Proverbs and the Rare Jewel of True Friendship
Proverbs 13:20; 17:17; 27:5-6; 18:24; 20:6; 27:10 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 31, 2019 (am)
Select Proverbs for Scripture Reading
· Proverbs 20:6 Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?
· Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
· Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
· Proverbs 27:9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
· Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
· Proverbs 17:9 Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
· Proverbs 16:28 A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.
· Proverbs 13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
· Proverbs 27:10 Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away
· Proverbs 18:1 Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.
Proverbs 18:1 Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.
Proverbs is a book on wise living, as we’re reminded by reading Proverbs 1:2, “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight . . .” As a book on wise living, Proverbs teaches us that there is something profoundly wise about pursuing friendships and foolish about trying to do this life alone
But is that how we view it? Do we value friends in the same way that Proverb 18:1 does? Do we see the folly in trying to live life apart from them? Do we think they are truly necessary – or are they just nice to have around?
More importantly, is that how we live? If we were to put our lives under a microscope and look at how we spend our time, what we value, and what we give priority to, where would friendship fall?
If we were to strip life down to mere survival, we might ask what survival value does friendship hold for us? Is it truly necessary for us to survive? As I pondered this question it made me think of the tv show “Man vs. Wild.” It is the show where Bear Grylls goes out into the desert, or rain forest, or some other desolate location and shows how to survive if you’re all alone.
With this show, I have attached a specific memory. It is from my days as a pastoral intern here at Grace Church, and it is of watching this show in my office over the lunch hour with my friend Dan Montgomery, who was working on the building and grounds crew at the time.
As I looked back on this memory, I asked myself, “Why do I remember this?” What I realized is that I didn’t remember it because of my connection to the show, or some primal urge within me to go out and survive alone in the wilderness. I remembered it because of the friendship I had forged as we connected together with the show. In other words, it was not what was before me that made this event memorable, but rather who was beside me.
This realization is the tip of the ice berg of a the great truth behind the necessity of friendship. To see why friendship is truly necessary – we must go back to the Garden of Eden. In his book, Drew Hunter talks about the fact that we all have an Edenic Ache, an ache that goes back to the Garden of Eden.
If we were to open to Genesis 2 we’d see ourselves on the sixth day of creation. There, for the first time in the short history of the cosmos, something is pronounced as “not good.” What is it? “It is not good for man to be alone.” This is a pre-sin, pre-fall “not good.” Which means this is an imperfection that is being noted in the midst of Adam’s perfection, an ache that God built into us as those who bear his image.
As a result – God creates “Eve” after which creation was pronounced, for the first time, to be “very good.” Why? It was not because Adam couldn’t survive without Eve (recall that Adam was made to live forever) but because Adam couldn’t thrive without Eve. God didn’t create us simply to survive – he created us to thrive and to flourish. CS Lewis says about friendship, “It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
Which is why Proverbs can say that “he who lives in isolation does so against all sound judgement.” Because living without friends, or as if they aren’t necessary, is to go against the grain of who we are and what we’re created to be
But Proverbs has more to say on the topic of friendship than that we need them. It instructs us on how to choose friends, how to be good friends, and the value we ought to place on them. Our first lesson on friendship from Proverbs is on the importance of choosing the right friends.
1. True friends are chosen (13:20)
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
The first thing we need to see here is that when it comes to friendship, we have a choice. While this isn’t true of your family or your neighbors or your coworkers or classmates – it is true of your friends.
The second thing we need to see is that our choice in friendship is of the utmost importance, for your choice may very well determine the direction of your life. Why? Because our friends rub off on us, because we become like those we love.
We all know this is true when it comes to our quirky tastes and preferences. For example, when I was newly wed to Angel, my best friend, I thought she was crazy the first time we went to a sushi restaurant with her friends. It was a running sushi restaurant, the one with the conveyor belt that goes around the restaurant with plates of sushi on it. When you saw something you wanted, you’d reach in a grab it, and I soon realized there wasn’t anything on there she wouldn’t try. In fact, her friends began offering to pay plates if she would just eat what was on them. I was somewhat shocked and disgusted by the whole thing. But guess what? After nearly 14 years of marriage, she’s rubbed off on me, and now Sushi is one of our favorite things to eat.
If it’s true for sushi, it’s also true of wisdom. Wisdom is not only taught, it’s caught. Because character is contagious. But the same is also true of foolishness, such that the companion of fools suffers harm. Which is to say that if you hang out with fools, you get what fools get because you become one of them. We see this elsewhere in Proverbs. Take Proverbs 12:26 which says, “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Or Proverbs 22:24-25 which says, “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.”
