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The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that we were made for relationship with God and others. In this sermon, we will learn truths about friendship found within Scripture, including the circle of friendship, character of friendship, and constancy of friendship. We will learn principles to guide our development in friendships and discernment when selecting people to invite into our lives. Our goal is to be equipped so that these relationships bring growth instead of harm. We need to have a grip on what Scripture says about friendship and understand the importance and beauty of loving relationships in life.
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Well, let’s take our Bibles, and turn to Proverbs 17:17. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” That’s our text. We’re going to use it this morning as a springboard to pick up the theme of friendship as we find it in The Book of Proverbs. “A friend loves at all times.” A few years back, Pepper Rodgers, the main coach of the UCLA football team, was in the middle of a terrible and horrible season. Scores were dying, crowds were becoming impatient, in fact, it got so bad that it upset his home life. He had no shoulder to lean on, even at home. He recalls, “My dog was my only friend. I told my wife that a man needs at least two friends, so she bought me another dog.” Can you imagine that? The guy needing a shoulder to lean on, and he gets the cold shoulder. This little story, I think, opens us up to the thought that the console, the company, and the comfort of other people is so essential and indispensable to human life and living.
We cannot be all that we might be without the help of others. The Bible teaches that, history proves that, and their own personal experience reinforces that. Two is always better than one. That’s the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. The need for friendship, the need for relationships with others is in our DNA. Someone has said that we have been created by God. We are born into relationships, and those relationships will determine the fulfillment of our human potential. We were created in the image of God. We were not built for isolation, either social or spiritual. We were made for communion with God and community with others. In Genesis 1:26-27, we read that God said to himself, “Let us,” interesting, let us plural, “make man in our own image after our own likeness.” And, that’s what God did. He made them male and female, after his own image and after his own likeness.
I want you to notice, there, that God himself is a society. Do you ever think about that? We believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit indissolubly one in nature, but distinct in person, existing in community with each other. Therefore, to me, an extrapolation of the doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that you and I, created in God’s image, stamped with his likeness, must live in society, must live in community. God exists in society and we, too, must exist in society. Friendship and fellowship with others is part of our DNA. It’s what makes us human. It’s part and parcel of our nature. It’s a need to us to relate to other people. When that’s absent, we feel it keenly. Life is meant to be a duet, a trio, a quartet, a quintet, a choir, a mighty symphony.
It is not good that man should be alone. God knows that. You and I need to understand that. God has so fashioned it that we cannot become our true self, and we cannot become our best self, without the help of others. Listen to these words of a writer. “What we are becoming in any given moment is determined by our relationships with those who love us, or refuse to love us, with those we love, or refuse to love.” See? The I grows out of the we. If Adam was to be his true self, if Adam was to be his best self, Adam needed Eve. The I grows out of the we. Our identity, our true self is discovered in community with other people. We were not built for isolationism, or individualism.
One writer said this, “Our best friends help us to become our best selves, which is why we are always better for having spent time with them. It is in the company of good friends that we come to understand better what life was meant to be for us, the kind of person we ought to become, and what will readily make us happy and free. Good friends not only change us, they make us better person.” Is it any wonder that Aristotle said, “Without friendships, no one would choose to live, even if they had all other good things.” I think that’s true. That’s why you and I should not be surprised that The Book of Proverbs, which presents itself as a manual for successful living, as wisdom that will give us skill for living, that it would address the subject of friendship and relationships. If you and I are to make a success of our life, you and I have got to learn how to properly relate to other people. We cannot become what we might be without the help of others.
Association is good for us. I like the story of the old boy from the backwoods in Kentucky, who took his bone lazy donkey down to the Kentucky Derby, and he tried to enter it into that premium race. As you can imagine, he was stopped at the gate, got no further, and told in no uncertain terms that, “Donkeys are not allowed to enter the Kentucky Derby. This is the premier horse race in the United States. Only thoroughbreds from the best stables race in this race.” Then, to boot, he was reminded, “Even if we did have that policy, come on, Mr. Think about it. No donkey’s going to outrun a thoroughbred horse.” Well, before he left, the old man said, “Well, I understand that he wouldn’t win the race. I thought if I could get him to enter the race, the association would do him good.”
