What Proverbs Says about Friendships

    July 26, 2020 | Books of the Bible | Proverbs by Jason Hall

    Teaching about strong friendships pervades the Proverbs, and the authors regularly underscore the importance of good relationships. In speaking of this subject, author Tremper Longman writes, "there is no doubt that to the sage, friends and neighbors form a community that helps a person navigate through the difficulties of life."

    There is a particular Hebrew word that Proverbs regularly uses in discussing friendships and relationships. Sometimes it can be translated "friend," and carries with it the sense of emotional intimacy, while at other times it is translated "neighbor," and carries with it the idea of spatial closeness. Often the context is clear which English word should be used, while sometimes the meanings overlap.

    Let's begin with a quite obvious but important observation that Proverbs places great emphasis on one's relationships, or who one spends time with. The opening chapter clarifies this, with its warnings about associating with those who plot violence and plan wickedness. If one's companions are important, then surely there is advice about what kind of companions to choose? Indeed there is.

    First, reliable and faithful friends are a rarity: "Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?" (20:6, ESV). There could be even more value in a trusted friend than family members, according to 27:9-10: "Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. 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" (ESV). The second line of Proverbs 18:24 sums it up like this: "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (ESV). 

    Given that genuine friends are such a rarity, then it is no wonder that much of Proverbs' teaching concerning friendships is about how to be a good friend. For example, 3:27 encourages us to build up goodwill with those around us: "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it" (ESV). Further, 17:9 warns us against judging our friends too quickly when there is conflict: "Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends" (ESV).

    There is one area, though, that Proverbs warns about when maintaining friendships: loaning money. Certainly, generosity to the needy is commended throughout Proverbs, but loaning money to friends and family expecting return (with interest!) is roundly condemned. See, for example, 17:18 – "One who lacks sense gives a pledge and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor" (ESV) – and 6:1-5. Part of the reason seems to be that when money becomes involved, it's hard to know if a friend is sincere, as 14:20 seems to indicate: "The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends" (ESV).

    We'll finish our short study with one of the most well-loved and oft-quoted Proverbs, 27:17. It summarizes the value of friendship by comparing relationships to metalworking. We pursue wisdom and pursue Christ most effectively when we do it together. This idea is at the core of our shared goal, as a church, of loving others in community. When we seek community among the people of God, we do so to encourage, strengthen, and admonish one another: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" (ESV).