Friendship is an enigma wrapped in a riddle.
My friend Bob used to say that about things that were confusing. I don’t really understand it, but I get what it means. It’s a confession… a confessing of complication and confusion. It’s as if you’re saying, “This topic is so convoluted and difficult to understand that we can all have different opinions on it and all be right.”
Understanding friendship is like trying to nail down Jello (that’s another one of my favorite sayings from Bob… he has a lot of them).
Here’s a very simple principle for when things seem convoluted:
When things are confusing, go to the Bible for timeless wisdom.
While the Bible is thousands of years old, it contains within it living wisdom that is very much applicable to the lives we live today. When we get stuck, the best place to go is not to a friend or mentor. The first place we should go is to the Scriptures.
One of the books that contain so much applicable wisdom is the book of Proverbs. Proverbs has 31 chapters, and if you’re looking for a really easy way to gain the wisdom of the Scriptures, simply read a chapter a day each month.
Since the book of Proverbs has so much to say on every topic, I thought it would be helpful to examine four statements made in Proverbs on friendship.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17
Let’s be honest, the term friend is tossed around very loosely. If you enjoy someone or like someone you may label them a “friend”, but this verse gives us one simple guidepost for diagnosing a relationship as a friendship: unconditional love.
Most people back up when difficulty comes their way. Oh, they may bring a meal by after the death of a family member. They may send a text that says, “I’m praying for you.” But it’s rare to find a friend that leans in when adversity comes.
This simple verse tells us that when we choose to love unconditionally, our relationships will transcend simple friendship. Unconditional love turns friends into family.
“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” Proverbs 16:28
The truth matters. As hard as it is for me to believe (and accept), there are people who simply spread rumors that are not true with the intention of causing difficulty. I’m sure there are a thousand reasons for them to do this: jealousy, hatred, and etc. This verse shows us what happens when allow our relationships to be built on emotions and our own perspectives instead of the truth.
If your new friend has nothing but negative things to say about others, rest assured of two things… First, not all of what they are saying is true. I’m sure there’s some mixed truth in there with a lot perspective and even lies. Secondly, you’ll be one of the people they will be talking about when you’re not around. You aren’t so special that you’re immune. These sorts of people spread drama wherever they go (strife). These are NOT good friends but can be people that you love with the love of Jesus in the hopes of seeing their lives changed.
It’s also important to notice that if your friendship is life-giving but influenced by the opinions of others, you’ll give those who speak lies and dissension an opportunity to create separation in your relationship. Build your friendships on the truth and you’ll be able to weather the storms of drama caused by those who could separate you.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy” Proverbs 27:6
Friendship isn’t all rose petals, rainbows, and unicorns. It’s hard work. Like all relationships, it starts off fun, but it will inevitably hit a point where it’s going to be difficult.
This verse describes the “wounds of a friend”, which seems two ideas that can’t coexist. Friends get to know us very well. They see us in weak moments. They see us in our best moments, too. Friends come to know our tendencies, both good and bad.
Here’s the important question:
How could a friend love you, see you struggle, and not say anything?
I’ll submit to you that the most loving thing a friend can do is have a hard conversation about our tendencies and weakness while offering to help and hold our hand in recovery, healing, and restoration.
There are a lot of people who will avoid having that difficult conversation with you. They will “kiss” you with compliments, but won’t have any real, lasting impact on your life.
The pain of those difficult conversations is real, but it leads to growth and healing. You’ll be thankful when you have those friends in your life.
“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9
I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but even if you haven’t either you probably know their slogan: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. I wonder if that goes for the folks that get married in the drive-through wedding chapels?
In friendship, you’re given a very intimate perspective into the heart of someone else and you’re letting someone see deeply into your life.
That sort of proximity gives you special access. You see their secrets, even if they don’t tell you. You see their struggles, even if they’re not willing to admit them. You see their strengths, just by watching them live out their lives.
That closeness also produces something very necessary for own, personal growth: conflict. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17.
The intimacy of friendship is going to produce conflict. You can’t escape that reality. The question is, what will you do with that offense? Will that situation make you better or make you bitter?
When you experience the difficulty of offense or see something in your friend, sharing that with other friends only lays the platform for destroying the intimacy you share with your friend.
As if we’re living in the short story The Emperor’s New Clothes, we ALL need friends that will see our nakedness and cover us up. That’s what love does. Love covers our wrongs. Isn’t that how Jesus loved us? Friendship is a perfect context to share that same kind of love!
A true friend…
Not everyone is going to be your friend. That’s ok. Not everyone is meant to be. That’s not an excuse to avoid pursuing a friendship.
Be the kind of friend you want. Who you are attracts who you are in relationship with. Make a choice to be the kind of friend these verses describe and watch as God supplies you with friends that, too, have the heart to live out God-centered friendships.
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How have you got friendship WRONG?