What are friends for? How do friends act? The Book of Proverbs provides answers to both questions.
Let’s begin with what friends are for. Proverbs 17:17 is as good a place as any to start:
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity.
This proverb compares a friend and a brother. Proverbs 18:24 contrasts them:
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
If I had to summarize the gist of these two proverbs, I’d do it this way: A friend is as good as a brother, but a good friend is even better than a brother.
In his book, Ex-Friends, Norman Podhoretz describes himself as a “foul-weather friend” to Norman Mailer, the literary enfant terrible. I like that phrase. Friends, like brothers, comfort us in tough times. Foul weather is, in fact, the test of friendship. Several proverbs warn us about fair-weather-only friends:
The poor are shunned even by their neighbors,
but the rich have many friends (14:20).
Wealth brings many friends,
but a poor man’s friend deserts him (19:4).
Many curry favor with a ruler,
and everyone is the friend of a man who gives gifts.
A poor man is shunned by all his relatives —
how much more do his friends avoid him!
Though he pursues them with pleading,
they are nowhere to be found (19:6-7).
True friends don’t care how much money we have. They don’t befriend us for what they can get out of the relationship. They’re our friends because of what they can give in the relationship.
What are the gifts of friendship? How do friends act?
They forgive and forget.
He who covers over an offense promotes love,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends (17:9).
They are faithful.
Many a man claims to have unfailing love,
but a faithful man who can find? (20:6)
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 (27:10).
They’re free of malice.
He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious
will have the king for his friend (22:11).
They offer great advice.
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs
from his earnest counsel (27:9).
They make us better people.
As iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another (27:17).
Taken together, these proverbs present us with a diagnosis of our level of friendship.
- Do I stick closer to my friends than their brothers (or sisters)?
- Do I befriend people because of wealth or other benefits?
- Do I overlook my friend’s faults?
- Do I remain faithful to him (or her) in good times and bad?
- Do I have a pure heart about other people?
- Do I offer them good advice?
- Do people turn about better because of my influence?