Monday, November 19, 2018

Friends, Fake Friends, and Real Friends

When you hear the word “friend,” what comes to mind? 

These days, friend can mean many different things. We have “friends” on Facebook and other social media we’ve never met personally. We have no idea how old they are, where they work, what their lives are like. We might not know where they live. All we do know is sometimes they “like” or comment on something we’ve posted.

Real friends are a blessing, often a rare one.
We have “friends” at work, people we collaborate with on various projects. Outside of the workplace, however, we know little if anything about them. We have “friends” with whom we occasionally play golf, tennis, or maybe cards; friends we see only within the confines of the local church; neighborhood “friends” we wave at when we see them outside their homes; and friends we encounter through community events, school, or children’s sports teams. We probably wouldn’t choose them to accompany us on a walk through a dark alley.

What about “through thick and thin” friends, those folks who know us almost as well as we know ourselves, who have become integral to our lives? Do you have any of those? Are they a dying breed, destined to go the way of the dodo and the dinosaur?

It doesn’t have to be that way, even though today’s culture does little to encourage deep, meaningful relationships. We can’t be close friends with everyone; no one has that emotional capacity. But we all need someone (maybe more than one) we not only enjoy being with, but also can count on during tough times as well as good. You know, the “friend in need is a friend in deed” variety.

The Old Testament book of Proverbs, a collection of wisdom from King Solomon and other writers, says much about the values of true friendship, what it is, and what it isn’t. Here’s some advice on how to find a real friend like that:

Be selective. Not everyone should be invited into our inner circle of close friends. “A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26). “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”  (Proverbs 18:24). Who is your “closer than a brother” friend?

Be wary of negative traits. People we spend considerable time with influence our thoughts and actions, good or bad.“Do not envy wicked men, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk of making trouble” (Proverbs 24:1-2).“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25).We have enough bad habits of our own without learning more from other people.

The best friends are constant. Anyone can be another’s friend when things are going well, or when they see a benefit in the relationship. But true friends remain during the hard times, when we have nothing to offer. “A friend loves for all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). In another Old Testament book, Solomon made this observation: “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). When challenges and hardships arrive – as they will – it’s good to have someone there to walk with us through them.

Good friends make us better. We all can use true friends who have the ability to set our sights higher, both personally and professionally. “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverbs 19:20).

Seek friends who aren’t afraid to tell the truth. People who focus on flattery, who always try to tell us what they think we want to hear, aren’t friends. They’re manipulators. “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin” (Proverbs 26:28). In contrast to that, the sincere, honest feedback of a friend, even when it’s hard to hear, can be like walking to a room filled with a wonderful aroma. “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9). 

True friends can be trusted. Few things are worse than being betrayed by someone we believed was a friend we entrusted with confidential information. Can you trust your friend? “A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly” (Proverbs 12:23). “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19).

No one is perfect, but true friends – people we want to be around us – should fit the criteria above. Do you have anyone like this? Many people, especially men, don’t. If not, we’re told to pray, asking God to send this kind of person our way. “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).

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