Here’s an exercise on friendship you might want to do on your own or with a group.
- Arrange the following verses from Proverbs into groups by theme.
- Convert each group into a principle.
- Identify any implications you think are particularly relevant to you.
And don’t miss the conclusion on friendship and the gospel.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
28 Do not say to your neighbour,
‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’ –
when you already have it with you.
29 Do not plot harm against your neighbour,
who lives trustfully near you.
30 Do not accuse anyone for no reason –
when they have done you no harm.
The righteous choose their friends carefully,
but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
The poor are shunned even by their neighbours,
but the rich have many friends.
Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and rejoicing may end in grief.
A perverse person stirs up conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends.
Whoever would foster love covers over an offence,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Wealth attracts many friends,
but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them …
6 Many curry favour with a ruler,
and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.
A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid anyone who talks too much.
Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife;
quarrels and insults are ended.
11 One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace
will have the king for a friend.
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
do not associate with one easily angered,
25 or you may learn their ways
and get yourself ensnared.
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,
and a gentle tongue can break a bone.
If you find honey, eat just enough –
too much of it, and you will vomit.
17 Seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house –
too much of you, and they will hate you.
Like a broken tooth or a lame foot
is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble.
20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on a wound,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
Like a maniac shooting
flaming arrows of death
19 is one who deceives their neighbour
and says, ‘I was only joking!’
Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of a friend
springs from their heartfelt advice.
10 Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family,
and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you –
better a neighbour nearby than a relative far away.
If anyone loudly blesses their neighbour early in the morning,
it will be taken as a curse.
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favour
rather than one who has a flattering tongue.
Friendship and the Gospel
The principles of friendship that we see in Proverbs can leave us feeling disappointed:
- in others
- in ourselves
But Proverbs 18:24 gives a hint that there might be a better, truer friend: ‘One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ And Jesus said:
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: love each other. (John 15:13-17)
Jesus is the friend that lays down his life for us.
This, of course, is a gospel truism! But it is vital for healthy friendships.
If we look for fulfilment or perfection in friendships then:
- we can choke friendship – people withdraw because they feel suffocated or feel crushed by our expectations
- we can create corrosive jealousy – we resent their time with, or affection for, other people
We create a set of expectations (a ‘law’) and then demand that people meet our expectations.
Here’s a couple of tests:
- Is my primary concern to give in the relationship or to get from the relationship?
- If I’m giving in the relationship, am I trying to build obligation?
My relational longings will never be satisfied in other human beings. They can only be met in Christ.
But the good news is that they are met in Christ. And this relationship gives the security in which I can relate to others in love.