Friendship: Its Essence, Its Test

It’s come as a surprise to me that the 27th chapter of Proverbs has become a favorite in that vast book filled with maxims, truths, and adages. So much of that chapter is about friendship.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy….. Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend…. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away…. He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him…. Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another….”

As they said to George Bailey, “No man with many friends is poor.” Or something to that effect.

The person who can boast many friends is rich indeed. According to Facebook, my list of friends now approaches 1,800. Even if that were true–it refers to the sum total of people I’m connected to in that vast network–there’s no way anyone could have that many “good” friends.

That list–the special, “to die for,” friends–is tiny, for all of us.

For reasons I cannot fathom, lately I’ve found myself pondering those people, those men (and for me, they’re all men, mostly my contemporaries) who occupy a strategic spot in my mind, memory, and appreciation.

And I think I’ve identified a key element of that kind of close friendship. See what you think and consider whether it’s the case in your own intimate relationships. (I use the word “intimate” in its best and highest connotation.)


The essence of the really close friendship is HONOR.

I’m honored to be this person’s friend. I feel he is better than me. An hour or an afternoon with him is like a gift. Even if we did nothing but browse old bookstores or drink coffee at a sidewalk cafe, the fellowship was like manna from heaven for me.

My friend is better than me and different from me. He (speaking generally here, now) has a mind of his own, does things I cannot, reads books and goes places I haven’t, and always–ALWAYS!–has interesting contributions to whatever we’re discussing at the moment.

Romans 12:3 comes to mind. “I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.”

With those few “best friends,” you hardly think of yourself at all. It’s not about you. You give not the slightest thought to what he thinks of you, how you’re coming across, or what you should say next. You’re in the moment.

The relationship between David and Jonathan in I Samuel 18 (and following) seems to have been of this nature. On the surface, it appears these two had so much in common each was naturally drawn to the other. I think that misses something important.

Young men who are alike in a hundred ways–athleticism, skills with weaponry, good looks, intellect, popularity–do not tend to gravitate toward one another. They become fierce competitors.

I think each saw something in the other he admired and wished was true of him. David and Jonathan felt honored to be the friend of the other.

That’s the essence, for me at least. It’s certainly the case with the handful of my special friends who come to mind.

Who are they? They all read this blog. Do they read this and wonder if they are among those few?

No. They read it and know, without having to be told.

The test of a friendship is TRUTH.

Can our relationship survive that moment of truth when one of us speaks an unpleasantry to the other? “Look, I disagree with you about that article you wrote the other day.” Instead of being offended and becoming defensive, everything inside me sits up to take notes. I’m about to get a different perspective from someone I really trust. Pay attention, self.

The reason you don’t get offended is that the difference in the two of you, far from being a hindrance or a problem, actually forms the foundation of the friendship. You admire so much in him you haven’t found in yourself. So when he disagrees with you, offers a contrary opinion on something, or points out a negative, you welcome it.

I’m remembering a conversation I had with a good friend the other day. It’s not a perfect illustration of the point, but it seems to fit here. (Besides, it’s the only incident that comes to mind this early in the morning!)

We were on the interstate; he was driving. Suddenly, I interrupted him. “My friend, you have developed a couple of bad habits in your driving.”

As the words are coming out, I had the strangest sensation. With anyone else, I would have expected them to tighten up inside, to prepare to be offended, to begin lining up their defenses. But with him, I expected none of that. He’s far better than that.

I said, “You’re talking with your hands, and sometimes you have both hands off the steering wheel, even in heavy traffic. And then, you’re looking in my direction when you talk. Not good.”

He laughed. “My wife says the same thing. But what neither of you know, is that when I’m alone, I’m a great driver.”

I said, “Of course you are. Because there’s no one to the right of you. You’re not talking, so you’re not using your hands and looking at the other person.”

He responded, “Well, it’s been years and years since I’ve been in an accident.”

I said, “It just takes one.”

He smiled, “True.”

And nothing more was said.

I used to quote that old saw that a good friend is someone you can call at three in the morning to come help you bury the body; he shows up and never asks for an explanation.

I quit when that actually happened in Houston a few years back. The driver was coming home from a late party and was half-stoned when she hit the homeless man crossing the street in front of her. What is even more gruesome is that the victim came into the windshield. And she drove home with him hanging half in and half out, severely injured. Then she left him to die in the garage, if you can believe this.

Two days later, she managed to get up the courage to call her friends. A couple of them came and did just what the adage said: they helped her dispose of the body.

I suspect they’re all in jail now. Those were no friends. A true friend is as much into truth as into you.

He is no friend who helps you do wrong.

The thing about my friends–there ought to be a better term for it than “best friends”–is that instead of enabling my lower nature, they make me aspire to be more than I am, to become better than I ever was, to grow and stretch.

I type this and find myself wondering: when have I ever done that for them?

It feels like never.

I am so honored to be their friend.

“Let each esteem others better than himself.” That’s how I learned Romans 12:10. The NASB puts it, “Give preference to one another in honor.” A footnote at the bottom informs the reader that it literally says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.”

One thought on “Friendship: Its Essence, Its Test

  1. I hope you’ll let me show you someday how well I drive with my eyes closed too!! 🙂 Thanks for being my friend (and driving coach)! — Mike K.

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