What kind of friend are you?
Are you the kind of friend who sticks closer than a brother, or the kind that always texts last minute that you can’t make it?
Are you the kind of friend that breathes life into others, or a vampire friend that sucks the life out of the people around you?
Before you can answer what kind of a friend you are, it helps to know what makes for a good friend. Proverbs has more to say on friendship than perhaps any other book in the Bible. In his commentary on Proverbs, Derek Kidner highlights four qualities of a good friend: constancy, candor, counsel, and carefulness.
Friendships don’t just spring from nothing. Friendships require effort. They require forging. Without those four qualities, you won’t be capable of forging the kind of friendships you’re looking for—and the kinds of friendships the Bible calls for.
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.
“Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” says Proverbs 20:6. Is there a difference between the kind of friend you say you are and the kind of friend you truly are?
Superficial friends don’t stick around when times are bad: “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend” (Prov. 19:4; see also Prov. 19:7). Real friends are constant. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Do you long for friends like this? The best way to find a faithful friend is to be a faithful friend. 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 writes in True Friendship,
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 that you haven’t yet learned to be the friend you need. Be a constant friend, a friend others can count on. And if you really want others to count on you, you have to be honest.
We are sinners in need of help. We have blind spots. Friends are God’s gift to help us repent and change and move forward.
Proverbs 29:5 cautions, “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. 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 a real friendship—how much you feel what happens to them. 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. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy,” (Prov. 27:5-6). 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. Do you have a friend in your life who can sharpen you, who can tell you the cold, hard truth when necessary? Are you that kind of friend?
Candidness opens the door for counsel. Real friends deal honestly. They give meaningful input. They sharpen. They make us wise.
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 says, 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 the 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. As Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
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 says, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer [gossip] separates close friends.” Gossip is poison. Avoid it at all costs.
Second, we must not be aloof to our friends. A friend isn’t detached or unsympathetic. Proverbs 25:20 says, “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.
Third, we mustn’t hold grudges. True friends are forgiving. Proverbs 17:9 says, “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.”
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.
THE MODEL FRIEND
Tim Keller summarizes a friend as one who always lets you in and never lets you down. That’s what Jesus does. He lets us in and never lets us down.
We’re miserable failures as friends to God, and in response to our failure, God gave us the cross—not to unfriend us, but to befriend us forever.
On the cross, Jesus proved he’s the friend who sticks closer than a brother. He didn’t stop loving us in our failures. He loved us to death. He loves at all times. He’s a brother born for adversity. He’s a true friend who totally accepts you, totally forgives you, totally knows you, and doesn’t walk away from you. He laid his life down for you at the cross. He’s faithful even when you aren’t. He’s loyal even though you’re disloyal. He took your offense and buried it in the tomb. And on that resurrection day, he walked out with all the power of love we will ever need.
Jesus has made you his friend, and no matter how often we show up in his house, no matter how many times we offend him, no matter how often we fail him, he will never cast us out. He will always forgive us. He will never fail us.
John Newton’s great hymn “One There is, Above All Others,” captures the wonder of this love:
Could we bear from one another what He daily bears from us?
Yet this glorious Friend and Brother loves us, though we treat Him thus.
Though for good we render ill, He accounts us brethren still.
No, we can’t be one another’s savior. Jesus is all the Savior we’ll ever need.
But we can, and should, be friends to one another. And the model of friendship is the friend of sinners, Jesus himself, who is constant, candid, careful, and full of counsel.
David McLemore is an elder at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.