Proverbs 18:24 – “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
The ancient Hebrew wisdom of Proverbs 18:24 could be translated a couple different ways but the main point comes down to this: quality over quantity. It’s more important to have a one or two good, true, friends than many “companions” who don’t stick around. The problem is that sometimes the familiarity of having a lot of “friends” (social media, weekly church services, etc) blinds us from the need for quality friends we can depend on. In other words, we can spend years frequently going to church and experiencing pleasant, surface-level, “community,” with dozens of acquaintances and actually end up feeling alone in a crowd if we haven’t developed true, deep, quality, friendships in that community. Those supposed friendships could be like a comforting background noise that turns to deafening silence when you really need someone closer than family. The bottom line is this – community isn’t enough if in that community we don’t develop actual, true, deep friendship!
While studying this Proverb I found 5 things I wish I knew sooner about friendship:
1. God has a much higher view of friendship than we do.
While studying through Proverbs it’s helpful to think of the wisdom in the book of proverbs like a set of blueprints; they are the schematics by which the world, including you and I, were created. Friendship is one of the recurring subjects that Proverbs touches on again and again as a fundamental area of the infrastructure of our life and faith. Some have even called the whole book of proverbs an exposition on friendship! As I studied the subject of friendship in the Proverbs and in our culture it became more and more clear that this essential part of our life is essentially extinct.
Loneliness is a huge problem in our world and especially in our North American culture. 3 out of 5 people today reportedly suffer from loneliness. Human society has never been more lonely. In contrast, we have never been more connected with the world through technology than we are today. We can call or FaceTime family and friends around the world, add more facebook friends every day, and attend as many zoom conferences and meetings as we want, but we still have a growing sense of being unknown, unloved, and alone.
In her recent book, Find Your People, author Jennie Allen describes how history has shown that we have sunk further into depression the more we climb higher in independence. The happiest places on earth are the places where communal living is still the norm. As villages have gained access to modern technology their depression has spike proportionately. As our society develops in industry and technology we have less and less need for each other.
C.S. Lewis was right when he observed that friendship has become “something quite marginal; not a main course in life’s banquet.” We see it as nothing more than the icing on the cake; a nice, optional add-on, but not really a high priority or necessity.
No matter how much we intentionally distance ourselves from people or even unintentionally shelter ourselves from others our bodies and souls are not convinced and they are good at keeping the score. As we neglect friendship in our lives the statistics are showing how important this factors in on our life and health! Loneliness is more of a health risk than obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and lack of access to health care. Loneliness is as damaging to our bodies as cigarette or alcohol damage. Lonely people are even 50% more likely to die prematurely than people who aren’t lonely.”
So, seeing what a high view God has on friendship and what a low view we have on friendship, I had to ask the Bible; how did we get here, why do we do this to ourselves, and how can we change?
2. Sin has deprived us of the friendships God intended for us.
I would agree that fundamentally friendship is challenging because, while people are arguably the greatest source of pleasure and joy in life, people are also the source of most pain and conflict we experience in life! We were made for each other, but we are completely dysfunctional with each other. To the extent we were made to love and build each other up, we end up hurting and tearing each other down. In fact, the closer you are to people the more we risk deeper betrayal and hurt. So, the more we let each other down the more we learn to “put another brick in our wall.”
The problem behind all of this is sin of course. The nature of sin has deprived us of good friendship on a personal and cultural level. This great design of God’s wisdom for our relationships has been deprived by rebellion and evil leading us to a total and drastic downgrade across the board. Essentially, we experience relational conflict not just between husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and friends, but with God Himself.
God is a personal, loving, Creator, sustainer, and provider. He knows us, loves us, and saves us. By nature we are made, programmed, and hard-wired to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Instead, we reject our Creator and savior all the time by taking self-honor and giving him dishonor. We take advantage of his goodness, we take credit when things go our way, and we blame Him when things don’t go well. From the first rebellion in Adam to you and I today, we have all inherited this selfish, independent, defensive posture.
