Catholic Theologian Thomas Aquinas has said, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” True friendship is a sweet gift, but it is indeed very rare. In our world of hyper-connectivity and a plethora of online friends and followers, many of us are starving for true friendship. We are always connected with one another, but rarely are truly connected to one another.
Friendship is one of the most important and most practical virtues that one can possess to obtain wisdom. The goal of the book of Proverbs is to help people get wisdom. Proverbs 4:5-9,
Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.
Solomon urges us to prize wisdom so highly that we should pursue her with all our might. And yet before we pursue wisdom, we have to see the value of wisdom. True friendship is one of tools that help people live in wisdom. Think of all the decisions that we face that require us to use wisdom: who should we marry, where should I live, should I move closer to my family, how many kids should I have, how often should I vacation, how many activities should I put my kids in, where should I go to church, etc. The list goes on and on. We need wisdom for all of life. And I believe that God in his sovereign, eternal wisdom has given us true friendship to guide us to pursue wisdom.
I remember having a conversation in college with one of my roommates. We were upperclassman and had recently met some freshman. We were astonished at how easy it was to identify which of the freshman had close friends growing up. There was a remarkable difference among those who had close friends. Looking back I would now say that we saw wisdom in people who possessed close friendships. I want to encourage you to be intentional in your friendships. Proverbs believes friendship is paramount to wisdom. We must choose wise friends and be wise friends. We first have to see the power of friendship.
The Wise Power of Friendship
Friendship is important. There is something very sweet about friendships. As Aquinas has said, “There is nothing on this earth to be more prized than true friendship.” We have to prize friendship because society desires to push it out. When life gets busy, the first thing that is often cut out of our lives is friendship. Our society highlights romantic love. I wonder how many friends have been lost when someone enters into a relationship. Someone starts dating someone new and they suddenly do not have time for their friends. Why? Well, our society has trained us to believe that all we really need to romantic love. In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes, “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few ‘friends.’” Lewis goes on to say that one of the reasons people do not pursue friendships is because so few have experienced it.
Our society no longer promotes the value of true friendship because the desires of the individual reign supreme over the community. It is easy to diminish the value and the importance of true friendship, but we were created for community by a God who values community. Our God has always existed in perfect community. The Father and the Son and the Spirit live in perfect community with one another which is why God has said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We have an innate longing to live in community with one another. We have a deep desire to live life together with others. We feel lonely when we are not connected to others. The millennial generation has tried to answer that loneliness with online connection, but God has given us bodies so that we would be physically present with one another. God shows how much he believes in face to face contact by coming to us in a body being clothed in flesh. God values face to face, body to body community. He wants us to be with one another.
We would have a lot more happy and content people if they follow some of God’s most basic commands to love one another and to gather together regularly to encourage one another in the faith. Our hyper individualistic society promotes self at the expense of the community. I just want you to be aware of how easy it is for us to push our friendships to the side. I believe one of the most undervalued and an under-utilized tools to create wisdom is friendship. You will see how the practical gifts of friendship, closeness, candor and commonality, are a powerful tool to promote wisdom. And because it is so powerful, the worldly system is against true friendship. The world wants people to be satisfied with superficial acquaintances because true friendship is the way to wisdom. The world promotes folly, and fools despise wisdom and instruction. So the world wants us to ignore that which can bring us wisdom. Be aware of the value of friendship and do not allow the world to lead you to ignore it.
The Wise Picking of Friendship
During our childhood years, the greatest influence on our lives is our parents. Our parents form and shape our direction. They instill our values and our morality. Although parents are the predominate ones who help to create the character of children, friends become the primary influence as we grow into our teenage and young adult years. Solomon understood this concept. He was primarily addressing teenagers as they were coming of age, and he warns them repeatedly to be careful in choosing their friends. Proverbs 1:10, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason…my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold aback your foot from their paths.” Solomon warned youths about following in the path of sinners because it was going to bring them to destruction and evil.
Yet following after friends will do much more than merely bringing people in the path of evil, but it will help people become evil. Proverbs 22:24-25, “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.” Proverbs 24:21-22, “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? The danger of choosing wrong friends is that you will begin to emulate their way of life. Bad company corrupts good character. Friends have an incredible influence on the moral shaping of an individual. I look back at my life and see how my choosing of friends played an important role in shaping my character. Think of your friends. Do they lead you to righteousness or folly?
