Friends will play an important role throughout our lives. They can influence our decision making, for better or worse. During our teenage years, our friendships often seem just as vital as food and drink. Families drop on the priority list and friends monopolize all of our free time.
But how do you know if the people you are hanging out with are truly your friends? Do you ask yourself, “Is she/he really trustworthy? Are they really my friend or will they jump ship when things get tough or someone better comes along?”
The word friend is loosely used in our society to identify people we know and have a decent upstanding relationship with. The English word ‘friend’ originated in Germany approximately 1,500 years ago as ‘freond’ from the verb, ‘freon’, which means, ‘to love.’
If an average adult around forty-years-old were asked to recount how many times they referred to people they interacted with as, ‘a friend’, going all the way back to their school years, they would probably be surprised at many of the people they wrongly placed in their ‘friend’ category.
The word friend is probably one of the most misused words in the English language. We use the word to define anyone in our lives that we are friendly with. But, what defines a true friendship?
The Book of Proverbs, found in the Bible, was written by King Solomon who is speculated to be the wisest and wealthiest man that ever lived. King Solomon addresses friendship and though his words of wisdom are thousands of years old, they are still just as useful today in navigating life decisions such as, what characterizes a true friend?
- Proverbs 17:17 A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.
- Proverbs 18:24 There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.
- Proverbs 20:6 Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?
A true friend is loyal. Being loyal does not mean being perfect. At some point we will fail the ones we love. But overall, for a true friendship to exist there has to be loyalty. A loyal friend will stick closer than a brother. This means they will always be there for you through thick and thin, when you are at your best, and when you are at your worst. A loyal friend will not always affirm your decisions, but will not turn their back on you either if you make the wrong decision. A loyal friend is reliable. This does not mean being a twenty-four-hour-hotline. It means being who you say you are i.e. trustworthy, and doing what you say you will.
Another defining characteristic of loyalty is being there in a time of need. This means both physical and emotional support. A true friend will inconvenience themselves if a friend is truly in need.
- Proverbs 16:28 A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.
- Proverbs 22:11 Whoever loves a pure heart and gracious speech will have the king as a friend.
- Proverbs 22:24–25 Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.
A true friend will use gracious speech. The proverbs say gossip can separate the best of friends. Gossip is probably one of the most damaging tools that destroys relationships. It is basically, nothing more than the telephone game. Something is said or alleged by one person, and it spreads to everyone else, many times the story being twisted. True friends will talk directly to one another about a situation that arises and nobody else. They don’t go to a third party and complain or gripe.
True friends will not slander or demean one another. This happens too often in “alleged” friendships. One friend gets ‘dirt’ on the other, then tells someone and demeans their ‘friend.’ The true heart of this issue is that people often do this not necessarily to put the other person down, but to elevate themselves to look like the better person. If someone is engaged in this behavior and after being confronted, continues to do it, they
- Proverbs 27:5-6 An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. (NLT)
A true friend will be honest with you. This means more than just telling a person they have something stuck in their teeth. The proverbs say, “Wounds from a sincere friend, are better than kisses from an enemy.” In other words, honesty is valued over flattery. A true friend will be honest with you even if it hurts or ‘wounds.’ They are honest because they love you and don’t want to see you hurt or make a bad decision. They love you enough to risk being at the tail-end of your wrath for speaking up. If that person no longer wants to be friends because of your honesty, they never really were a true friend, and quite frankly, lack the judgment and character traits required to be a real friend.
An enemy or someone who is not a true friend will flatter or always substantiate your behavior no matter how wrong or dangerous it is. If someone urges you to enter into a dangerous situation or make a bad decision that could get you in trouble, they are not a true friend.
- Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
A true friend will sharpen you. The proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend,” means you will make one another better people. This means friends challenge each other to do better. They lift one another up and encourage each other.
Notice a true friend is not defined as the following: Someone you talk to everyday, who will listen to your incessant rants about your life, someone who hangs out a lot and goes to all the gatherings and parties with you. A true friend is not someone who is ever present in your life. It is the quality of their contribution to your life, not the quantity.
When you evaluate the people in your life, think of the things listed above. Some people will shine in some areas and may need work in others. It doesn’t mean they are not a true friend, they may be a true friend in progress. After all, we are constantly learning, even as adults how to be better people. A true friend might not have all the attributes listed above, but they will be willing to work on them. Those that do not have the attributes listed or are unwilling to work on them, go into the acquaintance category and should not be allowed in your inner circle of friendship.
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