One of my favorite movies of all time is Forest Gump. It is one of those movies I can watch over and over again. There are many great things about Tom Hanks' character in that movie. He’s an honest man, he doesn’t not lie, he’s a war hero, a football star, but above all a good friend. I think what I enjoy most about the movie is the innocence of Forest Gump, his desire to do the right thing and how good of a friend he is.
Recently I was reflecting about life and I asked myself, "What is a good friend?" Life can get busy and friendships can get put on the back burner of life. I know I call a lot of people friends and many of them good friends, but when I contemplate the truths of Scripture it causes me to really evaluate the title “good friend.”
Proverbs 17:17, teaches us that, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” If we dig a little deeper into the meaning of this proverb, we understand that the difference between a friend and brother is that a friend is a constant source of love. A friend is not obligated to be in your life, a friend is someone who has chosen to be in your life. On the other hand, a family member is going to be there for you in a time of adversity. They will be there for you because they care; because there is loyalty. They may not like you or vice versa, but they will be there. A brother has not chosen to be part of your life, but a friend has.
Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The second part of that verse describes the uniqueness of a friendship. “A friend who sticks closer than a brother." The word "sticks" is a Hebrew word that often is translated in the old testament as “cleave” meaning: to cling, stick, stay close, keep close, stick to, stick with, follow closely. Those are the characteristics of an authentic friend. Can you think of someone in your life who fits that description?
As pointed out in the first part of verse 24, “A man of many companions may come to ruin.” A large number of friends does not equal help in the time of need. Many popular celebrities have faced this dilemma—they can have thousands of fans, yet fame is only for a season, and the fans quickly disappear during difficult times. I’ve read about many professional athletes who were either forced out of the game due to injury or retired after a long career, and they now struggle with depression. They were desired by so many and now that they are a normal Joe, the crowd or their “friends” have moved on to the next big star. A quote that reminds me of that situation is, “Even the most connected can still be lonely.” Social media connects us to every person we know, and thanks to Facebook we call each of these people “friends.” However, if we look at the term “friend” from a biblical perspective, our lists may be pretty small. I think that is why God highlights in Proverbs 18:24 that it’s about quality and not quantity when it comes to friends!
Friendships take work and time to build trust, and require faithfulness. In Colossians 3:12-14, Paul describes what a believer should do, “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” I believe if we are applying these actions to our lives, we will be that great friend. In order for friendships to endure life and trials, our hearts will need to come from a place of compassion, kindness, and humility.
Another attribute of a good friend is one that allows the other to speak into their lives with truth and love. Proverbs 27 teaches us, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Our society has gotten so narcissistic and individualized which is a recipe for pride, and pride hates correction. A great friend should be able to speak into your life in love and truth, which is correction. We’re reminded in Proverbs 27 that if you really love someone, you speak truth into their life even though it may hurt. I know we’ve heard that iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. This is especially true when we are willing to be true friends.
Our goal in this life is to fulfill the purpose to which we are called, which is loving our God with all our heart, building up the Church and spreading the Good News in the power of the Holy Spirit. I’d venture to say that it is better to do this with true authentic friendships in our lives.
Are your friends are making you a better follower of Christ? We are told in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” This is a warning for us to choose our friends wisely! Likewise, are you being a good friend? Are you following the Biblical model of friendship? Ultimately, we can learn from John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And that perfect friend is Jesus!