I was at a weeklong Christian youth camp about six or seven years ago. The theme of the week had something to do with friendship. Each night the band played a song about friendship that I had never heard before, but I really liked it. The chorus of the song, and you'll laugh when you realize how uninformed I was, went like this:
I'll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour.
I'll be there for you, like I've been there before.
I'll be there for you, and you're there for me too.
I said to the bandleader, "That's a great song. Did you write it?" He laughed and said, "No. Where have you been? It's the theme song to the TV show 'Friends.' Haven't you seen it?" I said something about along the lines of, "No, I don't watch sitcoms, I would much rather spend my spare time conjugating Greek verbs."He wasn't impressed.
Since then I have watched the show a few times. You've probably seen it too, or at least heard about it. It's about six friends who are, as the song says, there for one another. It's a good show. (Note: in saying that, I am not endorsing their lifestyles, habits, political views, or their sense of fashion.) It's a good show because it often reveals how significant and beneficial a true friendship can be. The show has struck a nerve with the American public, because most people want what the characters on that show are portrayed as having: a circle of friends who will be there for them, even when the rain starts to pour.
Today we're going to talk about our relationship to our friends. Proverbs says a lot about friendships—about the kind of friend we should look for, and the kind of friend we should be. Proverbs teaches us there is more to friendship than being acquainted with someone, or socializing with someone. Proverbs offers an exalted view of friendship that goes beyond surface-level camaraderie to a deeper level in which we share our hearts and lives with one another. Solomon said,
(18:24) A man of many companions comes to ruin, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.
Having mere companions isn't enough. To make it through we life we need close, heart-to-heart, inner-circle friends. Today we will look at two aspects of friendship: how to choose a friend and how to be a friend. Again, when I talk about friendship, I'm not referring to those you are acquainted with, or those you socialize with on occasion, I'm referring to those you bring into the inner circle of your life, those you share your heart with, those who you know you and you know them inside out.
Proverbs tells us we should be careful about the kind of person we become friends with. Solomon said...
(12:26) A righteous man is cautious in friendship.
Let's say you own your own company and you want to hire an assistant, a second in command, to help you run the business. What kind of person will you hire? Remember, this is someone who will have access to your money, who will represent you and your company to the public, who will help you make strategic decisions regarding the future of your business—what kind of person will you hire? Just anyone who walks in off the street and puts in an application? Of course not. You'll look for someone with character, wisdom, discretion, ability, and experience. Right?
When it comes to choosing friends, it's like you're hiring someone to be your right-hand man, so to speak, and you're signing on as his or her right-hand man. (I guess I should be saying "right-hand person" but it sounds a little awkward.) This is a person whose advice you will seek, who will you turn to in times of trouble, who you will share good times with, who you will learn from, and who you will teach. You don't approach the task of choosing friends lightly. You must, as Solomon recommended, exercise caution.
This goes against what I was taught when I was young. I was told, "to have a friend, be a friend," and, "you should be a friend to the friendless." That's not always good advice. If a person doesn't have friends, maybe there's a reason. Maybe other people have tried to be their friend and have paid dearly for it. Maybe this person is the kind of person who will talk about you when you're not around, borrow money and never pay it back, break the tools you let them use, try to date your girlfriend (or your wife!), and drain your emotional reserves with endless problems they expect you to solve. Maybe bringing this person into your life is nothing less than an invitation for misery.
Now, I'm not saying this kind of person doesn't matter to God, and I'm not saying that you shouldn't try to reach out to this person and help them. Of course you should. You should try to influence them to lead a better life, to live for God, to develop integrity. But you should be very careful about inviting this person into your inner circle. You are to be friendly to everyone...to show the love of Jesus to everyone...but be selective in who you share your heart with. Choosing a friend, in many ways, is like choosing a mate. Therefore, in choosing a friend, you should try to choose a certain kind of person. And in being a friend, you should strive to be a certain kind of person. That's what we'll look at now: the kind of friend you want to have, and the kind of friend you need to be. Here are three characteristics of a good friend we find in the book of Proverbs. First of all...
