Big Idea: Build relationships wisely through using your words, being a good neighbor, and being a reliable and honest friend.
We’re wrapping up our series on spiritual friendship today. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. It’s an important topic, but one that we often forget to talk about. In a world that leans toward being individualistic, we need to recapture a vision of what it looks like to be living in community the way that God intended.
And so we’ve seen:
- that Jesus says that our spiritual family is even more important than our physical family
- that the gospel forms the basis of our shared identity
- that the Holy Spirit empowers us to become a community that’s on mission together
- that God calls each of us to play a role within the church — that all of us need each other
- that God uses friendships — deep, committed, covenanted friendships — to accomplish his purposes in our lives
- and that singles aren’t second class within the church
Today as we wrap up, I want to get very practical. I want to end the series with what the Bible says we can do, at a very practical level, to be good friends to each other.
So I want to look at what Proverbs has to say. As I’ve studied Proverbs on this topic, I’ve found that it teaches us three principles on friendship. There are three things we need to learn.
Learn How to Use Your Words
Listen to what Proverbs says about our words:
The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.
We need to remember two words: Words matter. Your words are like a fire. Your words, the Bible says, are like a sword that can cut right into people. It can kill. But your words can also bring healing and life. How you speak is going to bring you and everyone around you life, or death.
Words can kill, but they can also give life. How then should we speak?
It’s actually quite easy. Proverbs tells us how we should speak: Speak less, speak honestly, and speak fittingly. Simple – yet as we’re going to see, impossible without God’s help.
Speak less – The average person speaks sixteen thousand words a day. There’s lots of room to get into trouble with this many words. One former U.S. president (Calvin Coolidge) said, “I have noticed that nothing I never said ever did me any harm.” Proverbs says something similar:
Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues.
And then one of my favorite proverbs:
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.
One of the best ways that we could improve in how we use words is to speak less. Words are so powerful that we need to guard how many words we actually use.
Speak honestly – When we do speak, though, it’s important to speak honestly. Proverbs 12:19 says:
Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
Proverbs 24:26 says:
An honest answer
is like a kiss on the lips.
Telling the truth is right, beneficial. Telling the truth is a kind act. One of my friends says that many times we’re too unloving to be truthful. Telling the truth is an act of love, even if what we’re going to say is hard. What we say has to be for the other person’s good, but our words must be honest even when it’s hard.
Speak fittingly – This is the hardest. It takes real wisdom to know what to say and when to say it. Proverbs 15:23 says:
A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!
Proverbs 25:11 says:
A word aptly spoken
is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (NIV)
There’s a beauty, artistry, and skill in knowing how to speak. In fact, we can’t do it without God’s help. Proverbs 16:1 says:
To human beings belong the plans of the heart,
but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue.
If we’re going to learn how to relate to others, it begins with the words we use. So how do we find the right words? As we see elsewhere in the Bible, words reveal the condition of our heart.
Proverbs 22:11 says the same thing:
One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace
will have the king for a friend.
A pure heart is linked to the ability to speak with grace. We need a new heart, which is the very thing that Jesus offers to give us. God promised in Ezekiel 11:19, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
So we need to learn this. To be a friend, learn how to speak in a way that blesses others. And that begins with asking God to give you a new heart and to change you from the inside out.
But that’s not all We can also learn a second practical lesson from Proverbs.
Learn How to Be a Neighbor
If you’ll look carefully throughout Proverbs, you’ll discover that there’s a word that appears repeatedly. It’s neighbor. For instance:
Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house— too much of you, and you will be hated. (Proverbs 25:17)
Like a maniac shooting
flaming arrows of death
is one who deceives a neighbor
and says, “I was only joking!”
If anyone loudly blesses a neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. (Proverbs 27:14)
Actually, if you wanted to you could read or search through the whole book and pull out all the times that Proverbs mentions neighbors.
Then there are a number of other proverbs that mention friends. For instance:
The righteous choose their friends carefully,
but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
What’s interesting is that the Hebrew actually uses the same word for neighbor and friend, and it comes from a verb that means to associate with.
But if you read carefully, you’ll notice that there’s a difference in the contexts. In one case you have people who are physically close to you, but with whom there is little attachment. That’s why Proverbs says things like don’t speak too loudly to your neighbor in the morning; don’t go to their house too often; think very carefully before you take your neighbor to court. (Today you could say, think carefully before you call the building inspector on your neighbor or call the police when they’re having a loud party.)
Proverbs actually has a lot to say about this. It’s incredibly important how we relate to people who aren’t especially close to us emotionally, but are part of our lives just because their lives happen to intersect with ours. I was thinking of this recently as I’ve been reading about the life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a famous pastor who lived in the last century. One day he went somewhere to speak. As he was going in, he said to one of the staff, “I remember you.” They had only seen each other ten times, and this person was not somebody important, but Lloyd-Jones remembered him. It meant so much to that individual that he came in to hear all the sessions that Lloyd-Jones gave at that conference. How we treat those who are close physically, but not emotionally, is a very important issue.
