The book of Proverbs is a unique piece of inspired literature. Couched within its brief, memorable phrases is wise instruction for godly living. This instruction promotes the knowledge of what is right, and the strength to live it. These principles are two pillars of divine counsel that permeate this book. Within this general framework, Proverbs touches a variety of concerns that confront the person who is trying to live a righteous life. One of these topics is "friends". Friends are important, and we all have them. They can be a positive influence or a spiritual hindrance. "Good friends" are characterized by four qualities as seen in Proverbs: constancy, candor, counsel, and consideration.
A good and faithful friend evidences constancy. A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity(Prov. 17:17, ESV). But some so-called friends do not "love at all times". Solomon wrote in Proverbs 14:20, The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. These "friends of opportunity" are similar to "fair-weather" friends. They are of no value for real needs and support. Choose your friends wisely, for a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). The cultivation of friendships indiscriminately can be disastrous.
A true friend possesses candor. He will be open, honest, and sincere. Reproof that is given in love is noble; insincere affection is hypocritical. Solomon said, Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy (Prov. 27:6). To surround ourselves with "yes men" is spiritually detrimental. A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet (Prov. 29:5). We ought to be thankful when our friends offer criticism; we ought to take it as constructively as we can. Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue (Prov. 28:23). Candor is a quality of a true friend.
A genuine friend offers wise counsel, even a healthy clash of views. Real friends provide this kind of constructive advice. The sage of Israel wrote, Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another(Prov. 27:17). This counsel, even in the form of loving disapproval, as shared among friends, is healthy. Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel(Prov. 27:9). Friendship involves recommending even the difficult and conveying the unwanted counsel. Such a counselor is a friend to be cherished.
A trustworthy friend has consideration. He should demonstrate compassion for the feelings of friends. He ought to have a deep sensitivity so he can say the right thing at the right time. If "counsel" is what he says, "consideration" is how and when he says it. Solomon observed, Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda (Prov. 25:20).
Friends with these noble qualities should be appreciated. This is the kind of friend we all desire; it is the type of friend we ought to be. Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend, and do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away (Prov. 27:10). Friends who have proved faithful for decades should be cultivated further, but some look for friendship, even with relatives, only in times of trouble. Our "best friends" will be those who are nearby - constant, candid, counseling, and considerate. We all ought to build better friendships, providing the kind of positive influence that will help people go to heaven and build up the body of Christ.