Young people, whom do you consider your closest friends? No doubt you have a certain group of individuals with whom you spend most of your free time. Throughout the day, you interact with them whenever possible, whether it be sitting by each other at lunch or texting during your breaks. During the weekends, you arrange to meet at your favorite restaurant, shopping center, or gym. For the most part, you can readily identify a group of people you consider your closest friends.
Now ask yourself why those people are your close friends? Perhaps they are relatives, and the time your families spend together has allowed you the opportunity to become close. Maybe you share common interests such as books or music. Others may be teammates and therefore you spend time together playing sports. All of these represent legitimate reasons for a friendship to grow and develop.
However, rather than focusing entirely on the external, let us examine the principles found in God’s word regarding friendship. The reason we must do this arises out of the principle that our friends tend to mold and shape who we become. When we spend large amounts of time with other people, we naturally adopt each other’s mannerisms so that we begin thinking, talking and acting like our friends. This phenomenon occurs subconsciously so that we don’t even realize that we begin using the same phrases as our friends and pursuing the same interests. Thus, let us explore the teachings of Scripture regarding who we should have as our friends, what our friends should do, and how to obtain such friends.
Godly Friends: Who They Are.
To discover the teachings of scripture regarding who we should have as our friends, we will begin by answering the opposite question: With whom should we avoid fostering friendships? The Bible clearly indicates that “the friendship of the world is enmity with God, whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The word “world” in this verse refers to those who are unbelievers. Thus, we must not seek our friends out of the ungodly, wicked people of the world, for if we do, we become the very enemy of God. Although many of our young people may not struggle with this command, the temptation to pursue friendships with the world is still very real.
Before continuing, we must point out James 4:4 does not teach that we may not have friends outside Protestant Reformed circles. Instead, this verse prohibits friendship with those who, by their ungodly and wicked walk, manifest that they stand in opposition to God and his teachings. So although no man can know the heart and judge whether a certain individual belongs to the elect or the reprobate, we can clearly observe whether an individual seeks to live in a God-glorifying manner. This truth is readily apparent in other passages of scripture regarding friendship. For example, God’s word teaches, “Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man thou shalt not go. Lest thou learn his ways and get a snare to thy soul” (Proverbs 22:24–25). The text speaks very plainly regarding friendship with those who are outwardly wicked. Furthermore, it drives home the truth that we adopt the mannerisms of those who we befriend in the phrase, “lest thou learn his ways.” For another example of this principle we turn to Proverbs 28:7, “Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.” A riotous man refers to a troublemaker, or one who constantly breaks the rules set out before him. Thus, we have two examples that teach us to avoid friendships with those who are characterized by anger and rioting. This truth applies to all aspects of godly living.
Although we have used these passages to demonstrate more fully that we should not pursue friendships with those of the world, they serve as guidelines for those who are in the church. Sadly, not everyone within Reformed circles will make a good friend. Some, even in our own churches, are characterized by anger and fury due to a lack of self-control. Still others, although they attend the same Christian high school, constantly find ways to get themselves into trouble, even as the riotous man of Proverbs 28:7. Therefore, let someone’s conduct indicate whether he will make a godly friend.
Having answered the question of whom to avoid as our friends, we can readily discern whom we should have as our friends. We must confess with the psalmist, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Psalm 119:63). We must find our friends among those who fear the Lord and keep his precepts! King Solomon in this his wisdom wrote, “He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.” We must find our friends among those who have a pure heart! Again, although we cannot discern the heart of an individual, we can observe whether he or she seeks to glorify the Lord and walk according to his commandments. Scripture clearly teaches both negatively and positively that our friends should be fellow believers. This allows for true fellowship and communion between friends that is not possible when we are unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Corinthian 6:14).
Godly Friends: What They Do.
Since we have established where we should find our friends, we must now define the attributes of a godly friend. Scripture points out two key activities that should characterize our friends. First of all, friends love one another. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Importantly, a friend loves you at all times! Some may claim to be our friends during times of ease or prosperity. These individuals make great friends at recreational events such as ball games or trips to the beach. Most anyone can be a friend in such a setting. However, we must realize that a true friend not only shares in our recreational activities, but also stands by our side during times of adversity and affliction. To go one step farther, true friends express their love even if at times we make it very difficult for them to do so. As an example, during times of hardship we may be prone to behave in a very unpleasant manner. We fail to hear sound advice because we become so focused on ourselves. So try as they might, we will not hear our friends who are trying to assist us. Continuing in such behavior may cause our friends to separate themselves from us (Proverbs 17:9). However, a godly friend persists in his love toward us, even when we become undeserving of it. God provides the ultimate example for showing such love to those who do not deserve it. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loved us despite our totally depraved nature and our inclination to every sin. Greater love has no man shown than this!
The second great activity of godly friends becomes evident from Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Godly friends encourage each other spiritually. We can all mentally picture a knife being sharpened by repeatedly running the edge of the blade against a smooth stone. This process involves constant rubbing of the two objects against each other. So too godly friends refine one another as they spend time together discussing the various issues they face in life. They must encourage one another so as to stir up love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). This spiritual sharpening will not always be pleasant, but rather may come in the form of an admonition. The process of sharpening a knife involves great friction between the two objects. So godly friends will seek each other’s edification when the one begins walking down the paths of sin. Young people, this calling to warn our friends when they are lead astray requires tremendous love, wisdom, and humility. We find it much easier to keep our mouths shut than to begin a rather unpleasant conversation. We know from our own experience that no one likes to have his sins pointed out; nevertheless, godly friends overcome the desire to remain passive by speaking out. By counseling and encouraging each other spiritually, our friends help us stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to everlasting life (Matthew 7:14).
Godly Friends: How We Obtain Them.
At this point you may agree with the description of a godly friend, but in the back of your head lingers an unanswered question: how do I obtain such godly friends? This question has great importance, for some of us may struggle with finding friends and becoming close to them. How do we find such friends as we just described? Once again we will turn to Scripture to find our answers. “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly, and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). To have godly friends, we must be a godly friend. If you feel as though you lack close companions, than perhaps you aren’t showing yourself friendly. How do we show ourselves friendly? As we pointed out, scripture teaches we must love our friends and encourage them spiritually.
We often focus on what we can get out of a relationship, but we should instead focus our efforts on being a godly friend to those who are of the household of faith. This often involves great sacrifice on our part. That becomes evident when we analyze Proverbs 18:24 more closely. The word translated “friendly” in the text comes from the Hebrew word (H7489 in Strong’s Concordance) meaning to break or shatter into pieces. This word can also refer to something evil or displeasing, as it is usually translated. In fact, this verse represents the only instance in the KJV that translates this particular word as “friendly.” Both the English Standard Version and the New International Version translate the first phrase in this verse as “A man of many companions may come to ruin.” So why then do we find this translation? The translators of the KJV understood that a godly friend must be broken for others. Friendship requires tremendous self-sacrifice so that we seek the welfare of others, even though it may cause us hurt.
As a clear example, consider the work performed by Jesus Christ to make us His friends. He sacrificed himself on the cross of Calvary and bore all our sins by enduring the wrath of God, so that we may call him our friend-sovereign. Christ Jesus was broken into pieces for us. So too, we must express our love to others and encourage them spiritually by denying ourselves and serving our friends. In doing so, we will become a great blessing to our friends. Furthermore, in breaking ourselves for others, we become faithful followers of Christ Jesus. Thus, may we enjoy those who become closer than a brother and utilize such friends as an opportunity to glorify God.