Entire books have been written about this subject, but for our purpose it may be beneficial to try to briefly summarize some important fundamentals for making and keeping friends. Being friendly and having friends affects one’s entire life. Friendship plays an important role in our associations with acquaintances, relatives, neighbors, fellow employees, etc. More than likely one’s obituary would say little about one’s personality and behavior, but what friends and acquaintances know could probably take up several columns of print. So how one will be remembered will depend on what one does now.
We often have an opinion of what we think we are like. Others, however, may have a different opinion. To a large extent one who is regarded as friendly is truly friendly, not one who merely pretends to be, and a warm sincere smile will always be remembered. An old saying goes: “I went out to find a friend, But could not find one there, I went out to be a friend, and friends were everywhere!” To be cultivated, friendships must be cherished by mutual conversation and kindness. This kind of friendship results in lasting relationships. There are many whom we may regard as friends, but are they? Proverbs 18:24 tells us: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (NIV). The Authorized Version does not give the correct translation for “must shew himself friendly.” What this text states than while a man may have “many friends,” how many of these are intimate friends year in and year out?
There is a real advantage in having true friends, and in being one yourself. At times true friends are an absolute necessity. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12). Marriage, for example, is a relationship in which both friendship and love should prevail, yet many couples remain together with little in common and are not really friends.
There are some important keys one should know in order to have friends. We are living in “the last days,” in a world today which the Bible defines as ungodly. Many of the Bible principles that apply to friendship have been forgotten or ignored.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
Think carefully about the above behavior. It should not be difficult to see why true friendship can be hard to find. One who spends any time driving a vehicle often experiences aggressive and inconsiderate behavior on the part of others. Road rage is becoming a national phenomenon. We see the same thing in airline passenger rage, and rage at various sporting events. Under such circumstances one fact is certain: If one attempts to be friendly with the hopes of getting friendship in return, he may be sorely disappointed.
While human behavior appears to be getting worse, the fact is: Man’s orientation has been on the wrong track for generations. It goes back to a rejection of God’s way of love.
The Apostle Paul tells us:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools . . . . And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Rom. 1:21-22 , 28-32)
Don’t Expect Anything in Return
It is not natural for many people to appreciate and be thankful for the benefits that God gives, or to be grateful for what others do for us. There is a true saying, “Do someone a favor, and it becomes an obligation.” The more one does for others, the more they expect. So the first principle that must be realized in making and keeping friends is to recognize the need to be friendly without expecting anything in return. Human nature tends to take things for granted. Jesus described human nature as follows: “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23). The Apostle Paul adds: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). Based on these words, why should we believe very many will be grateful and reciprocate our kindness?
On the positive side, though, some folks can find a reason to be thankful in any situation. Take this anecdote for example.
Dr. Alexander Whyte of Edinburgh was famous for his pulpit prayers. He always found something to thank God for, even in bad times. One stormy morning a member of his congregation thought to himself, “The preacher will have nothing to thank God on a wretched morning like this.” But Whyte began his prayer, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this” (Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications).
Remember, Paul told Timothy that, in general, men were unthankful and unholy (2 Tim. 3:2). This is not to say that true friends will not respond with kindness and love. Indeed they do. But to expect this kind of response from all our acquaintances may be asking too much. Therefore we should ask: What are we really like, or what has been our relationships with others in the past? Paul wrote to Titus that the unconverted generally behave in an unbecoming manner.
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. (Titus 3:1-5)
How much has appreciation and gratitude either been or is presently an important part of our conduct? Remember, a key to making and keeping friends is to be friendly but not to expect too much from others.
An example of ingratitude is found in Luke 17:
And it came to pass, as he [Christ] went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. (vv. 11-18)
Reading this, we should not be surprised to learn that human nature is such that it is basically self-centered and concerned primarily with the self. Take the following incident as a case in point.
Northwestern University at Evanston, Ill., had for many years a volunteer lifesaving crew among its students which became famous. On September 8, 1860, the Lady Elgin, a crowded passenger steamer, foundered off the shore of Lake Michigan just above Evanston. One of the students gathered on the shore, Edward W. Spencer, a student in Garrett Biblical Institute, saw a woman clinging to some wreckage far out in the breakers. He threw off his coat and swam out through the heavy waves, succeeding in getting her back to the land in safety.
