What The Bible Teaches About Friendship

Bible Book: Proverbs  17 : 7
Subject: Friendship; Friends; Being a Friend

The subject of friendship is of vital interest to all of us - or should be, considering the pivotal role that friends play in our lives. That being true, we all should desire to understand everything we can about friendship. Many good and helpful things have been written on the subject, but there is only one infallible guide for life’s relationships, and that is the Bible. So, let’s look together at what the Word of God tells us about this powerfully important matter of friendship.

I. Avoid Wrong Friendships

1 Corinthians 15:33 (NIV): “Do not be misled. Bad company corrupts good character.” The Bible gives several examples of the type of friendships to steer clear of. Proverbs 22:24-25: “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.” Proverbs 28:7 says that “...a companion of riotous men shameth his father.”

Let me give you an admittedly extreme case, but one which nevertheless clearly makes the point. In 2 Samuel we read of a disturbingly sordid, shameful situation. Look with me at 2 Samuel 13:1-2:

And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do anything to her.

Look then at verses 3-5:

But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David’s brother: and Jonadab was a very subtle man. And he said unto him, Why art thou, being the king’s son, lean from day to day? wilt thou not tell me? And Amnon said unto him, I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister. And Jonadab said unto him, Lay thee down on thy bed, and make thyself sick: and when thy father cometh to see thee, say unto him, I pray thee, Let my sister Tamar come, and give me meat, and dress the meat in my sight, that I may see it, and eat it at her hand.

In the remainder of the chapter we see that Amnon followed the perverted, immoral advice of his friend Jonadab. When he tried to entice Tamar, she protested, but verse 14 says, “Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her.” Verse 15 says, “Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, be gone.”

One tragedy after another followed that shameful event--and it was all started, mind you, by Amnon listening to the advice of a friend--but a tragically wrong kind of friend.

A person had better choose his friends wisely. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”

II. The Blessings Of True Friends

Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Those words were written centuries ago when tools were made of iron, not steel--and sharpening instruments were also made of iron. By repeated friction, the sharpening instrument would polish the tool and put a keener edge on it. In like manner, constant interaction with the right kind of friend will sharpen and polish our lives. God uses human instrumentality to help shape us into what he wants us to be.

We need other people. Every once in a while somebody tries to go it alone. A preacher was trying to persuade a lady who was a member of his church to take part in a particular upcoming activity, but she refused. In defending her non-participation, she said, “The more involved you become with people, the more trouble you find. I would rather be independent and neither indebted nor committed to anybody.” The problem with that philosophy is not only that it is sad and flawed, but sooner or later one finds that it is absolutely unworkable--because friends are not merely a luxury, they are essential.

John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself....” Romans 14:7 declares, “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” The late George Truett preached a famous sermon in which he was emphasizing the importance of people interacting with others. In the course of that message he said, “Occasionally the vaunting, swelling word is heard, ‘I’m independent now.’” Truett said, “Oh, you are? Independent of whom, and when, and where, and how?” He went on to say, “We are bound together in the bundle of life. We are dependent--utterly upon God, and to a marked degree on one another.”

Our need for other people is underscored by the fact that the Bible uses the term “friend” a hundred times. When Charles Kingsley, the renowned writer, was asked the secret of his successful life, he answered, “I had a friend.” It is certainly true that our friendships can make us or break us. An anonymous poet wrote:

My friends are little lamps to me; Their radiance warms and cheers my ways, And all my pathways, smooth and rough, are illumined by their rays.

I try to keep them bright by faith, And never let them dim with doubt;

For every time I lose a friend, A little lamp goes out.

III. The Marks Of A Real Friend

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

A. A Friend Loves

Notice the first three words of that verse: “A friend loveth....” A true friend cares about your feelings. An ancient Arabian definition says it like this: “A friend is one to whom we may pour out the contents of our hearts, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

Some down-home philosopher said, “A friend is someone who thinks you’re a good egg even though he knows you are slightly cracked.” Somebody else defined a friend like this: “When you’ve made a fool of yourself, he doesn’t believe it’s a permanent job.”

A true friend, because he loves you, is more interested in your welfare than his own. Most everyone is familiar with Albrecht Durer’s famous painting, “The Praying Hands,” but have you heard the story of how it came to be painted? Even when he was a child, Albrecht Durer wanted to be an artist. Finally, when he was a young man, he left home to go study under an outstanding painter. He met another young man with the same ambition, and the two became close friends. They were both poor, and rented a small room together. Their meager resources ran out, and it appeared that they would have to give up their studies.

