Monday, 16 January 2017

Proverbs on Friendship

Long post ahead.

I had the privilege of preaching at my church on Sunday. Over the summer break we are doing themes from Proverbs. I was given the topic of friendship, which I first thought would be quite hard, but after doing some reading I think I could have given three talks on this topic from Proverbs.

I read a book on friendship by Hugh Black which you can read online for free, I also leaned on Vaughan Roberts short book True Friendship and I found a Katoomba Easter Convention talk on Friendship and the Resurrection by Kurt Peters helpful.

Below is pretty close to what I said in the talk. I did try and polish out some of the convoluted sentences below.




Good morning, my name is Andrew and I am here to speak about what Proverbs says on friendship. We all may know a few sayings that convey a point on an important topic. Our world is full of them, some ancient and some new. How about this one:
Friends are like potatoes    If you eat them, they die
We all want friends, but we might not all have friends. Facebook may tell you how many friends you have, but Im willing to put it out there that Facebook might not know everything there is about friends.

Friends are important, they are a blessing and a gift from God. If you dont have friends your life isnt as good and you feel lonely. Loneliness is a problem in our society. It seems that almost everyone is at risk of being lonely. The elderly feel it with friends who have passed away, and family being too busy for them, parents of young children feel lonely and dont go out at all and struggle to maintain adult conversations[1], and suicide is the leading cause of death for people between 15 and 34[2], with males being about four time more likely at risk[3]. I think this indicate there are many people, regardless of age or situation who feel disconnected and have no one to turn to.

And this problem isnt just out there somewhere. Last year, a local radio announcer, Tanya Hennessy moved to Canberra. She wrote about her experience and how hard it is to make friends in Canberra[4]. She says 25% of Canberrans have move down for work or uni, this results in lots of people coming down alone and once they are here they finding it hard to make friends and to break into existing friendship groups. Another study found that 1 in 10 Canberrans feel lonely[5]. Feeling lonely is when there is a disconnect between the relationships someone wants and with what they think they have[6]. This means you can have thousands of friends online or at work, but deep down, you dont really have anyone close to you. It would be naïve to think that in this room, there arent people who feel this right now.

But first what is a friend? and why are they important?

When trying to find the meaning of anything, the best place is always to try Google, so it came back with a friend is:
a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.
So even Google is saying there is a difference between friends and your spouse, and on this point I think they are right.

When Taylor Swift was at Montreal in July 2015 she confided to her closest 14,000 paying friends about friendship. She says there are two conditions to be her friend, the first is to like her and the other is to spend time with her[7]. She believes she can spend time with her friends on Twitter every day. She has 82 million followers - that is more than three and half times the population of Australia. Perhaps her definition of a friends is a bit too broad.

From what I have read, the common ideas of a true friend resolve around things like mutual feelings, sympathy, trust, comradeship, risk and love. And I think we all kinda know this innately.

We know this because having relationships is one of the things God has made us to do. In fact, if you dont have any desire to want friends it is considered something wrong with you. Psychologist call it schizoid personality disorder[8]. We are made to have a relationship with God and with the people around us. The first thing that God said that was not good with all of His good creation was when Adam didnt have company (Gen 2:18).

Gods plan of salvation is not just to call people back in relationship to him, but also to build a new community of people who will build deep friendships as they grow in Christ and are working together, side by side, to make more disciples of Jesus[9]. We see that Jesus had friends, some closer than others. He had His disciples, and within the twelve He had His closer friends, Peter, James and John. We also see that He was friends with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. So if you dont think you need friends, then look at Jesus. You are missing out on something that God has made for you to enjoy[10].

Proverbs is a book about choosing between wisdom and folly, we need good friends with us to help us make those choices and to correct us when we dont[11].

If you dont think you have any true friends, we are going to look at selecting friends. If you do think you have some true friends, then also listen up and use Proverbs as guide to see if the company you are mixing with, matches what God is saying to you.

Proverbs
Now Proverbs is a book for finding wisdom. This is good news, at least to me as, I went to public school[12], so you know... I need all the help I can get. Maybe you do too.

Proverbs we need to remember are not promises. They are not rock solid promises from God guaranteeing the right outcome. Instead they are general principals, explaining in broad brush strokes how the world works. There are exceptions to the rules, like when the immoral do seem to prosper, but those exceptions are dealt with in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.
It takes wisdom to know when to apply each proverb. In some circumstances, they are highly relevant, in others it would be silly. The real trick is to know when to apply what proverb in what circumstance. And we do this today with our own sayings. We may say many hands make light work, but we also say too many cooks spoil the broth[13]. So which is it? Too many people is a good thing or a hindrance? It all depends on the situation.

