Proverbs | Friendship
We’ve spent the last few weeks looking at various topics from the book of Proverbs. Today, we’re looking at Friendship. Now, as with previous weeks, we’ll be looking at a lot of verses, so it’ll be easiest to follow along with the screens.
So, why friendship? Two reasons: we have a need and God has provision.
We need friendship, and today, we’re not very good at it. Study after study shows that America is growing increasingly lonely. A survey by Cigna, the health insurer, found that 54% of adults feel like no one knows them well. And, it appears, the younger you are, the worse it is.
I wonder, how many of us have the kind of friendships our heart longs for? At Refuge Church, we want to be gospel friends.
Well, God has something for us in Proverbs. Commentator Hugh Black said, “the book of Proverbs might almost be called a treatise on friendship – there is no book, even in classical literature, which so exalts the idea of friendship and is so anxious to have it truly valued and carefully kept.”
It’s fitting that this book of wisdom would talk so much about friendship. Wisdom is skill for living when there is no rule book to go by, and friendships don’t come with a rule book. It’s easy to mess up. How many ex-friends do you have right now because of a lack of wisdom years ago? And when it goes wrong, over time, some of us just shut down that part of our heart. Who wants to be hurt again? But wisdom doesn’t urge us to shut down. Wisdom helps us come alive.
God wants his people to have deep, meaningful friendships because God is a Triune Friend—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that friendly heart radiates out toward us. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants…but I have called you friends.” To be a servant of God is a glorious thing. The prophets were servants. But it is more glorious to be God’s friend. In Exodus 33 we read, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man to his friend.” Only Moses got that close to God. But now, through Christ, God’s brought every believer into that reality. To every believer, God says in Christ, “No longer servant but friend.”
Jesus, Lord of lords and King of kings, became the Friend of sinners. Friend isn’t a term God just throws around. It took the cross to gain that friendship. Friendship is a God-originated wonder confirmed at the cross. Friendship began in heaven and comes down to beautify our lives.
So, God doesn’t take friendship lightly, and wisdom says we shouldn’t either. From the book of Proverbs, I want to consider three truths about friendship:
1. Friendship is discovered in God’s grace.
2. Friendship is forged with God’s wisdom.
3. Friendship is powered by God’s love.
Friendship is discovered in God’s grace
In his essay on friendship, C.S. Lewis says friendship starts out like this, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”
Friendship is one of those amazing discoveries God planted in the world from the beginning that makes life enjoyable. Friendship is like fruit in your life. Think of fruit. Isn’t it amazing? It grows from a tree or a bush, and it’s filled with flavor and sweetness. Imagine the first person to find a peach. Have you ever had a summer-time Georgia peach? It’s the most perfect food in the world. You bite into it, and it’s so juicy and flavorful and tender. What a discovery? God made that!
Friends are like that Georgia peach. They’re just placed in this world for you to find. One day, we’re just walking along, and suddenly we stumble into someone and find in them something that resonates with our heart. We find a friend. God made that!
Now, in our busy lives, we tend to treat friendship as optional. After all, friendship is one of those things you can live without. C.S. Lewis says, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create)…Friendship is…the least instinctive, organic, biological…and necessary.”
You can live without friendship just like you can live without fruit. But doesn’t it make life better? Lewis goes on to say, “[Friendship] has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.” We don’t need friends to live, but that doesn’t mean God wants us to live without friends. It’s not good for man to be alone.
In his grace, God planted the desire for friendship in our heart so that we would discover the joy of friendship in our life. Proverbs 27:9 helps us see this. “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.”
How did they get oil and perfume in ancient times? They didn’t make it. They discovered it. And that discovery made the heart glad. So too the sweetness of a friend. Pastor Tim Keller points out that when the book of Proverbs was written, nobody had sugar yet. Why does that matter? Because you couldn’t just add sugar and sweeten food like we do today. Sweet food had to be discovered. Someone went along, found this honeycomb thing hanging from a tree, took a bite and realized it was sweet. That’s how friendships are made. They’re discovered. And when they’re discovered, they sweeten our life.
I learned just this week that apparently when baking, sugar does more than just sweeten. Sugar stabilizes, texturizes, leavens, deepens color and flavor, and adds crunch. A cookie isn’t a cookie if you just sprinkle sugar on top when it comes out of the oven. A cookie is a cookie because the sugar went deep. Sugar is to a cookie what a friend is to your life. Real friendship is baked in. It goes deep. It’s a discovery that changes you, sweetens you.
Friendship is measured by the true friends baked into you, not the so-called friends sprinkled all around you. When the Bible talks about friendship, it doesn’t mean your Facebook friends. It doesn’t mean acquaintances. Friendship is measured by quality, not quantity. You may only have a couple of close friends. That’s okay. Those friends make up who you are. You aren’t you without them. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Many companions won’t get us far. But a friend that sticks closer than a brother will.
The Hebrew word for “sticks” is cleave. It’s commitment. A friend is even better than a sibling. A sibling is stuck with you because you’re family. They love you because you’re family. But a friend chooses you and sticks with you because they love you. They’re a picture of the love of Jesus, who loves us because he loves us.
This verse resonated with me in a new way a few weeks ago. I was struggling with the weight of life. It wasn’t one thing, it was all the things. I felt depressed and lonely. So my wise wife told me one Sunday night, “You need to go out.” She knew I needed time away from the craziness of our household to read and think and pray.
