“Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name” (3 John 14).
The Bible has a lot to say about friends, friendliness, and friendship. “Friendship” speaks of a good, solid, trusting relationship with another person. It is a bond between two individuals or a group of persons who understand each other, respect each other, and are loyal to each other.
A number of persons were asked the question — “What is a real friend?” One young man said, “A friend is someone who listens to me and understands.” Another responded by saying, “A friend is someone who will stand by me even when he knows the worst thing I’ve ever done.” The third person said, “A friend is someone who is there when I need him most.”
A “friend” is a close companion, a comrade; a “friend” is someone you can trust and rely on; a “friend” is someone who likes you for what you are—and not just because you may be a rather popular person. Abraham was God’s friend (2 Chronicles 20:7), and God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11).
1. The Current Tendency Toward Isolation
Experts in the field of sociology say that one out of four persons in America has no real friends. The Apostle Paul was blessed with many friends; we know that because he lists the names of friends at the end of many of his epistles—especially at the conclusion of the Book of Romans. All of us are social beings. Most of us would find it difficult to imagine what life would be like if we had to live it all alone.
In 2 Samuel 9:1-13, we read about David’s kindness to Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. God chose David to be king of Israel while Saul was still alive and ruling. Saul was envious of the younger man David. Because of his extreme jealousy of David’s popularity with people, Saul tried to kill David several times—but always without success. Finally, Saul was wounded in battle and took his own life because he was too proud to admit defeat. David was next in line to be the king—but immediately after Saul’s death, David had to contend with surviving members of Saul’s family who were trying to prevent him from becoming the next king. Eventually however, David did become the king—and early in his reign as king of Israel, David went out of his way to find any offspring of his old friend, Jonathan, in order to show them kindness. David discovered a crippled young man—a grandson of his old enemy, Saul. The grandson’s name was Mephibosheth. David brought the crippled boy to his palace, appointed servants to care for him—and allowed him to eat at the king’s table (2 Samuel 9:7-13).
Today, life tends to be lived more and more in isolation from neighbors and close friends. Betsy Hart, in a Scripps Howard News Service column (January 1, 2007), writes: “As of 2004, the average American had just two close friends . . . Those who had no confidants at all, jumped from ten percent a few decades ago to twenty-five percent in 2004 . . . In 2004, adult Americans were much more likely to be completely isolated from people with whom they could discuss important matters—than [was the case] in 1985.”
Betsy Hart continues: “Social isolation can lead to a range of negative outcomes, including heart disease, depression, and a variety of self-destructive behaviors. Authors speculate on several reasons for the change, including more women working outside the home, more geographical distance between family members . . . and maybe people are more connected to computers than to each other.” Another observation was gleaned from an article in Christianity Today (November 2006), which explained that the thing which is undermining friendship (and marriages) is “our increasing unwillingness to commit to relationships that require sacrifice.”
Gone are the days when many houses in America had front porches with easy access to the front door, which enabled people to become quickly acquainted with neighbors. The most used part of some houses today seems to be the 2-or-3-car garage. Inside the houses of some wealthy people there are huge bathrooms with skylights and elaborate fixtures, but many of those same houses have smaller kitchens and dining areas—and higher fences. The trend today is toward individualism and isolation. Sometimes people don’t even know the families immediately surrounding their own house, let alone knowing the people in the larger neighborhood.
A wise old farmer was working beside the road, when a family who was moving to a nearby town stopped and asked him if the town was a “friendly” place. The farmer said that he really couldn’t say. But the people who stopped by pressed him for an answer, and so he asked them what the town was like where they came from. They said that the town was terrible—the people were rude and inconsiderate. The older farmer replied, “That is exactly how you will find the people in this town.”
As a result, many people today have very few friends. All of us need to work at developing friendliness. At the grocery store, or the barber shop, or when shopping at the mall—being cheerful and friendly will be a welcome balm for sales clerks who likely had to tolerate some shoppers during the day who were irritable and unfriendly and hard to please.
2. Outstanding Qualities of an Ideal Friend
There are some characteristics of a true friend.
a) A friend will spend time with you.
Friends do things together. They find time to help each other, but not to the exclusion of other people.
b) A friend is loyal and accepting.