1. A Friend Hurts When You Hurt
(17:17) A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Think of the people you call your closest friends. When you hurt, do they hurt? Or do they rejoice? Obviously, if it's the latter, they're not your friend. And then, the question you must ask yourself is: "Am I the kind of person someone could turn to in times of trouble, knowing that my response will be one of love?"
When I was a teenager I dropped in on some married relatives one evening. When I got there, it was obvious the two of them had been crying. I wasn't sure what to think, and when the wife left the room I said to the man, "I don't mean to pry, but is everything o.k.?" He nodded his head and said, "Yeah, it's o.k." He paused for a minute and said, "Some friends of ours are getting divorced, and it's hit us pretty hard." Being the master of diplomacy that I was, I said, "Neither one of you are involved in it, are you?" He looked sharply at me and said, "Of course not, you idiot." So I asked him, "Then why are you crying?" He said, "We're crying because our dearest friends in the world are in a lot of pain right now." Even though I was young (and sometimes didn't have enough sense to keep my mouth shut) I realized this couple, the ones who were getting divorced, were lucky to at least have friends who cared enough to cry during their time of pain.
Since then I've known others who have gotten a divorce and were ostracized by their so-called friends. I've also known people who have been in financial trouble, and were abandoned when they most needed help. I've also known people whose children have gotten into legal trouble, and suddenly no one wanted anything to do with them.
How precious it is—and how rare it is—to have someone stand by you in times of trouble. How wonderful it is to have someone who hurts when you hurt. Frankly, at this point it doesn't matter who's right and who's wrong. It just matters that you have friends who care.
This is an important verse. Please listen carefully. Job said this...
A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. (Job 6:14)
Whoever your friends are, they won't be perfect. They'll make mistakes. Sometimes they'll make stupid mistakes. At that time, more than any other time in their life, they need a loyal friend, the kind of friend who says, "Even if you go off the deep end and run from God, I'm going to hang in there with you till you come to your senses." When you're choosing friends you need to ask yourself, "Does this person have the capacity for this kind of loyalty?" And you need to ask yourself, "Am I willing to do this for my friends?"
If your friend gets into trouble, you don't have to endorse everything they've done, or admire everything about them, but you can be there with them, so they don't have to suffer alone. A friend hurts when you hurt. Secondly...
2. A Friend Will Say What Needs To Be Said
What few social skills I have, I owe mostly to my best friend in high school. He never hesitated to say to me what needed to be said. He would say things like, "You're acting like a know-it-all and nobody wants to be around you." Or, "Your jokes are sometimes funny the first time but never the fifth time." Or, "Is that cologne you're wearing or did you fall in an outhouse?"
These sound like mean things to say, but I knew this guy would be my friend from now on, no matter what. Therefore, I knew whatever he said to me was not intended to hurt me, but to help me. And by the way, I was just as brutally honest with him. We're still friends, and we still offer one another advice, though, to our credit, we have developed some tact over the years.
A friend will say to you what needs to be said, even if it hurts a little bit. With a true friend, both of you know that the words are really not intended to hurt, but to help. This is why Solomon said...
(27:6) Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
I'm a songwriter. A few of my songs have appeared on a few albums; each year when I get my royalty check I blow the whole thing on a trip to McDonald's. When I first started writing at the age of 19 I began approaching publishers in Nashville about using my songs. I remember one in particular. I got into his office and played my demo. As he listened, he kept saying, "These are good. We can do something with these. I think you've got something here." He was friendly, charming, and encouraging. When the meeting was over, he said, "Leave your tape and your phone number and I'll get back with you." I left his office on cloud nine, convinced that my songwriting career was about to blast off. A few days later, I dropped by his office again and asked the receptionist if I could see him. Their office building was small, so she stepped into the hall and said in the direction of his office, "Steve May wants to talk to you." He said, with a tone of condescension, "Tell Steve I only talk to people with talent." He paused and said, "Oh, what line is he on? I'll get rid of him myself." She said, "He's not on the phone. He's in the lobby." There was a very long pause, and he said, "Then tell him I'm busy."