Sixteen times during that day did young Spencer brave those fierce waves, rescuing seventeen persons. Then he collapsed in a delirium of exhaustion. Ed Spencer slowly recovered from the exposure and exertion of that day, but never completely. With broken health he lived quietly, unable to enter upon his chosen lifework of the ministry, but exemplifying the teachings of Jesus Christ in his secluded life. He died in California, aged eighty-one. In a notice of his death, one paper said that not one of these seventeen rescued persons ever came to thank him (Ency. Of 7700 Illustrations).
People Desire to Be Important
Another important principle to keep in mind when making friends is that people desire to be important and accepted. Dale Carnegie’s book entitled How to Win Friends and Influence People gives a number of examples of how this works. He points out that while it is important to compliment a deserving person, insincere flattery should not be employed. Insincerity can readily be ascertained by any thinking person. Often friends and acquaintances do nice things for us, and this should provide us with the opportunity to compliment them. But one who finds it exceedingly difficult or impossible to give a compliment has not learned one of the fundamentals for making and keeping friends. As noted, back-slapping and flattery is of little value, but sincere appreciation in the form of a compliment or praise certainly is.
We have all probably known someone who longs for praise and acceptance so badly that he may often go to extremes, even doing destructive things to gain attention. The craving for importance and acceptance, if wrongly directed, can lead to dire consequences. The other side of the coin involves those people who constantly flatter and back-slap others with the hopes of getting something in return. Balance is the key to gaining acceptance and importance-whether by doing or by complimenting.
An outstanding example of a man who knew how to compliment, and at the same time to diffuse a serious threat, is found in Judges chapter eight. Gideon was a mighty man of valor who had just gained a great victory over the Midianites. With only 300 men he surprised and routed an entire army. He called for the Ephraimites to join him in the pursuit. They did so and were instrumental in capturing and executing the two princes of Midian. But the Ephraimites were resentlful and felt insulted. “And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply” (Judges 8:1). Notice the brilliant answer Gideon gave. “And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that” (Judges 8:2-3). By this very tactful and well-chosen compliment, he more than likely avoided an internecine war between the tribes of Israel.
An example of the craving for importance and acceptance, and the extremes to which it can go, is found in the book of Esther. The Jewish people were in captivity under the Persians. One of the king’s servants had been promoted to a high office in the government.
After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence. Then the king’s servants, which were in the king’s gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment? (Esther 3:1-3)
Mordecai, one of the captive Jews and also a government official, refused to comply even though all subordinates were required to prostrate themselves before Haman. Mordecai believed this profound reverence belonged only to God. What was Haman’s reaction? “And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath. And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had shewed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai” (Esther 3:5-6).
The rest of the book of Esther contains the fate of Haman, and the deliverance and victory of the Jews.
The New Testament gives a number of solid examples of how the religious leaders of the Jews desired to be important and to be accepted by all. Of the Pharisees, Jesus pointed out: “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi” (Matt. 23:5-7). This is a human proclivity that should not be practiced by true Christians. On the other hand, if someone does a worthy act, one should not be afraid to offer sincere praise and compliments.
Learn to Give and Share
This principle involves having a sincere concern for others. The fact is: One can never really be friendly unless one learns to give and share. A friendship that is one-sided simply will not last. Concerning Christian-sharing, the Apostle James wrote: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (Jas. 2:15-16) But it is important to realize that giving and sharing goes beyond physical assistance. It includes sharing one’s time, expertise, or anything else that can be beneficial to others. Yet, many find it very difficult to give and share anything.
Take this little verse, for example, from the Encyclopedia. of 7700 Illustrations:
God made the sun-it gives. God made the moon-it gives. God made the stars-they give. God made the air-it gives. God made the clouds-they give. God made the earth-it gives. God made the sea-it gives. God made the trees-they give. God made the flowers-they give. God made the plants-they give. God made the fowls-they give. God made the beasts-they give. God made man-he …
One who is regarded as miserly will have great difficulty changing his reputation. Any friendships such a person develops will be based on what is good for him and not for his companions. To cultivate a real attitude of friendliness without an outgoing concern for others is in the long run practically impossible. Such friends are friends as long as one does what the other wants them to do. These friendships are based upon selfishness, and the moment such a person does not get his way, he sulks or breaks off the relationship. Being a friend means there will be times when one does things he does not necessarily want to do, but it is part of giving and sharing. It basically has the other person’s interest at heart.
