“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9
There are few things in this world as valuable as a true friend. Sadly (and ironically), however, even in this age of connectivity many of us are as disconnected as ever from one another. But God did not design the Christian life to be a road we walk alone. And if you are one of those pilgrims seeking to maximize your effectiveness for the Kingdom, you’re going to need some true friends to journey alongside you.
Unfortunately, for many of us, the people in our lives that we call “friends” are really just relationships of convenience. The bonds of these friendships are held together more by the quantity than the quality of time we spend together. These types of relationships are what Solomon would characterize as “companions,” not friends. And a person who only has companions and not true friendships is in for an unpleasant surprise.
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
Unlike companions, a friend is there through thick and thin. A friend will help pick you up when you’ve fallen and will drive you toward Christ when you are flagging in faith. A true friend, says Solomon, is closer even than a blood relative.
Do you have any friends like that?
But it’s not just about having someone to hardships with. If we are going to be the best stewards of these lives possible, if we are going to “have a good reward for our toil,” we are going to need to surround ourselves with more than mere companions. We are going to need true friends. And that starts with us taking responsibility to be a true friend to others.
What, then, does a true friend look like?
True Friends Inspire Us to Obedience
A friend is not just someone you pass the time with. True Christian friends help each other to serve the Lord. In love, they desire the highest possible good for one another. Therefore, true Christian friends urge each other onward in sanctification.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” (Hebrews 10:24 ESV)
Christian friends are concerned about each other’s walk with the Lord, and therefore take steps to inspire one another to obedience. They do this by pointing us back to God’s Word, wherein we find both the object and the means for faithful obedience.
Consider how you might be a truer friend by taking a more proactive approach in inspiring your Christian friends to obedience. Then watch as your bond deepens.
True Friends Encourage Us to Keep Going
Just as trials reveal and strengthen the depth of our faith often it is the trials in our lives that reveal the depth and strength of our relationships as well. Sadly, it is in suffering that many of us have made that crushing discovery that we do not have “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Often we do not realize how important encouragement is until we are the one who needs it. And this is one of the great benefits of true Christian friendship, God has designed it to be a source of encouragement.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
Sometimes, however, even Christian friends act more like Job’s friends. Instead of building each other up, we tear one another down through gossip, half-joking jabs, or neglect. But a word of encouragement is a precious treasure. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11).
Again, remember, friendship starts with you. It begins by paying attention. You will never share an encouraging word if you are only ever thinking about yourself. Likewise, being observant can help you to discern whether what your friend really needs is a hand on the shoulder or a kick in the pants.
True Friends Rebuke Us When We Sin
The third mark of a true friend is that they call you when you sin. A true friend is not content to let you wallow in disobedience. They want the best for you so they lovingly point out your blind spots and direct you back to Christ.
Sometimes, however, we feel that keeping our mouths shut about these things is somehow the “nicer” thing to do. But Scripture says that is not the case.
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:5-6)
A mere companion will flatter you to keep the peace. He will never call you out because he cares more about the benefit he derives from your companionship than about your relationship with God. That is not a true friend.
A good friend is concerned enough about your walk with God that they will say things that they know might sting at the moment, but which nevertheless still need to be said. And they do this because they care about your holiness and fruitfulness. But remember these words of rebuke will only be ever be received in the context of a friendship in which both parties have total confidence that the other desires the best for them. A drive-by-rebuke is the act of a pharisee, not a friend. The genuine confidante admonishes then sticks around to help you make the necessary corrections.
A true friend is someone who wants to help you grow into the image of Christ by inspiring to obedience, encouraging, and rebuking. By God’s help, may we be such friends to others.