Today, we come to the final topic in this series on relationships. God made us for relationships, and he intends our relationships to look different than the world’s.
We started this series at the end of January with a theology of relationships. Then we looked at the Proverbs and the New Testament to see what they have to teach us about communication. After that, we spent a couple weeks talking about conflict resolution, followed by a message on forgiveness.
We talked about the two different kinds of forgiveness, and I really appreciated someone talking to me this past week about the message. They wanted some clarity, and they were concerned that someone might have left that message assuming it was okay at times to not forgive someone.
So, I just want to see if I can clarify that a little bit. Remember, I mentioned two types of forgiveness. The first was a universal or unconditional forgiveness, and the second was a special forgiveness that included reconciliation. The relationship between you and the other person is fixed. That’s a second step, we might say, to forgiveness, after the first step.
When you understand universal forgiveness, you realize that it’s never okay to not forgive someone. When you understand special forgiveness, you also realize that not every relationship is going to be fixed or reconciled.
So, the concern of the person who talked to me is a legitimate one. Please don’t think that there is ever a time or a situation where you are not called to forgive. You are not free to not forgive. At the same time, please don’t think that every single relational conflict is going to have perfect reconciliation. Between brothers and sisters in the faith, when there is repentance, we can have true reconciliation. But when someone refuses to address something serious in their life, there’s only so much you can do.
So, I don’t want any of you to wrongfully liberate your conscience from the need to forgive. And I don’t want any of you to feel unnecessarily guilty because some relationship has not been fully reconciled. Go to God. Go to a brother or sister in the faith. And see if God would have you do more to seek reconciliation, or maybe you’ve already done enough. Our hearts should break over relational conflict, but if we’ve done everything we can, that grief doesn’t have to be mixed with guilt. Okay? I hope that makes sense, or helps bring some clarity.
For today’s message, we are going to be a bit more practical, and that’s easy to do because we are going back to the book of Proverbs. Remember, Proverbs is like a boot camp for life. It’s the basics of honoring and fearing the Lord, and it covers a variety of important topics. Remember, Proverbs is a book written by a father to train his son. And the topic I’ve chosen to look at today is friendship.
Like we’ve already said, God created us as relational beings. And in the wisdom of our heavenly Father, He has told us how to relate to others.
To use the language of Proverbs, being a good friend is part of how we “fear the Lord.” Really, most of the principles in Proverbs can be applied to friendships, but I just want to highlight some for us this morning.
To start, I’d like you to go with me to Proverbs 18:1. Proverbs 18:1. To me, this is one of those Proverbs gems which stands out because of how valuable it is. Proverbs is near the middle of your Bible. After Psalms, but before Isaiah and Jeremiah. Look at Proverbs 18:1. It says: Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.
Again, God didn’t intend for you to go through this life alone. Obviously, there will be times when you feel more lonely, but as a Christian, I believe God would have you look for brothers and sisters to connect with. We are a body.
You might be tempted, for a variety of reasons, to isolate yourself or your family. But God’s word says that’s foolishness. That’s dangerous. Don’t do life all by yourself. You need friends. You need others.
At the same time, you need to make sure you get the right friends. I think we’ve got 5 kids finishing high school this year. And when that happens, that usually means they’re gonna start making a new set of friends. And you need the wisdom to find the right friends and to be the right kind of friend.
In 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul gives us a quote: Bad company ruins good morals.
Your friends are either going to be a good influence on you, or a bad influence. And you are either going to be a good influence on others, or a bad influence. What’s the difference? What does it mean, or what does it look like, to be a good friend or a bad friend?
I’ve already preached on Proverbs 1-9, so I’ve focused my results on Proverbs 10 and forward, which is when we get much shorter sections of topics. As we go through these Proverbs today, I don’t think we’re going to find anything radically new, but these lessons are so important at every stage of life. God knows we constantly need these kinds of reminders. So, again, whether you are looking for friends, or looking to be a good friend, what does the wise father of Proverbs want us to know?
I was hoping to finish this topic this week, but I had too much for just one sermon. So today, I’m going to give you a list of negative attributes. And then, in two weeks, after a pause for Victor’s sermon, we’ll come back and look at some positive attributes.
What are some dangers in a relationship? Who are the kind of people you want to be careful about associating too closely with? And what kind of character traits do you want to avoid if you want to be a good friend?
Don’t just take today’s list in a generic sense. Really think about how it applies in your own relationships or family. If you’re single, what kind of person should you be looking for or avoiding? And what kind of person should you be striving to be? Make this personal and make some time to talk with someone about what stood out to you.
