According to facebook I have 174 friends. That’s a lot of friends. Fortunately, they’re pretty easy to upkeep because I have absolutely nothing to do with any of them, at least on facebook. I’m pretty much the worst facebook friend ever. I never post anything, I hardly ever like anything, and I read as little as possible about what my friends are doing unless they have a link to some funny video. In our culture we bandy around the term ‘friend’ without really thinking about what makes a good friend. In the book of Proverbs it has a lot to say about friends, particularly what makes a bad friend and how to be a good friend. So let’s take a look at what Proverbs has to say about relational wisdom.
1) Beware bad friends
Let’s start by looking at bad friends. I’m sure you’ve all had a bad friend, someone who never called, who didn’t seem to care, who pretty much used you, and maybe even hurt you. At some point everyone crosses a line, because we’re all broken and sinful, but bad friends cross those lines all too often, and some lines should never be crossed. So let’s take a look at some of those lines in the book of Proverbs.
a) Crossing physical lines
Firstly, bad friends cross physical lines. Over and over in the book of Proverbs it warns about adultery. And the reality is that adultery happens more with someone you know, a friend, then with a complete stranger. Proverbs 6 talks about someone ‘29 …who sleeps with another man’s wife… (Prov 6:29a)’ In the Hebrew it’s literally someone ‘who sleeps with his neighbour’s, or his friend’s, wife.’ In Hebrew the same word is used for your neighbour as well as your friend, they are interchangeable. Now this might seem a little obvious, but I think we need to be clear about this: if someone sleeps with your wife, they are a bad friend. But that line can be drawn a lot further back from committing adultery as well. Bad friends make improper comments, and touch in inappropriate ways, and spend time in unsuitable situations. Friends who cross the line physically aren’t good friends.
b) Crossing financial lines
Secondly, bad friends cross financial lines.
i) Bad friends ask for money
Have you ever had one of those friends who was always coming to you for money? Can I have a few bucks for this, or can you lend me a hundred just to the end of the week? According to Proverbs bad friends ask for money. Proverbs says a lot about loaning money to people, actually it just says ‘don’t!’ Proverbs 11:15 says, ‘15 He who puts up security for another will surely suffer… (Prov 11:15a; cf. 6:1-5)’ According to Proverbs loaning money shows a real lack of judgment (Prov 17:18). In fact, the Bible is pretty much against loaning money at all. If someone is in genuine need then you give them what they need, you don’t loan it to them. That’s what Jesus was talking about when he said, ‘35 …lend to [people] without expecting to get anything back. (Lk 6:35c)’ When you lend someone money you add a third dimension to your friendship, now it’s you and your friend and the money, and it can change everything. Beware of friends who are always asking for money.
ii) Bad friends love money
Proverbs also talks about people who become your friends because you have money. Bad friends love you for your money. Proverbs says ‘20 The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends. (Prov 14:20)’ And, ‘4 Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man’s friend deserts him. (Prov 19:4)’ Now those verses aren’t saying it’s good to be rich so you can get lots of friends, rather be careful that your friends aren’t friends only because you’re rich. Such friends are known as fair-weather friends, who only stick around while everything is going good. As soon as things get difficult, or as soon as the money runs out, they’re gone. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s only possible to tell a bad friend from a good one when the chips are down. Just be aware that bad friends cross financial lines.
c) Crossing social lines
Thirdly, bad friends cross social lines. The point is that familiarity can easily become over-familiarity. Proverbs gives us three examples of a friend who crosses the line socially. The first we looked at last week, ‘5 Whoever flatters his neighbor (or his friend) is spreading a net for his feet. (Prov 29:5)’ A bad friend butters you up, tells you what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear. In Australia we have a lot of terms for such people, which I won’t repeat in church. The second goes like this, ‘17 Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s (or friend’s) house— too much of you, and he will hate you. (Prov 25:17)’ There’s such a thing as living in each others pockets, or overstepping social boundaries. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had a friend who never leaves, or one that comes over every day. Often such friendships aren’t based on mutual love, but on one person’s neediness. The third verse goes, ‘14 If a man loudly blesses his neighbor (or his friend) early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. (Prov 27:14)’ This person may mean well, but they are insensitive to others’ feelings. They don’t care if they wake you up at 5 in the morning. Bad friends are dishonest, they overstay their welcome, and they are insensitive to social norms.