An association is good, not only for donkeys and horses, but for human beings. We are able better to exist, persist, consist, and resist in the company of other people. I want you to write down a statement, if you’re taking notes. I want you to think about it. It’s a simple statement, but profound in its implication. “You cannot be happy, and neither can you be holy, apart from other people.” That’s a biblical statement. “You cannot be happy, neither can you be holy, apart from the company of other people.” So, let’s come to The Book of Proverbs, here, and learn some things about friendship. Here’s something to bear in mind as we look at our text. It is a natural need for us to have friends, but I’m not sure we have natural knowledge about how to be friends. That’s why we need the instruction, the insight, the perspective, of these wise writers and their writing.
Well, look at our text. “A friend loves at all times.” There’s three things, here. I want you to see a circle of friendship, the character of friendship, and the constancy of friendship. Let’s look at the first thought here, the circle of friendship. This text assumes, it’s embedded in the thought of the text, that you and I are going to exist and extend ourselves within a circle of friends. So, this text wants us to understand what we ought to be looking for in others, and what they ought to be looking for in us. “A friend loves at all times.” Folks, we are like Lego. You ever play with Lego? Lego was made to be joined together. You and I were made to join with others. You and I are expected to live within a circle of companionship. A well-rounded life will be lived within that circle.
The Book of Proverbs assumes that. This is a book addressing the issues of life, and this is a book, on multiple occasions, that talks about friendship. It is assumed that you and I will seek friends, and others will seek to be our friend. Now, since we’re talking about this circle in which we live, we live in the company of others who we seek to befriend. What are some of the things we need to be thinking about? Well, I’ve got two general thoughts, here, I want to develop. Number one, it’s what I call a principle of development, and secondly, what I call a pattern of discernment. I want to talk about developing friendship, and how you do that. Then, I want to talk about how you need to be discerning while you develop those friendships.
Let’s look at the principle of development. Let’s go to Proverbs 18:24. Now, you need to have a King James, or a New King James, to get this because there is a textual issue, here. Some versions render this verse differently, i.e., the NIV or the NASB. If you’ve got one of those, it probably reads, “A man who has many friends will be brought to ruin.” There is a reading, and there is a rendering, that could read like this. Proverbs 18:24 in the New King James. Here’s what we find, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly.”
There’s the key to developing rich and enriching friendships. If you want to have a friend, what does the text teach you? You need to be a friend. That’s what I call the principle of development. If you are not friendly, you will be friendless. “A man who has friends must himself be friendly.” If you find someone that people gravitate to, you’ll find a person in the middle of that circle, or smack dab in the middle of that group, who’s a very attractive person. I’m not speaking physically. They’re a great person to be about. They’re friendly. They’re inviting. They’re interesting. They’re Godly. They’re Christ-like. They’re a joy to be with.
I think the greatest thing that could be said about you and I would be this, “What’s there not to like about him?” “What’s there not to like about her?” We’re not talking about perfection. We’re all developing our character. We’re all growing into likeness to Jesus Christ. But, if you think about this, friendship is based on attraction. It’s based on a certain mutuality. There’s something about that other person that you sense is magnetic, that draws you to them. There may be common interests, common pursuits, but that person will themselves be friendly. There’ll be something attractive about them. You see, we make this mistake in our relationships that we think that to have friends it depends upon finding the right kind of person. When in reality, The Book of Proverb says it depends upon you being the right kind of person. If you’re the right kind of person, the right kind of people will come to you. “A man who has friends must himself be friendly.”
Before you decide that church is not a very friendly place, or the youth group is rather cold, or your ABF is rather aloof, go home and look in the mirror. Ask yourself, “You know what? Have I sought to be a friend to the people of this church? Have I sought to reach out to the young people in my group? Have I invited someone over to my home within the ABF class? The Bible teaches me that I’ve got to reach out. The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Stand over here, and wait for everybody to come to you.’ Come love me. Doesn’t matter what I am, what I do, just love me for who I am.”