Friends don’t talk negatively about each other behind their back; friends accept others as they are—warts and all. A friend will overlook minor irritations.
c) A friend is a good listener.
Almost everybody likes to talk, but not as many like to listen. A good friend lets the other person talk and doesn’t monopolize the conversation.
d) A friend is kind and thoughtful.
Most of us think about ourselves and what we want, but friends think about the other person. A friend looks for ways to help the other person.
e) A friend seeks to encourage the other person.
A friend looks for ways to cheer up the other person, and tries to do things that will encourage and affirm the other person.
f) A friend is a keeper of secrets.
Real friends do not tell secrets; they know how to keep details about the other person’s affairs to themselves.
3. Things to Say When Meeting New Friends
There are words to say that will help a person feel more at ease when meeting someone new, and will thus help us make new friends.
a) Tell about yourself.
Begin by smiling and saying, “Good morning”—and then as you talk with the other person, tell him a little bit about yourself. Don’t go into so much detail that the conversation sounds boastful, or that the other person doesn’t have a chance to speak.
b) Ask some questions.
But don’t ask the kinds of questions that can be answered with a single “yes” or “no.” Encourage the other person to tell you something about himself, and then when it’s your turn to talk again, start your questions with who, what, when, why, or how. Those kinds of questions invite the other person to carry on the conversation with you, and thus make it easier to talk.
c) Build on what the other person says.
When the other person responds to a question which you had asked, present another question based on the answer given to your initial question.
- Can you summarize the main thought of a book you’ve been reading in a sentence or two?
- When will your school be over this term?
- What are some of the favorite places you have visited at some time or another?
d) Listen carefully to the other person.
If you ask a good question to begin with, listen carefully to the other person’s response; don’t just let their words go into one ear and out the other; concentrate on what the other person is saying. Be careful not to just stare at the floor, or watch other people, or glance at your watch. Make comments related to what the other person is talking about.
e) Express a keen interest in the other person.
Lots of conversations begin when one person compliments the other on what he said in a Sunday School class, or on the way she handled the children in an awkward situation, or on something she had done to help another person. Try to see how much you can notice about a person, and then use one of those observations to start the conversation.
Even a young child can show friendliness. One acquaintance tells of how he took his 6-year-old daughter to school on the first morning of the school year. Anxiety overwhelmed her as they entered the school building for the first time, and she began to cry. She refused to let go of her daddy’s hand. But soon a young classmate—in a kind and friendly way—came over to her and asked if she would sit with her. The father says that the tension soon subsided, and this act of friendliness ended what could have been a very difficult situation.
4. Obstacles to Maintaining Friendships
Whenever there are friendships, there will also be problems—and when problems arise, we can either build walls that aggravate the problem further, or we can try to identify the source of the problem and seek to correct it.
Probably the number one reason why friends get upset with each other is selfishness; no one wants to hang around someone who nearly always insists on his own way (Philippians 2:3-4).
When we create the impression that we are better than other people, others will not be as inclined to choose us as friends. One of the best ways to overcome pride is to start putting other people first, looking for specific ways to help them. See Romans 12:16.
When we are angry with someone, or when another person is angry with us, we certainly are not friendly with that person. Surely man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness that God desires.
Some people do not have many friends, because when they find new friends, they choke the life out of them—spending too much time with them, sponging on them, repeatedly talking to them on the phone, becoming dependent on them. The old proverb is true: “Fish and visitors stink in three days.” Proverbs 25:17 says, “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house, lest he become weary of you and hate you” (NKJV).
5. Some Bible References on Friends
The Bible, and especially the Book of Proverbs, has a number of very pithy sayings which express many truths about making and keeping friendships.
- Psalm 41:9 “[my] familiar friend . . . hath lifted up his heel against me”
- Proverbs 17:17 “a friend [loves] at all times”
- Proverbs 18:24 “there is a friend that [sticks] closer than a brother”
- Proverbs 19:6 “every man is a friend to him that [gives] gifts”
- Proverbs 16:28 “a whisperer [separates] chief friends”
- Proverbs 18:24 “he [who has] friends must show himself friendly”
- Proverbs 27:6 “faithful are the wounds of a friend”
- Proverbs 27:9b “the sweetness of a man’s friend [gives delight] by hearty counsel”
- Job 2:11 Job’s three friends heard about his affliction and they stood speechless.