d) Crossing spiritual lines
Finally, bad friends cross spiritual lines. According to Proverbs a godless person ‘9 …destroys his neighbour… (Prov 11:9a)’ or his friend. And in chapter 16 it says, ‘29 A violent man entices his neighbor (or friend) and leads him down a path that is not good. (Prov 16:29)’ Paul puts it so well when he says, ‘33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor 15:29)’ A bad friend will lead you into bad situations. I’m not sure if you’ve every noticed, but when you hang out with certain friends they get you down, or you do stupid things, or you say stupid things. When you’re around some friends you may be tempted to gossip, or swear, or smoke, or drink, or any number of others things. The point is that some people aren’t helpful to be around. Proverbs 13:20 says, ‘20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. (Prov 13:20)’ As Christians we need to be very careful about who we hangout with. I’m not saying ‘Don’t have non-Christian friends,’ because I think we should all be making an intentional effort to reach out to non-Christians. But what I’m saying is make sure your closest friends share the same values as you. You need to be careful of those who are happy to cross spiritual lines and drag you along with them.
If you have friends who say inappropriate things, or do inappropriate things, or you have friends that only care about your money, or they cross social boundaries, or they tend to lead you away from God, then you need to be aware that they are bad friends. Don’t make excuses for them, don’t try and justify them, just say it like it is they are a bad friend. That doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with such people, but it does mean that you need to be aware that they don’t share your values, and they may not even care about you, and they won’t put you before themselves. With bad friends you may need to put some healthy boundaries n place, so that you don’t get hurt, or abused, or led astray. That might mean not going certain places with them, or bringing along a good friend who will hold you accountable. It may even mean changing your friends. If necessary you may need to un-friend some of your friends. If you want to read a great book about how to deal with bad friends I would recommend ‘Boundaries’ by Dr Henry Cloud.
2) What makes a good friend?
So that’s what bad friends are like, but what makes a good friend. Proverbs gives us five character traits of a good friend.
And the first is constancy. A good friend is always there for you, they are dependable, faithful, and loyal. According to Proverbs, ‘17 A friend loves at all times... (Prov 17:17a)’ And the key idea there is ‘at all times.’ It doesn’t matter if things are going well or not. It doesn’t mater if you are healthy or sick. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. You can depend on this person, they are reliable, their love for you is constant, unwavering, and unshakeable. Proverbs 18:24 puts it like this, ‘24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov 18:24)’ You can have lots of acquaintances, or people you hang out with, but they don’t do you much good when things go wrong, but a good friend sticks closer even than your own family. It’s that idea of stickiness that we’re talking about here. A good friend sticks by you, no matter what. That’s what Proverbs 27:10 is referring to when it says, ‘10 Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you— better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away. (Prov 27:10)’ A good friend won’t forsake you. And the point is that you need to surround yourself with good friends, people who are close to you, both geographically close as well as emotionally close. A good friend is constant.
The second quality of a good friend is candour. Earlier we saw that a bad friend tells us that we want to hear. A classic example in the Old Testament is David’s relationship with his son, Adonijah. Despite the fact that Adonijah was off the rails David never confronted him. The Bible says, ‘6 [David] had never interfered with him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” (1 Kgs 1:6a)’ David was not a good friend to his son. A good friend says what you need to hear. They will speak truth into your life because they love you. They will speak the hard words because they want what is best for you. They will put your well-being before their own comfort. Proverbs 27:6 says, ‘6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted... (Prov 27:6a)’ A friend will be honest with you, even if it means wounding your pride. They might not always thank you for it at the time, but according to Proverbs, ‘23 He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue. (Prov 28:23)’ A good friend confronts ungodly behaviour in your life because you matter to them.