The Book of Proverbs says, “That’s silly. It’s not wise. It’s not practical. It’s not realistic. You’d be standing there by yourself for quite a long time. If you want to have friends, show yourself friendly. Let there be something natural and supernaturally attractive about you. May you have a charming and noble character.”
Look at Proverbs 22:11, and see if you don’t see what I’m saying in the text, here. Proverbs 18:24, “He that would have friends must himself be friendly.” Look at Proverbs 22:11, “He who loves purity of heart, and has grace on his lips the king will be his friend.” This verse is saying, “Hey, do you want to catch the attention of other people? Can you imagine, even a king? You want to catch the attention of important, influential people? Well, let me ask you, is there a purity of heart? Is there an integrity of life? Is there an honesty in your dealings? Do you use grace when you speak? Do you speak with honesty? Do you speak kindly and faithfully about other people?” See, there’s a verse again saying, “Look, before you look towards others, look to yourself. Make sure you’re working on yourself so that yourself are attractive to other people.”
I thought about this. Christians should be charming people. I mean that, charming people. I’ll tell you why. The word for grace in the Greek is karis, and the word for joy in the Greek is chara. The word for gift in the Greek is charismata. Charming people are people who have been graced with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who know the joy of sins forgiven, and the joy of having a relationship with God, and the joy of having heaven as a destination. They’re the kind of people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is changing them, and enabling them to become like the Lord Jesus.
The Christian ought to be charming, marked by grace, and joy, and giftedness. When you and I are developing our relationship with God in obedience to his word, in union with his Son, in the power of his spirit, we will become attractive people. Christians ought to be charming people, interesting, inviting, warm people. As I’ve said, I’m not encouraging perfection, or pickiness. We’ve all got warts. When Cromwell was having his portrait painted, he said to the artist in England, “Paint me, warts and all.” We’ve all got warts. I’m not saying that. We all got blemishes. There are things in my life, right now, I need to be working on. There’s things in your life that you need to fix. People need to come to you and me, even at this point in our life, and see, “You know what? We are growing in grace. We look like the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s a charm and a nobility about our character that would invite them to know us, and want to know us.”
Can I say something to you? People can change and grow. In general, friendless people are usually those who do not work hard at being a friend, or making a friend. Nine times out of 10, if you’re friendless, it’s your fault. That’s a general truth that The Book Proverbs sets before us as a principle. Friendless people like themselves the way they are, without realizing that nobody likes them the way they are. Mm. They have jagged edges to their character. They cut people when they try to get close. They lack social skills. They don’t know how to enter a room, engage a person in conversation. They don’t know when to be quiet. They don’t know how to address a person. They’re known for gossip. They break confidences. They dominate the conversation. They draw attention to themselves. They’re usually uninteresting, shabbily dressed. They don’t brush their teeth. There’s egg hanging out the side of their mouth, and they haven’t deodorized. Then they wonder, “You know what? Why don’t people like me?”
I’m exaggerating. Right? I’m not encouraging us to walk by down-and-out people. That’s not the point I’m making. Or, disadvantaged people. I’m talking about people who should know better, and do better, but they’re lazy. They just want people to accept them. When the Bible says, “No. You work on being a friend if you want to have friends. You develop your own character. You don’t be the type of person who’s fixing everybody else without taking yourself to the workshop, or the woodshed.”
Let me give you a list of things to think about, here. Here’s some of the things you ought to be wearing when you want to meet a friend. This is the dress code of friendship. Romans 13:14, we don’t have time to turn to it. You know what that verse says? “Put on the Lord Jesus, and make no provision for the flesh.” Become like the Lord Jesus, read his word, and then ask him in prayer, through his spirit, to make you more like him. Put him on, and as you put him on and become like him, you’ll become attractive to others. People will be attracted to you like they were attracted to him because they can see him in you.
It says, in the Bible, that common people heard him gladly. People flocked around the Lord Jesus Christ. It says in Titus 2:10, “Adorn yourself with the doctrine of God.” That word adorn, there, in the Greek is a word that gives us our word cosmetics. Beautify yourself with doctrine. Don’t be a hero only, but a doer also. Take the word of God, and live it out. Live according to God’s plan, and according to God’s purpose. Take on the image and the likeness of God. Pattern your life after the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will become attractive to other people.