- John 19:12 “[You are] not Caesar’s friend”
- John 15:14 “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (NKJV)
- Matthew 11:19 [of Jesus they said] “Behold . . . a friend of publicans and sinners”
- James 4:4 “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God”
Proverbs 18:24a says that a person who has friends must himself be (“show himself,” KJV) friendly. Solomon is basically saying that a smile from a friend—is often the result of your friendly attitude toward others. And the friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24b) surely refers to the Lord Jesus, who in the New Testament says, “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14, 15). One of the Mennonite hymns says, “If you will be a friend to Jesus, He will be a Friend to you.”
Proverbs 27:9-10 says that a friend is a helper. Sometimes Christians feel like they don’t have many friends left in the world. Elijah was such a man. He had just won a great battle for the Lord. The evil prophets were defeated on Mount Carmel, but Queen Jezebel was angry and Elijah was scared and discouraged. Elijah ran into the desert and reminded God that he wanted to die (1 Kings 19:4). His self-pity made him think that he was the only one left to serve God. All of us should be thankful for the sweet counsel of a friend (Proverbs 27:9b) to help us through our times of trouble! A friend’s counsel is compared to ointment that makes the heart rejoice (Proverbs 27:9a). In Proverbs 27:10, we learn that when we are in trouble, it is proper to seek help from someone who is physically close. Blood relatives who are many miles away can offer less help than neighbors who are close by.
Ten tips for cultivating friendships
1. Speak to people. There is nothing as nice as a cheerful word of greeting.
2. Smile at people. It takes 72 muscles to frown and only a few to smile.
3. Call people by first name. The sweetest music to anyone’s ear is the sound of his own name.
4. Be friendly and helpful. If you would like to have friends, be friendly.
5. Be genuinely interested in people. You can like almost everybody if you try.
6. Be generous with praise. Be cautious with criticism.
7. Be considerate of the feelings of others. There are usually three sides to a controversy—yours, the other person’s, and the right one.
8. Be alert to give service. What counts most in life is what we do for others.
9. Learn to trust people. Trust helps to build lasting friendships.
10. Maintain a sense of humor, a dose of patience, and a dash of humility. You will be rewarded.
Some things not to do in order to cultivate friends
1. Don’t be too critical. While it’s true that everyone has faults, it’s also true that each one of us also has some faults of our own. Be careful not to try and pick a mote (a small splinter) out of the other person’s eye when there is a beam (a large piece of lumber) in your own eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
2. Don’t be too bossy. Some try to control everything and everybody. They think they must be the leader.
3. Don’t push yourself forward. Wait for others to push you. If you have leadership abilities, others will put you at the front.
4. Don’t be a know-it-all. Some seem to know better than anyone else, about everything—whether it’s how to care for a rattlesnake bite, or how to tend a baby, or how to run the affairs of the church.
5. Don’t be touchy. A person who is easily offended is never happy. Never mind what others say about you. If it is not true, pass it off as if nothing happened.
6. Don’t be haughty. If you are good-looking and intelligent—yet proud, you will have very few friends. Learn to associate with the average (or lowly) persons. Condescend to persons of low estate (Romans 12:16).
Those who exude with friendliness, kindness, and meekness—will more readily receive a positive response, than will those who are arrogant, bold, selfish, and unfriendly.
The very important conclusion to the whole matter of choosing friendships is to remind every person of the importance of choosing the best Friend of all, the Lord Jesus Christ, as personal Savior. He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Jesus says that we are His friends if we obey Him (John 15:14). Joseph Scriven wrote the words of the hymn: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.” Multitudes have discovered that those words are very true.
Those of us who are older, have had many friends who already entered the eternal world. We remember how they slipped away and were no longer with us. One of the great and glorious anticipations for the Christian—is that, at the time of death, lines of communication will be re-established with the voices of our old friends. No longer will there be any more death. No longer will we say “Goodbye.” And most of all, we will come face-to-face with the most intimate Friend we have ever known—the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some questions for discussion with your family or friends:
1. Name some ways you might strengthen your friendships.
2. List the names of several people you would like to have as friends.