Sin affects my friendships more than I thought. I often fail to be a good friend; lacking the necessary love, commitment, and honesty it takes to create and sustain deep friendships. All those elements have been tarnished by sin. Instead of selfless love I see friends only as useful to my convenience or advantage. Instead of opening my life to my friends in a consistent commitment I give only spare time to friendships and usually only when my life or my house is in order. Instead of giving my friendships honesty and vulnerability I keep people at arm’s length with my guard up.
I’m probably not the only one who struggles with this. This distance is something we’ve gotten used to living in to the point that friendship can seem, not just hard, but weird! Friendship has a deep history of showing love, commitment, and vulnerability. 1 Sam.18 says, “Jonathan loved him [David] as his own soul.” David said of Jonathan, “your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26 ESV). John 13:23 says, “Lying back on Jesus’ chest was one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved (NASB).”
Describing friendship or showing love like this seems strange today. Karl Deenick, reviewing the book, Made For Friendship by Drew Hunter, points this out saying, “there is a biblical, creational, not to mention trinitarian reason for such expressions of deep affection and friendship. If we find that weird, it’s not because it is weird. It’s because we’re weird. Our society has conditioned us to find biblical friendship peculiar.” To Quote C. S. Lewis again, “On a broad historical view it is, of course, not the demonstrative gestures of friendship among our ancestors but the absence of such gestures in our own society that calls for some special explanation.” Deenick concludes, and I agree, “From the vantage point, not only of history but, even more so, from the Bible’s portrayal of friendship, our modern experience of friendship looks incredibly thin.”
I would even add that it is not just society conditioning us to find friendship strange, but Satan who wants nothing more than death, destruction, and loneliness on the rise in the world and in the church. With friendship being the spiritual discipline and means of grace that it truly is, who else would be the biggest fan and proponent of loneliness but the one who must hate friendship so much? As it stands, instead of people being seen, known, and loved, we are lost, alone, and abandoned.
It’s heartbreaking to imagine 3 out of 5 neighbors thinking they don’t have anyone to talk to, to turn to, no one who will listen, no one who will understand, no one who will care, no one who can help. It breaks my heart to imagine that we too in the church have lost such a means of grace that our concept and practice of friendship has eroded to such a point as this.
3. The Gospel makes us friends with god
Sin can explain how we got here and why we keep doing this to ourselves, but the Gospel explains how we can and must change our practice of friendship. The same design God gave to Adam in perfection is the same design by which you and I are still made today despite the depravity of sin. When God created Adam in the garden He said It was not good for man to be alone. And it is still not good to be lonely. Normally everything we experience that is “not good” is a result of sin, but in this case, “Adam was not lonely because he was imperfect, but because he was perfect. The ache for friendship is the one ache that is not the result of sin … This is one ache that is part of his perfection.” – Tim Keller. Our capacity to know and love each other through relationships of all kinds from friendships to marriage was not lost in the Fall! Even more, God is still the same today, yesterday, and forever. So there is hope for us to live today the way God has intended for us to enjoy and experience friendship with Himself and one another by His grace and power. We should listen to the ache for friendship like a check-engine light signaling our need for help.
This relational design is not just something we inherited from Adam. We actually share this attribute with God in His Holy relational DNA as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; all glorifying each other in collaboration of creation and salvation as one God in three Persons. We get to know and enjoy and reflect God better by sharing in his relational nature. Just like children share genetic traits and personal mannerisms with their parents our relational attribute reflects something of the DNA we share with God our Father and His personal mannerisms as a loving and communal God. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Ephesians 5:1)
This concept is magnified in Jesus when he prays that we might be one as he is one with God (John 17:11, 21) and that you and I being reconciled together with him might experience something like the relational love of the Trinity (John 17:26). Jesus took this relational attribute and lived it out through ultimate love and friendship. Psalm 25:14 tells us, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” Jesus later fulfills this in saying, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends… No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:13-15)
In Christ we see the friend of sinners like you and I who lays down his life for us. Calling God our friend would seem borderline blasphemous if it were not actually true. But because of Jesus’ own perfect life of obedience to God and his substitutionary death on the cross for our sin, rebellion, and staunch independence, this is now true for you and I. When we were stuck in the hostility and rebellion of sin Jesus came to show us true love, sacrifice, and promise. Now, by the Gospel of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we will never be alone.