Ephesians 4:20-24, tells us to put on the new man and put off the old man. See, the call to faith in Jesus Christ is a call to be changed. God’s not going to leave us the way we are. As we work out, through fear and trembling, what he’s working in, we’re going to change. We’re going to put off the old man and put on the new man. We’re going to metamorphose. We do that through reading God’s Word, by breaking the back of sins holed in our life through dependence upon the Holy Spirit, by letting God put his finger on our life, and saying, “That needs to change.” Then, sitting down with the help of God’s Word, and dependence upon God’s spirit, perhaps with accountability from other believers, and actually setting a course of action that will bring about that change, of repenting and renewing oneself through the spirit. You will become like a new man. That’s attractive.
I Peter 5:5, “Clothe yourself with humility.” Wouldn’t that be attractive? To understand what you are before God, not to be jealous of other people’s gifts or possessions, but just to be happy, at ease and balanced in a true knowledge of yourself, and what you are in Jesus Christ, and what you are before others. Proverbs 31:25 says, “Put on strength and honor.” Isaiah 61:3 says, “Dress yourself up in the garments of praise.” Think about that. You put on the Lord Jesus, adorn yourself with the doctrine of God, put on the new man, clothe yourself with humility, dress yourself in the garments of praise. You’ll become a pretty attractive person. People will want to make you their friend, and you’ll be the best kind of friend. That’s the principle of development. When we seek to be what God wants us to be, and what others need us to be, we will have more than a dog for a friend.
Let me tell you a story that R. Kent Hughes tells in his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man. He talks about a wise, old farmer who was working beside the road when a family, who was driving towards the nearby town, stopped. They were about to move into that town. They were relocating, and so they engaged the old man about what the culture was like, and the community was like. They asked him if the town was friendly. The old guy said, “Well, I really can’t determine that. It wouldn’t really be my place.” The people pressed him for an answer so he decided to ask them a question in return. He said, “Well, tell me this. What was the town like, you came from?” They answered him, “It was terrible. The people were cold. The people were rude. The mindset was small-minded.” The old farmer looked at them and said, “That is just how you will find this town.”
You get his point? That’s what they were like, and they were projecting their problems onto other people. If you’re going to be a friend, you, yourself, must be friendly. We need to be consciously cheerful. We need to ask questions of other people. We need to place ourselves in situations where friendships happen. We need to do those things that make friendships happen.
Which brings me to a second thought. Not only do we have a principle of development, but what I call a pattern of discernment. It needs to be said here, lest I be misunderstood, that seeking a friend is not the same as seeking to fit in with others, at all costs. When I talk about being attractive, I’m not talking about becoming all things to all men, to changing your core commitments, and your theological commitments, and your values for life, just to fit in. That’s not what we’re talking about, here. When you develop a friendship, you must develop it with discernment. While all of us need friends, we need to understand that not everybody should be our friend, and not everybody can be our friend.
Listen to Proverbs 13:20. Turn there with me, Proverbs 13:20, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You and I need to be discerning because it’s a flat eyed fact that we become like those we spend time with. Those people that we invite into our life to influence us through friendship, or partnership, or companionship, those people will either help us, or harm us. They will either build us up, or they will bring us down. They will either feed us, or they will eat us alive. Proverbs says, 13:20, “He who walks with the wise will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” Okay. We need friends, and we need to be friendly to have friends, but watch who you make a friend. Are they a fool, or are they wise? Are they righteous, unrighteous? Are they a friend of God, or are they a friend of the world? Will they make you a friend of God, or a friend of the world? Be careful.
In fact, back up into 12:26, this is a verse for your young people. This is a verse for all of us. “The righteous should choose his friends,” did you notice, “carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.” That word there, careful, is used elsewhere in the Hebrew text to speak of a man searching out land, a prospector. He’s looking at a parcel of land. He explores it. He evaluates it. He wonders if it’ll hold its price. “Is it good prime real estate? Can it be developed at a profit? Will it meet the needs of his family, or his business?” So, he takes a good hard look before he signs any kind of contract. That’s the word that’s used, here. This verse is encouraging us to explore and evaluate prospective friendships, to select our friends prudently, to enter upon friendships carefully.
