The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Everyone needs a friend. God’s first recorded statement about His creature Man was, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). Helen Keller said, “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” We were wired for relationships, for friendships. Even the Lord Jesus had friends (John 15:14, 15). In fact, God Himself had a friend named Abraham (James 2:23).
The value of a good friend is immeasurable. The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Eccl 4:9-10; NASB). The harm caused by a poorly chosen friend is equally immeasurable. First Corinthians 15:33 reads, “Bad company ruins good morals” (ESV). Therefore, we need to be careful that we choose our friendships wisely.
How to Choose a Friend
Choose a Saved Friend – The best friends you will find are those who know Christ. The word “friends” was apparently a title early Christians used for themselves. The Apostle John concluded his third epistle with the words, “Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them” (3John 14, ESV). Believers we have yet to meet are already our friends, because we have so much in common (e.g., a relationship with the Lord Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, the indwelling Spirit of God, God’s love poured into our hearts, etc.). That is not to say we should not be friendly to the unsaved. The Lord Jesus dined with sinners (Luke 15:2). But it is clear that His goal was always to bring them to salvation. Because we are called to evangelize the lost we must have contact with the lost. A practical point to keep in mind is that the Lord Jesus did not dine with the lost by Himself. He always had some of the disciples with Him. In spending time with unbelievers to reach them with the gospel, it may be wise to take believing friends with you to keep you accountable for your words and actions and to help you maintain your Christian testimony.
Choose a Wise Friend – Sadly, not all who profess to be Christians manifest wise behavior. Proverbs13:20 says, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” The word for “fool” here contains the idea of confidence, and it captures the major characteristic of the fool: his confidence is in himself, not in God. Choose friends who trust the Lord and who look to God’s Word for direction and guidance.
Choose a Faithful Friend – A fair-weather friend is really no friend at all. Choose friends who will stand by your side no matter what the circumstances. Walter Winchell wrote: “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” It is equally important that you select a friend who is not only faithful to you, but faithful to the Lord. David said that he was “a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts” (Psa 119:63). Notice that David, a king, enjoyed friendships with “all” who feared the Lord, whether they were rich or poor, well-known or unknown. Don’t limit your choices of friends to those you may deem worthy. Some of the best friends you could have may be those in different social, cultural, and economic circumstances.
How Not to Choose a Friend
Avoid the Immoral – Proverbs 29:3 says, “He that keepeth company with harlots spendeth his substance.” We hardly need to be told that friendship with prostitutes is completely out of the question for the Christian. But the principle of this verse extends further. If I associate myself with people whose sexual standards and practices contradict God’s Word, I am on a pathway to immorality and disaster. Additionally, a person who uses suggestive speech and tells crude jokes is a person to avoid as a friend (Eph 5:4).
Avoid the Gossip – Solomon wisely stated: “Do not associate with a gossip” (Prov 20:19; NASB). The word “gossip” here literally means “one who opens a mouth.” We all know people who do not know how to keep their mouths closed. Avoid them. They will not be loyal to you nor to anyone else. Safely assume that anything you tell them will become public information and may also destroy your friendship with others. So Solomon adds, “He who repeats a matter separates intimate friends” (Prov 17:9, NASB).
Avoid the Soon Angry – “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare” (Prov 22:24, 25, ESV). Likely all of us have had moments when we yield to anger and say or do things we wish we could reverse. This text is describing someone for whom anger is their path of life (“lest you learn his ways”). You can choose a much better friend than one whose life is stamped by fury and anger. Not only is there the danger of becoming like someone given to anger, there is the strong possibility of becoming “entangled in a snare.” One wrong step or one wrong word and you could be the target of an angry person’s wrath.
Avoid the Pleasure Seeker – “He who keeps the law is a discerning son, but he who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father.” (Prov 28:7, NASB) The word for “gluttons” describes any form of reckless self-indulgence, from the person who must always have the newest and finest to the hedonist, constantly chasing the latest thrill. The person who hangs around people like this soon becomes like them, thus “humiliating his father.” Additionally, to surround ourselves with friends like these is to place ourselves in direct conflict with the claims the Lord has placed upon us as His people. We are called to live selfless lives, not self-centered lives (1Cor 6:19, 20). Also, there is the high probability that the pleasure seeker will eventually choose “things” over a valuable relationship with you.
