Good friendships are one of the greatest blessings we can enjoy on earth. Especially when those friendships unite marriage and family. However, some of our most bitter experiences happen when things go wrong in relationships. And it can happen suddenly too. “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam...” (Prov 17:14). Whoosh! Suddenly years of trust are swept away, leaving only deviation and chaos behind it. In a fallen world with so many people rebelling against God's way of doing things, how can we protect ourselves from strife like this? How can we build good, trusting friendships? Thankfully, the Book of Proverbs is full of practical advice on this.
Here's The Problem
If you've ever fallen out with someone you'll recognise this: “He who loves a quarrel loves sin; he who builds a high gate invites destruction.” (Prov 17:19). What do many of us do after we quarrel? We hide behind our high gates. We try to protect our emotional core by withdrawing into ourselves. But often when we do so, we seem to invite even more destruction into our lives. Of course, we've also seen this too: “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.” (Prov 18:19). Sometimes the quarrel was our fault. Then we made it worse. Now it is our brother, friend or relative who won't speak to us any more.
When we read this, “A man of perverse heart does not prosper; he whose tongue is deceitful falls into trouble.” (Prov 17:20), we also need to remember that it could be our perverse heart and our deceitful tongue that got us into trouble. But when it wasn't, it hurts. “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Prov 26:28). If you have been the victim of lies or the victim of flattery to your face and malicious hate behind your back, you know the ruin it can bring.
Here's The Solution
There is nothing in this life that will guarantee that every relationship you have will never go wrong. Instead, Proverbs offers us practical wisdom. If we prayerfully ask God to enable us to live out this wisdom, we can avoid many problems and make our friendships much stronger. We must start by asking ourselves, “Which path am I walking on? God's path or my own? “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” (Prov 4:18–19). Every morning this is the choice before us. If we are going walk in the darkness of our gut-reaction and our old habits, we should not be surprised when we stumble and hurt ourselves.
The darker path looks like this: “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment.” (Prov 18:1). Hurt people can become unfriendly and selfish people. They may have started, just trying to protect themselves, but this created in them a bitter heart. They tried to keep people at a distance because the last time someone got close, that person betrayed them. They will never let that happen to them again. Unfriendliness starts as self-defence, but then it grows into selfishness and self-pity. This then sucks them down into a vicious whirlpool of darkness. All because they lacked sound judgement. Like all Proverbs, we need to prayerfully ask God, “Could this be describing me?”
So what can we do if we want to “follow the path of the righteous”? Here's some more wisdom from Proverbs:
1. Choose your friends wisely
“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” (Prov 16:28). It is easy to enjoy listening to gossip and laughing at someone who stirs up strife. Especially when someone else is the victim. It can even be tempting to think that the only way to protect you from becoming the victim of his or her malice it to make friends with him or her. Don't ever thing this will work! Remember; “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” (Prov 20:19). Gossips thrive on having an inner circle. The only thing that can ever change a gossip is no longer having an inner circle. Instead, “Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.” (Prov 22:10)
Another kind of person that you will never fix is the hot head who is given to outbursts of anger. “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.” (Prov 22:24-25). Never tell yourself, “Oh, but he's usually so kind. And he always apologises after. I'm sure if he was loved a bit more he would change.” It is tragic to see someone ensnared by an abusive relationship like this. Leaving the angry man friendless is more likely to change him than allowing him to let your willingness to forgive become the reason why he will never change.
Another kind of person to avoid is the party animal. “Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” (Prov 23:19-21). People like this can be great fun, but keeping up with them is always expensive. Partying is most fun when you are young, but this is when you are also most poor. The problem is you never stay young, but it is easy to stay poor. Especially if you work during the week to party during the weekends. I wonder how many people in their 30s can't afford a deposit for a mortgage because they drank it away each Friday and Saturday when they were in their 20s?
2. Be a loyal friend
Friendship is great! “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov 17:17). Good friendships are where we can be most honest and most loyal: “What a man desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.” (Prov 19:22). A really good and trusted friend will even have the courage to tell you something that you don't want to hear: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Prov 27:6). So, if you're only seeking friendship among those that make you feel good and flatter you, you may find yourself hurt and betrayed by them. Good friendships can also be hard to find: “Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov 20:6). So where can you find a good friend? If you are hoping to get married, where should you look? “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honour.” (Prov 21:21). Both you and he or she should be seeking to pursue righteousness and love. First and foremost, this righteousness and love has to be found in Christ. Solomon also wrote in Ecclesiastes: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Eccl 4:12). Christ has to be that third cord woven into any friendship or marriage. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov 18:24). Jesus is that friend. He's the one that will give both of you common goals, common values and a common hope. That's the key tolife, prosperity and honour.
3. Sustain Good Friendships
Good lasting friendships don't just happen. They're not made of a gold that never needs to be polished and that will never corrode. They are made of a silver that is kept most beautiful when it is regularly polished, and that will corrode when left neglected. So how do we keep polishing our friendships? Start with forgiveness and love: “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (Prov 17:9). “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Prov 10:12). Second, use your words to bless and heal, not to wound and lie: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prov 12:18) “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” (Prov 16:28). Third, do not betray a friend's confidence. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” (Prov 11:13). Fourth, when things go wrong, have the humility to examine your own contribution to the problem: “Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?” (Prov 20:9). Then be quick to admit your mistakes or when you've hurt a friend: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Prov 28:13).
The more we all keep applying these truths to our relationships, the more we will all enjoy deeper and more joyful relationships and friendships.