I was sitting at a coffee shop, feeling all down and alone. I picked up my phone and texted one of my best friends. “Would you pray for me tonight? I’m feeling absolutely depleted and anxious. It’s nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a struggle to rejoice and trust God has good purposes for me right now.” His response: “I absolutely will, brother. Getting alone right now to pray for that very thing, that the deep settling peace of God would be upon you.”
When he responded that way, I started crying right there in Frothy Monkey. I was undone. Why did that matter so much to me? Because he didn’t need more information. He didn’t rebuke me. He didn’t try to make me feel better. He just accepted where I was and prayed. He took responsibility for me and brought me to Jesus. That’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother.
It’s not that my sibling wouldn’t do that for me. I have an amazing sister who would. It’s just that my friend did it without any reason at all other than the fact that he loves me. Friends love you without any previous responsibility to do so. When you discover one—hold on tight.
Those friends show us how Jesus loves. Jesus loves us, as Ray Ortlund says, with absoluteness. John 13:1 says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” You find a friend when you find another person who knows who you really are and doesn’t walk away. They stick close.
But friendship isn’t just a discovery. Friendships also need to be forged, which is our second point.
Friendship is forged with God’s wisdom
Friendships require wise effort. They require forging. Proverbs has a lot to say about this. Derek Kidner, in his commentary, has a little section where he highlights what a good friend is, according to Proverbs. The good friend has constancy, candor and counsel, and carefulness.
A friend is always with you. A friend is committed. He sticks closer than a brother.
Maybe you think, “I’m not sure I’ve discovered that kind of friend.” Well, maybe you haven’t. But it’s very easy to say that as if there’s something wrong with others without admitting maybe there’s something wrong with you. 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 says, “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 says, “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend” Proverbs 19:7 says, “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 says, “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 says 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.
Second, Candor and Counsel
We are sinners in need of help. We have blind spots. And Friends are God’s gift to help us repent and 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 says, “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 says, “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. Remember 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 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.
Do you have such friends? Are you such a friend?
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 says, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer [gossip] separates close friends.” Proverbs 20:19 says, “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 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.
And sometimes, being a friend means knowing when to not be there at all. Proverbs 25:17 says, “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” Proverbs 27:14 says, “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 says, “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 says, “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 says, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks.” Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 11:12 says, “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.
Forging a friendship is hard. But it’s worth it. It takes effort and wisdom. But there is a power from on high fueling friendship, which is our third point.
Friendship is powered by God’s love
Tim Keller summarizes a friend as one who always lets you in and never lets you down. That’s certainly the kind of friend Jesus is, but how doable is it for people like us? How can we always let people in and never let them down?
The answer is found in Jesus Christ. When you see who Jesus is for you, you’re set free from the fear of failure. You can always let others in because Jesus knows you completely and loves you anyway. No one can find out something another Friend doesn’t already know. And you can avoid letting others down because the strength and wisdom you need to be a friend comes from your Friend, Jesus. Jesus enables you to be a friend, not only by befriending you but by being another friend in your friendships. In every Christian friendship, there are always three people involved: the two friends and Jesus. You don’t have what you need? Jesus does. Let him be the Friend you need so you can be the friend your friend needs.
Jesus’ friendship powers our other friendships.
Go back to the night before Jesus died, when he explained what he was about to do on the cross. In John 15 he said to his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends…No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.”
The relationship Jesus has with his people is not Master-Servant. It’s Friend-Friend. Why does that matter? Think of the kind of friend we are to Jesus. We’ve ignored his counsel time after time. We’ve proclaimed our steadfast love only to be unfaithful. We’ve deserted him. We’ve failed to love him at all times. We’ve wounded him.
And what is his response? His response is the cross. His response is to cover our offense with his love.
Do you see how important that is? Jesus shows us what’s possible in our friendships.
We’re miserable failures as friends to God, and in response to our failure, God gave 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. He 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.
If we have that kind of friend, if we have one who always lets us in and never lets us down, we have the kind of Friend with us in our other friendships powering them by his love.
In conclusion, let me say this. Maybe you’re not the friend you should be. Maybe you don’t have the friends you wish you did. But look around you right now. Those are friends of Jesus, and he’s willing to share them with you right now. Will you accept his offer?
At Refuge Church we want to be gospel friends. Jesus has brought us together, and he intends to form friendships deeper than perhaps we’ve ever experienced before.
How can we be sure that’s true? Because no matter how much we think we choose our friends, that’s not exactly right. C.S. Lewis helps us see this.
In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses…the accident of a topic being raised or not raise at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.”
God has brought us all together in this church for a purpose. And part of that purpose is for the creation of deep friendships. So, if you’re sitting there thinking, “I wish I had friends, but I don’t.” Well, here’s your invitation. There are people here who want to befriend you. They’re sitting in front of you and behind you. They’re in your community group and your Bible study. They’re here every week. And all that keeps us from diving deeper in is our hesitancy. Well, let’s forget about all that. Let’s dive in because Jesus Christ, our Great Friend, our Master of Ceremonies, has summoned us here. He’s here to reveal new friends in his grace, forge them with his wisdom, and power them by his love. Let’s go make some friends.