What the Bible Says About Friends
By Tiffany Wismer
The subject of friendship has been on my mind lately, so I went to the Bible to find out what God says about friendship. What is true friendship? What does it look like to be a good friend, or to experience true friendship with another person? How should we treat our friends?
It has been my experience that true friendship is not always obvious – that is, people you thought were your friends may turn out to be disloyal, and those that you thought didn’t care much for you may turn out to be your closest allies. It is wise, therefore, to “try” a friendship to make sure it is true. As Shakespeare said via Polonius in Hamlet,
“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel. But do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade.”
The Bible also gives a few warnings about friends. A friend who is as close as your own soul has the power to entice you to sin (Deut. 13:5-7). And a friend who turns against you is unbearable – much worse than an enemy (Psalm 55:12-14). And, when it comes to true friendship, the Bible implies that numbers do not always mean safety (Proverbs 18:23-24). Just because you have many friends, that does not mean that they are all faithful and true.
True Friendship: What Is It?
A true friendship is a very rare thing, but when it is proven, it is something to treasure and keep safe by all means possible. So, what are the hallmarks of a true friendship? How do you know when a friend really loves you? There are three verses I want to focus on to illuminate true friendship. The first one is from Proverbs:
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:16-18)
I have a girlfriend who fits this description perfectly. She loves at all times. She has proven, again and again, that there is nothing I can say or do that will diminish her love for me. When I make mistakes, I can confess to her and be assured not only of her constant affection but also of her honesty. Though she never comdemns me, she will tell me the truth about my actions and encourage me to do what is right. Because of her good judgement and her tender heart, I trust her completely. She is a treasure – a true friend.
True Friendship: The Wounds of a Friend
The second verse that illuminates friendship is this one:
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:5-7)
It is common for a true friendship to be marked by wounds. As we live life together, situations arise where true friendship must express itself by one friend wounding another, or being willing to sustain wounds. The true friend of an addict, for example, may endure his friend’s abuse in order to intervene on his friend’s behalf. We may also have to hurt a friend (or allow ourselves to be hurt) in order to do what is most loving and right for the other person. Years ago, a cherished friend of my father’s did something wrong, and my dad brought it to his attention. He still won’t talk to our whole family! And that hurts. Losing him is a true wound. But my dad would not have been a true friend if he had kept silent.
More recently, a friend of mine called me out about sin. It hurt my pride, and made me feel terrible. But he was right. And it made me recognize and appreciate my friend’s love for me. Because sometimes the hardest thing to do is stand back and let someone you care about be hurt by your words or actions. But in those circumstances where painful words or actions are necessary for your friend’s good, true friendship means being willing to wound and be wounded.
True Friendship: The Truest Friend
That brings us to the third verse about friendship:
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-14)
The greatest example of this is the action God takes in our lives. I will be honest: I have been angry with God about a few things lately. Frustration makes me lash out at Him and question Him. Just being honest. I recognize, however, God’s friendship in His willingness to put up with my frustration in order to do what is best for me. And I am humbled by his willingness to wound Himself, and His own son, for my good.
True friendship means laying down your very life, if necessary, for the good of a friend. This is the way God loves us. He gives us what is good for us, not what we want. Happily, there are times when the two coincide! But when they do not coincide, and when our foolish hearts long for what will ultimately make us miserable, God is willing to break our hearts to keep us from that ultimate misery. And remember: the heart of God is tender. When our hearts are broken, He feels it too. But He is willing to endure with us. And that is true friendship.