Today my goal is to try and stick as close to what Proverbs says about friendship, so I will be speaking in general terms. You may need to think about how and when you would apply these proverbs to your own circumstance.

Friendship
Hugh Black wrote a book on Friendship in 1898. I was glad when I read this in his book:
The Book of Proverbs might almost be called a treatise on Friendship, so full is it of advice about the sort of person [you] should consort with, and the sort of person [you] should avoid. It is full of shrewd, and prudent, and wise, sometimes almost worldly-wise, counselthere is no book, even in classical literature, which so exalts the idea of friendship, and is so anxious to have it truly valued, and carefully kept.
The topic of friendship fits right in with the book of Proverbs. I dont know if you have noticed in Proverbs, but it is generally telling you to do the harder thing. It is all about the lost art of self-discipline. It says to earn money you have to work hard for it, that laziness doesnt pay off, to avoid sexually immorality, to not give into temptation and to take control of your speech.

Life is hard and you are to do hard things; gladly[14]. For these hard things are building your character. Think about your favorite book or movie and the hero in that story. They faced something hard and overcame it, it built their character and made a good story. God is the ultimate story teller who spoke this universe into existence. Jesus is the model of doing the right hard things, He overcame the dragon and sacrificed Himself to save His bride.

Sacrifice and hard work are good things, and so are friends, and both are hard. On the face of it, with our over connectedness, it may seem like having friends is easy, but my contention is that Proverbs is saying having friends is a self-discipline. You have to work at it.

After looking through the book of Proverbs I think there are at least five general ideas on friendship[15].

They are on the importance of selecting friends, loving your friends, speaking to friends, sticking with friends and serving your friend (by knowing their limits). For the sake of time we are only going to touch on these ideas, mostly from the Proverbs 27, but we will be moving around a little bit.

Selecting friends
So we are made to have friends, and friends can help or hinder us. How do we select our friends? Sometimes we just happen to be in the same place as someone, like work, or school, or church or street. You might have friends based on the same interests or tastes in music or TV shows. But a true friend is more than just someone who has one or two similarities, a true friend is someone who walks with you in life, shoulder to shoulder, who you let in and share yourself with them.

Friends are important, which is why Proverbs says:
The righteous choose their friends carefully,    but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26)
Friends influence you, for good or bad. C. S. Lewis said friendship makes good men better and bad men worst[16] or as another Proverb says:
As iron sharpens iron,    so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
It is because the powerful influence friends have that we should be careful in picking who we most let into our life. It is because of this influence that your parents always asked where you were going and who is going to be there.

So who should we be letting in? According to the book of Proverbs it should be the wise and not the foolish (Prov 13:20, 14:7). And who are the wise? Those who fear the Lord. And who are the foolish? Those who do not listen to wisdom. In Proverbs the foolish are described as lazy, gluttons and drunkards (Prov 13:4, 20:3, 23:20-21, 25:14). The wicked shows their friends no mercy (Prov 21:20). We are explicitly told:
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,    do not associate with one easily angered,
or you may learn their ways    and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22:24-25)
Again, the influence of friends is a powerful thing. We need friends to influence our lives, to help and encourage us to keep the main thing the main thing.

As Christians, we are implored to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8). Do you have friends that help you in this area? Do you have friends that you can say are truthful, just, pure and worthy of praise? But more importantly, are you truthful, just, pure and worthy of praise?

Do you have friends who encourage you to love others and to do good deeds? How are you going about spurring your friends towards more love and good deeds? (Heb 10:24)
If you do not know anyone well enough yet to trust them at that level, are you seeking that person out?[17]

An alternate reading of Proverbs 18:24 says a friend must show himself friendly. Vaugh Roberts said in his True Friendship book The way to have good friends is to be a good friend[18] or as Barbie, the wellspring of everything about friendship said on twitter[19]:
 Sometimes when you need a friend,
    you just need to be a friend
You might feel like no one is inviting you to their place, or calling you up. Can I just gently suggest that you could do the selecting. You could be inviting people to your place or out to coffee and you could be doing the calling.

Proverbs says friends are important, but it is important to have the right friends.

Loving your friends
Another idea about friendship in Proverbs is the love between friends. And the special type of love that comes between them.