We have all heard of “fair-weather friends.” They are friends as long as things are going well, and they can gain something from the friendship, or if the friendship is convenient for them. True friends are spoken of in Proverbs 17:17. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” A true friend is even a friend in times of great distress. We have heard of “users.” These are “friends” who use others for personal gain. As soon as there is nothing to gain, the friendship ends. A good example of this kind of person is related in Luke 18. The man in this account was looking for his own gain; he had little interest in sacrificing.
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (Matt. 19:16-22)
The young man did not receive the answer he wanted. Jesus gave some valuable instruction regarding giving and sharing-instruction that is just the opposite of seeking to gain something in return. He said: ” . . . When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14).
Admit It When You Are Wrong
Anytime one has a close friendship with others, misunderstandings and mistakes are bound to happen. One of the most difficult things for all human beings to do is to be willing to admit it when wrong. The refusal to do so can absolutely ruin a friendship. What makes matters worse is that some people who tend to make mistakes have a difficult time seeing their mistakes. We may have seen the placard that says: “The trouble with most people is that they won’t admit their faults. We would admit ours if we had any.” The most natural human reaction is to blame others for our mistakes. They fail to see that in almost any misunderstanding of two or more parties, there is a responsibility to be borne by all parties. A situation is seldom completely one-sided.
Daniel was one of the three most righteous men in the Bible (Ezek. 14:14), and was greatly beloved of God (Dan. 9:23). Daniel was always willing to confess his sins to God (v. 20). So, when it comes to being a friend of God, the first step is the willingness to admit wrong. All men are sinners. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
Even in this world, who receives pardon?
Governor Neff of Texas visited the penitentiary of that state and spoke to the assembled convicts. When he had finished he said that he would remain behind, and that if any man wanted to speak with him, he would gladly listen. He further announced that he would listen in confidence, and that nothing a man might say would be used against him. When the meeting was over a large group of men remained, many of them life-termers. One by one they passed by, each telling the governor that there had been a frame-up, an injustice, and judicial blunder, and each asking that he be freed. Finally one man came up and said, “Mr. Governor, I just want to say that I am guilty. I did what they sent me here for. But I believe I have paid for it, and if I were granted the right to go out, I would do everything I could to be a good citizen and prove myself worthy of your mercy.” This, of course, was the man whom the governor pardoned. (Ency. of 7700 Illustrations)
This same rule applies in our relationships with friends. If we cannot admit our mistakes, we cannot maintain friendships. Friends are generally more than willing to overlook or forgive our mistakes if we are humble enough to admit them. True humility is difficult for many to manifest-to be willing to accept correction. Yet the Bible states: “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil . . . ” (Ps. 141:5).
We all make mistakes. The book of Proverbs gives some powerful admonitions regarding a willingness to admit wrong. “Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured” (Prov. 13:18). “Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish” (Prov. 12:1). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise” (v. 15). “The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (Prov. 15:31-32).
So, it is wise to keep in mind that lasting friendships are built upon honesty. One who is honest with himself and recognizes his shortcomings and faults, along with a willingness to admit them, has a real advantage in making and keeping friends.
Pray for Help to Overcome
While the saying is not in the Bible, it is nevertheless true that “more things are accomplished by prayer than this world dreams of.” When it comes to the matter of character and behavior, the importance of prayer cannot be underestimated. To overcome the weaknesses of the flesh, one must continually pray for help. When Jesus gave “the Lord’s Prayer,” He said, “. . . “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). The fact is: God’s will is going to be done whether or not we pray for it. So, what did Jesus mean? The answer: He meant that we must continually pray that His will be done in our personal lives. Men need constant guidance from God. Why? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). In brief, many people have a difficult time being honest even with themselves. At times one may not even understand his own motives. The failure to understand can lead to problems with friends. If one’s motive is to have friends in order to gain advantage, he will eventually be exposed. What then will happen to that friendship? While some folks occasionally don’t mind being taken advantage of, many deeply resent such infringements.
The Bible emphasizes the importance of an honest heart. “Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight” (Prov. 12:22). The Apostle Paul instructed the Christian brethren: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Who produces the spiritual fruit to enter into the Kingdom of God? The answer: Those who have an honest heart. “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
But men need God’s help to overcome the tendency to be dishonest-a cause of losing friends. This is why the Bible states: “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Ps. 19:12). “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” (Ps. 139:23). God knows our weaknesses and need for His help. The Psalmist wrote: “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance” (Ps. 90:8). “Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day” (Ps. 25:4-5).
There are a number of principles involved in gaining and keeping good friends. This article has given a brief summary of some of these. It is hoped the reader who really desires to have true friends will be able to apply the fundamentals given in the above paragraphs.