If I might put it like this, friendship is a walled garden. It is not an open field. Not everybody can be your friend. Okay? You can only have so many friends, but more importantly, not everybody should be your friend. You might find yourself in their company, a companion with fools. That will bring you to ruin. You need to make sure that that’s a wise and a righteous person you’re about to make your friend.
You and I need to distinguish between what I call VIPs and VDPs. Let me tell you the difference. A VIP is a very important person, sent to you by God, who’s going to develop you, a friend who’s going to love you at all times. That’s a VIP, a very important person. If you’ve got one of them, if you’ve got two of them, keep them. If you haven’t got one or two of them, go find them. They’re very important. They will develop your talent. They will encourage you to live out the fullness of God’s plan for your life.
There are VDPs, very dangerous people, who Satan sends to destroy you. There are people who cannot be your friend, and should not be your friend. We need to make friends with those who are good for us, spiritually and socially. We need to avoid those who will make us a friend of the world. Spurgeon said this, “A man is known by the company he keeps, as well as the company he shuns.” How true. You see, a healthy person cannot communicate their health, but a sick person can give you the cold. There are some people who will give you a spiritual cold, some people who will make you ill, some people who will cause you to go off the boil spiritually, give you the shivers.
That’s why I love the verse back in Psalm 119. Psalm 119:63. Listen to this. Psalm 119:63, “I am a companion of all those who fear you and of those who keep your precepts.” That’s a great verse. Make friends of those who fear God, who will make you fear sin, who will give you respect for eternal things, and who will walk after the counsel of God’s Word. They make the best of friends.
In fact, just for a few moments, I need to be careful with time, here. Let me take you through some people in The Book of Proverbs you need to avoid, some people who cannot make a good friend. I’m going to read from the New Living Translation, but you turn in your Bible, here, to Proverbs 22:24-25. Avoid the hot-tempered person. The hot-tempered person, the angry person, cannot make a good friend. Listen to Proverbs 22:24. “Keep away from angry, short-tempered people or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.”
“Keep away from angry, short-tempered people.” An angry person, a person who can’t control their anger, who has fits over the least little thing, they do not make good friends. They do not meet good parents. They do not make good spouses. The Book of Proverbs says be careful about letting someone like that into your life because they will comprise a company of fools.
Look at Proverbs 19:6-7. We’re to avoid the hot-tempered person. We’re to avoid what I call the opportunistic person. Proverbs 19:6-7, “Many beg favors from a prince. Everyone is the friend of a person who gives gifts. If the relatives of the poor despise them, how much more will their friends avoid them? The poor call after them, but they are gone.” The point there is, “You know what? There are some people who are in your life because you can provide them a service. When you’re down-and-out, and you can no longer provide them a service, and they can no longer find in you what they were looking for, because they’re opportunists, they’re not friends, they’re going to ditch you.” The poor man has no friends. The rich, they have friends. They have something to give. We’re being warned here to watch out for the pretend friend, the opportunistic person who really likes us because of what we can give them, or get for them, rather than who we are, and what they can do for us for God’s glory. Avoid the thoughtless person.
Proverbs 25:17. This is a great verse. How many of us haven’t experienced this? “Don’t visit your neighbors too often, or you were out your welcome.” You know? Your friends arrive at 7:00. It’s 11:00, and there’s no sign in them leaving. Come on, use your head. Somebody’s got to get up for work tomorrow. Kids have got to be put to bed. It’s a little verse, a little practical insight. You know what? Be sensitive. Don’t be thoughtless in your friendships. And, you know what? Don’t make friends of those who are like that, are thoughtless, insensitive, don’t know how to handle themselves, don’t know when enough’s enough, don’t know when to bid themselves goodnight, so they can enjoy your friendship the next week because you’re not sick of them, or they’ve worn out their welcome, yet. Great little verse. Avoid the hot-tempered person. Avoid the opportunistic person. Avoid the thoughtless person. Avoid the loose-tongued person.
