The Value Of A True Friend
Every generation experiences a different childhood than their own children will experience. When I was a child, growing up on military bases we would often leave the house when the sun came up and didn’t go home until the street lights came on. When we got hungry we ate at the closest house, when we got thirsty we drank out of someone's garden hose, and when we got hurt we just rubbed some dirt on it and played on. I don’t want to be one of those grumpy old men who always talk about the good old days, but ……. as Trista and I raised the boys, there were several times when we both longed for the boys to have the same experiences that we had as children.
For example, when I was a kid it was pretty common that on a Friday or Saturday night someone would just show up at our house, or we would just show up at someone else’s house. No one called ahead, if you were out and about and remembered that someone lived near by, you just swung by for a little while to visit. You got out of the car, walked up to the door, and rang the door bell. The people in the house not only answered the door, but they were actually happy to have you drop by. The parents would sit around in one room and laugh while the kids would play outside or in another room. It always made the night better when someone would just drop by.
But we aren’t living in the good old days and things are different. Now you have to call ahead and see if you can schedule a time for a visit. If you are watching television and someone rings your door bell, you immediately get this sense of dread. You are immediately suspicious of who is at your door and what do they want? Even on Halloween. Now, thanks to these video doorbells you can see the person you are about to avoid from the comfort of your own couch. Times are a changing.
If we were to go back to the book of Genesis, God creates the universe, the stars, the clouds, the trees, the birds and said it was good. Then God created man and for the first time God realized that something wasn’t right. God says in Genesis 2:18, It is not good for the man to be alone. God realized that we were created for community, to build deep friendships, to live life together. But in our present culture, how many times do you find yourself alone?
As our culture continues to change, we find ourselves becoming more and more closed off from one another, more isolated. Psychologists have been discussing the connection between the rise of anti-depressant prescriptions and our cultures self imposed isolation for decades. Psychologist and psychiatrists are telling us what God has said all along, it is not good for man to be alone.
During this study through the book of Proverbs, we have been reminded time and time again to seek after wisdom in our words and through our actions. But in our text today Solomon is deeply interested in the types of people we choose to associate with, the types of folks we allow to take up space in our lives. He knows that while it is not good for you to be alone, sometimes we get deeply wounded by the folks we choose to let in our lives. Everyone of us here this morning has been hurt by other people, which makes it so tempting to close yourself off from the world.
Maybe you were hurt by someone who was selfish. Eugene Petterson translates Proverbs 18:1, Loners who care only for themselves spit on the common good. I like that a word picture. Selfish people spit on the common good of others. We all have our own struggle with self-centeredness, it’s the reason that our culture continues to close itself off. It’s really tough to be in a relationship with an emotional vampires who suck the energy, peace, and joy out of life. Solomon says these are not the types of friends you want in your life. True friends consider you, your well being, and won’t complain about sharing life. Finding a true friend is oftentimes difficult, so we take the easy road and close ourselves off, but God says it’s not good for you to be alone.
Solomon was the king of the greatest nation in the world. He was handsome, rich, powerful, and wise enough to know that some people only wanted to be friends with him because of what he could do for them. Maybe that lead him to write Proverbs 19:4: Wealth will bring you many friends, but become poor and your friends will leave you. Unfortunately there are people who only think only of themselves, only focus on what they can get, and how they can be served. You have had people saddle up next to you and try to be your friend because of what they can get. It’s hard to be used, and often you find yourself always having to give and give some more to keep that relationship. And the people who use you, will often get offended when you don’t want to be used anymore. It makes it difficult to trust the next person, so we usually just close ourselves off, but God says It’s not good for you to be alone.
Maybe you were hurt by someone who told your secrets. Some people will gossip about you, some folks want to be your friend so that they can learn some juicy detail to share with others. Solomon says in Proverbs 20:19 A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much. That seems pretty clear cut, but the word picture in Hebrew is quite interesting. The phrase betraying a confidence paints this picture of an army stripping off of armor and the clothing of their captives.
If you’ve ever experienced the agony of gossip, you can attest to feeling vulnerable and defenseless. You know the pain that not only happens when someone tells your secretes, but you are left with the aftermath of wondering what people are now saying about you behind your back, or every time you enter a room. You understand the pain of having someone you trusted, betray that trust and take advantage of your friendship. You know the feeling of being stripped and left bare where everyone knows something hurtful about you. It’s a traumatic experience, so you decide to close yourself off, but God says It’s not good for you to be alone.
The tension between protecting ourselves and being alone is what makes this text today so hard to live out. Because we have no intention of opening ourselves up, being vulnerable with another person, yet God still says it’s not good for you to be alone.
The result is that churches, a place where are called to bear one another burdens, to live life in community, have become a collective of individuals who choose to remain closed off. We tell ourselves that everything is fine, it’s fine! After all I have lots of acquaintances, and that’s just as good. But the truth is that it’s not. Solomon not only wants us to have friends, he warns us to be cautious with the folks we choose to allow to have an influence in our lives. Right relationships can make a difference in our lives. Wrong relationships can bring us to ruin.
Solomon said it this way in Proverbs 13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Paul would say in 1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character. My mom simplified it and liked to talk about peer pressure, but my Grandfather would say, if you run with the goats you smell like the goats.
Your friendships have a tremendous influence on how you live your life. We need to understand the power that our relationships make in our lives, so that we will not only surround ourselves with the best type of people, we will focus on being the best type of people. Which creates a rub, because our default is to do what is easy.
