Fountain of Life
Good Friends / Bad Friends
Good morning Chapel family! Great to be with you all today. We’re taking the summer of 2020 to walk through the book of Proverbs, which is all about living life with wisdom, instead of living like a fool. And according to Proverbs, one of the strongest indicators that shows whether you are wise or foolish is this—you ready for this? Your friends. The kinds of friendships that you have. Truly wise people—the people who do well in life—walk through life with a certain kind of friends.
About ten ago, there was a movie called I Love You, Man. Anybody remember that? And the premise was: a young guy gets engaged, and they start planning the wedding. But he realizes he doesn’t really have any friends. No one that he can ask to be his best man, or his groomsmen. So he has to scramble, and find friends in time for his wedding…and the movie kind of goes downhill from there. It’s not worth seeing. But why would a movie like that even get made? Well, because for a lot of people, it’s uncomfortably close to the truth.
A few years ago a book came out called Bowling Alone. It was written by a professor at Harvard Business School. And he talks about a clear trend in our culture over the past 30 years or so. For example…Over the past 30 years, playing cards together is down 25 percent. And, of course, it’s not really about playing cards—it’s about spending time with friends. Family dinners are down 33 percent. Who has time for that, right? That’s why they make drive-throughs. Having friends over to your house is down 45 percent. Think about it: when is the last time you’ve had a party, where you brought your friends over? (think before Covid). Or, when your friends invited you over to their house? Down 45 percent. Things are changing.
A recent study done by Duke University found that back in 1985, the average American had three close friends. Today, the average American has two close friends. I don’t what that other guy did wrong, but he’s gone! And listen to this: they said the percentage of people who talked to only family members rose from 57% to 80%. Wow! And it remains to be seen how Covid-19 will affect all of this. I have a feeling it’s making us even more isolated.
So I’m not trying to depress you with all the statistics, but here’s the point: if a big part of wise living is having a certain kind of friendships, we’re going to have to make some intentional and countercultural choices to make this a reality in our lives. Does that make sense? This won’t come easy. But I promise you: it is so worth it. The Chapel staff meets in small groups for prayer and Bible study every Monday, and this past Monday one of the single members of our staff was in my group, and he said something so simple. He said, “There’s nothing quite like a good friend. Knowing that person is for you, and yet is willing to challenge you when necessary.” And then he said this, “People sometimes ask me if I’m sick of being single, and the answer is no. I’m fine with it. And the main reason is that I have some really good friends.” That is countercultural! That is increasingly rare. But it’s possible. And it’s worth the effort.
So, let’s read the Scripture. And it’s actually four separate verses from the Proverbs, starting with Proverbs 12:26. Hear the Word of the Lord…
The righteous choose their friends carefully,
but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
5 Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
And finally, Proverbs 18:24…
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. This is the Word of God.
So here’s how we’re going to do this: Proverbs tells us something about All Friends, something about Good Friends, and something about Rare Friends. Okay? So picture 3 circles, one inside of the other. The biggest circle is all friends; then there’s a smaller part of that circle you’d call “good friends,” and then an even smaller circle inside of that called “rare friends.” So, you got it? Something about all friends, something about good friends, and something about only the rarest of friends.
So here’s the first thing: All Friends Influence Us. All friends influence us. Look at Proverbs 22, verses 24 and 25:
24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
do not associate with one easily angered,
25 or you may learn their ways
and get yourself ensnared.
In other words, we tend to become like our friends! If you spend a lot of time with someone who’s hot-tempered and easily angered, all of a sudden you may find yourself cursing at cars on the highway. You never used to do that! But you’ve seen your friend do it so many times, and now it seems normal. Our friends tend to rub off on us. So this is the classic peer pressure concept, right? A middle school boy who’s always been respectful and a little shy around girls, starts hanging out with a group of kids who make lots of sexual jokes, and they talk about girls as objects to be used. And over time that mindset just rubs off on him. He becomes like them. Some of you are thinking, “Well I’m not in middle school. I’m a strong person. I’m not that easily influenced.” You might be surprised. The power of group expectations doesn’t go away when we become adults. It just changes in form. So Proverbs says, “Be careful about being friends with certain kinds of people.”