Proverbs is very useful, by the way, in identifying some of the social faux pas that get in the way of relationships. I won’t list all of them here, but if you want to improve your people skills, it wouldn’t hurt to go through Proverbs and pick out everything that it says about social irritants to avoid so that we can have good relationships with others.
Can you see how practical this is? Proverbs tells us to develop the skill of using our words to help others. Then it tells us how to get along with people in general. But there’s one more thing that it teaches us.
Learn How to Be a Friend
So there are neighbors, people who are physically close, but not emotionally. But then if you look carefully there is a whole other level of relationship that is normally translated friendship. Proverbs says that these are people that we choose, people who love at all times, and who tell us the truth about ourselves out of love. We need these.
But we also need friends — people who are more than neighbors. And when it comes to friendships, Proverbs says that there are two qualities, two marks, that really matter when it comes to being a good friend.
The first mark of true friendship is constancy. Proverbs says that when it comes to true friendship, that the other person is committed to sticking it out with you and will not abandon you when things get tough.
Proverbs 17:17 says:
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
And then there’s Proverbs 18:24 says:
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
A friend, Proverbs says, never lets you down. You’ve all heard the term “fair weather friend.” According to Proverbs, they’re not true friends. A true friend recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of the other and desires to be faithful at all times, even when it costs.
If you have run-of-the mill friends who abandon you when things get tough, Proverbs says, you won’t make it. Some are buddies but won’t stick with you when you get into trouble. In contrast, there is they type of friend who is utterly committed to you, more committed to you than even your own family. That is the type of friend that you need. You can’t have many, but even one or two will do. Constancy, a stick-with-you no matter what commitment, is a mark of true friendship.
The second mark of friendship according to Proverbs is candor. True friends are constant, but your friendship with them is also marked with candor.
For instance, Proverbs 27:6 says:
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.
A few verses down in Proverbs 27:9:
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of a friend
springs from their heartfelt advice.
Proverbs 28:23 says:
Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor
rather than one who has a flattering tongue.
This is strange when you first read it. According to Proverbs, there is such a thing as friendly wounds, and there is also such a thing as wounding kisses. Sometimes when people kiss you and flatter you, it’s not because they actually like you. Sometimes it’s a sign that they don’t love you. But when you know that somebody truly loves you, when they speak plainly to you, you can be confident that those words are for your good, even if they are hard to hear at the time. It’s more than a mutual admiration society. They don’t always admire you; they love you enough to tell you what you need to hear, even if you don’t want to hear it.
We’ve all reached that point in our relationships in which we ask, “I wonder if I should tell them the truth?” This happens with small things, like the piece of food stuck in someone else’s teeth. Have you ever sat there debating whether or not you should tell someone? But it also applies to bigger issues. A true friend is so committed to you that they will open up – offer you “heartfelt advice” as Proverbs 27:9 says. They will also tell you the things that you may find hard to hear. They love you enough to tell you the truth, even if it hurts.
The result is what Proverbs says in chapter 27:17:
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
When we find true friendship, it improves us. It makes us better than we would have been without that friendship. Sharpening isn’t always a pleasant process. It involves some scraping and, in the case of relationships, some confrontation. But the end result is that both friends are better than they would have been before.
This is what sets true friendship apart from companionship. Companions have fun, but they don’t really help each other. True friendship, however, is characterized by constancy and candor, and it actually makes us better people than we were before.
Here’s the practical lesson from Proverbs: Build relationships wisely through using your words, being a good neighbor, and being a reliable and honest friend. Learn the skills of constancy and candor.
But there’s still one more question. How do we find this kind of friendship? I think you’ll agree that the type of friendship we’re describing is rare.
One of the answers to how to get this type of friend is surely to look for opportunities to be this type of friend. It may be that as you show this type of friendship to others, that you will discover one or two people who will become this type of friend for you.
But C.S. Lewis points us to something else we can do if we would like to have true friendships. After giving an example of true friendship from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Lewis writes:
For a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends, ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others…At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests.
The very qualities of friendship – constancy and candor – are the qualities that you find applied to the church in the New Testament. When Jesus brings us together to the table, we are called in a very real sense to be true friends to each other: to admonish one another, to encourage one another, to confess our sins to one another. God has chosen the guests, and we have the privilege of building genuine friendship with the other guests he has invited.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you…This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:13-17)
If you have friends, you know how much they’re worth. But you also know that they will from time to time let you down. But when you see Jesus, you realize that he sees you inside out. He knows you, and he isn’t afraid to tell you the truth about yourself. Yet he is completely committed to you. He’s so committed that when we were at our worst, he lay down his life for us. When you see Jesus, you have seen ultimate friendship. And then we are invited to love each other with the same candor, constancy, and love.
Father, thank you that you exist as a relational being enjoying perfect fellowship within the Trinity from all eternity. Thank you for making us relational beings after your image. Thank you for Jesus, who not only is completely candid with us, but who also gave up his life for us. As we see him may we see that there is no greater love than when he offered up his life for us on the cross.
You have invited us to your feast, and you have chosen the guests. May we learn to love each other, to be constant and candid in our relationships. May we learn real friendship from the one who called us friends. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.