But Durer’s friend said, “No, let’s not both quit. I’ll go to work and earn a living for the two of us while you go on studying. Then when you’re able to sell some of your work, I’ll quit my job and resume my studies.” Durer strongly protested, but his friend insisted, so finally it was agreed. His friend worked long hours at hard manual labor while Albrecht Durer faithfully and diligently pursued the study of art. Finally he sold a wood-carving, and his friend went back to his studies--but sadly, all of that hard  work had stiffened and twisted his fingers so that he was no longer able to paint with skill.

Albrecht Durer was heartbroken to see what had happened to his friend. One day he came back to their room unexpectedly and heard his friend praying. He quietly looked in and saw his friend’s gnarled, toilworn hands folded in prayer. He determined right then and there to pay tribute to his friend by painting a picture of those hands folded in prayer. That painting has become world famous -  but it was not painted to display the skill of the artist; it was painted to express Albrecht Durer’s deep, heartfelt gratitude for the sacrificial love of his friend.

B. A Friend Loves At All Times

As we noted, Proverbs 17:17 not only tells us that a friend loves us, but it says, “A friend loveth at all times....” That means even when your back is against the wall. It means when it may not be popular to be your friend. Some folks will stand with you so long as they derive some benefit, so long as it’s the “in thing” to be your friend--but when the winds of adversity begin to blow, when the tide begins to turn, those fair-weather friends are notable by their absence. But a real friend just hangs in there, come what may. Somebody has said that “a friend is one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” There is an ancient Indian word for “friend” which literally means “one who carries my sorrows on his back.”

The first black man to break “the color barrier” and play major league baseball was Jackie Robinson. To the shame of everyone involved, opposing dugouts and the people in the stands jeered and hurled epithets at him. One writer says that opposing pitchers tried to hit him in the head with fastballs, and other opponents tried to spike him on the bases. During one game in his home stadium in Brooklyn, Jackie committed an error. The fans began to ridicule him. Jackie stood there at second base, humiliated, while the crowd taunted him with racial slurs. At that point another Dodger, a Southern white player named Pee-Wee Reese, called timeout. He walked from his position at shortstop over to Robinson at second base, put his arm around Jackie’s shoulder, and stood there with him and faced the crowd. The fans grew quiet. By that eloquent gesture, Pee-Wee Reese was saying, “This man is my friend.” Jackie Robinson later said that that arm around his shoulder saved his career.

In 2 Timothy 1:16 the apostle Paul wrote, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain.” Paul was in prison in Rome, under house arrest, with a long chain attached to his ankle. Some of his former associates apparently wanted nothing to do with him; they were ashamed to be associated with Paul. But not Onesiphorus--he was a friend through the good times and the bad, through smooth sailing and stormy seas alike.

C. A Friend Is Honest With Us

A true friend is honest with us. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend....” A true  friend will tell you the truth even if it hurts. That individual who always pats you on the back even when you’re about to fall into a moral precipice is no real friend. A true friend will risk alienating you, if necessary, in order to warn you that you’re heading down the wrong path. He cares that much about you.

D. A Friend Encourages Us To Live For God

Another mark of a real friend is that he will encourage you to live for God. In Mark 5 is the account of Jesus miraculously casting an evil spirit out of a man. The man was overwhelmed with gratitude and wanted to accompany Jesus on his journey, but we read in Mark 5:19: “Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” If you and I are real friends to those around us, we will do our dead-level best to point them to the Savior, by example and by word of mouth.

E. A Friend Motivates Us To Be Our Best

The bottom line is that a true friend motivates us to strive for the highest. Proverbs 27:9 says, “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.” Henry Drummond said, “There are some men and women in whose company we are always at our best. While with them we cannot think mean thoughts or speak ungenerous words. Their mere presence is elevation, purification, sanity.”

IV. How To Have Real Friends

A. Show Yourself Friendly

Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”

One of the saddest statements I ever read was by a man who said, “As far as I know I haven’t a real friend in the world. I don’t know of a soul I would trust implicitly.” What a miserable person that man must be. Apparently he has never learned that in order to draw upon the bank of friendship, you have to make deposits.

“A man that hath friends must show himself friendly....” That’s where most of us miss the mark. We get all hung up on whether or not others said the right thing to us, or used the right tone of voice, or whether or not they looked at us right or treated us as we think they should have and the result is that we wind up constantly unsure of ourselves and unsure of others, sometimes even feeling alienated. The answer is to get the focus off ourselves. Someone has said, and I believe correctly, that “if you  go out looking for friends, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll  find them everywhere.”

It was D. L. Moody who used to tell the story about a little boy who, along with his family, moved to a new location. Nearby was a wooded area, part of a big valley. This little fellow was out in his yard exploring his new home site, when he thought he heard a sound coming from the direction of the woods. The little boy had never before encountered the phenomenon of echo, and thinking someone might be out there he called out, “Hello.” Back came the words, “Hello.” Fascinated, he said, “How are you?” and back came the echo, “How are you?” At that, he thought he was being mocked, and he didn’t like it. He yelled, “You’re a bad boy!” The words reverberated, “You’re a bad boy!” Now he was really mad. He called out, “I’m going to whip you!” The words came back, “I’m going to whip you!”

