How to Be a Friend,
According to the Bible

What should we look for in a friend?
And how can we be a good friend to others?

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on Forging Friendships in the Faith.

Eliza Tan

How to Be a Friend, According to the Bible

What should we look for in a friend? And how can we be a good friend to others?

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on Forging Friendships in the Faith.

Eliza Tan

If you’re looking for advice on making friends, you don’t have to go very far. Dale Carnegie’s classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has sold over 30 million copies since it was published in 1936. Social media is replete with homespun advice—and warnings—on what makes a good (or bad) friend. And stories, such as The Lord of the Rings, show us what we can overcome when we have friends with whom to go through thick and thin.

The Bible, however, has advice on friendship that, while written more than 2,000 years ago, is as relevant and powerful today. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, for example, are full of prudent observations on what makes a good friend and how to be one. Non-believers, too, will find wisdom in their advice.

According to the Bible, a true friend is one who is . . .

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. —Proverbs 18:24

I love this verse for the way it describes a friend as one who “sticks” closely. As the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament explains it, “sticks” gives the sense of someone who clings to another in affection and loyalty—which are key to true friendship.

Fair-weather friends disappear when you need them. True friends, however, stay by your side all the time, no matter what happens. They are faithful and dependable, and they love at all times, even in adversity (Proverbs 17:17). 

I’ve seen some inspiring examples of loyalty in church that showed me what true friendship looks like in real life.

When Adam decided to return to our church after serving a few months in prison, his peers Timothy and his wife accompanied him to a Good Friday service. Subsequently, Timothy took turns with different brothers-in-Christ to sit with Adam whenever he attended service. 

Despite the possible stigma of hanging out with an ex-convict, they desired to affirm someone who fell from grace—and in doing so, showed the grace of God, expressed through their faithfulness as friends.

A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. —Proverbs 16:28

Whoever would foster love covers over an offence, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. —Proverbs 17:9

The words “close friends” in these two verses comes from the Hebrew word ‘allûp̄, which speaks of intimate companionship. These companions share matters in confidence with one another, trusting that their secrets will not end up as fodder for gossip.

We all know that gossiping is wrong. But sometimes, people may engage in gossip unwittingly, updating others about their friend’s predicaments with the intent of sharing concerns. 

A couple’s marital woes, for example, can become fodder for gossip if those in their counselling group ask others to “support them in prayer”. Even if such intentions are sincere, the couple might want to keep their problems private. It’s wise to heed the Bible’s many warnings about how loose talk can destroy relationships and fuel misunderstandings and quarrels (Proverbs 26:20). 

True friends know that what we tell them is private and confidential. They are trustworthy and discreet (Proverbs 11:13), which allows us to be open and vulnerable with them. This, in turn, builds trust between friends and makes for true, intimate friendships.

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice. —Proverbs 27:9

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. —Proverbs 27:6

All of us have blind spots in how we behave, relate to others, or cope with life’s challenges. We may also find it hard to consider different perspectives when faced with difficult situations. 

But a friend who knows us well, our abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, would be able to affirm, sharpen, or correct us. And we would be wise to listen (Proverbs 15:31-32).

Sometimes, such godly wisdom can be painful—and can even seem to wound us, as Proverbs 27:6 notes. But such wounds are beneficial: a true friend tells us what we need to hear—even though we may not want to hear it—and challenges us to do what we should. 

I witnessed this in how a friend, Patricia, took a risk when talking to Iris, who was in a relationship with a non-Christian. On hearing Iris’ sharing of the conflicts she had with her boyfriend, Patricia gently pointed out that much of the friction probably came from their incompatible priorities and values. This caused Iris to struggle for some time, but eventually, Patricia’s advice led her to break off with her boyfriend.

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

. . .

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. — Ecclesiastes 4:10,12

There are times when we may feel alone. When we feel discouraged by failure and disappointments in our endeavours, when we feel we have stumbled in our walk of faith, and when we feel ashamed and isolated. 

But these are exactly the times when a true friend will help us and fulfil the call to love and carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). 

I witnessed this in the life of a churchmate, Janelle, who struggled with her part-time degree. Many in her care group came alongside to keep company as she studied, or even to coach her in her weaker modules. They rejoiced with her whenever she passed her exams, and prayed for her whenever she felt fearful. 

Because of all their help, Janelle was able to cope with her studies, while the group also grew closer in their like-mindedness to love one another.

Who Is A True Friend?

It’s natural to be attracted to people with charisma and outgoing personality. But character is also an important thing in friends, as we will be influenced by the company we keep. As Proverbs 12:26 tells us, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” 

These are some qualities that can guide us in how we choose friends—and also to ask ourselves if we have them, and are true friends to others. (Look out for Part 3 on how to be a better friend practically).

Whether being a friend or choosing a friend, we can thank God that He grants us wisdom for life’s essential relationships.

Why Making Friends in Church Is So Hard (but So Important)

Making Friends in Church: What Can I Do?

Eliza Tan is known by many names, but her favourite is 'My beloved child'. Though she eats to live rather than lives to eat, she still enjoys her food and wholeheartedly agrees with Ecclesiastes 3:13, "That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God."

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