Human beings were created to be relational, and friendships are an important part of our lives. We need friends—people we bond with in mutual affection. But not just any friend will do; having the right friends is key, and discernment is required: “The righteous choose their friends carefully” (Proverbs 12:26). In Scripture, we see what a true friend should be:
A true friend shows love, no matter what (Proverbs 17:17).
A true friend gives heartfelt advice, bringing joy to the heart (Proverbs 27:9).
A true friend rebukes when necessary, but the correction is done in love (Proverbs 27:5–6).
A true friend influences, enlivens, and sharpens (Proverbs 27:17).
A true friend avoid gossip (Proverbs 16:28).
A true friend forgives and does not hold grudges (Proverbs 17:9).
A true friend is loyal (Proverbs 18:24).
A true friend helps in time of need (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).
Friends can console and help us when we are in trouble, as when Barzillai the Gileadite consoled David when he was being hunted by Saul (2 Samuel 19:25–26) or when Jephthah’s daughter’s friends consoled her in her sorrow (Judges 11:37–38). A friend may also rebuke in love, proving more faithful than a hypocritical flatterer (Proverbs 27:6).
One of the greatest biblical examples of friendship is David and Jonathan, son of King Saul. Jonathan’s loyalty to his friend, David, exceeded that to his own father and his own ambitions (1 Samuel 18:1–4; 20:14–17). So attached was David to his loyal friend that, after Jonathan’s death, David wrote a song to him, a tribute filled with heart-wrenching pathos (2 Samuel 1:19–27). Theirs was a friendship closer than brotherhood. In the New Testament, many of Paul’s letters begin and end with tributes to his friends, those who ministered to him, supported him, prayed for him, and loved him.
Friendship can have its negative aspects as well. Supposed friends can lead us into sin, as when Jonadab counseled Amnon to rape his half-sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1–6). A friend can lead us astray spiritually, as Israel was warned about (Deuteronomy 13:6–11). Even well-intentioned friends can provide false comfort and give bad advice, as Job’s friends did, making his suffering worse and displeasing the Lord (Job 2:11–13; 6:14–27; 42:7–9). People we thought were friends can prove false, deserting us when our friendship no longer benefits them (Psalm 55:12–14; Proverbs 19:4, 6–7). For all these reasons and more, friends should be chosen carefully. As Paul taught, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
The Bible gives warnings about the wrong types of friends. We are not to be friends with a hot-tempered person, for example (Proverbs 22:24–25). And Proverbs 1:10–19 and 4:14–19 warn against those who entice us to do wrong. We should not associate with evildoers, no matter how great the promised reward or how appealing their “friendship” seems to be. Those whose “feet rush to sin” should be avoided at all costs. The path they choose is no place for a Christian whose choice should be to follow the “path of the righteous.” Only that path leads to friendship with God.
The greatest friend anyone could possibly have is Jesus Christ. He gladly calls us friends (John 15:15), and He proved His commitment and affection for us in a convincing way: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).