We dont normally talk about mutual love for our friends, or if we do, we normally say something like I love him but…” and some put down. Especially for Australian guys, it is culturally hard to really share an honest intimate emotion with another bloke. There are many reasons for this, but no less our use of the word love. Most of the time we think the word love means a romantic or strong sexual feeling. But that simply not true. We are hearing how about how love is love, but that statement, besides being a tautology, can be stretch in lots of directions because of how wide our English word love is. I love my Mum, I love hamburgers and I love my wife, but each is a different type of love.

Proverbs tells us that friends love each other:
Whoever would foster love covers over an offense,    but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
A friend loves at all times,    and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:9, 17)
The Greeks had at least six different words for love[20]. The friendship love we are concerned with is sometimes called brotherly love, it is a loyalty - generally between equals. The picture is of the bond formed between soldiers on the battlefield[21].

We are told constantly to love one another in the New Testament[22], and this is the kind of love that we are to have for our friends. Paul is impressed and encourages the Thessalonians in both his letters to them about their love for one another and how it is increasing[23]. How are we going about increasing our love for our friends?

In most of Pauls letters we see him expression his love for his friends. In our second reading Paul calls his friends faithful and dear brothers, always praying and working hard for their friends. Paul is able to keep up his friendships using the means of communication he has at the time. And when he writes to his friends he uses words of deep affection.

How much do we express words of affection to our friends? Do we bag out the blokes that we love? Im not saying you cant, but have you ever offered honest words of affection saying that you love your mate? Or have you ever written something like that down? It may feel awkward, but maybe we should just get over it. Perhaps this week you could choose one friend, and express genuine words of affection to them[24].

Speaking to friends
While loving a friend involves positive affirmation it doesnt mean you are their yes man and accept everything they do. When speaking to friends, they are honest with each other, even if it hurts.
Better is open rebuke    than hidden love.Wounds from a friend can be trusted,    but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:5-6)
On the face of it, you may think this ancient text has gotten a bit scrambled in the translation. Surly it should be open love is better than hidden rebuke and that it is an enemy that wounds and a friend gives you kisses[25]. It is a paradox, but the point is that when you get a wound from your friend you can trust it. Do you have friends around you like this? Are you the kind of person who would willing wound your friend, on rare occasions because you long for their best? Could you inflict pain for their progress? [26] Do you have friends who would inflict pain for your progress? Would you trust their council if they disagree with you?

This isnt an open invite to nitpick and be highly critical of everything your friend does wrong. Love cover over an offence and sometimes it is better to be wronged (1 Cor 6:7). You dont rebuke for your own sake, you do it to a friend who you have their love and trust with because you care for you friend and want what is best for them.

Proverbs 29:5 says
Those who flatter their neighbours    are spreading nets for their feet. (Proverbs 29:5)
If you have a friend who is always praising and encouraging you, this proverb is telling you to be careful. Here a net is used as a means for a trap. Sometimes you need a close friend to pull you aside, to correct you. Not because they are mean-spirited, but because they want what is best for you. It is a way of them loving you.

Oscar Wild said A friend is someone who stabs you in the front[27] and Ephesians encourages us to speak the truth in love with the aim to grow like Christ (Eph 4:15).
Friends are people who we have mutual trust with, who love us and are willing to be honest to us, even if it is hard, especially if it is hard.

Sticking with friends
We are told again in Proverbs that heartfelt advice from a friend is enjoyable:
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,    and the pleasantness of a friend
    springs from their heartfelt advice.
It then goes on to say:
Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family,    and do not go to your relatives house when disaster strikes you - better a neighbour nearby than a relative far away. (Proverbs 27:9-10)
Here we are told to not give up on our friends, or friends of the family. I find it interesting that Proverbs values family friends, who are realistically just friends of our parents. It seems Proverbs is trusting the previous generation of friend choices for the next one. Your parents friends likely have stuck with your family for most of your life. There is some loyalty in that and there is loyalty between friends.
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)
Family relations were tight back then, but here friends can bond closer than blood. They can be united against the world if they have to be. G. K. Chesterton writes in one of his adventure novels[28], when the hero pairs up with a friend:
Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.
Friends stick with each other. In Canberra, we live in a transient community where we will have friends who move away from us. Are we good with keeping and maintain our friendships when they have moved away? There is the saying Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but realistically we might fall back on Out of sight, out of mind[29].

If Im honest, I find this point, about maintain friendships the hardest bit of wisdom to follow. Mid way through last year, when we had a baby in hospital, Hannah asked who my friends were, and it was hard for me to come up with an answer. I mean I have acquaintances, and people I know, but when it all hits the fan, who would I turn to?

