What makes a good friend?

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

 This post is adapted from a sermon I preached from Proverbs 27:5-17. If you’re interested in hearing more, feel free to follow my sermon podcast on Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioRepublic, or other podcast apps.

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
7 One who is full loathes honey,
but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.
8 Like a bird that strays from its nest
is a man who strays from his home.
9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
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.
11 Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad,
that I may answer him who reproaches me.
12 The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
but the simple go on and suffer for it.
13 Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger,
and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for an adulteress.
14 Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice,
rising early in the morning,
will be counted as cursing.
15 A continual dripping on a rainy day
and a quarrelsome wife are alike;
16 to restrain her is to restrain the wind
or to grasp oil in one’s right hand.
17 Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another.

Let’s look into our text and see how proverbs describes a faithful friend. First, we can see from our first text that a good friend is faithful. A good friend is faithful.

Listen to the words of Proverbs 17:17: “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” A good friend is faithful at all times. To use a modern expression: a good friend is not a fair-weather friend. He’s not there for you while the sun is shining, and then gone when the clouds come out. A good friend will stick by your side, no matter how ugly the situation gets. He is constant in his companionship. This is important because, as we will see later, there are some friends that seem wonderful, until the storm clouds come.

But what is being described here is a friend who will always be there, a friend that is willing and able to help in times of need. We see something similar to this in Proverbs 27:10, which says: “Do not forsake for friend or your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.” This proverb isn’t saying that family is unfaithful or unimportant. But what it is emphasizing is the need for us to cultivate deep relationships beyond our immediate family, because sometimes our family can be either unwilling or unable to come to our aid in the day of calamity. A good friend, however, will be faithful to come and help, faithful to drop what he is doing and rush in to help. A good friend is faithful.

Second, not only is a good friend faithful, but he is also loyal. A good friend is loyal. This is similar to the previous point, but deepens the relationship. Proverbs 18:24 tells us that “A man of many companions comes to ruin, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” This proverb is contrasting having a bunch of superficial friends that are of no help at all, and having one good friend who is closer to you than your own brother.

A faithful friend might be faithful to be present and to help, but a friend’s loyalty emphasizes that he is always on your side. He’ll fight for you. He’ll defend you. He’ll not abandon you. He’ll not sacrifice you or betray you when things get a little ugly. He’ll stick by your side, even when people start slinging the mud of accusation or slander. He’ll not run away or be ashamed of you when you soil yourself in sin again and again. He’s not afraid to be associated with you.

Have you had a friend like this? I hope you have. And doesn’t this kind of friend sound like Jesus? He was unafraid to be associated with the outcasts, with the sinners, with the drunkards, and the tax collectors, and the unclean of society. He was a good friend.

Now, lest we begin to think that a good friend is so loyal that he blindly follows, we can see from Proverbs that a good friend is also willing to speak hard truths. A good friend is willing to speak hard truths.

Proverbs 27:6 says that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, and profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Contrary to what we might think at first, being wounded by someone is sometimes the thing we most need. We think that we’d rather receive kisses, that we’d rather receive soft and affirming words all the time, we think we’d rather be praised and encouraged and coddled all the time. But that kind of flattery is ultimately hatred.

Instead, a true friend loves you enough to tell you when you’re wrong, to tell you when you’re off the mark, to tell you when you’re self-deceived, or prideful, or mistaken. One time when I was in Seminary I called home and was talking to a long-time friend of mine. I was recounting for him how things were going so well, I had just had another article published in a journal, I was selected to be a part of a prestigious group of leaders on campus, I was also offered a position as a teaching assistant for my doctoral supervisor. Things were really going well, and I was really somebody special. And my friend listened quietly, and he was decidedly unimpressed with all that talk, and he responded a comment about, “well somebody’s having a good time strutting his peacock feathers.” He spoke to me as only an old faithful friend can do, and he cut through all of my GOOD stuff to show that that I was really just parading about my own vanity. His wound was faithful, and I appreciate having friends that can do that to me. To love me enough to speak necessary truth to me, rather than just puffing me up with flattery and sending me on down the wide path of destruction.

Because that’s what an enemy does. An enemy flatters, which means he says something to your face that he’d never say behind your back. You can see these kinds of flatterers fluttering around anyone with power or influence. Whoever the president is, you can be sure that there are flatterers around, puffing him up, buttering him up, praising his legislation or his political acumen or his effectiveness or whatever. But they don’t really care about him, they are only flattering him so that they can benefit. They want to be appointed to some position, they want to be put in charge of some commission, they want to be associated with someone important because they want to be important. And as soon as it becomes more beneficial for them, they will turn on the president at the drop of a hat, and all those kisses are revealed to be nothing more than arrows.

