Thursday, January 31, 2019

There are ‘Friends’ – and Then There Are Friends

How many friends do you have? If you’re on Facebook, as so many of us are, you might have hundreds of Facebook “friends.” If you’re in the workplace and on LinkedIn, you may dozens – even hundreds – of more connections. If you engage in other social media, like Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, you might have myriad other “friends” as well. But are they really friends?

Friends come in many different varieties.
Recently on his radio program, Dr. David Jeremiah noted most of us can classify our “friends” into one of four categories: 

  • Contact friends, people we say hello to at the gym, grocery store, or neighbors we see only in passing; 
  • Casual friends, those we might join for a round of golf, a school project, or even a Bible study; 
  • Close friends, perhaps those we collaborate with at work or go to lunch with, close enough to share some personal information we don’t care to have widely disseminated; 
  • Committed friends, folks we can depend on in good times and bad. Especially the bad times when they’re needed most.

We have some family members who have never met a stranger and seem to be friends with just about everyone they meet. Most of us, however, are more discriminating in our selection of friends – at least the close and committed ones.

Since I’m basically an introvert, and seem to be more introverted the older I get, there’s only so much room in my life for real friends. Yes, I’ve got lots of the Facebook variety, whether old school chums or people I know from church or places I worked, or those with whom I trade puns. (Only the highest caliber people engage in plays on words, don’t you know.)

There are a number of men that I stay in touch with that I was in discipling/mentoring relationships with over the years. After meeting weekly or at least a couple times a month, seeing one another grow in our walk with the Lord, it’s pretty common to develop bonds you want to maintain long after the scheduled meetings have ended.

But friends of the close and committed variety, I’ve got just a handful. And that’s okay. I’ve only got so much emotional capacity to go around, and once it’s been expended on my family members, it’s in kind of short supply.

So who – or what – should we be looking for in choosing our close and committed friends? I have some opinions, but as with many areas of life, I’ve found biblical wisdom a much better guide for making such important selections. There are sound principles regarding friendship in the Bible from front to back, but the book of Proverbs alone gives us enough to consider:

To begin with, we’re told who not to select as close or committed friends. In fact, we’re to run, not walk from unsavory company: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way” (Proverbs 4:14-15). Another verse presents a similar warning: “A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26).

Wisdom can be contagious – along with its opposite. So if we’re going to “catch” something from our friends, wisdom is always the better alternative: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). “Stay away from a foolish man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips” (Proverbs 14:7).

The same holds true for people who possess characteristics we wouldn’t put on our wish lists. The less influence they have on us, the better: “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). “Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rage” (Proverbs 23:19-21).

There are other passages we could cite from Proverbs alone, but here are two that distinguish between “close” friends and “committed” friends: “A friend loves for all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

So if you were to assess your friends today, which categories would you have the most? We all need friends, but being selective in who we spend most of our time can make a big difference.

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