Avoid the Rebellious – “My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise, for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?” (Prov 24:21, 22, ESV). Don’t choose friends who are always complaining about the “restrictions” placed upon them by their parents or who constantly criticize assembly elders for decisions they make. “If I surround myself with complainers who are constantly undermining a proper attitude toward authority, both that of God and those appointed by God, it will be very difficult for me to sustain a true reverence for God and men” (Quality Friendship, Gary Inrig).
How to Be a Friend
Be Committed – Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Foul-weather friends are the only ones worth having. Our friends should know that regardless of their mistakes, poorly chosen words, or potentially harmful actions, we are committed to being a friend. This could also involve openly stating that commitment. Perhaps the most well-known friendship in the Old Testament is that between David and Jonathan. One of the features of their friendship involved a stated commitment to one another: “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul” (1Sam 18:3, ESV).
Be Encouraging – When Saul was pursuing David that he might kill him, Jonathan went to David “and strengthened his hand in God” (1Sam 23:16). He encouraged David by reminding him of God’s purpose for his life, even though it would mean a lower place for Jonathan: “Thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee” (1Sam 23:17). Jonathan could have seen David as a competitor, but being a true friend involves a willingness to play second fiddle. Doug Larson said that “a true friend is someone who overlooks your failures and tolerates your success!” Be a good friend by helping others to determine God’s will and purpose for their lives.
Be Open – There can be no genuine friendship without risk and vulnerability. This means that we must be willing to share our feelings and openly discuss our opinions without the fear of rejection or ridicule. It also means that there will be times when we have to confront our friends when we disagree with them. Jonathan did this with David, even though David ended up being right (1Sam 20:1-11). Jonathan still took the risk because he knew this principle: “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov 27:5-6).
Be Loving – Just before Jesus told His disciples they were His “friends,” He said, “Love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, 14). Jonathan went to great extremes to protect David from the wrath of his father, Saul. He did this even though he knew there was the possibility of death at his father’s hands (1Sam 20:13-15). A good friend is willing to give something up in order to protect a friend’s reputation, spiritual well-being, or even life itself.
How to Lose a Friend
In addition to those actions noted above under “How Not to Choose a Friend,” there are many other things you can do to destroy a friendship, even if done unintentionally.
Be Selfish – Proverbs 18:1 says, “An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends” (NIV). Friendship and selfishness cannot exist together. If you seek out any type of relationship based on what the other person can do for you, it will be short-lived. Any relationship built on the idea that this person is “meeting my needs” is headed for eventual disappointment.
Be Envious – “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (Prov 27:4). Often we begin to look at what our friends have (e.g., nice things, other friends, spiritual abilities, etc.) that we do not have. At first, we may tell ourselves that in order to fit in better it is necessary that we have these things also. But if this remains our focus, eventually we will do almost anything to get those things. In the process, we destroy what was far more valuable. In his Exposition of Proverbs, George Lawson said, “The fall of man, the murder of Abel, the slavery of Joseph, the persecutions of David, the crucifixion of our Lord, are monuments of the rage of envy.”
Be Possessive – Some people are so clingy and possessive that friendships are smothered. They want to spend nearly every waking moment with a particular friend. A mature friend is not only able to enjoy a number of deep relationships with other people, but also able to allow his friends to do the same without feeling threatened. Often in a possessive friendship, every moment of weakness is viewed as a sign that the friendship is in trouble. It is very difficult to enjoy being in any type of relationship when it is being endlessly analyzed.
These words might come to someone today who feels the pain of a broken friendship or who thinks there is not a friend out there at all. We all need a friend and, thankfully, we all have a friend. The Lord Jesus is “a Friend Who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 18:24, ESV). James Grindley Small wrote these words in 1863:
I’ve found a Friend, oh, such a Friend!
So kind and true and tender,
So wise a Counsellor and Guide,
So mighty a Defender!
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.
Remember this Friend. Rejoice in this Friend. Now go be a friend like Him!