Flattery exists in the church too. Some want to flutter around people in leadership or people with influence or people with money, and they’ll comment about how good they look today, or how great the message was today, or how blessed they were by this or that, when in reality they’re just kisses. They don’t mean any of it. They just want to be in the good graces of the person their kissing. That’s sin. That’s lying, and a particularly insidious kind of lying because it appears in the moment to be godly encouragement.

And flattery is also idolatry. You’re puffing them up only so that they’ll reciprocate and bless the idol of yourself. You’re praising them in the hopes that they will turn around and tell you how beautiful you look today, or how good of a teacher you are, or how good of a parent you are to you kids.

Have you ever caught yourself doing that? Praising someone’s appearance or their work, so that you seem to be a really great person. Or commending something about someone else SO THAT they will turn around and notice something about you? You can see this in little children. One of them has a new dress on, but rather than being so crass as to ask you if you like her new dress, she walks up and says, “Oh, I just love what you’re wearing today,” and then just pauses to make sure you have time to notice her dress and comment on it. She’s not really concerned about praising your appearance, she just wants you to notice hers. That’s flattery, and vanity, and it is sin.

Do you find yourself tempted to speak in this way? To praise others so that you might be praised? To elevate others so that you might be elevated? When you begin to look for it, you’ll see that it is a lot more common and a lot more blatant than you first thought. And flattery, even though it is social accepted, and even expected, is not merely unseemly or distasteful when exposed. It is sinful. It’s a violation of a holy God who speaks nothing but truth.

There’s not a single word that ever came from his mouth that was anything less than absolute truth. His word is spoken of in the bible as being like precious metal that has been refined 7 times, until absolute purity, free from any dross or imperfection. And when he sent his very own son, he sent his very Word, as the apostle John calls him. And what did Jesus say of himself, he said, “I am the way and the TRUTH.” There is nothing impure or distasteful in him. He never buttered up his superiors with flattery. He never spoke sweet words in a self-serving way. He wasn’t guilty of speaking empty words of praise so that others might say how encouraging he was or how kind he was or how sweet he was. He was not an enemy, profuse in kisses.

In fact, his wounds are faithful. For those of us who have come to faith in Christ, when Christ wounds us by conviction, when he reveals to us our sin by the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, it’s not unkindness. It’s not mean-spirited. It’s not vindictive. Those are faithful wounds of a friend. When God shows us our blind spots and opens our eyes to our weaknesses, he’s loving us in a deeply profound way. He’s not a disguised enemy who tries to get in close in order to stab us in the back; he’s a surgeon, cutting away the infection so that we might be healed. He is a good friend who is not afraid to speak hard truths, rather than an enemy, profuse in his empty kisses.

Fourth, not only is good friend faithful, loyal, and willing to speak hard truth, but a good friend will gladden the heart. A good friend will gladden the heart.

Proverbs 27:9, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.”

In a time when bathing was not nearly as convenient as it is today, the use of scented lotions and oils was a welcome luxury. Likewise, to greet a friend with oil was a sign of hospitality and respect. Think if Psalm 23, “he anoints my head with oil, my cup overflows.” Such actions made one’s heart glad, warms the soul, and makes one cherish the bond of friendship between the two.

Now, the second part of the verse is a little debated. But I think it is best to just interpret it as building off of the first part. Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and so does a man’s counsel to his friend. Simple luxuries like oil and perfume make life a little sweeter, and likewise, a friend who gives wise counsel.

Our friendships are divinely ordained blessings that can be the occasions for gladness of heart. Have you ever been down in the dumps and entered into a conversation with a friend, only to conclude that conversation with a glad heart? That’s the blessing of having a good friend. Some people can make your heart sing, can help you to see through the complexities of life with their sharp wisdom, can give you hope when all around you seems hopeless, and can help you cheer up, even though you were down. That reminds me of the song about friendship in the old Jungle book movie:

When you’re alone
Who comes around
To pluck you up
When you are down
And when you’re outside, looking in
Who’s there to open the door?
That’s what friends are for!

Are you the kind of friend that can gladden the heart? Do you leave people with more peace and joy than when they arrived? Or are you critical, harsh, demeaning, hopelessly pessimistic? It is worth us thinking about, and asking of ourselves. Do I make hearts glad, or do I rob people of gladness? Am I a good friend?

