Sunday 26 July 2020
Ps Ben Hooman
We are in a series in Proverbs and we are looking at wisdom in doing life here and now. We already looked at the condition of the heart and that you need to be born again to gain this wisdom from above. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
There are three things you need to know about this book of Proverbs:
First, the Proverbs are proverbs. They are wise sayings that describe the normal pattern that prevails in this world. The proverbs are not promises, they are proverbs.
Second, The Proverbs assume a relationship. They were first spoken as the words of a wise father to his son. But Proverbs is in Holy Scripture, and so in this book we hear the voice of our loving Father speaking to us, his own children.
Third, the Proverbs point to Jesus. “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).” Christ is our wisdom, so to follow Jesus is to follow wisdom; to listen to Jesus is to listen to wisdom; to grow in Jesus is to grow in wisdom. The way of wisdom is always the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is always the way of wisdom.
Proverbs describes what this life looks like. It lays out the life to which wisdom calls us, the life of a disciple of Jesus.
This series will be very practical. In this series, we will look at what it means to follow the way of wisdom in five areas: Friends, Family, Words, Work and Wealth.
Today we begin with the subject of friends. This morning I want us to look at three things. First, how you can have good friends. Second, how you can be a true friend. And third, why you should seek the best friend.
How you can have good friends
- Seek friends intentionally
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1)
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire. That is, he is concerned about himself. And if you are only concerned about yourself, you break out against all sound judgment.
Why? Because you are made in the image of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God enjoys relationship within the tri-unity of His own nature, and you are made in His image.
Drew Hunter says, “To be made in God’s image… means that we… are wired for relationships.” He points out that the first human problem was not sin but solitude. At the end of each day, when God looked at what He had made, He said it was “good.” That was the divine verdict at the end of each of the days of creation. “And God saw that it was good.”
But when God created Adam, He said for the first time that something was ‘not good.’
“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
So, “whoever isolates himself… breaks out against all sound judgment,” Friendship is a good gift from God. God did not intend you to live in isolation, so seek friends intentionally.
How do you do that? We do it by taking an active interest in the lives of others. There is a wonderful reference to Timothy in the New Testament. Paul says,
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:19-20)
Timothy is outstanding because of the genuine interest he has toward others. As the old proverbs says, “He who would have friends must show himself friendly.”
How many friends should you have?
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
It is possible to have a wide circle of acquaintances, but no real friends. The higher your profile and the more fast-paced your life, the harder it is to make good, deep, and lasting friendships. You end up with many acquaintances but few real friends. You will find yourself being very lonely in a crowd.
The quality of your friends is more important than their quantity. Character among friends is more important than their number. So, focus on depth rather than breadth. The important question is not “how many friends do you have?”, but “how deep are these friendships?”
Perhaps the place where the word ‘friends’ is most commonly used these days is in connection with Facebook. How many friends do you have on Facebook? The average number is around 350. That is a lot of friends!
But, the important thing to remember here is that there are different levels of friendship. You see this in the life of our Lord Jesus. He ministers to the crowd. Then there is a group of 70 who are sent out (Luke 10:1). Then there are the twelve. Then there are the three; Peter, James and John who are closest to Jesus.
These are all like expanding circles around Jesus. Jesus gives the closest access to Peter, James and John. They are there when Jairus’ daughter is raised to life. They see the glory of Jesus at the transfiguration. They are invited to watch and pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Let me suggest to you that we need these different circles of relationship in your life. If you have 350 friends on Facebook, who are the seventy? Who are the twelve? Who are the two or three? It is possible to have many acquaintances but no real friends.
What does it look like to have an inner circle of friends? Our Lord tells us:
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
Notice Jesus’ definition of friendship. His closest friends are the ones He opens Himself up to most fully. The reason they are friends is that Jesus has made known to them ‘all’ that He heard from the Father. Jesus opens Himself up to His closest friends.
There is an important principle here: Open your life most fully to the friends you can trust most deeply.
Christ opened Himself up to different people in different degrees. So, if you are following His example, you will be wise in opening your life to different people in different degrees. To the crowds, He spoke in parables. To Herod, He said nothing at all. To the disciples who were His friends, He made known all that He heard from His Father and for this reason, He calls them His friends.
So, open your life most fully to the friends you can trust most deeply.