Proverbs 20:19. Proverbs 20:19, “A gossip tells secrets so don’t hang around with someone who talks too much.” Woof. It’s getting hot. Right? This is down-to-earth, sidewalk theology. Someone’s not going to make a good friend who can’t keep a confidence. When you really become a friend to someone and you get inside them, you’re going to learn things about them you didn’t see when you first got to know them. They’re going to trust you, and they’re going to tell you about their struggles, and they’re going to open their hearts because they have found a friend. We need friends. We need friends to be vulnerable and naked with. It is to deface friendship, to take that information and share it with another person. If you’re that kind of person, you will never have friends because they will ditch you. You will get a reputation for being a gossip and a tattle tail. The Bible tells us to stay away from people like that. They cannot make good friends because friendship’s about trust and intimacy. Avoid the hot-tempered, opportunistic, thoughtless, loose-tongued person.
Let me give you one other thought, here, and we’ll move on. Proverbs 24:21-22. Proverbs 24:21-22, “Avoid the disloyal person, the person who’s given to change. My child, fear the Lord and the king and don’t associate with rebels, for you will go down with him the sudden disaster. Who knows where the punishment from the Lord and the king will end.” Now, the specific context of this verse is talking about rebellion. It’s talking about conspiracy in the court of the king, but there’s a principle. Here’s the wise writer saying, “Look, you know what? If you committed yourself to be loyal to the king, don’t be given to change. Don’t be disloyal. Don’t break your covenant because when the king musters his army, and sets out to punish its conspirators, you’re going to get caught up in the net.”
It’s warning us, here, “Don’t associate with rebels, disloyal people, people who are not faithful and loyal to their commitments.” That’s just a sampling of the very dangerous people The Book of Proverbs tells us to avoid, the VDPs. The very dangerous people who Satan has sent to destroy us. Those who comprise a company of fools. If you want to be wise, walk with the wise, but he who is a companion of fools will be brought to ruin. These kind of people are incompatible with God’s purposes and plans for our lives.
Maybe, the baseball fans are familiar with this name, Casey Stengel. He was the former manager of the New York Yankees. When Billy Martin took over the manageering of the Yankees after Stengel, he was given this piece of advice. Stengel said, “Billy, on any team, there are 15 guys who will walk through a wall for you. There are five who hate you, and there are five that really don’t know what they think about you.” Stengel, then, said, “When you make out your rooming list, when you’re on the road with the Yankees, always room your losers together. Never room a good guy with a loser. It won’t spread if you keep them isolated.” The point is this, if you and I surround ourselves with spiritually positive and healthy people, you’ll find your own spiritual life developed and boosted.
The opposite is equally true. If you spend time with those who are theologically weak, who don’t have a passion for the things of God, who don’t apply God’s Word to their living, their thinking, and they’re acting, they’re going to lower your commitment, and your resolve to be all that God has called you to be. We cannot be what we might be without the help of others. We certainly cannot be what God wants us to be without the help of Godly people in our lives. So, think about the principle of development, and think about the pattern of discernment.
Before I go on, and make one point in the second point. I don’t want to be mistaken, here. I think it needs to be said because you and I have been brought up and influenced by the doctrine, it’s a biblical one at that, the doctrine of separation. There are some things we need to separate from. There are some doctrines we need to disassociate ourself from. There are some people that need to be put out of the body of Christ, or there are some churches that you and I can no longer fellowship with because they have departed from the truth. I don’t want you to mistake what I’ve been talking about, here, for extreme separatism. You and I can sometimes isolate ourselves from those that we shouldn’t isolate ourselves from.
You know the story, don’t you? Of the church member who got marooned on a desert island. He was there for months, upon months, upon months, until one day he noticed a plane flying overhead, and he set his rescue fire. Before long, a Coast Guard helicopter was swooping down to lift him off the island. As he got onboard the helicopter, the Coast Guard pilot noticed that there were three structures on the top of the hill. He turned to the man getting on the helicopter. He says, “Yeah. Are we leaving anybody behind?” “No,” he says. “It’s just me.” He says, “Well, how can it be you? There’s three houses up there.” He says, “Oh.” He said, “One of them’s where I lived. The second structure is the church I go to, and the third structure is the church I used to go to.”