Next, not only is a good friend faithful, loyal, willing to speak hard truth, and is one who gladdens the heart, a good friend knows WHEN to speak. A good friend knows WHEN to speak.

Look down a few verses to Proverbs 27:14: “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.” This neighbor, this friend, thinks he’s blessing his buddy, and he might actually be saying nice words of blessing, but because he does it at a terrible time, at the crack of dawn, his buddy isn’t having any of it. He doesn’t care how nice the words are, those words hit him just like a curse.

Parents, if you have small children, you might have experienced this. I have had a small child wake me up before dawn in order to tell me good morning. In that moment, that sweet little “good morning,” was received as a curse. I was not happy.

On the other hand, Proverbs 25:11 tells us what proper timing is like. It says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold set in pure silver.” That means that well-chosen words spoken at the appropriate time are like beautiful objects of the finest craftsmanship and value. A wise friend will be able to speak exactly the right word at the right time to be a blessing to the hearer, as opposed to the foolish friend that speaks a right word but at a wrong time, and curses rather than blesses.

Are you the kind of friend that gives great forethought to what he is going to say, and carefully weighs not merely what he will say, but when and how he will say it? When you have an idea or a thought, do you just toss it out or call up your buddy, without giving first thought to what they might be doing at the moment, or how you might be interrupting them? A kind friend weighs his words, and considers when and how might be the best time to bless his friend with them.

So far we’ve seen that a wise friend is faithful, loyal, willing to speak hard truth, gladdens the heart, and knows when to speak. But, Proverbs doesn’t only give us positive examples of how to be a good friend. It also gives us negative examples of friends to avoid.

For example, turn over to Proverbs 19. Proverbs 19:4, 6, and 7 teach us about how some friends are friends in name only. Some friends are friends in name only. Proverbs 19:4, 6-7 says, “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend. [Down to verse 6] 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.”

Here it is simply observed that when one encounters material prosperity, that many new friends will arrive. And, the converse is true, when one encounters financial ruin, all those friends will depart. There are many false “friends” who only come around when it benefits them, and when the benefits dry up, so does their interest. They’re not true friends, born for adversity, but are friends in name only, born for prosperity.

A big crowd of these nominal friends might give us the false impression that we are really loved, but that is all a charade. When the wine stops flowing, when the accolades die down, when the cash has run out, you’re left with even less than you had at the beginning, because although you might have been poor at the beginning, now you are poor and heartbroken. It reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son. When he was spending all of his inheritance he had all sorts of people that wanted to be his friends. But when the money dried up, where did he end up. Not at the house of his friend, not in his buddy’s bed, not at the table of his companion. He ended up in the pig pen eating slop from a trough.

We must be wary of people that only seem to be interested in us when it suits them. Young ones, take careful note of the kind of friends that you keep. Are they your friend because it gets them something, it benefits them somehow? Or are they your friend out of virtuous motives?

Similarly, we can be tempted to befriend people, and to only do so out of selfish motives. This guy is a mover and a shaker, and I want to make sure I’m on his good side, so he’ll remember me from the top. This girl is always so generous, I’m going to stick near her so that I can try and get in on the generosity.

Proverbs warns us about some “friends” who are only friendly while the benefits flow, and we must be on guard against that.

Similarly, and finally, Proverbs warns us that there are some “friends” that can lead us astray. There are some people that posture themselves as our friends, but in the end just lead us astray. To go back to a Proverb that we looked at earlier, Proverbs 18:24 says that, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”

This proverb is contrasting the superficial friend with a true friend, and it says that a man that is surrounded by these superficial, self-centered companions may come to ruin. There is wisdom and safety in being surrounded by many wise counselors, but there is much danger in being surrounded in superficial companions.

When we surround ourselves with friends motivated by vanity and self-interests, then we don’t have to be shocked when they begin to act in their own self-interests, even to our own great detriment.

For example, if someone around you is willing to gossip TO you, then you can take it to the bank that they would gossip ABOUT you. If someone is willing to gossip TO you, then you can bet your bottom dollar that they’d gossip ABOUT you.

Or, if we surround ourselves with these fools, then we we’re setting up our own demise. Paul talks about this twice in 1 Corinthians. He says in 1 Corinthians 5:6 that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump,” and he says in 15:33, “bad company corrupts good morals.” Bad company corrupts good morals. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are or what your worldview is or how many you hope to evangelize, if you’re surrounding yourselves with bad company, you’re going to be corrupted.