He turned and went into the house and said, “Mama, there’s a mean boy out there somewhere. I haven’t seen him, but I’ve heard him. He claims that he’s going to come whip me.” She had been watching and listening and knew exactly what had happened. She said, “You know, I believe that if you’ll talk nicer to that boy, he’ll talk nicer to you.” He went back outside, and somewhat hesitantly said, “Hello.” Back came the echo, “Hello.” He said, “I like you,” and the words came back, “I like you.” He said, “Let’s be friends.” He heard the words come back, “Let’s be friends.” He went back into the house smiling and said, “Mama, that’s a pretty good boy, after all!”

There is a sense in which life is an echo. Jesus said as much in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

B. Guard and Nurture Friendships

Then we must guard and nurture those friendships. Proverbs 6:3 says, “Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the land of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend.” Samuel Johnson said, “A man should keep his friendships in constant repair.” Proverbs 27:10 says, “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not....” How sad when we fail to keep in touch with our friends. Henry Towne wrote these sobering words:

Around the corner I have a friend, In this great city that has no end. Yet days go by and weeks rush on, And before I know it a year is gone,

And I never see my old friend’s face; For life is a swift and terrible race. He knows I like him just as well

As in the days when I rang his bell And he rang mine.

We were younger then

And now we are busy, tired men Tired with playing a foolish game; Tired with trying to make a name. “Tomorrow,” I say, “I will call on Jim, Just to show that I’m thinking of him.”

But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes;

And the distance between us grows and grows.

Around the corner! - yet miles away ”Here’s a telegram, sir.” “Jim died today.”

And that’s what we get and deserve in the end Around the corner, a vanished friend.

Check on your friends. See what your friends need. Make sure that your friendships are in proper working order, because friends are crucial. Real friends are one of life’s greatest treasures.

V. The Ultimate Friend

A. There Is A Friend Closer Than A Brother

As we noted, the last part of Proverbs 18:24 says, “...and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”

A human friendship can be a tremendous blessing. Lord Brooks of England had this epitaph engraved on his tombstone: “Here lies the friend of Sir Philip Sidney.” What a tribute to that friendship. But in the book of James we read of a much greater friendship, because it involves a relationship with the ultimate friend--the divine friend. In regard to Abraham, James 1:23 says that “...he was called the friend of God.”

Just think of that! The almighty, all-knowing, holy God who spoke the universe into existence and sustains it by his omnipotent power, desires to be friends with you and me, even though we are limited, finite sinners. He offers his friendship to all of us.

B. How We Can Know This Friend

How can we enter into that friendship which he so graciously offers?

Jesus answers that question in John 15:13-14: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. [He was referring, of course, to his imminent death on the cross for our sins] Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”

He tells us in Matthew 22:37-38 that the first and great commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind [and Mark 12:30 tells us that Jesus added, “and with all thy strength”].

So, we begin our friendship with God by loving him with our total being--and for that to happen, we first have to understand how much he loves us. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The “believing” of which the Bible speaks involves repenting of our sins and surrendering our lives totally to Christ. When we thus respond to his great love, a fire of love for him is kindled in our hearts. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love him, because he first loved us.”

So, that’s how it all begins--that’s how we enter into unending friendship with the great God of the universe: we respond to his love for us by surrendering to him in repentance and faith and being eternally saved. We become God’s children forever. Then we can say, with the poet: “Each day he spreads a glorious feast; And at his table dine The whole creation, man and beast, And He’s a Friend of mine.”

C. We Can Grow With This Friend

Then, as we walk with him daily, as we pray, read his Word, worship, serve, and share our faith with others, we grow spiritually and thus our friendship with the Son of God deepens and intensifies, and with ever-increasing gratitude and joy we can sing:

I’ve found a friend, oh, 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 still closely twine Those ties which naught can sever, For I am His, and He is mine, Forever and forever.

I’ve found a friend, oh, such a friend! He bled, He died to save me;

And not alone the gift of life, But His own self He gave me; Naught that I have my own I call, I hold it for the giver;

My heart, my strength, my life, my all Are His, and His forever.

I’ve found a friend, oh, such a friend! All pow’r to Him is given,

To guard me on my onward course, And bring me safe to heaven: Th’ eternal glories gleam afar To nerve my faint endeavor;

So, now to watch, to work, to war, And then to rest forever.

I’ve found a friend, oh, such a friend! So kind and true and tender. So wise a counselor and guide, So mighty a defender!

From Him who loves me now so w6ell What pow’r my soul can sever? Shall life or death or earth or hell? No; I am His forever.