Thirdly, a good friend gives good counsel. Proverbs 27:9 says, ‘9 Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel. (Prov 27:9)’ Just like we respond positively to beautiful smells, so a friend’s counsel should elicit a positive response in us. Because a good friend has our best interests at heart we should listen to their advice. A good friend helps you think through things biblically. While David was a poor friend to his son Adonijah, Saul’s son Jonathan was a good friend to David. When David was worried for his life, we’re told that Jonathan ‘16 …helped him find strength in God. (1 Sam 23:16b)’ Jonathan reminded David of God’s promises to him, that things would turn out just as God had said. Good friends help one another find strength in God. One of the most famous verses in Proverbs is actually on this very idea. Proverbs 27:17, ‘17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Prov 27:17)’ In the Hebrew it’s literally, ‘so one man sharpens their friend.’ A good friend sharpens you. They share their wisdom so that you become wiser and vice-versa. A good friend gives godly counsel, to help you become a more godly person.
Next, a good friend cares about you. Proverbs 3 says, ‘27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. 28 Do not say to your neighbor (or your friend), “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow”— when you now have it with you. (Prov 3:27-28)’ The point is that a good friend helps those in need, because they care about them, and that care is expressed in practical ways. We all have many friends, but how many of those friends actually care about you? How many of your friends have rung you recently just to ask how you are going? How many of your friends show they care in practical ways, they bring a meal over when you’re sick, they helped you move house, they loaned you their car while yours was being fixed? You might talk with some friends more, but the good friends are the ones that show they care in practical ways.
e) Christlike Character
Finally, good friends have a Christlike character. Proverbs says that ‘11 He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend. (Prov 22:11)’ The best friends are those who have pure hearts and gracious lips. Both of these ideas of ‘purity’ and ‘grace’ describe God’s character. A good friend is one who is like God, or who has a godly character, who is morally pure like God is morally pure, who is gracious, like God is gracious. Now you might be wondering why I said they have a Christ-like character? Well the reason is because in Jesus we see God’s character revealed in the life of an everyday normal person like you and me. Jesus shows us what it means to be godly. A good friend is one who is like Jesus, who loves Jesus, and follows Jesus, and serves Jesus and imitates Jesus.
So I want to ask you two things. Firstly, do you have friends like that? Do you have someone, hopefully more than just one, who is always there for you, someone who shares your joys as well as your burdens? Do you have friends who are honest with you, who speak the truth to you? Do you have friends who give you godly counsel? Do you have friends who genuinely care about you and show it in practical ways? Do you have friends who love Jesus and desire to honour Jesus with their lives, friends who are gracious and love purity? Such a person is a good friend, they literally are a gift from God. They will enrich your life. If you have such friends in your life make sure you tell them, don’t take them for granted. And secondly, are you a good friend? Are you someone who is a constant friend, are you there for your friends, or are you a fair-weather friend, who avoids your friends when things get tough. Are you someone who is candid with your friends, do you speak the truth to them in love, or do you just watch them make bad decisions, because you don’t want to rock the boat? Do you give godly counsel to your friends? Do you use God’s word to sharpen their lives? Do you show you care for them in practical ways? Do you set a godly example for them? Are you like Jesus in their lives? What sort of friend are you?