How many stories have you heard that begin this way? John was a good kid raised in a kid home. He started hanging out with some friends that introduced him to drinking. His drinking quickly turned to smoking marijuana which turned into cocaine. This is, of course, and extreme example, but there are countless more “good kids” who may not become drug addicts under the influence of their friends, but perhaps simply drift away from God. Your greatest danger may not be someone leading you into drug addiction, but subtly away from the Lord. Maybe friends that encourage you hang out late on Saturday night so you are not fresh on Sunday morning or friends whose conversations focus on trivial, earthly things lacking eternal substance. Friends have a powerful, powerful influence on one’s life. You must be careful in choosing your friends because you are going to emulate their ways and you may become entangled in a snare.
The entanglement could be things that are devastating like drugs or alcohol, or as equally devastating as anger or lust. Parents you should be praying right now for your children’s friends. As they grow, their friends will continue to have a greater influence on their lives. Proverbs 13:20, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Choose your friends carefully, because they will have a greater impact on you than you can possibly imagine.
C.S. Lewis says that all, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” Commonality is the very beginning of friendship. I remember walking into my old church. I was filling the pulpit for about six months prior to the new pastor coming. I walked into his office to let him know what I had been teaching and I asked him a question about theology and he smiled and replied, “Indeed.” Our common love for the local church, sound theology, and good food was the beginning of a friendship. Sharing hobbies, interests and activities (jobs or recreation) may be the beginning of any friendship, but once a friendship starts it must be pursued.
The Wise Pursuit of Friendship
We know that friendship is powerful for wisdom and our choice of friends will shape our character, but how does one build friendship? We build friendship by pursuing it. Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” A friend loves at all different kind of times. They love when things are going well and they love when things are going poorly. They love in prosperity and they love in poverty. They love in health and love in sickness. A true friend loves at all times. A true friend is one you can call at 3 o’clock in the morning because you got a flat tire on the side of the road. A true friend is one who will sit with you and cry after you put your dog to sleep. A friend loves at all times. How do these kinds of friendships develop? These friendships develop because both friends pursued the relationship.
You cannot expect to have real, deep true friendship without spending a considerable amount of time together. It will not happen unless you intentionally spend time with each other. My greatest friends are those who I have spent the most considerable about of time with, and I bet the same could be said for you. Some of my greatest friends are the ones I developed in my childhood and in college. My closest friend growing up was Nick Scalabrino. We became friends in first grade. We were close until 4th grade when he was moved into the gifted and talented track at my elementary school. In God’s providence, we became locker partners again in 8th grade and we have been close ever since. Nick and I lived more like brothers during our high school years. I was either at his house or he was at mine. We live miles apart now, but we will always be close because of the amount of time we spent together during our childhood.
And even though we know each other so well, we still have to continue pursuing a relationship. Some of my greatest friends now are in this church. And this, in large part, is due to the amount of time we spend together. I am around a lot of lonely people. People are desperate for deep friendships, but they do not have them. One of the reasons for their lack of friendships is their lack of pursuit. How can people honestly expect to have deep meaningful friendship without time? I heard someone say this week that he and his wife have refused to use busyness as an excuse to not get together with people. He said claiming busyness was a sign that he believed that his time and activities were more important than people. How great would it be to have friends who believed that we were more important than their busyness? We do not have true friendships because we are too lazy. We fear rejection. And we simply do not put the time into building biblical friendships.
Tim Keller gives two important traits of friendship: closeness and candor. The idea of closeness is that a true friend knows your emotional needs. They have spent so much time with you that they know how to give you exactly the needs of a situation. Listen to these proverbs and see how important it is for someone to answer at the right time and in the right mood.
Proverbs 27:14, “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.” (The right greeting, at the right time)
Proverbs 25:17, “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor's house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” (The right balance of presence and absence)
Proverbs 25:20, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.”