Now, some of us can be like that, we just can’t get on with anybody. When I encourage you to stay away from certain people, we are not encouraging that you and I disassociate from unsaved people. We’re talking about friends. Don’t misunderstand me. That kind of person I described in The Book of Proverbs, can’t be your friend. We’re not encouraging you to separate from unsaved people. Paul says, in I Corinthians 5:9, that that would be impossible. He encouraged them to separate from disobedient believers. He said, “I’m not encouraging you to separate from the adulterer, the swindler, the embezzler, out there in the community.” Joe Shmo is going to be who he is without Jesus Christ so don’t get upset about it. Love him as your neighbor. Reach him for the Gospel’s sake.
You and I can’t be friends to unsaved and unsafe people if our intention is to win them for Jesus Christ. That only ought to be our intention because they cannot make true friends. They don’t share our vision of things, and they don’t share our values, as we find them in the Word of God. Jesus, in Matthew 11:19, was said to be a friend of sinners, but that’s friendship at another level. I hope you understand that. I mean, Jesus wasn’t friends with sinners the way he was with John, James, and Peter, and the disciples. You and I can associate with unsaved and unsafe people as long as they were being redemptive about it, and realistic about it. When I say redemptive, that is, we want to win them for Christ. When I say realistic, I mean we only realize we can go so far. That friendship can’t blossom into another kind of friendship. The Book of Proverbs tells you that’s not wise. You can associate with unsaved, unsafe of people as long as you’re trying to reach them for Jesus Christ, and not align them into that intimate circle of impact in your life.
Let me just start the second thoughts, what I call the character of friendship. We’ll cover one point. The character of friendship is love. “A friend loves at all times.” Friendship is stamped and shaped by love. Love is the anchor that holds friendship in place. The virtue of love, and not the vice of profit and selfish gain governs biblical friendships. Friendship is about seeking the highest good of another person. That’s what love is all about. In fact, friendship teaches us how to love. Doesn’t it? There’s that initial attraction, and it’s easy to love each other in those initial days of discovery and delight.
Somewhere along the line, you and I are going to be challenged to be selfless, to love this person past their mistakes and their failures, their inconsistencies. Friendship will teach us how to love, and friendship needs us to learn how to love. “A friend will love at all times.” I think the best way for me to show you that is to actually see it in operation. Go back with me to I Samuel 18. For a few moments, we’re going to look at the friendship between Jonathan and David, I think one of the greatest demonstrations of love, in terms of friendship. The relationship between Jonathan and David was a quality friendship. It was strong, and it was surpassing. In fact, when Jonathan died, David made a striking statement. In II Samuel 1:26, he says that, “The love that he knew and had with Jonathan surpassed the love he knew with many women.”
This was a very strong and surpassing love between these two men. It was pure. It was Godly. It was biblical. In fact, without it, I don’t think David would’ve survived the 15 years between his anointing by Samuel and his enthronement at Hebron. During those 15 years, Saul tried to kill him six times. As Eugene Peterson says in his book on David, “The love of Jonathan entered into the soul of David more than the hatred of Saul ever did.” Jonathan’s love for David fortified him and edified him. Here’s what we read in I Samuel 1:81. “Now, when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan,” there’s our word, “loved him as his own soul.” Verse 3, “Then Jonathan and David made a covenant because he loved him as his own soul.” Here’s a friendship cemented by love.
The Book of Proverbs tells me, “A friend loves at all times.” I wonder how David and Jonathan loved each other. Going to share one of the aspects of their love. Here’s what it is. Friends love to serve each other. Right? Write it down. Think about it. Think about your friendships. Is this what you’re doing with your friends? Are you serving them? When Jonathan befriended David, he invited the animosity of his father. Yet, he made a covenant with David to love him. He did it selflessly, and he did it with an intention to serve God’s best interest in David’s life.