Also last year a friend of mine called me during dinner. I normally dont answer my phone over dinner, but I saw who it was, so I took it. He had moved to Sydney at the start of the year, doing quite a highly stressful and demanding job. If I am honest, to me he was a bit of Out of sight, out of mind. He had called me to say that someone had challenged him saying he needed to find someone to talk to and pray with him to help him deal with what he was going through. He said on the phone, that he couldnt think of anyone else who he would call, and if I didnt answer, he probably wouldnt have called me again and left it at that.

So in the last half of 2016 I have been trying to build friends. I now skype call my Sydney friend once a month where we share our lives and challenge each other and pray together. Im not perfect at this, I cancel on my friends sometimes, but I am trying to maintain my friendships.

Perhaps there is someone you should consider to make a regular effort in sharing your life with. Who do you think will give you wise council? Who will teach you to fear the Lord? Who are you teaching to fear to Lord?

Serving your friends (by knowing their limits)
For a bit of balance and to wrap up, we should acknowledge the limits of friendship. Friendships are good things, but there are limits. In Proverbs, we are told to be good neighbours and friends to the people around us, but sometimes friends need time not together[30]. It is one way we can serve them.

If anyone loudly blesses their neighbour early in the morning,    it will be taken as a curse. (Proverbs 27:14)
If you find honey, eat just enough    too much of it, and you will vomit.Seldom set foot in your neighbours house    too much of you, and they will hate you. (Proverbs 25:16-17)
It is possible to outstay your welcome. You can demand too much from a friend leaving them drained. This again can come back to who you are selecting as a friend. Who are you letting in to your house or online?

Do you have a friend, sometimes online friends who seems to be always surrounded by hardships and drama? Are you that person who is always leaning on your friends for help, or always outstaying your welcome? When you say you are leaving does everyone else breathe a sigh of relief?

Friends are going to let you down. Human friendships must have limits because it is human[31]. We are all too big to be completely comprehensible by another person, but God does know every hair on our heads (Luke 12:7).

To conclude, Hugh Black says friendships have truly done their job when it leads to a larger love and points to the one who loves us more. Friendships prepare us for a higher relationship. One with the God who knows us, who has chosen us, who loves us, who died for us, who rebukes us and who has no limits. After all it is Jesus who is Immanuel God with us. He is the ultimate friend of sinners. There is no greater love than someone who lays down their life for a friend (John 15:13).

With your friends, dont just talk about music or school or work. Dont just play videos games or watch movies with your friends if you only did those things you would be missing out on what God has given you friends for[32].

Lets pray:
Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the gift of friendships
May we experience the blessings of friends
Help us to choose friends wisely
To love our friends
To work at sticking with our friends
To do hard things for our friends
And to spur our friends to grow nearer to you
Amen.




[1] All the lonely people: Loneliness in Australia, 2001-2009 (http://www.tai.org.au/node/1866)
[3] ABS: Suicides, Australia, 2010 Suicided in Australia (http://abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/8D157E15E9D912E7CA257A440014CE53?opendocument)
[5] How can we help tackle loneliness in Canberra? (http://the-riotact.com/how-can-we-help-tackle-loneliness-in-canberra/149249)
[6] How can we help tackle loneliness in Canberra? (http://the-riotact.com/how-can-we-help-tackle-loneliness-in-canberra/149249)
[7] Taylor Swift - Speech about fans and friendship in Montréal (07/07/15)  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogMWLwwjtng)
[9] Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship, p17
[11] Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship, p20
[12] Im pretty sure I stole this joke from Mark Driscoll
[13] ESV Study Bible, Introduction to Proverbs
[14] I think I took this idea from N. D. Wilsion in Death by Living
[15] Two more are, that you shouldnt complicate your friend relationships with loans (Prov 6:1-6; 17:18) and to be careful when testifying against your neighbor or friend (Prov 24:28-29, 25:7, 18).
[16] Cited in Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship, p39
[17] Ray Ortlund, Proverbs: Wisdom that works (Preach the Word), chapter on Friendship
[18] Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship, p40
[20] They are: Eros, Philia, Ludus, Agape, Pragma, Philautia - The Ancient Greeks 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life) (http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life)
[21] The Ancient Greeks 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life) (http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life)
[27] Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship, p60
[28] G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1695)
[29] Hugh Black, Friendship (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20861)
[30] Ray Ortlund, Proverbs: Wisdom that works (Preach the Word), chapter on Friendship
[31] Hugh Black, Friendship (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20861)

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