Let’s start this list of negative traits for friendship with a very dangerous attribute: An Uncontrolled Anger. You can make that the first item on your bad list. Uncontrolled anger.
Go with me to Proverbs16:29. Proverbs 16:29—A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good.
This is a principle that the Proverbs dad touched on in the opening chapter of the book. He told his son, “Listen, if sinners entice you, don’t go with them. Don’t get caught up with a plot to kill or steal.” These kinds of people might entice by flattery or by intimidation, but either way, it’s not good.
Jump over to Proverbs 22:24. Proverbs 22:24 and 25 says this—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.
In other words, anger is very contagious. Maybe a more contemporary word would be uproar. This is more and more common now, especially with the news media and with social media. People have learned that negative emotions are very attractive. So, if a headline can produce outrage in you, you are more likely to share it, and to come back next time.
In the real of politics and in the corporate world, anger and intimidation is what gets things done, so it has a certain appeal to it. Don’t get caught up in that. Work on responding to anger in a God-honoring way, and be very careful about spending too much time with friends like that. Stay away from uncontrolled anger.
Let’s add a second item on the list. Let’s put: A Consuming Gratification. Consuming Gratification. Another word for this is self-indulgence. Just like uncontrolled anger, this is a lack of self-control.
You need to be very careful about people who cannot control their bodily desires. God filled this world with pleasures that we can enjoy. He designed them to be delightful and life-giving. But if someone allows their desires to dominate them, they are headed down a dangerous path.
Go with me to Proverbs 23, verse 20. We’re actually going to see two verses. Proverbs 23, verses 20 and 21. Here’s what it says—Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.
When we hear the word “glutton,” we might think about how someone looks. But the father here isn’t talking about somebody’s weight; that’s a very superficial way to understand this. He’s talking about a person’s lifestyle. In the Bible, the word “glutton” is focused on excessiveness, but not necessarily on the food itself. It’s an excessive attention or focus. For a glutton, food has become a consuming thing.
In “The Screwtape Letters,” C. S. Lewis writes about what he calls “the gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess.” He calls it “a kind of sensuality” which is hidden because the quantities are small. As an example, he presents an elderly lady who always turns down what is offered to her, asking instead for a small cup of tea with toast. Lewis says:
“Because what she wants is smaller and less costly... she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practicing temperance...Her belly now dominates her whole life... She never finds any servant or friend who can do simple things ‘properly’—because her ‘properly’ conceals an insatiable demand for the exact.”
Also speaking on gluttony, Kevin DeYoung writes this: “Health-conscious foodies beware: the problem of gluttony was not too much food, but too much attention to food. We might say, in the broadest ethical sense, that gluttony is using food in a way that dulls us from the spiritual and distracts us from God. That’s certainly a danger for most of us, but it’s not the same as enjoying a meal, feeling stuffed, or being overweight.”
“So,” DeYoung continues, “what does the sin of gluttony look like? When we take time to open our Bibles and read the relevant passages, we find that gluttony is much more than eating an entire bag of Double Stuf Oreos... The composite picture... suggests that a glutton is a loafer, a partyer, and a profligate. He’s the prodigal son wasting his life on riotous living. She’s the girl on spring break who thinks the pinnacle of human existence is to eat, drink, and hook up. A wastrel living for the weekend. A big-city highflier who cares for nothing except that he might indulge in high society.”
Those are very helpful insights. Be careful about friends who are excessively preoccupied with the pleasures or the stuff of this life. That will end in poverty and shame.
Turn with me to Proverbs 28:7. Proverbs 28, verse 7, repeats this idea: The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father.
Be very careful about letting people into your most intimate circle of friends when those people are obsessed with the pleasures of life.
One final verse here is Proverbs 29:3. Proverbs 29:3—He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
This life is about much more than physical pleasures of sleep and food and sex. Find friends who understand that. And as you grow in you own understanding of that, you will be a better friend. Beware of uncontrolled anger, and beware of consuming gratification or indulgence.
A third item we can add to this list of negative or dangerous traits is this: A Superficial flattery. Superficial flattery. Everyone likes it when people say nice things to them. But that can be a very dangerous trap.
Turn with me to Proverbs 14:20. This is simply giving a general principle, but it’s along these lines. Proverbs 14:20—The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.
Why do the rich have many friends? Because they all want something from them. God isn’t saying that it’s wrong to have wealthy friends, or that it’s wrong to have wealthy friends. But the wisdom here is: Be careful when you choose your friends because rather than care about you as a person, many people only care about what you can give them materially.
