Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV
A good friend has the potential to have an enormous impact on the outcome of your life.
Good friends make you better; they help you become the best version of yourself. In my experience, I’ve needed help from friends to build me up in some key areas:
- Spirituality – helping me build a relationship with God, and identify sin in my life that I’m either unaware of, hiding, or ignoring. Good friends stick with me throughout the change process
- Growth – helping me identify areas in my character that are weak, and how I can work towards developing them
- Perspective – helping me identify ways in which my thinking is off or negative, and how I can replace those thoughts with faithful ones
Growing up, I had a small but tight-knit group of friends that shared a pool of common interests you’d expect from any tribe of suburban boys – a love of video games, candy, and countless viewings of Rush Hour.
My challenge is that as I got older, I didn’t put a lot of work into expanding that definition of friendship. As a result, I’ve often found myself lacking in key areas in my relationships and struggling to grow in my depth, compassion, and understanding. And I believe I’m not alone in this.
A quick scan across the research and media landscape tells a story of a world deeply in need of friendship:
- Barna – “a recent study from health insurer Cigna found that most Americans report feeling lonely, left out and not known.”
- BBC – “Research has shown that even when lonely people do have the opportunity to socialise, the feeling warps their perception of what’s going on. Ironically, this means that while it increases their yearning for social contact, it also impairs their ability to interact with others normally.”
- The Telegraph – Facebook users have 155 friends—but would trust just four in a crisis.
- Gallup – “…our employee engagement database shows that a mere two out of 10 U.S. employees strongly agree they have a best friend at work. Yet, by moving that ratio to six in 10, organizations could realize: 36% fewer safety incidents, 7% more engaged customers, and 12% higher profit.”
Our world is in a lot of pain. This is true at the time of writing as we enter our eighth month of a global pandemic, and it will be true years from now when this article is read under a different set of circumstances.
We need strong relationships to help us get through these trials with our spiritual, emotional, and mental health intact. We need people willing to grow the kind of friendship qualities that heal hearts and bring people together.
The friendship qualities that God wants us to develop
The sweet smell of incense can make you feel good, but true friendship is better still.
Proverbs 27:9 CEV
A good friend can make just about any situation better. The Bible is unmatched in its ability to provide deep and practical help in any matter, and that’s especially true when it comes to our personal relationships.
We need God to help us be great friends to each other, because left alone we revert to whatever our baseline understanding of friendship is. In most cases, that’s not a great thing.
Check out these 10 spiritual friendship qualities that you can apply to your relationships anytime. And before you get too overwhelmed, here’s a tip: read through these all now, but make a plan for yourself to tackle them one week at a time. That’s 10 weeks of spiritual training right there, free of charge!
A friend isn’t afraid to have honest conversations
Speaking honestly is a sign of true friendship.
Proverbs 24:26 TPT
I have a hard time with the truth. I don’t like telling it to people, and I certainly don’t like it when people tell it to me. In fact, despite seeing plenty of evidence to the contrary, I remain insistent that the path towards friendship is keeping all conversations light and free of anything that may provoke any kind of emotional response.
This stubbornness I have is what makes me struggle to be a great friend to people. At the end of the day, the people who matter most to us in our lives are going to be the ones who push through our feelings to tell us what we need to hear.
Hard truths can be difficult to deliver, but think about the spiritual decisions we often face in life:
- Who we date or marry
- Where we live
- What career we pursue
- What activities we invest time into
Each of these decisions is difficult to make on our own, and we’re often not objective in our decision-making process. A friend who is willing to level with you could be the difference between a fulfilling or frustrating future.
A friend can be trusted
People want a friend they can trust. It is better to be poor than to be a liar.
Proverbs 19:22 ERV
As a kid, no fable grabbed my attention quite like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The idea that I could find myself in a position where I could be begging for help and not get it due to my lack of integrity was highly unsettling, even as a child.
I can’t say that it prevented me from ever lying (if only), but it left me with a powerful visual of a person who can’t be trusted.
- Are you a trustworthy friend?
- Can your friends rely on you to stick to your word, and deliver on your promises?
- Are you more known for speaking the truth, or for hiding what’s really on your mind?
I’ve learned through marriage that it causes instability in our relationship when I don’t come through on the things I said I would. My wife needs to know that what I’m saying is true; otherwise, I create distance between us when she doesn’t know if she’s getting the real me when we talk.
Proverbs 19:22 teaches that I’m better off being destitute than being dishonest and unreliable, and that’s proven true for me in all my relationships. This is a key factor in determining what makes a good friend.
A friend wants to help you grow
The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry, And a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger.
Proverbs 25:11-12 MSG
I don’t associate a lot of positive feelings or memories with the term “reprimand.” But when I think back to the times when I’ve grown most in my life, I can recall specific instances of friends telling me hard truths with the intent to help me overcome a sin or character issue that was plaguing me.
Those “timely reprimands” made all the difference, especially when I was close to making decisions that could have altered the course of my life for the worse.
This proverb equates this timely advice with jewelry—valuable, quintessential, and worth keeping around. The desire to see you grow is one of the most powerful qualities of a friend.
A friend is reliable
A friend you can’t trust in times of trouble is like having a toothache or a sore foot.
Proverbs 25:19 CEV
Eating and walking are two things you rely on doing without having to think. Your teeth and your feet are two things that are easy to take for granted, but boy do you notice when they’re not functioning properly (look no further than my latest dentist bill).