3) Friendship with Jesus = friendship with God
But before we finish this morning, we need to remember that this isn’t just secular wisdom, this is spiritual wisdom, this is wisdom that is based not on what works for us but on our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. How we treat other people isn’t just a matter of how we want them to treat us, but on how God has treated us in Jesus Christ. And the heart of the gospel is that because of our friendship with Jesus we are now friends with God. I’m not sure if you know just what a massive statement that is, because apart from Christ we are God’s enemies. The Bible says we were created to live in relationship with God, but because of our sin, because we turned our backs on God, that relationship has been broken. But the most amazing thing about our God is that he doesn’t then turn his back on us, instead he pursues us, he goes out of his way to restore that broken relationship. God sends his own Son, Jesus Christ, into our world to not only become one of us, which is mind-boggling in itself, but to die for us, so that we could be reconciled with God. Jesus leaves heaven in order to befriend sinners like you and me. Jesus says to his disciples, ‘14 You are my friends… (Jn 15:14a)’ And Jesus proves his friendship in two ways. Firstly, he says ‘15 …everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (Jn 15:15c)’ And secondly, he says, ‘13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13)’ And what makes this so amazing is that Jesus isn’t just some guy, he is God in the flesh. When Jesus declares his friendship with us he is revealing how God thinks of us. When we become friends with Jesus we become friends with God. And what a friend Jesus is. Jesus isn’t just a good friend he is a perfect friend.
a) Jesus is always there for us
We looked earlier at how a good friend is constant, so Jesus promises to be always with us. Matthew 28:20, ‘20 …I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Mt 28:20b)’ Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. Jesus is faithful and trustworthy and reliable. Jesus’ love is constant, and unwavering, and unshakeable. Jesus is the one who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus will love you at all times, even when you stuff up. Jesus isn’t a fair-weather friend.
b) Jesus speaks the truth
And just like a good friend has candour, so Jesus speaks the truth into our lives. We see Jesus getting right into the heart of people’s lives all through the New Testament. No one had taught people like Jesus did. No one confronted the religious leaders like Jesus did. No one spoke into people’s lives like Jesus did. Jesus said the words people needed to hear, and a lot of people didn’t like it, but to those who listened, John says, ‘12 …he gave the right to become children of God. (Jn 1:12b)’ Jesus is the sort of friend who won’t let you make stupid decisions. Jesus is the sort of friend who will confront sin in your life, and call you to live a holy and righteous life. Jesus is the sort of friend who wants to see you grow and develop and mature.
c) Jesus teaches us
And just like a good friend gives us godly counsel, so Jesus teaches us. And Jesus teaches us everything we need to know about God and how to live in relationship with him. He says ‘15 …everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (Jn 15:15c)’ And Jesus continues to teach us through his Spirit who lives in us, the Spirit of Truth, our Counsellor.
d) Jesus cares for us
And just like a good friend cares for us, so Jesus cares for us, and he shows his love and care in the most practical way, he dies on the cross in order to rescue us from our sins. Jesus says, ‘13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13)’ Because of his great love for us Jesus gave us everything he had, his own life. Jesus cares for you, you never have to doubt it, you only have to look at the cross to prove it.
e) Jesus has God’s character
Finally, a good friend has a godly character but Jesus has God’s character. Unlike even our best friends who are flawed and will fail us, Jesus is a perfect friend. And the amazing thing about Jesus is that he not only helps us become more like God by the power of the Holy Spirit, but because he is our friend, he makes us right with God.
This morning I want to ask you: is Jesus your friend? Did Jesus die on the cross for you? Jesus will always be there for you, he will speak truth into your life, he will reminds you how God wants you to live, he cares for you so much he died in your place in order to make you right with God. This morning Jesus can become your friend, all you have to do put your trust in him, that he died for your sins so that you could become a friend of God. You can know Jesus’ constant presence with you, you can experience his love as he encourages you and calls you to a new life. You can know Jesus’ love at all times. And out of friendship with Jesus, you can be a good friend to others. As he is a constant friend to you, so you can be a constant friend to others. As he speaks into your life, so you can speak into the lives of others. As he loved you, so you can love others. And out of your friendship with Jesus you can not only recognize what a bad friend is, you can reach out to them with the same love that Jesus showed you when you were a bad friend to him. I want to encourage you this morning: Beware of friends who cross lines, whether they are physical, financial, social or spiritual. But also be a good friend who loves others like Jesus loved you. Amen.