4. Friendship is redeemed by the Gospel.
Through our white hot and rock solid friendship with the Lord, now, our friendship can flow openly and generously and passionately out to others.
Just as statistics have helped reveal the reality and danger of loneliness, research has also helped identify some of the relational elements that make friendships work. Together with Scripture we also have common grace experience and observation that can help develop our understanding of friendship. Shasta Nelson, friendship enthusiast and author of Frientimacy: the three requirements of all healthy friendships, says that “frientimacy” requires three basic elements of positivity, consistency, and vulnerability.
Through the lens of the Gospel I think we could redeem or redefine some of the meaning behind those terms but I think there is truth in it. It so happens that these are the three elements I found lacking in my own poverty of friendship and I believe the Gospel provides these elements in ways you and I never could find on our own. In fact, no other community of people on earth can offer these crucial elements like brothers and sisters in Christ can offer in the church.
Now, instead of simple positivity we can actually contribute deep love toward one another. Loving one another includes rebuking and exhorting and reminding and encouraging and building each other up. We can not just bear each other down with sin but we can bear one another’s burdens from sin. This is crucial in our Christ-centered friendships.
Instead of simple consistency we can offer true commitment. We are committed to each other as brothers and sisters adopted by God and we are called to do life together, not just on Sundays, but involved in real life together throughout our week.
The term I agree on the most with Shasta is her point on vulnerability. While it is hard to be vulnerable, truthful, transparent, honest, and trustworthy, the Gospel makes this possible like nothing else in the world can. We can open our lives and hearts to one another because of what Christ has done for our sin and righteousness by his death and resurrection! “The security of Jesus’ love enables you to need less, and to love more.” – Keller
These principles are true for all of us. Many people (3 out of 5) are missing this essential component of friendship in their lives. By bringing friendship into the picture they can in fact live a more complete and healthy life. But, only the Gospel can bring this missing piece into the puzzle and then bring it to life. Many people can live a complete and healthy life and still be dead in sin. Christ came to give us life, and life abundantly, and that would be characterized by an increasing and abounding love for one another. Friendship will say a lot about who you are and what the church is to the world. The world will know we are disciples of Christ by our love for one another. Surely this means more than Sunday gatherings and small group meetings. It must include Gospel friendship.
“A church where there isn’t a rich culture of friendship is a church that hasn’t received the gospel in its entirety. …part of the work of the Gospel is to make our hearts like the heart of Jesus toward one another and to the wider world.” – Sam Allberry
5. we need more Gospel friendship in our churches:
Sundays: We gather with the church as friends. Our commitment to each other is a priority. We come ready to serve and encourage one another as friends. Imagine if we rethink kids ministry through the lens of friendship. Rather than seeing kids ministry as losing time from the worship service we can see this as gaining time with friends. Try making a commitment with friends at church to serve together once every 5 weeks. Most of all, see yourself as a friend to the children in your church. Your influence has an eternal impact on their lives! If the world is actively discipling our kids through the education system and media then the church should be even more proactive in discipling kids as friends they can trust! Apply this to any ministry at church like greeting at the door, setting up equipment, worship, etc.
Weekly: City Group is another context to commit to each other as friends, go above and beyond and out of your way to love your friends, invite them, come to them, serve them, and be served by them in normal ways outside of a weekly meeting. Eat dinner together. Vacation together. Have fun together. Change Group – This is the best context to be vulnerable, consistent, and encouraging. Find a group of 2-3 friends (men or women), set a place and time to meet every week, every other week, or as often as you can. Show up for each other and share, read, memorize, pray, encourage, and send each other out. Check in on each other. Ask each other the important and hard questions.
Your neighborhood: “Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away” (Prov. 27:10). Not only do we offer the Gospel of salvation to our neighbors but we also offer the community, friendship, and love in which we live out and demonstrate the Gospel. If your life is your greatest apologetic then your life in friendship is going to be one of the most effective tools for sharing the Gospel. Showing friendliness to a friendless world is exactly the kind of countercultural love the world needs at this very moment!
P.S. If you’ve read this far I know who my true friends are. Now like, share, and comment to see who your true friends really are 😉 haha JK, JK!