A true friend knows how to meet your emotional needs. Do you have friends that know you that well? And do you try to be that kind of friend? This takes time as well as thoughtfulness. We need more Timothy’s in our world who the Apostle Paul says that, “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20)
And yet friendship is not only about closeness, it is about candor. A friend is honest with you. Listen to the honest and candor encouraged in the Proverbs,
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5-6)
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)
A man with many companions may come to ruin, because he does not have friends close enough to him to let him know when he is facing ruin. A true friend will risk losing the friendship if it means saving their friend from disaster. I have met many people whose arrogance has led to their downfall simply because they did not have enough friends to give them an open rebuke. It is never a good thing to have friends that always agree with you. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” If you cannot trust a loving rebuke of those who love you, then who can you trust?
And if you do not have the courage to tell your “friends” what they need to hear, you may not be the kind of “friend” you need to be? Silence can lead to disaster. A biblical friend speaks truth in love to their friends because they care more about their souls than their own happiness. We use the word friend very casually in our culture. We have friends on Facebook, friends at work, friends at the gym, and friends in the neighborhood. Could it be that the casual use of friendship has destroyed our understanding of biblical friendship? It is better to have 2-3 true friends than hundreds of “companions.” Can we resolve to build true friendships? Give people your time, your attention and your honesty, for true friendship cannot be built without it.
The Wise Perseverance of Friendship
The second half of the Proverbs 18:24 is also important. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The Hebrew word for sticks used here is same used for cleaving and clinging too. You should cling to your friends as tightly as you would cling to rope that held you over a cliff. Family is a blessing, but there are friends that become even closer than family. Families will typically be there for you when things are difficult, because they have to be there. A friend does not have to be there for you, but they chose to be there for you. And they chose to stick with you.
True friends will still close to you, but fake friends are only there for their own gain. Listen to how wealth brings fake friends,
“Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend.” Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man's brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them. (Proverbs 19:4; 6-7)
Be wary of fake friends, those who are only around you for gain.
You will come to know your true friends during times of your greatest difficulty. Our greatest difficulty will often be of our own doing, when we fall into sin. A friend loves at all times and will keep loving at all times even when you are at your worst. The love may take different forms, but a true, biblical friend loves to the end. And we see this most clearly in friendship of the Lord Jesus Christ who demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners he died for us.
The Wise Picture of Friendship
The best picture of friendship can be seen in how Jesus loves us. Jesus is not a fair weather friend, but one who loves at all times until the very end. John 15:12-17,
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
At the end of Jesus’s life, he wanted to show how much he loved his disciples so he explained to them true friendship. Jesus loved his disciples at all times and loved them to the end. Jesus laid down his life for his friends. Jesus allowed the disciples inner access to his life.
Jesus is a friend to sinners. He laid down his life to rescue us from our sin and damnation. Jesus is our friend, but are we his? The Bible says in our natural state we are a friend of the world. James 4:4, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Just as many think they have true friends only to realize they were fake friends not sticking in love to the end. Jesus will have that same experience. There are many who claim they are friends with Jesus, but they may not be true friends. You cannot love the world as a friend and love Jesus as friend. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” You are his friend if you turn from your love of the world and walk with Him. “He who walks with wise, becomes wise.” Jesus laid down his life so you could walk with him and become wise. He invites you to walk with him. He invites you to choose wisdom. He invites you to be his friend.
Jesus is the true picture of friendship. If we want to be a true friend, we must first know what a true friend is. A true friend is one who lays down his life for his friends. If we want true friends, be a true friend. Greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends. And yet, our confidence should never be in our ability to be a true friend, but in the friendship God has given us in Christ. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Even when we feel all our friends have abandoned us, we still have Jesus. Paul experienced this when he stood trial for his preaching of the gospel. He writes, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.” Jesus Christ has given us the true picture of friendship. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. This is the kind of friend God is calling you to be.
Our friends are God’s gift to us. They are tools to help us become wise. Our friends have been chosen for us by God. C.S. Lewis writes,
But in Friendship, being free of all that, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends "You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing.
God has chosen your friends for you. Your friends are a gift to help make you wise. Do not forsake your friend for, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” Be a true friend by holding fast to the True Friend, Jesus Christ. He has showed us friendship, now let us go and do likewise.
 Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves. Harcourt Brace & Company, New York. 1960 pg 58
 Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves. Harcourt Brace & Company, New York. 1960 pg 94
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