Our speech just isn’t about talking. It is also about listening. “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.” (Prov. 17:4) and “like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprove to a listening ear.” (Prov. 25:12) One commentary I was reading on this said: “God wants us to know that just standing there and listening, tolerating the evil, shares in the evil. We lie to ourselves that we are not involved because we are only listening. But listeners are involved.”
Importance of Listening
So to be a good friend you need to listen well and be careful what you are listening to. Are you listening to lies about another person? Are you listening to gossip about them? You can’t just stand by and think that because you aren’t participating in that conversation by saying things that you aren’t guilty. Our silence is taken as agreement, not only by the other people involved in the conversation, but also by God. Proverbs 25:12 says there is beauty and value in rebuking another. God takes sin so seriously, and we should as well. Imagine if you found out that someone had been slagging you off and your best pal had been part of that conversation and she hadn’t said anything . . . you’d be raging! What sort of pal is she if she hasn’t got your back?
We’ve all been in the midst of a conversation when we can see the other person just glaze over, the look becomes vacant, and you know that they have switched off. How does that make you feel? Does it make you want to continue pouring your heart out? We need to be mindful of this when we are spending time with people. Listening is just as important as talking—maybe even more important (James 1:19). When we listen properly, we have a better idea of what makes the other person tick, what things they struggle with, and what is going on in their life. It also helps us to ask the right questions. Our conversations with our friends are two-way, listening and speaking.
Be Careful With Your Time
There’s a Scandinavian proverb that says, “go often to the house of your friends; for weeds soon choke the unused path.”Proverbs 25:17 says: “seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house- too much of you, and they will hate you.” These two things show us the importance of getting the balance right in how much time we spend with our friends. We don’t want to see them so infrequently that the path gets overgrown, but equally we don’t want to be with them 24/7 because they will get sick of us! We don’t want to have that needy friend that can’t do anything by themselves. I guess you could say that we want to have a good influence but not be smothered by them.
Be Careful to Keep Jesus Central
Proverbs 18:24 says: “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” When thinking about the topic of friendship, the best place to look is to Jesus. He is the perfect example of what a true friend looks like. Christ loved us so much that he laid down His life for us. “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)This is the ultimate display of friendship. We have all had friends that have let us down, but we also can say, along with the Apostle Paul, “The Lord stood by me and strengthened me” (2 Tim. 4:17). Paul said this when he was on trial and all his ‘friends’ had deserted him. The same commentator from earlier said: “real friends are not found in quantity but in quality. And no one offers us higher quality friendship than Jesus Christ.”
Jesus is the one who is going to be with us through thick and thin. He is the one to whom we look when are being a friend to someone else. He is the focus for our Christian friendships. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.” The best friends are those that love the Lord and aren’t afraid to tell us hard truths, who won’t let us get away with sin, who love us enough to care about the state of our souls. Do you have friends like that? Are you a friend like that?
Matthew 12:36–37 warns us that “on the day of judgement people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” This is a scary thought isn’t it. We won’t get away with those flippant comments, those unthinking words, or those sarcastic and cutting comments. We will give an account to the creator of the universe. That should make us think before we open our mouths, shouldn’t it?
These are just some of the things that the Bible teaches us about friendship. But are all friendships the same? Should we have the same level of openness and friendship with everyone? The answer to that is no! If we look again at Jesus, He had different friendships with different people. He was called the friend of sinners in a general sense, he had a fairly close relationship with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. But he had a different relationship with his disciples. Even within that group of twelve he had a deeper relationship with three of them: Peter, James and John. Jesus would take these three away from the others and teach them something in particular.
We see this specifically in the account of the transfiguration (Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28). But with Peter He had an even closer relationship (John 13:23). It stands to reason that there will be certain friends that we will be closer too—it might be because of the stage of life we are in, whether we live close to them or not, how long we have known them, etc. It would be impossible to have the same type of friendship with everyone we know. Often we struggle to keep up with two or three of our friends, let alone hundreds of people that we know. Despite how many friends or followers you may have on social media, I suspect the majority of them aren’t actually really your friends!
How should we respond when friendships go wrong? Unfortunately, we have to think about this question because we live in a fallen world. We are sinners and all our friends are sinners too! When friendships break down, it can be very painful for both parties. I had a really close friend when I was in my late teens—we would hang out all the time, we studied the Bible together, prayed together, and we got along really well. But I was suspicious that she was in a relationship with an unbeliever and I challenged her about it. She denied it and was horrified that I would even bring this up.
As time went on, it became obvious that in fact she was dating this guy. I spoke to her again about it and she got very defensive and angry. Needless to say, that after that point our friendship disintegrated. I was really upset by it, I questioned whether I had done the right thing in calling her out, and I even tried a little while later to seek reconciliation. She wasn’t interested. Sadly, she ended up marrying this guy and has totally wandered from the Lord. Now I’m sure that there was sin on my part in this whole situation, but I was genuinely concerned for her soul.
This might be an extreme example, but sometimes friendships will collapse because of reasons like this. As believers, our responsibility is to challenge fellow believers about their sin. How they respond is up to them, not us. We are called to be faithful to the gospel in all circumstances. Sometimes we part ways with people because we come to the understanding that they just aren’t helpful for us and our spiritual growth. This can be very difficult to explain, particularly if they aren’t a believer. They will probably say something like: ‘Do you think you’re better than me now?’ or think that we have turned posh!
But as I said earlier, we need to be careful about the company that we are keeping. The over-arching principle here is that if our friend is a believer, we should seek as far as possible for reconciliation (Romans 12:17–18). With unbelievers, our responsibility is slightly different. We are called to love them and witness to them, but sometimes it is better to distance ourselves from them. Let’s finish where we started: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Prov.13:20)