- Choose your friends wisely
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
The people with whom you are closest will have the greatest influence in your life. The character of the friends you choose will rub off on you. And the deeper a friendship becomes, the more like your friend you will be. Friendship can bring you great good or do you great harm depending on the friends you choose.
God says, “The companion of fools will suffer harm.” That’s the normal pattern that prevails in this world: “Bad company ruins good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). And it would be naïve for you to think that this does not apply to you.
When you grasp the principle that the people to whom you give the deepest access in your life; those who have the greatest influence upon you, you will see that good friends can be a wonderful gift and blessing in your life. Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise! So, get close to the kind of people you want to be like.
And on the other side, Proverbs exhorts us to exercise great restraint in getting to close to the kind of people you don’t want to be in your life. Proverbs says,
“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” (Proverbs 22:24-25)
Notice the reference here is to a man who is habitually angry. Don’t make him your friend. You may have to work with such a person but don’t give him deep access into your life or you will become angrier yourself.
Choose your friends wisely. Let friendship develop slowly. Good friendships are like fruit: They take time to grow and time to ripen. The true character of a person will become evident over time, and you will be able to discern if this is a friendship that should go deeper or not.
- Guard your friendships carefully
Remember that a friendship is a gift from God. A good friendship should be cherished and protected, because if you lose it, it is a great loss indeed. The book of Proverbs gives us wisdom in how to do this as well.
By being considerate:
“Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” (Proverbs 25:17)
The easiest way to kill a good friendship is to become demanding. Be considerate of your friend’s time. Here is a person who becomes friends with his neighbour, but then he over-does it! He keeps coming around, and he stays too long. Eventually, the neighbour has had enough. He’s had his fill. You can imagine it. The bell goes in the neighbour’s house, and she says, ‘O not again! He is always showing up on the doorstep, and it is just too much!’
Here’s some good news though: You have no need to worry about wearing out your welcome with God. There will never be a time when you come to the Lord and He says, “I’ve had My fill of you.”
Charles Bridges says, “Blessed be God. There is no need for this caution and reserve on our approach to Him…Our earthly friend may be pressed too far. [Human] Kindness may be worn out by frequent use, but never can we come to our heavenly Father unseasonably [too often].”
God will always welcome you. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away,” (John 6:37)
Be considerate not only of your friend’s time but also of his or her mood.
“Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” (Proverbs 25:20)
Here we have a person who is insensitive to the feelings of others. Someone has a heavy heart, and her so called ‘friend’ breezes into her house on a mission to cheer her up. She bursts thought the door singing ‘Joy to the world’ at the top of her voice. That isn’t going to work so well!
Notice the effect: Singing songs to a heavy heart is like taking off a garment on a cold day. It will have a chilling effect on the friendship. The one who has the heavy heart will think, “You have no idea what I’m facing right now.” It will create a distance.
And more than that, it will produce an explosive reaction, like vinegar on soda. The point here is that the hearty songs actually aggravate the sorrow of the person with the heavy heart. It makes their sorrow worse.
Matthew Henry says, “We take a wrong course with them by being merry with them and endeavouring to make them merry; for it adds to their grief to see their friends so little concerned for them.” It aggravates them and “makes them harden themselves in sorrow against the assaults of mirth.”
If you want to keep your friends, learn to be sensitive to their feelings.
“Weep with those who weep; rejoice with those who rejoice.” (Rom 12:15)
How wonderful then that our Lord Jesus Christ knows us completely. He knows what it is to have a heavy heart. He was once in a garden when His heart was sorrowful to the point of death. He’s been there. He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” (Hebrews 4:15 KJV)
By being discreet:
“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28)
“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)
Proverbs identifies two things that separate close friends. A close friend is someone who trusts you enough to open his or her life up to you deeply. If you have been given that trust, you must honour it. Nothing kills a friendship more quickly than repeating to others what was trusted in private conversation to you.
How you can be a true friend
What are the qualities of a true friend? How can I be a better friend? We could also frame this as what to look for in a true friend. But what you want to receive from others you have to give yourself. So, we must ask, “How can I be a better friend to people?” Proverbs gives us a profile of a true friend.
- Your presence
“Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.” (Proverbs 27:10)
The contrast here is between a ‘neighbour’ (also translated friend) ‘who is near’ and ‘a brother who is far away.’ When the day of calamity comes, you can’t show up at your brother’s house if you only have a distant relationship with him.
