3 attributes of a biblical friend

You know that saying, “You don’t get to choose your family, but you always get to choose your friends”? I wholeheartedly believe that God intended friendships to be necessary and crucial to making it through this world.

Now, friendship has never once come easy for me; in fact, I’ve never felt qualified to write about it because of that. But our pastor mentioned 3 attributes of a friend a couple Sundays ago and I truly think they’re worth expanding upon.

1. A friend should be reliable.
I mean… the fact that the chorus of the “Friends” theme song begins with “I’ll be there for you…” can’t be a coincidence! A healthy friend needs to be able to show up for you mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Let’s take a look at Naomi and Ruth. When Naomi’s husband and two sons died, the daughters-in-laws (Ruth and Orpah — not to be confused with Oprah!) had a choice to make: stay with their widowed mother-in-law and live in poverty and uncertainty, or go seek out a new husband and potential future of security. Orpah chose what was comfortable; Ruth chose responsibility.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Ruth 1:16-17

Reliability doesn’t mean you show up to fix everything. Ruth couldn’t bring back Naomi’s sons. You can’t fix your friend’s relationships or family problems or financial situation or frustrations with their job. But you can show up — even when you don’t feel like it. Even when you’ve got a storm of your own. Especially when they need it.

If you can rely on someone, it shows they’re loyal to you. Proverbs 18:24 says, “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.”

2. A friend should sharpen you.
It’s not enough that friends have common interests. It’s great if that’s what opens the gate, but you need someone who is going to challenge you in healthy ways. Whether it’s hitting the gym, encouraging your relationship with Jesus, or helping you navigate your life goals, a friend should always be ready and able to push you and make you better.

Jonathan and David have one of my favorite friendships in the Bible. The exact moment that Jonathan watched David slay the giant Goliath, they pledged their friendship and loyalty to one another. In 1 Samuel 18, it says that “Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt” (verses 3-4).

When I hear those words, it shows me two things: 1) Jonathan has David’s back and when he’s forced to choose between what’s right and what’s wrong, he’ll keep his promise, and 2) Jonathan is showing David that “my resources are your resources.”

So, as you remember, King Saul didn’t take too kindly to being outshined by future King David and began to plot to kill him. David becomes a refugee, hiding in caves to keep away from Saul’s army. Interestingly, Jonathan isn’t mentioned joining the armies in David’s search, further proving his loyalty to his friend — until Chapter 23.

…David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you…”

1 Samuel 23:15-17

What I love most about Jonathan is that he knew David was being guided by God, so he didn’t need to fix him or mold him into a king, but he was a friend when his friend was in need. In other words, Jonathan knew it was important to show up.

When Jonathan died years later, David mourned him deeply saying, “Jonathan lies slain on your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26).

3. A friend should confront you.
Confrontation is one of those things you either seek out or run away from. But confrontation is important and biblical, and there is a definite difference between confronting to cause drama and confronting to correct out of love. A healthy friend sometimes needs to be able to use their voice and wisdom to instruct and redirect their friends.

While Moses and Aaron were brothers first, they also had to lead the Israelites out of Egypt together and developed a friendship and partnership from that. Aaron was there when God called Moses back to Egypt, when the staff was turned to a snake, through the plagues, crossing the Red Sea — the whole enchilada!

But then we get to Exodus 32. See, Moses had gone atop Mount Sinai to receive instructions from God and the Israelites thought he was taking a little too long…

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us…”

So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” …And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

Exodus 32:1, 32:2,4

This is one of those “you had one job, man” moments for me. God saw what was happening, told Moses, and was about to release his wrath but Moses pleaded on their behalf. Then, he came down the mountain for the confrontation…

…Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire…

And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”

Exodus 32:19, 21

Yikes. In summary, Moses made the people drink the burned up flecks of the golden calf, Aaron blamed the people for being evil, and the only tribe loyal to God (the Levites) assisted Moses in eradicating everyone involved with the calf — about 3,000 men. And then the Lord sent a plague on the rest of them. Double yikes.

When it comes to being a friend, Moses needed Aaron to know that he committed one of the biggest sins in the Bible and in the Ten Commandments. He could’ve just wagged his finger and said “don’t do it again,” but a friend suffers with you when you make a mistake because they want the best for you and believe you can accomplish it. Moses and Aaron never made it to the promise land, and neither did the Israelites of that generation.

So, what do you do if you’re not a reliable, sharpening, willing-to-say-hard-things type of friend? My suggestion would be to start with re-examining what loving your neighbor means. If you truly understand what God has done for you and how you have no way to equally repay him, you’ll understand what it means to love another human (in a fraction of a sense, anyway).

Friends are going to fail you. Don’t be so hard on yourself and don’t have skyscraper expectations for your friends, either. We’re all just walking each other home. Let’s reflect the best version of our friends back to them so that they can love Jesus better.

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