A true friend is a real treasure. To have someone in whom you can confide, someone who knows the best and worst about you without making you feel like a fool, is to have found something precious. We could all use someone like Jonathan, who strengthened David “in God” (1 Sam. 23:16). We all need someone like Timothy, who was intensely committed to the good of others (Phil. 2:20).
Despite the instantaneous communication we can have with each other today, so many of us feel empty and alone. We may have more interaction with people, but unlike David and Jonathan or Paul and Timothy, our relationships are often stuck near the surface, superficial and ephemeral. Recovering a biblical vision of friendship—along with turning to our most vital friend, Christ—can help us take a few steps toward filling our relational emptiness.
Three Characteristics of Real Friendship
The book of Proverbs offers us a window into at least three traits of a godly friend. It’s a good starting place for discovering what we should look for in a friend and what sort of friend we should strive to be for others.
First of all, a true friend is always loyal. Godly, biblical friendship is marked by consistency. “A friend,” says Proverbs 17:17, “loves at all times” (emphasis added). In other words, true friendship is not based on success. It’s not based on circumstances. It’s not based on looks or on style, on money or possessions. A friend stays through thick and thin, through success or failure, even through offense. Loyalty always undergirds true friendship.
A real friend forbears and forgives. “A friend loves at all times”—not just when the skies are blue and the sun shines brightly.
We all have bad days and bad weeks. We’re not always pleasant to be around. Admittedly, we don’t always even want to be around ourselves! But a real friend forbears and forgives. “A friend loves at all times”—not just when the skies are blue and the sun shines brightly.
Friendship is also marked by honesty. Proverbs 27:6 says something that may seem rather backward to us at first: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Don’t we receive wounds from enemies and hugs from friends? Don’t friends build us up while only those who dislike us seek to harm us? Not necessarily, says Solomon! We need to realize that genuine friends are prepared to wound us in order that we might become all that God intends us to be. In the pain of the wound, there may well be progress on the journey. A genuine friend points out our blind spots to us—even when it’s painful—and then helps us clear away the mists.
Proverbs also gives us this wisdom: “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue” (28:23). Superficial acquaintances might try to flatter us with some ulterior motive, but a friend goes deeper than shallow pleasantries. This isn’t to say that a friend never has anything nice or encouraging to say; friends certainly should compliment and bless one another! But a true friend is not afraid to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
A godly friend will be not only honest but sensitive as well. It won’t do to wound and not bind up. Listen again to Solomon: “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’” (Prov. 26:18–19). Even if we’re not even trying to deceive anyone outright, we can do a lot of damage with insensitive and coarse joking.
James reminds us of the power of the tongue: “The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (3:5). You can break a heart with just a word or two, and it may take a lifetime to repair it. A bit of banter and some ribbing among friends is normal, but in our loyalty and honesty, we must always remain sensitive.
As we look at these standards, we recognize that all of us fall short, probably in more ways than one. So when we inevitably fail our friends, and when they fail us, where do we turn? The answer is that we find our truest friend in none other than the Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ.
During His earthly ministry, the scope of Jesus’ friendship frequently got Him into trouble. As a friend to tax collectors and sinners, He upset the religious establishment (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34). Whether it was the hated tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10), the ostracized Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7–30), or countless others, Jesus entered the lives of those who needed Him, showing them love and caring even when others had rejected them. And He shows us the same love and care today.
Extending friendship like Christ’s will cost us—sometimes a lot. But when His divine peace guards your heart and mind, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
We should all ask God both to give us Christlike friends and, perhaps more importantly, to help us be Christlike friends to others. We need our friends to point us to Christ, just as they need us to do the same for them. Extending friendship like Christ’s will cost us—sometimes a lot—just as it cost Him. But when His divine peace guards our hearts and minds (Phil 4:7), we will have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Christian, in Jesus you have a friend who is loyal. He will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5), and He has promised to be with you always (Matt. 28:20). He is also honest, speaking truth (1 Peter 2:22) and bearing the very name “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11). He is a sensitive friend who will not break a bruised reed nor extinguish a feebly burning wick (Matt. 12:20). “What a friend we have in Jesus”!1
This article was adapted from the sermons “True Friendship” and “Friendship” by Alistair Begg.