I am sure that you could probably come up with a short list of friends, but really what type of friends are they? Most of the people you would call your friends are actually be an acquaintance. They are the casual friends that you have because of your circumstance. You have worked with Joe for the last 3 years. You know that he is married, has a child or maybe a couple children… No, definitely more than one so he has children. You know that he is Kentucky fan, only because he becomes a bit tedious during basketball season. And you know that he is really good at his job. You consider him a friend, but you don’t really know anything about him, or his life. You are acquaintances, and if all you have are acquaintances, then you are still alone.
On the other hand we choose our close friends. These are people you trust with your secrets and people who trust you with theirs. Some of these folks have been your friends ever since you were in the first grade, and you are friends because they know too much. Others have only been friends with you for a short time, but you clicked. These are the folks you would call if you were in trouble, or the people that you would gladly get out of bed for at 3:00 in the morning if they needed you. And these are the folks that you need to choose carefully. The closer you are to a person, the greater the impact they have in your life. My grandfather was right, when you run with the goats, you smell like a goat.
This morning Solomon is saying if you want to be wise, truly wise, you must go against our culture and learn how to forge deep friendships. But don’t just go out and find someone, anyone, to be your friend. Make a good choice, pick someone who will help you be the best version of yourself and someone you are willing to invest in and help them become the best version of themselves. This is what Solomon meant when he said: As Iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. (Proverbs 27:17)
Do you have friends that keep you sharp for God? Is there someone who asks you the tough questions? Who asks about your life at home, your marriage, your spiritual walk? Who do you allow to come into your life and keep you honest?
Before you shrug this question off and say well God does; that’s not going to cut it. I have been a Christian long enough to know how easy it is to fool myself into thinking I can hide things from God. I know how easy it is to say that God holds me accountable, while never allowing His words to penetrate my soul. I know how easy to say that God is all I need and then going days and weeks without actually praying and opening my soul to Him. You were created to have a relationship with someone who will point you to God, someone who has skin on them.
All of those casual acquaintances we have will never get deep enough to make a difference. Sure I know that our lives are impacted by all of our relationships, but I also know that the greatest influence comes from our friends. That group of people who help us try again when we fail, encourage us when we’re discouraged, lighten our load when it gets too heavy, and give us strength against the evil we all face.
Real friends help us become and stay sharp. But false friends, that we allow to take up space in our lives, will allow us to grow dull. Your friendships have their own version of osmosis. Friends pass values, convictions, morals, habits, and goals back and forth. We become like the people we associate with. I know I’m guilty of picking up habits, words, phrases, values from the people that I associate with. Everyone does, if you want to know what kind of person you are becoming, then ask yourself: Who are my friends?
I have mentioned to you before that I believe each of us need to do the hard work to cultivate three good friends in our lives that will hold us accountable, and sharpen our resolve to love and serve Christ. We need to find three friends who love us enough to be concerned about our souls.
We need to find a Paul. This would be an older person that is willing to invest in your life. We might also call them a mentor. Somebody who’s been down the road and is willing to share the lessons they have learned and the experiences that have shaped their lives. Someone who is willing to watch, advise, and share with you. A mature person that is willing to put their arm around you and show you the ropes.
Paul writes to Titus that the older members in the church should teach what is good and train the younger members. The older women are to equip other women in how to walk in step with the truth of the gospel. They are to be example of how to have self-control, to be wise, strong in faith, in love, and in patience. And these aren’t merely suggestions, or a good idea. This is God’s instruction for how we should relate to one another. It’s easer to walk the road of life, if you have someone who loves you enough to tell you where the potholes are.
Next I believe that we all need to find a Barnabas. Acts 4 says that Barnabas was an encourager, and we all need a little encouragement. A good friend, one that keeps us sharp would love you where you are and encourage you to become the person you can be. This person would serve as your own personal vision caster, casting a vision of what God has in store for your life. Encouraging you to walk like Jesus walked.
People always became better after spending time with Barnabas. Paul became the greatest evangelist the church has ever known, John Mark gained the strength to be a pillar in the church. I don’t believe that it was an accident that God put Barnabas in both of their lives. We need to surround ourselves with the kind of people who encourage us because we become like the folks who surround us.
Finally we all need to find our own Timothy. If we want to find an older person to invest in our lives, then we must be willing to return the favor and find a younger person that we can put our arm around and show the ropes. We need to find someone that we can cast a vision for and help them reach their potential. Every young person needs someone who will care about them enough, not to tell them what to do, but to invite them to come and see how to forge a deep vibrant faith.
You know there is a biblical word for this process, it’s called discipleship. The body of Christ isn’t meant to simply exist for us to gather together on Sundays and then move along with our lives the rest of the week. God’s word paints this beautiful picture of believers doing life together. Yet most of us have bought into the culture and we refuse to invite folks into our lives. So we hear the call of Jesus to go onto the world and make disciples, as simply a call to invite someone to church. The result is that we miss the beauty of building deep and life giving relationships. And God sits in heaven and says again and again, it is not good for man to be alone.
This morning the proverb is calling you to move from merely attending, merely showing up on Sunday’s and refusing to get invested, to actually getting to know the members of this church body and allowing others to know you. Maybe that scares you. Maybe you can relate to this note a friend of mine received: I finally realized why I don't regularly show up for church. I understand what has kept me from joining a church family is that I'm afraid of letting anyone get close to me, exposing myself to anyone, and that's what I would have to do when I join a church family, be truthful with them about my past. Not being able to share myself with others just prevents me from doing God's will and fulfilling my purpose for Him. I don’t know if this is an excuse or not, but I have decided that how I am living right now, I cannot fulfill God's purpose for me here.
Maybe today is the day that you take that step. Maybe today is the day you say it has been broken far too long. Today is the day, to be a true friend, and to find others who will strive to be a true friend to you.