Thankfully, this also works in a positive way. Look at Proverbs 13:20…
Walk with the wise and become wise,
for a companion of fools suffers harm.
Walk with the wise—spend time around people you truly respect—because whether you admit it or not, you’re going to become like them to some degree. It just happens. All friends influence us.
And so here’s the wise response to that—Proverbs 12:26…The righteous choose their friends carefully… Aren’t you glad we don’t just get friends assigned to us? Kind of like arranged marriage—aren’t you glad it’s not arranged friendship? Alright Dave, we’ve decided you’re going to be friends with John, Steve, and Bill. And watch out for Bill—he’s got a hot temper. That’s not the way it works, thank God. Especially as adults—we get to choose our friends. And Proverbs says the righteous—really godly, wise people—take that choice seriously. So let me ask you: how are you doing at choosing friends?
When I started college, I decided the best way to make friends would be to join a fraternity. So, along with two other guys from my dorm, I went to fraternity rush, where you go around and meet different fraternities, and they get to know you. And we all wound up getting invited to join two different fraternities: Lambda Chi Alpha and Kappa Sigma. So all three of us—the other two guys from my dorm and I—chose Lambda Chi.
And I went to bed that night, and I couldn’t sleep. Because Lambda Chi—the frat we had chosen—was a pure partying frat. At least that’s how I saw it. The guys were kind of classic Animal House guys—if you know what I mean. Nice guys—but they majored in beer and women. In that order. Kappa Sigma—the other fraternity that we hadn’t chosen—actually had a lot of guys like that too…but not everyone. During the rush process I had met two guys in that frat who were outspoken Christians. They were very respected by the other guys—active in the fraternity, but clearly different. And as I lay awake in bed that night, I definitely wasn’t thinking of these Proverbs, but there was something in me that knew: I’m going to become like the people that I spend the next three years with. In some ways, I realized this choice would determine the kind of person I would be. And at about 3am that morning, lying in my bed, I reversed my decision. I broke with those other two guys from my dorm, and decided to join Kappa Sigma. And I’ll be honest: my fraternity experience was pretty mediocre; but putting myself around those two guys, and other people I met through them, changed the trajectory of my life and still affects me to this day. I decided to walk with the wise, and I became wiser.
All friends influence us! So choose carefully. You get to choose! What are you basing that choice on? Popularity? Outward image? When we do it that way, we pass up so many quality people, who would actually make great friends. But we don’t see it that way, because we’re just looking at the surface. 1 Samuel 16:7 says: “People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” So ask God for the vision to see people as he sees them. There may be some friends you need to distance yourself from. Because honestly, they’re bringing out the worst in you. You’re becoming like them in all the worst ways. But there are other people you should move toward. It’s so easy in our culture to be passive in our friendships. Especially if you’re a guy—we’re not good at this. But a truly wise person takes the initiative and chooses good friends.
So that’s true of all friends—they all influence us, for good or for bad. Now, let’s narrow it down a little bit. Within that larger group, there are certain people who qualify as good friends. And Proverbs identifies one of the main qualities of good friends—here it is—point number 2: Good Friends Speak Truth to Us. They speak truth to us. Proverbs 27:6 says…
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.
What does that mean: An enemy multiplies kisses? It means if someone only ever tells you good things about yourself—if they only affirm you and never challenge you and never call you out on anything—kiss kiss kiss—they might say they’re a friend, but they’re actually functioning more like an enemy. Wow. And of course, it works the other way around, too. If you always agree with your friends and affirm your friends—kiss kiss kiss—and you never call them out on anything, you’re actually playing the role of an enemy in their life. On the other hand, Wounds from a friend—hard but true words—can be trusted. Even though it hurts, sometimes love means speaking hard truth.
You know why this doesn’t happen with that larger group of friends—why this is only with good friends? Because it’s hard. Because of things like ego and fear. So it doesn’t happen that often.