Having a friend who is unreliable causes stress when you expect relief. I can think back to times when I’ve offered rides to friends only to forget and leave them stranded on campus, or instances when I did not come through on my end of the chore division of labor at home.
These are minor or superficial examples, but you can apply this to any number of scenarios of varying significance. Ask yourself: how reliable of a friend would people say you are?
A friend is not afraid to correct you
A truly good friend will openly correct you.
Proverbs 27:5 CEV
The keyword in this passage is “openly.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a friend do something I know won’t be helpful for them, and I’ve just let it happen. To really care about someone is to be courageous enough to risk temporarily drawing their ire if it means preventing them from going down a bad path.
Years ago a good friend of mine started drinking. Like, more than a “social” amount of alcohol consumption. I was in a position where I didn’t feel good about the direction he was headed in, but I also didn’t want to rock the boat in our friendship. So instead of expressing my concern, I pushed it away while I joined him at the bar and tried to deny there was a problem.
While I was able to come away from that time in my life relatively unscathed, he was less fortunate. It’s a regret I live with today, though thankfully God’s forgiveness allows me to deal with that guilt and channel it in a productive way by learning from that time and repenting in my relationships today.
You may be facing a similar situation with a friend today, or may someday soon. If that’s the case, you can make a difference. You can help a friend openly, and make a commitment to work with them on their repentance, growth and perspective. You can be a courageous friend, and likewise be bold enough to invite people into your life who will openly correct you out of love.
A friend doesn’t dwell on mistakes
Love overlooks the mistakes of others, but dwelling on the failures of others devastates friendships.
Proverbs 17:9 TPT
One of the most powerful relationship tools that we have available to us is forgiveness. Any friend you make is guaranteed to hurt you at some point, unless you keep the relationship very superficial. Assuming you want to build relationships of substance that last, you’ll need to learn how not to dwell on mistakes.
To dwell on something means to “think, speak, or write at length about a particular subject, especially one that is a source of unhappiness, anxiety, or dissatisfaction.” A real friend accepts that we all make mistakes, and chooses not to dwell on them.
Friendships can’t survive if one person decides not to let something go. Love knows how to move on.
A friend won’t drag you into their anger
Make no friendships with a man given to anger, and with a wrathful man do not associate,
Proverbs 22:24 AMPC
Keep away from angry, short-tempered men, lest you learn to be like them and endanger your soul.
Proverbs 22:24 TLB
People tend to become like those with whom they spend a lot of time (a phenomenon commonly referred to as the Social Proximity Effect). To that end, an unfortunate side-effect of this is that our negative characteristics and habits often rub off on each other.
The Bible exhorts us to be cautious in our choice of companions. While it’s true that Jesus was clear on his charges for us to love one another and “make followers of all people in the world,” the Bible also stresses the importance of being very intentional in who we allow to influence how we live (2 Corinthians 6:14 and Proverbs 12:26 also come to mind, as does Jesus’ process in selecting his inner circle).
Anger is an emotion we all experience, but there’s a line we can cross where we become “given to anger,” “wrathful,” or “short-tempered.” This passage implies that once we’ve reached this point, we become a negative influence and should be avoided.
Choose to spend time with people who have important qualities you would like to develop in your own life.
A friend won’t flatter you
If you flatter your friends, you set a trap for yourself.
Proverbs 29:5 GNT
We set a bad tone for our friendships when we flatter each other. When we rely on doling out compliments in order to be liked, it makes it hard if we ever want to say something that may invoke a negative emotion.
Additionally, most people can tell when they’re being flattered. If you’re someone who is constantly heaping praise on a friend, they may shortly find themselves questioning your motives and wondering whether you’re really a friend.
Flattery is a trap; don’t fall for it. No one likes a “yes man.” Instead, strive to be someone who will “speak the truth in love” to the people you care most about.
A friend won’t gossip about you
Telling lies about friends is like attacking them with clubs and swords and sharp arrows.
Proverbs 25:18 – CEV
This vivid proverb equates telling lies about someone with vicious acts of physical violence. And just like a wound inflicted by an arrow, the effects of such gossip can have a long-term effect.
The American Psychological Association published an article outlining the effects of gossip and bullying on students. One of the pieces of research they reviewed illustrates the potency of this proverb:
A 2006 longitudinal study of 380 students from ages five to 11 years old found that children rejected by their peers are more likely to withdraw from classroom activities and suffer academically.
Underwood, M. K. (2003). Social aggression among girls. New York: The Guilford Press.
The next time you feel tempted to pass on a bit of gossip, imagine yourself stabbing the victim of your remarks with a sword. This image may shock you into silence.
A friend sticks with you through hard times
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 17:17 – NIV 84
Okay, definition time again. Other words for adversity include difficulties, misfortune, mishap, calamity, distress and tragedy (I guess technically it’s synonym time).
The picture is clear: a friend is someone who is ready and willing to rise to the difficult occasion brought on by adversity. “All times” implies that a real friend will not back down, even if it’s a situation they’ve not encountered personally.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I am sorely lacking in this area, primarily because of a misguided notion that I need to have solutions for any situation I encounter. I don’t believe that this scripture is saying that a friend knows what to do in any scenario you throw at them.
The focus words are “loves” and “born for,” which to me means we can make a big impact just by being there to go through it together and stick by your side. Of the many traits of a good friend, there are few that are sought after more than this.
Pause and reflect
- What close friends do you have in your life that have one or more of these qualities?
- Which qualities do you want to develop as a friend to others?
- As you do your own personal Bible study, what other friendship qualities do you see?