Jump over to Proverbs 19, verse 4. We’ve got three Proverbs all close together saying a similar thing. Proverbs 19:4 says—Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend.
Then verses 6 and 7 say it like this—Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man's brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them.
There’s a general principle there about riches and poverty, but there’s also a warning about false friends. A false friend is more concerned about taking from you than giving.
In the Old Testament culture, hospitality was a big deal. If someone came over to your house, the rules of hospitality said you were supposed to feed him. So, someone could take advantage of a friend just by going over his house all the time. It was a free meal every day. You see that in the New Testament too with the Thessalonian church.
Listen to what Proverbs 25:17 says about being a good friend. Here is how you can help make sure you’re not a superficial friend. Proverbs 25:17—Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor's house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.
Having superficial friends doesn’t just mean they focus on money or food. Another possibility is a focus on pleasure.
For you single people, if you are allowing a guy or a girl to enjoy your body physically, how can you know, how can you be certain that he or she really likes you for who you are? You can’t. Sexual intimacy outside of marriage not only is a sin, it clouds your discernment. Just like with money and free food, sexual sin greatly diminishes your ability to determine whether or not this is going to be a healthy relationship. It makes you susceptible to superficial friends.
Speaking of superficial friends, look at Proverbs 27, verse 6. Proverbs 27:6—Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Again, that’s superficial flattery. Be careful. Jump over to verse 14. Be careful, not only of those who flatter you, but be careful of your temptation to flatter others. Proverbs 27:14—Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.
Flattery can be annoying, and it’s also very suspicious. Don’t give in to it. Let’s end this section with Proverbs 29:5. Proverbs 29:5—A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.
So, on our list of dangerous traits for friendship, we have an uncontrolled anger, consuming gratification, superficial flattery, and lastly for today, we have a destructive tongue. A destructive tongue.
Obviously, there’s a good amount of overlap in these principles, but the Proverbs repeatedly point out how dangerous certain sins of the tongue are to a friendship.
Let’s start with Proverbs 16:28. I’m going to run through these passages pretty quick since we’ve covered a lot of this already when we talked about communication, but let me point them out to you within the context of friendships. Proverbs 16:28 says—A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.
Dishonesty and gossip can ruin a friendship. Now go over to Proverbs 17:9. Proverbs 17:9—Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
Repeating a matter is talking about someone who goes around talking to other people about what happened. That’s gossip or slander. It’s destructive. So is lying.
Turn to Proverbs 24:28. Proverbs 24:28—Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips.
Proverbs 25:18 continues that idea. Proverbs 25:18—A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.
Those are dangerous weapons. They can cause serious damage. It’s the same with a lie. One final verse here and then we’ll be done with our list of negative traits. Proverbs 26:18. Proverbs 26:18 and 19. We get a very vivid picture of the danger of words.
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”
You can talk to my brother about the details, but one day here at church, he witnessed some crazy guy running down the street with a machete chasing some poor lady. And a Good Samaritan went chasing after him trying to distract him. And the next thing my brother knows, that Good Samaritan is running back the other direction with the machete going after him. It was crazy!
Well, that’s how destructive words can be, even if you say it was only meant as a joke. Words can be disastrous. You want a friend, and you want to be the kind of friend, who is learning to control the tongue. Be careful about people who can’t control their tongue. They will ruin their own lives, and they will ruin yours as well.
Well, like I said, we’re going to switch over to some positive traits in a couple weeks. But just looking at the list we made today, we can think about the opposite of those dangerous traits and apply them to our lives and our decisions about friends.
Instead of superficial friends, we want sincere friends. We don’t want people given over to anger or to desires, or to their tongues. We want our closest friends to be marked by self-control and sincerity. Saying it another way, we want friends who are going to be faithful to God and faithful to others. Because that’s what we want to be too, right?
Listen, I don’t want this study in the Proverbs to be a reason for us to elevate ourselves over others. We all struggle. None of us is perfect, right? But we should all be heading in the same direction. And we should be helping one another move in that direction as well.
Let me close with two familiar passages from the book of Hebrews, emphasizing how important our connection is to one another.
Hebrews chapter 3, verses 12 and 13 say this: Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
How often does it say we need to exhort one another? Every day. All of us, by the grace of God, need to be playing a part in helping someone else grow in their walk with Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to be a true friend.
And that’s what the author of Hebrews goes back to in chapter 10, verses 23-25—Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Christ has come already to save us from sin and to give us power to fight our sin. And He’s coming again for our final rescue. Let’s help one another get ready for that final day. Let’s be faithful friends.