We all want to have good friends, friends that accept us, are honest with us, and “have our backs.” In order to cultivate this type of friendship, it can be helpful to focus on being a friend rather than on finding a friend. What makes a good friend? The book of Proverbs outlines four essential qualities of true friendship. The first quality is loyalty; in biblical terms, “faithfulness.” Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” This is a person who—no matter how bad things get—will be there for you. When you’re in a jam, count him in. He is not a “fair-weather” friend. You quickly discover who your real friends are when it is not fun or convenient to be your friend…when there is work to be done, or when you are facing a time of adversity or embarrassment. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Who can count on you when the chips are down? Are you a “fair-weather” friend? Or do you possess that rare quality of friendship called faithfulness?
The book of Proverbs highlights another quality which is essential to friendship: Being candid. A really good friend is so committed to you that he is willing to tell you the truth even though it may strain your friendship. Maybe you have a personality quirk which is turning people off. Maybe you are controlling. Maybe you treat people in a condescending manner and it is hurting your witness for Christ. A real friend will lovingly point out these shortcomings because she cares about you. She knows that to remain silent will not only bring you grief, but will negatively affect others. Proverbs 27:5-6 states, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” In the words of Solomon, to refrain from lovingly rebuking someone in need of correction is not only to hide love, it is to position yourself as her enemy, because you have withheld that which is ultimately in her best interest. You are setting her up for failure.
There is a third trait a friend should possess: he should be quick to encourage. Proverbs 27:9 says, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” If we are to become all that God desires, we need the encouragement of our friends. Depending on the situation, this encouragement may be delivered in two very different packages. Sometimes, we may need a good swift kick in the pants. And sometimes, we need our friend to come alongside us and gently say, “I know things are tough right now, but with God’s help you will make it through this. You can do it. I believe in you.” Your friend’s confidence inspires your own. He inspires you to press ahead despite the obstacles.
The fourth trait a good friend will have is tact. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly.” While a friend is candid, he is not reckless in his candor. He is concerned about his friend’s feelings. Because he loves his friend, and wants the best for him, he is honest with him, speaking the truth in love. In other words, he tries to say things in a way that are both honest and caring. His goal is to help, not to hurt. And so he tries to say things in a way that his friend can best hear it and accept it. This quality called “tact” has many different faces. For example, a tactful person is sensitive to not overstay their welcome. Proverbs 25:17 says, “Let your foot rarely be in your neighbors’ house, lest he become weary of you and hate you.” If a friend invites you over for dinner, you are exercising tact by not overstaying your welcome. Proverbs 27:14 says, “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him.” You may be a morning person, your friend may not. Being mindful of these differences is exercising tact.
Proverbs 26:18-19 says, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘Was I not joking?’” Friends often joke around with one another. But we need to be careful not to make jokes at our friend’s expense. What is funny to us may not be funny to him. We need to realize that saying, “I was only joking,” doesn’t magically repair the hurt that our insensitive jesting may have caused.
When you focus on being a good friend rather than finding one, there’s no doubt you will develop godly friendships that will last a lifetime.
Application / Challenge
Focus on being a good friend rather than finding friends!