I had an old football coach that would put it in terms that even the simplest could understand: he’d say that “if you lay with dogs, you’re gunna get fleas.” I heard that in 7th grade and thought he was the most hillbilly old man I had ever met. Now looking back, I was the fool for not listening.

If I could plead with our young people for a minute, If I could go back and give myself 1 piece of advice as I entered high school and went throughout college, I would probably give this warning about friends: bad company corrupts good morals. Choose your friends wisely because you will become like them. Choose your friends wisely because you will become like them. If I had listened to this, I would have saved my life a lot of grief and heartache. And I bet you if you ask your parents about this on the car ride home, I bet you they will tell you the same thing.

The influence of our companions is true negatively and positively. If you surround yourself with vain people, you’ll end up further down the road of vanity. If you end up with those that drink too much, you’ll end up drunk. If you surround yourself with bitter, envious people, you’ll end up jealous too.

But, if you surround yourself with wise friends that encourage you with truth, then you’ll end up encouraged in the Lord. If you surround yourself with kind people, you’ll begin to grow in kindness. If you surround yourself with wise people, you’ll grow in wisdom.

If you lay with dogs, you’ll get fleas, but if you travel with the wise, you’ll grow in wisdom. Our friends will either lead us astray, or lead us in righteousness. They’ll drag us further from Christ, or they’ll point us to Christ.

As a conclusion, I want to point us again to Jesus and help us to see how he really is our greatest friend.

Jesus is like the wise friend who is faithful, even in the hard times. Psalm 46 says that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. God’s is present with us, even when we’re at our lowest, when we’ve returned again to our sin like a dog returns to its vomit, as proverbs says.

Likewise, Jesus is loyal to us, never to depart. He tells us that he will never leave us or forsake us. He’s not a fair weathered friend, but has promised to be our high priest forever. He our advocate, he’s our permanent companion, and our ever-present help.

Also, Jesus is a faithful friend that is unafraid to speak hard truth. He doesn’t flatter us, butter us up, tell us one thing while all the while meaning another. He speaks the truth in love every time. He is the faithful friend, who only wounds when necessary, and does so with absolute gentleness and love. He won’t snuff out a smoldering wick, or break a bruised reed, the bible says, which means he is never harsh, and never over bearing. He never speaks out of both sides of his mouth. But speaks to us through his word and his spirit. Christ is the faithful friend we all need.

And, unlike the false friends that may try to surround us, Christ never comes under false pretenses. In fact, so far from being false is he that he called himself THE TRUTH in John 14. He is the sum total of all truth, the culmination of all veracity, and the apex of all reliability. There has never been a friend more faithful than Jesus.

And unlike foolish “friends” that we meet in this life, he will never lead us astray. In fact, not only can he not lead us astray, be he himself IS OUR WAY. He says that also in John 14:6. He is the path of righteousness, he is the narrow road, he is our walkway of wisdom. He can’t not lead us to truth and righteousness, and it is impossible for him to lead us astray. There’s never been a friend as faithful and true as him, never been a companion as righteous and loving as him, and never been a buddy more valuable to have.

Do you have Christ as your friend? Then cherish his friendship and model your companionship after his. Seek to be a faithful friend like him, and not merely to those that are easy to love. The real test of our companionship is how friendly we are to those people that are harder to love.

Are you a good friend to those people that annoy you? Are you a good friend to those people that have nothing to possibly offer you? Or to those awkward people in your life? Or to those that are a little rough around the edges? Or to those whose friendship might actually cost you, or cost your reputation? That’s the true test of what kind of friends we are. And if we have Jesus as our friend, then we can begin to grow in our ability to be faithful friends. Press on in that good endeavor, strive to be faithful companions, and thereby point back to the faithfulness of our friend Jesus.

But, if you do not have Christ as your friend, then I must warn you, that you have him as your enemy. And he will be a fierce enemy. His offers to you this night the ability to be reconciled to God through Christ’s faithful work on the cross. He went to the Cross for his friends and died for their very sins, and if you repent and believe this night you too can have him of your savior and friend. But if you choose instead to disbelief, to remain in your sins, then he will come to you, but not as a friend. He will come as the judge of the living and the dead, and he will separate his friends and his enemies, casting the enemies into a place of eternal punishment. Let not your fate be eternal pain and destruction; rather, choose him this very night, for you can know no better friend, and have no sweeter companion.


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