Cultivate friends who are near. They are the ones you can go to in the day of trouble. They may be old friends (your father’s friends are those you have known since you were young) or they may be friends you have made in adult life. These are the people who are near and with whom you have walked alongside in life. These are the people who will be there for you when the day of trouble comes.
A true friend will be present in times of trouble. This reminds us of the wonderful statement about God Himself: “God is our refuge and strength an ever-present help in time of trouble,” (Psalm 46:12).
- Your words
“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9)
A true friend speaks into your life in a way that always does you good. The sweetness of a true friend comes from the way that his or her words build you up. You see this in the friendship of David and Jonathan where Jonathan “strengthened David’s hand in the Lord” (1 Samuel 23:16).
That’s what a true friend does. Because the true friend has deep access to your life, he or she is able to tell you things that others would not say:
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6)
When this friend speaks to you, even when they say something uncomfortable for you to hear, you know that they speak out of love and with your own interests in mind. Even when their words wound you, you know that it is always to heal.
We are living at a time when people are choosing to listen only to what they want to hear. We live in a world of ‘safe spaces’, and the reason is that the world has become so angry.
In such a world, it’s very easy for us to filter out from the Bible what we don’t want to hear. But then, all you are left with is an echo of your own voice. In doing that, you lose the friendship of Jesus. You lose the sweetness of one who loves you and can speak into your life in such a way that even when it hurts, you know that it will heal.
The Word of God is given so that we have all we need for life and godliness, including correction where we are wrong.
We began today with the principle of opening your life most fully to the friends you trust most deeply. Open your life to Jesus and to His truth even when it hurts, because when His word hurts, it also heals.
- Your love
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)
So here we have a brother who is not far away. This brother is a true friend. He loves at all times. He was born for adversity.
When Jesus came to the time of His adversity in the Garden of Gethsemane, the friends who loved Him all forsook Him and fled. When Paul first stood trial, no one stood with him. But he says, may it not be charged against them,
“At my first defense no one stood with me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, …” (2 Timothy 4:16-17)
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
How can you be a true friend? By your presence, your words and your love. If you are to become that kind of friend to others, you need to walk with someone who can be that kind of friend to you.
Why you should seek the best friend
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24)
The Lord Jesus Christ is the best friend you can ever have. A true friend is present, and Jesus will always be with you. Christ is the only one who can say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5).
Jesus says, “I am with you always. No one else can say that to you. In every adversity, in life and in death, I am the friend who will always be with you”.
Your best friend in this world may say, “I will love you till death parts us.” And your wife, your husband should be your best friend and companion. But Jesus says to you, “I will love you, and death will never part us.”
A true friend brings sweet counsel and the words of Jesus are sweet. When others were abandoning Jesus, He asked His disciples,
“After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)
“The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:9-10)
A true friend brings sweet counsel. The words of Jesus are like oil and perfume that make the heart glad. They are sweeter than honey from the honeycomb!
A true friend loves at all times, and the love of Jesus will never let you go. He loved you before the world began, and He will love you forever. He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” (Jeremiah 31:3). His love is everlasting: it had no beginning and it will have no end! It is eternal.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every; morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Consider what a friend Jesus can be to you! It was love for you that caused Him to come into the world. He was born to stand with us in our adversity. He came from far to bring us near to make us His friends.
It was love that led Him to take our flesh, to experience the heavy heart for Himself, and in the end even to lay down His life.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13)
Now, He is in heaven where in love He intercedes for you. In Christ you have unrestricted access to the Father. His love will cover the multitude of your sins. And you will never wear out your welcome with God!
So, open your life most fully to the Friend you can trust most deeply. And here is the thing: The deeper your friendship with Jesus becomes, the more like Jesus you will be.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise. Whoever walks with Jesus becomes like Jesus.
There is a friend who always loves at all times, a friend who sticks closer than a brother, and His name is Jesus!
Let us pray:
Father, we are in awe of such a Friend and that He should be Your Son, causes us to bow with worship and love and gratitude and praise. Help us by Your Spirit to open our lives most fully to the Friend who loves us most deeply, our Lord Jesus Christ in whose Name we also pray, Amen.