translates this as: “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

This translation reminds me of the friendship we should seek above all others. It is friendship with our Savior and Lord, Jesus. Jesus told the disciples that they were his friends if they did what He told them to do. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man that this: that a man would lay down His life for His friends.”

Jesus is the perfect friend. He is loyal, He is concerned for us, He has shown His love for us, He can help us (and will) in any situation. He never betrays us.

In one sense we need to understand that when Jesus came to earth and gave His life as a payment for our sin, He was sending us a “friend request”.  He invited us to join Him in a relationship that would change us, strengthen us, and remake us forever.

Have you entered into such a relationship with Jesus?I hope you have a best friend in life. However, that friend cannot begin to compare to Jesus. He is always with you, He cares for you more than you can even imagine, He is committed to you, and He has done for you what no one else can do.

He calls you to respond to His friend request. Embrace Him as your Savior and Lord. Confess your sin and receive His forgiveness and transforming love.

We forget that friendship is God’s idea. This is why it is so foolish to hear people say, “I don’t want to go to Heaven because all my friends will be in Hell.” If that is true, it is one of the saddest things you could ever say. Besides, this idea that Hell will be one raucous party is very mistaken.  Hell is where the presence and gifts of God are removed. People in Hell have essentially said they do not want to live under the Lord’s authority. So, Hell will give people what they desire.

However, Hell will be a place without friendships, laughter, joy, pleasure, peace or any other of the things that are gifts from God. Every good gift comes from God (and a good friend is a gift from God). If we live apart from Him, we also live apart from the gifts He bestows.

Conclusion

I have had the wonderful privilege of experiencing the joys of friendship recently. I know better than ever the value of true friends. These people love you when you don’t love yourself, they tell you honestly about problem areas they see, and they stand with you even when you are no fun to be around. I have discovered what a priceless treasure these people are. I take this opportunity to give a feeble yet sincere “thank you”.

I have also learned much about the friend who sticks closer than a brother. What a friend we have in Jesus. He will never leave us. He always focuses on our potential rather than our failures. He is determined to help us be the best we can be. He has provided for us a love and grace we could never deserve. He listens, He understands, He patiently instructs. When we stumble His hand is always there to help us up. He is the best friend we could know.

If you want to know what a good friend looks like, study the life of Jesus. If you need a friend you can trust, turn to Him. And in those times when you need someone who is a “flesh and blood” friend, keep your eyes open.  It may surprise you who it is God sends your way. May God help us to develop friendships and to become good and faithful friends to each other.

[1] Spangler, Ann, Tverberg Lois, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus Loc. 1297
[2] (Ray Ortlund Jr. Proverbs: Wisdom that works Wheaton: Crossway 2012) 168
Scripture:

Proverbs (various)