There was an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, by a guy name William Deresiewicz, called “Faux Friendship”—f-a-u-x, as in “fake.” And this is so fascinating: it’s all about how our idea of friendship has changed over the years. And I’m going to quote the article:
[Concerning] the moral content of classical friendship, its commitment to virtue and mutual improvement, that … has been lost. We have ceased to believe that a friend's highest purpose is to summon us to the good by offering moral advice and correction. We practice, instead, the nonjudgmental friendship of unconditional acceptance and support... We seem to be terribly fragile now. A friend fulfills her duty, we suppose, by taking our side—validating our feelings, supporting our decisions, helping us to feel good about ourselves. We tell white lies, make excuses when a friend does something wrong, do what we can to keep the boat steady. We're busy people; we want our friendships fun and friction-free….
Man, that is spot-on. Even when someone really needs to be challenged, we are so hesitant to challenge them. And therefore, our friendships remain shallow. But wounds from a friend—from a true friend—can be trusted.
Gordon MacDonald is a pastor and author. And when he first became a pastor, he would meet with the chairman of the church’s elder board every Monday morning to hear his perspective on how things were going. And he said, “Apparently, every time the board chairman told me something unpleasant about what he was seeing or hearing about in the church, I would kind of bristle. I would get defensive.” So one time the board chairman said something negative, and Gordon MacDonald kind of tensed up. And the board chairman leaned across the table, and he said, “Pastor, you have a trait that you’re going to have to get rid of. It’s over-sensitivity. We’re not talking you or how we feel about you; we’re talking about your ministry and how we can make it better. Stop injecting your feelings into these discussions.”
And here’s what Gordon MacDonald wrote:
Listen carefully to such a rebuke! Your whole future may be marching before your eyes. Suddenly, someone has put a finger on a character quality that stands between you and your dreams. The man gave me a treasure of an insight. I hear it to this day— 35 years later—every time my wife, my friend…or my enemy begins to say something I don't want to hear.
Man, there is so much wisdom in those words. Do you have someone in your life who loves you enough to tell you the truth, even when it’s hard? “I feel like you might be getting too close to that married woman at the office.” “I’m worried you might be drinking too much.” “I’m really concerned about your temper.” Whatever it is…listen to them. It doesn’t mean they’re always right; it doesn’t mean you have to accept everything they say. But humble yourself and listen.
Proverbs 27:17 says:
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
I’m usually the sous chef in my kitchen. Which basically means I cut stuff up before Norma Jean cooks it. And I happily accept that role, because my wife is a great cook. So I have three or four large knives that I use to cut vegetables or meat. So one time we were actually cooking with another couple—good friends of ours. And my friend picked up one of my knives and started cutting something, and he said, “Your knives are really dull! Don’t you ever sharpen them?” See, he loved me enough to speak the truth. And I, of course, got defensive. I said, “My knives are fine. You’re just weak.” But he insisted. So I went out and bought an electric knife sharpener—you plug it in, and it has these rotating disks made of some kind of hard material, and you just run the knife through it a few times, and it knocks off that dull edge, and sharpens it right up. I mean, I have raised my sous chef game to another level.
Iron sharpens iron. My knives aren’t made out of iron; they’re steel. But they get dull, and the only way to sharpen them is to put them through something abrasive. Do you have any friends who are kind of abrasive—they’re not afraid to speak truth? Now, some people are abrasive, but they don’t love you. They’re just mean. They pride themselves on being brutally honest, but they seem to enjoy the brutal part more than the honest part. But we need to find people who are a little abrasive—like a knife sharpener—who speak the truth, but who also love us dearly. Those are really good friends. And they’re not always critiquing us! But when they do, it is so wise to listen. Iron sharpens iron.
All friends influence us…so choose wisely.
Good friends speak truth to us…so be receptive.
And then, within that smaller circle of “good friends,” there’s an even smaller subset that I would call “rare friends.” Because there aren’t many of them. And here’s what Proverbs says—3rd point: Rare Friends Stand By Us. Rare friends stand by us. Throughout the course of your life, there will be moments when you feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. And at those moments, what you will need more than anything else is a friend to stand by you.