I left his office absolutely crushed. Not because he said I didn't have talent—I had already heard that before. I was crushed because he had been so friendly during our first meeting. He pretended to be my buddy, he said such nice things, he acted like he wanted to help my career, and he didn't mean a word of it. Solomon's words are true: An enemy multiplies kisses. This means someone who isn't your friend will say whatever is easiest to say at the time; a true friend will be honest enough to say whatever needs to be said.
I don't want to give the impression that a friend says only negative things. That's not the case at all. A friend offers encouragement and support. A friend says things that build your confidence. A friend can be counted on to give worthwhile, uplifting advice. Solomon said...
(27:9) ...the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.
When choosing friends you need to ask yourself, "Is this a person I can turn to for counsel? Does this person have the capacity to say what needs to be said?" And you need to ask yourself, "Am I willing to be that kind of friend?" A friend says what needs to be said, out of a desire to help, not hurt. Thirdly...
3. A Friend Will Bring Out the Best In You
Solomon warns us to be cautious in choosing friends, because your friends' character rubs off on you. He said...
(22:24) Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.
The people you share your life with have the ability to influence you, so make sure you share your life with people of good character.
Remember Don Johnson of Miami Vice? When his career began taking off in the early seventies he got caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle and spent a decade taking drugs, abusing alcohol, and "living it up." In 1983 he finally got his life straightened out and got sober. He was asked once if he had any regrets. He said, "Yes, I regret wasting lots of time with a bunch of jerks that I wish I hadn't spent 10 minutes with now, let alone ten years."
How many times have you heard the phrase, "He got mixed up with the wrong crowd"? It happens too many times. Like it or not, we tend to be chameleons. We tend to act like the people we associate with, and sooner or later we tend to take on their values. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul warns us...
Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character. (1 Corinthians 15:33)
Whoever you become close to, whoever you bring into your inner circle, will have an influence on your life. So, seek out friends who can bring out the best in you. Solomon said...
(27:17) As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
It's interesting that two of John Elway's best seasons were the last two years of his career, and two of Dan Marino's worst seasons were the last two years of his career. Both men were exceptional athletes—two of the best in the NFL. Do you know what the difference was between them? Both got new coaches toward the end of their careers. John Elway and his new coach were best friends. Dan Marino and his new coach didn't like each other. Elway finished his career with a bang, winning two Super Bowls. Unfortunately for Marino, even though he was an incredible quarterback, he finished his career with a thud. Both men have admitted that their relationship with their coach made the difference.
Neither of those men could choose their coach. But we can choose our friends. Choose friends that make you sharp. Choose friends with qualities you admire, qualities that you want to see in your own life. Their character will ultimately rub off on you. Solomon said...
(13:20) He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.
I hope today's message will inspire you in at least two ways. First of all, if you don't have close friends—if you don't have an inner circle—I will hope you will begin to seek out people to share your life with. People of wisdom, character, and compassion. I hope you will be selective in choosing friends. And if you're involved in friendships that are dragging you down, I hope you will distance yourself from those people, at least until you are in a position of influence with them, so that you can bring them to a higher level of living as devoted followers of Christ.
Secondly, I hope today's message will inspire you to examine the kind of friend you are to others. You see, more than likely God has already put people in your life who need and deserve your friendship. But they need you to be the best kind of friend there is. They need you to hurt when they hurt. They need you to say what needs to be said in a way helps them become better. And they need you to bring out the best in them.
If you become that kind of person, if you're willing to be that kind of friend, it won't be long until you find yourself involved in friendships that will reward for the rest of your life.
© Steve May
A resource of Christianity Today International
Steve May has been a pastor to pastors for more than 20 years, helping preachers and teachers to become more effective communicators of the gospel.