Look at verse 4 of I Samuel 18, “And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David with his armor, even his sword, and his bow, and his belt.” Interesting. See the significance of this. Jonathan is next in line to be king. So you can assume that what he was wearing were the insignia of power, and prestige, and position. That sword, that belt, that tunic, represented that Jonathan was a prince, the son of Saul, next in line to be king in Israel. Yet, he takes that off, and he crowns his friend, so to speak. He makes his friend feel royal. That’s what friends do. They serve each other, selflessly. In fact, watch this as it develops.
Go over to I Samuel 23, couple of chapters on. David’s on the run. He’s a fugitive. Saul has tried to kill him on a number of occasions. Jonathan is still his friend. Jonathan’s given him inside information. Jonathan’s helping David stay one step ahead of Saul. Here we have David hunkered down in the wilderness of Ziph. He’s amidst the forest. He’s like a frightened animal. He’s being hunted, and Jonathan goes out to meet him.
Look at verse 17, “And he goes to his friend, the friend that he loves, and he says, ‘Do not fear for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you.'” Then, look at these words, “You shall be king over Israel and I shall be next to you.”
Talk about a friend. I mean, Saul has groomed Jonathan to be king. Jonathan was attracted to David. God saw something in David, a young man with a heart after him. Jonathan saw the same thing. It became apparent to Jonathan that this was God’s man. God was going to replace his father with this man. He loved David, but that meant he was going to be shunted onto a sidetrack. That meant that he would never be king. He was a friend, and he steps aside and he says, “David, you come to the fore. I’m going to get behind you, and I’m going to push you forward. I’m going to protect you. I’m going to be anything you need me to be because I’m your friend. I’m here to serve you. I’m here to serve God’s purposes and plans in your life. I want you to fulfill all that God has called you to be.”
Folks, isn’t that tremendous? This act of self emptying on Jonathan’s part? Here’s the point, as we close. Those who are interested only in themselves, never make good friends. If you want to test the mettle of your friendship with someone, ask yourself, “Do they serve you selflessly? Are they excited about what God is doing in your life, even if it puts them in the shadows?” Friendship knows no jealousy. There is no desire to manipulate among friends. There’s no desire to control one friend for one’s own advantage. Friendship is not a means to an end. It is an avenue of loving service. Friendship is not about what I can get. It’s about what I can give.
That’s why as we read earlier, Proverbs condemns those who leave poor people. The man who has gifts and money, he’s got plenty of friends. Why? Because they love him? No. Because he’s got money and gifts. The poor man, he’s deserted because he’s nothing to give. That’s how selfish and materialistic friendships can become in any culture, and ours included. The Bible says, “No. A friend will love you through thick and thin. When your wallet’s fat, or your bank balance is zero, they’ll love you, and they’ll serve you. They’ll be there to encourage and remind you that God has not set you aside. God’s got something for you, yet, to do. They’ll serve you to that end.”
That’s a tremendous challenge, folks, because we are growing up in a culture that prizes the individual’s rights over a community, that prizes personal choice over social responsibility, that puts goods and money ahead of relationships. Ours is a culture that loves self and pursues money. Therefore, if you and I are not careful, if you and I are not renewing our mind through God’s Word, pushing against the world that seeks to press in upon us, instead of loving people and using things to love people, we will end up loving things and using people to get more things. That’s not friendship. It’s not biblical. It’s not Christ-like. “A friend loves at all times.”
Howard Hendricks talks about being in the locker room at the Dallas Cowboy Stadium, some time ago. He was chaplain there. For a while, he was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. Coming into the locker room, he finds a player with his head cupped in his hands, and smothered in a towel. He sits down beside him, realizes something’s going on. The player turns to him and says, “Doc, I cannot tell my friends from my enemies.” He went on to relate the fact that a supposed friend had just swindled him out of $75,000. He continued to say to Howard Hendricks, “It would be wonderful if I had a friend whose primary concern was not my number, not my name, but just me.”
That’s the cry of the human heart. God made us. It’s in our DNA to be loved by other people, to know the love of other people, to have other people in our life that will help us to be what we would never be apart from them. Our wives are that to us. Our husbands are that to us. Our pastors are that to us. Our friends are that to us. Our parents are that to us, or they should be because “A friend loves at all times.”