So the point of our first proverb is to beware who you befriend, and the 19th century English preacher and theologian Charles Bridges would agree when he says “It is not up to us to determine if there will be any influence, only what that influence will be.”
Before moving on, I want to briefly discuss what I mean by the term “true friends.” Friendship should never be a matter of who is in and who is out. It is not meant to be exclusive, but there is truth to the idea that everyone we know is on a friendship spectrum. One way this spectrum has been explained is with concentric circles. The outermost circle contains those with whom you have impersonal relationships. Moving inward you get to your acquaintances, then casual friends, and at the center and smallest category are your true friends.
Drew Hunter gives us another image to explain this spectrum:
“. . . relationships have been described as lanes on a highway. Impersonal relationships drive along in the far right lane, the middle who lanes contain acquaintances and casual friends, and our closest friends travel with us in the left lane. A best friend or two may also ride in the car with us. The right lanes are full, and the left lanes have fewer people, of course, blinkers flash and cars change lanes over time. A longtime acquaintance might later become a close friend. Or once-close friends may become little more than acquaintances. Perhaps a left-lane friend may swerve right to take the exist, later to re-enter and merge left again farther down the road.”
True friends would be those you hold most closely, those in the car with you, and it is those friends that we’re talking about this morning for hey are the ones necessary if we’re to thrive. They are the ones who will help to meet our Edenic Ache for friendship.
In our second piece of wisdom on friendship we move from how to choose a true friend to how to identify a true friend or how to be a true friend.
2. True friends are constant (17:17)
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity.
This proverb draws a comparison between a friend and a brother and what is being highlighted is the constancy of a true friend. In the day when this proverb was written, there would have been strong cultural obligations upon family members to care for one another. That is why brothers are born for adversity, it is their duty is to take care of you in times of need. But what makes true friends so sweet is that their love for you is being expressed at all times, not only in times of adversity. Why? Because a friend is someone who has chosen to love you – but a brother is obligated to love you.
What does it mean that a friend loves at all times? Does this mean you’re always there – always present – always with your friends. No, in fact Proverbs says this actually can lead to the decline of friendship: Prov. 25:17 Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.
So what does it mean that a friend loves at all times? It means that a true friend is someone you can turn to in all seasons of life. A true friend not only loves you enough to be there for you in the hard times, they also like you enough to be there with you in the good times and mundane times and changing times and all the in-between times
When we understand friendship like that, we quickly see that true friendship takes work for it isn’t easy to be someone who loves another person at all times. It isn’t easy to go on loving your friend when circumstances change, like when one of you gets married and the other does not, or when one of you makes it into the show choir and the other does not, or one of you loses your spouse and the other has not, or when one of you moves away and the other stays put. It takes work to keep a friendship when kids come into the picture and when life gets busier or when our energies go lower. To be a constant friend requires intentionality and energy, without which friendships slowly grow apart
Not only does it take work, it also takes grace. Friction is a given in any human relationship that seeks to go deep and what you do when that friction comes determines just how deep you will go. For friendships to be constant, friends must be able to both seek forgiveness and grant forgiveness to one another. And there is no place for resentment! Friends who can’t get over the past won’t be friends for long. Friends who say, “I still can’t believe you didn’t come to my graduation . . .” Or “I’ll never forget the time you stood me up for lunch” are killing the relationship. We see this truth illustrated in Proverbs 17:9 “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”
If true friendship is constant, we can also assume that true friendship takes time. Aristotle is quoted as saying, ‘The desire for friendship comes quickly. Friendship does not.” For a friend to show that they love at all times, one of the key ingredients is time. There is no fast track to lasting friendships, rather, they are cultivated through the daily and weekly and monthly rituals of loving one another and being faithful to one another over time.
An illustration of this comes from my days as a student in college. One thing I noted from my time in college is that it wasn’t until the second semester of my Sophomore year that I felt I had friends. It wasn’t until that semester that I felt like I was going towards my friends after winter break and not away from them. Furthermore, it was not until after that summer, a summer I spent working with a ministry alongside a few guys from my soccer team that I would say I had found a true friend.
So friendships take time, they must be cultivated. As friendship is cultivated – it gains the ability to be candid – and if friends are to go deep, they must learn the art of being candid with one another.
3. True friends are candid (27:5-6)
Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
True friends confront one another when they are wrong, or headed down the wrong path, that is what it means to be candid. To rebuke someone is to sharply correct them, and this proverb teaches that a rebuke is better than hidden love – better than staying silent out of “love” for the person.