Proverbs 17:17 says:
A friend loves at all times, (not just the good times)
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
Proverbs 18:24 says:
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Very few friends fall into this category. You can go through your entire life and not have a friend like this. This is rare air. This is the elite kind of friendship: someone who sticks with you—no. Matter. What. When you lose your job, they’re there. When you get broken up with, they’re there. When your parents get divorced, they’re there. When the biopsy report comes back and it’s malignant, they’re there, and six months later, when you’re halfway through chemo treatments, they’re still there. When you do something really foolish or really wrong, they’re there. They don’t condone it; they speak the truth to you; but they stick with you; they love you, and you know it.
And here’s the toughest part: when you hurt them or offend them or neglect them, they’re still there. This is the reason why so few friendships reach this level and sustain this level—because sooner or later, something will be said or something will be done or not said or not done, and one of the friends will be offended. And 9 times out of 10, that will put a wedge in the relationship and distance will start to form. But rare friends push through that. They confront in love; they listen; and ultimately they forgive. And the relationship actually gets stronger because of it. Listen: if you want to find a reason to be annoyed or upset or disappointed with someone, you will find it. People are annoying and upsetting and disappointing. I am with my friends. But true friends push through that. Rare friends stand by us. They continue to love us, even when we’re not that loveable.
There’s a Netflix series called “Modern Love.” And in one of the episodes, Anne Hathaway plays a brilliant, young attorney who has bipolar depression. So when she’s up, she’s energetic and creative and a fiercely effective attorney. But when she’s in a depressive phase, she misses work for days on end; she stays in bed; in her words, she’s impossible to be around, and she’s the worst friend you could ever have. Every job she’s had and every friend she’s had, she’s lost. So toward the end of the episode, she’s just been fired by yet another job. And as she’s carrying her boxes out of the law firm office, one of the lawyers in the firm—a middle-aged woman—asks if she’d like to get coffee. And over coffee, for the first time in her life, Anne Hathaway’s character tells another human being that she’s bipolar. And she braces for the rejection. But it doesn’t come. Instead, this woman cancels her next meeting so she can spend more time with her. And she commits to walking with her—to standing by her—no longer as a work colleague, but just as a friend. And as the scene zooms out, you hear Anne Hathaway’s voice, on a voiceover, saying, “It’s amazing what trusting one true friend in your life can do.” Rare friends stand by us.
So how do you find friends like that? How do you find people who will stand by you no matter what, and love you even when you’re not loveable? That’s the wrong question. A much wiser question is this: how do I become a friend like that? How do I be this in the life of someone else? And the answer is this—and this is going to sound too simple, but it’s not. The way to become a rare, true is to be personally captivated by the love of Christ.
Listen to what Jesus told his friends—John 15:12… 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is so amazing. Because this is one of the last conversations Jesus had with his followers. He knew that the next day, they would see him bleeding to death on a cross, and he wanted them to interpret that moment in a certain way. He could have said, “Behold, by this act of substitutionary sacrifice, I shall provide atonement for the sins of the world.” That was all true! But he didn’t say that. What did he say? “I’m about to show you what a true friend does. A friend unselfishly sacrifices himself for the good of another. And when you see me on the cross, you’re going to see the ultimate example of that. And then, listen: go out and start loving each other just like that.” He doesn’t say, “Go look for true friends”; he says, “Go and be a true friend. Because you’ve been loved by me to this degree, you now have what it takes to be a rare friend.”
See, without Jesus, we’ll bale out. Friendship is hard! And we’ll get offended, or it’ll become too inconvenient. Some people are so hard to love, standing by them will just be exhausting. And our natural response will be to back off, and say, “I don’t have what it takes to be that good of a friend!” And Jesus says, “Let me give you what it takes. Let me fill you with so much love—let me make the cross so personal to you—that you’re able to go out and love people sacrificially and riskily and loyally, in ways you never could before. Even if you’re not getting that kind of love from other people, you’ll be getting it from me.”
See, the right question is, “How can I become a rare friend in the lives of others?” And the answer is: Let your heart be captivated by the friendship of Christ.
Life can be so confusing—especially in a pandemic. At a time when everything seems to be changing, let’s root ourselves in the unchanging wisdom of Proverbs. Throughout this 3,000-year-old book, wisdom is referred to as “the fountain of life”—exactly what we need when we’re exhausted, empty, and dry. Come and drink deeply from the fountain of life.