But rebukes aren’t fun to receive, often times they hurt to hear, and afterwards we can feel like we’ve been wounded. But when spoken by in truth, by a true friend, such words are described as “faithful.” They are an act of allegiance from one friend to another. They demonstrate that we are for one another, and not against one another. As Roberts says: “There is truth in Oscar Wilde’s witticism: ‘A true friend stabs you in the front’.”
Rebukes are contrasted here with the kisses of an enemy. Throughout Proverbs, kisses are often tied to flattery. They are words of affirmation that feel good to hear, but aren’t true and they ignore our weaknesses and our sin and cause us to believe we’re better off than we are. Such words prove that those who speak them are not your true friends, in fact, they are your enemy.
These proverbs contradict the popular notion that a friend is someone who is always ready to defend you even when they know you’re wrong. Do you know who Simon Cowell is? There are few TV personalities are more candid than Simon Cowell. He’s been a judge on nearly all of the singing/talent competitions and he’s known for his “candid”/“blunt” comments. Here are a few examples: To a lifeguard he said, “If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning.” To another he said, “If you would be singing like this two thousand years ago, people would have stoned you.” And to another he said, "There's only so many words I can drag out of my vocabulary to say how awful that was."
You know how these shows typically go. Those singing are interviewed ahead of their audition and everything is so positive, they think they’re going to win, they’ve been told by everyone they know that they’re amazing, and then they deliver a cringe worthy performance and have to suffer their fate before the judges. Such performances ought to cause us to ask, “Who are their friends?” Certainly they aren’t true friends, candid friends, or they never would have humiliated themselves on public television.
In our friendships, there is far more at stake than public humiliation. We are sinners, we are those who are prone to wander, we stray from what our Lord commands, what will our friends say when they see us begin to stray? What will we say to our friends when they grow weary of going to church, when they quit reading their Bibles, when they consider cheating on their spouse, when they concoct ways to cheat on their exams. Will we remain silent out of a false “love” for one another? Will we hold our tongues lest we offend one another? Worse yet, will we flatter one another? Will we puff one another up? Will we encourage our friend to think of themselves as a saint when in fact they are living like the devil? Proverbs 29:5 says “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” Or will we faithfully wound our friend? Will we confront them? Will we tell them the truth? Will we lovingly rebuke them – lest they continue in their ways and meet a far worse end?
And how will we respond when our friends are candid with us? When our friends rebuke us? Proverbs 17:10 says, “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.” I’ve always remembered the time I confronted my mentor Chris McGarvey about something he said in one of his sermons. Not because I was so right on in my assessment, but because of his response. He overflowed with gratitude for my willingness to confront him on his weakness and it has become a lesson to me in how to receive a friend’s rebuke.
Gordon MacDonald expresses well the true goal of Christian friendship: “There is a certain ‘niceness’ to a friendship where I can be, as they say, myself. But what I really need are relationships in which I will be encouraged to become better than myself.” How do we become people for whom a rebuke goes deeper than a hundred blows? We must be people who want to become better than who we presently are. We make it our goal in life to be holy. We desire to grow in wisdom and then we surround ourselves with wise friends who aren’t afraid to speak wise words to us.
We’ve heard wisdom on how to choose friends, two characteristics of true friends, now we get to a truth concerning one limitation of friendship.
4. True friends are few (18:24)
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
True friendship is found not among the many, but among the few because “. . . we simply cannot invest the same amount of time and attention in every relationship that we have.” And to think that we can, to think that we can achieve true friendship with many is not only foolish, it’s dangerous, for “A man of many companions may come to ruin.”
What we all need, what is wise, is to find and work to cultivate a friendship with someone who sticks closer than a brother. This is a word that we need to hear because “friend” is a word that desperately needs defining in our day and age. Through technology we are now more connected, more in touch, more available to one another than we’ve ever been and as a result, the word friend has become so broad that it used to refer to people you’ve met once and now you occasionally see pictures of their vacations on your Facebook feeds.
That is not how Proverbs defines friendship. Drew Hunter says, “Friendship should be more like a submarine, holding few and going deep. But we’ve made it more like a cruise ship, filled with lots of nice people whom we don’t know well at all.”
My concern is that this quote describes not only our society, but also our churches. It is quite possible, even probable, that many of us who gather here weekly wrestle regularly with loneliness. We know names and faces and fill our Sunday with pleasant conversations but we are not truly known by anyone, nor do we really know the constant love or candid encouragement of a true friend. This needs to change.
As Christians, we may even feel added pressure to not go too deep with one another, lest we seem cliquish or like we’re being exclusive. Certainly this is not encouraging us to be unfriendly to those with whom we aren’t pursuing deep friendship, but we must not let a desire to be nice to everyone keep us from going deep with a few. And we must be gracious with those we see pursuing a deep relationship with one another and not become jealous or envious of them in a way that would cause us to interfere with their friendship
In short, we must be aware of our limitations when it comes to friendship. Realize that if we’re to achieve true friendship, we must be selective. If we’re to be a church that pursues true friendship, we must celebrate it when it is pursued, even when it isn’t with us. Which brings us to our final point.
5. True friends are a rare jewel (20:6 & 27:10)
Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love,
but a faithful man who can find? (20:6)
To find a friend who is wise, constant, and candid with you is a rare thing. To find someone who understands the nature of true friendship and is willing to put in the work to be a true friend to you, is not something you come across every day. And so Proverbs 27:10 says,
Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend,
and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity.
Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away
Together these Proverbs teach us that because true friendship is so rare – we shouldn’t forsake the friends we already have – for they are of tremendous value. In his commentary on this verse Charles Bridges says, “. . . a true friend is no common acquisition . . . the jewel itself is as rare as it is precious.”
It doesn’t only say we shouldn’t forsake our friends, it is also telling us to give them opportunities to not forsake us. Where do you go in you time of need? Who do you call? When you need to borrow money, do you call your family on the west coast? When you need someone to watch the kids for the weekend, do you fly your parents in from the east coast? What would happen to your friendships if you looked to those God has placed right in front of you? What would happen to our church if we looked to one another in our times of need?
Could it be that leaning on one another would help us to see that faithful friends aren’t as rare as we might think? Could it be that caring for one another in the midst of our calamities could cause us to experience the rare jewel of true friendship far more often than we’ve experienced it in the past? Here wisdom is teaching us that when we are there for one another in the midst of their trouble, and when we give others opportunities to be there for us, we will find the rare jewel of true friendship. And Scripture teaches us that we all have a friend who has been there for us in our deepest trouble and our greatest need.
We began this morning by hearing how we were made by God for friendship. We were created with an Edenic ache for a companion. God not only made us for friendship with one another, he made us for friendship with him. God didn’t need to create us, he didn’t do so out of a deficit in himself, instead God created us so that we might experience his friendship, and he created us with a with a longing for human friendships so that we might experience his friendship together. To add human friends to our divine friendship is not a way of giving us additional joy, but a way of multiplying our joy, for we multiply the joy of friendship with our Lord when we experience it together.
But we walked away from God’s friendship. Proverbs 16:28 says, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” Satan was the first whisperer to separate close friends. He did it by “slandering God’s friendly heart: If God were truly your friend, would he keep you from that tree? What is he hiding? Listen friends, can you really trust him?”
From that moment on, God has been working to restore our friendship. All of Scripture and the whole story of redemption can be understood as God reaching out to befriend us, to restore what was lost in the Garden and to be our truest friend. We see the climax of God’s work to befriend us on the cross. As Drew Hunter explains, “On the eve of his death, Jesus wanted his disciples to know that the cross was not only the greatest demonstration of love but also a cosmic act of friendship.” And so, in John 15:13 we hear Jesus say this: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus demonstrated on the cross that he is our greatest friend, our most faithful friend. He is not a friend who only proclaims his steadfast love, he demonstrates it by dying in our place.
It is because of his death on the cross that Jesus can be your truest friend. By repenting and putting your faith in him, you will gain the most constant of friends for he promises to put his Spirit within you, to be with you always. You will receive the wisest of friends, as His Spirit will instruct you and guide you in wisdom. You will receive the most candid of friends, as his Spirit searches out and exposes the sin in your heart that you might become holy. You will receive the jewel of true friendship with your Creator.
A typical first response to thinking more deeply about the nature of true friendship is this: “I’m not as good of a friend as I thought” or maybe, “I don’t have any true friends.”  Let me encourage you this morning by saying this only needs to be initially disheartening, let discontent push you to take steps forward, allow awareness to be the first step in progress.
How do we make progress? We need to realize that we have few friendships, because we are not willing to pay the price of friendship. As Hugh Black writes, “The secret of friendship is just the secret of all spiritual blessing. They way to get is to give.” So don’t wait for someone to befriend you, look for someone to befriend. Start working on your friendships. Move friendship up on your list of priorities. Receive rebukes as a sign of true friendship. Look for those who are in need around you and meet their needs. Go to those near you when you need help. Most of all, follow Jesus’s example in friendship. Be constant, be candid, and regularly lay down your life for the sake of your friends. And finally, let Jesus meet your deepest need for friendship. Jesus’ friendship with you frees you to pursue genuine friendship with others for when Jesus meets your deepest need for friendship, your human friends become the icing on the cake of life. As JC Ryle wrote, they halve our sorrows and double our joys.
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