Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunday School - Proverbs (6) friendship

How do you choose your friends? Someone I feel comfortable with. Someone who talks about themselves, but not all the time. Someone with a similar background to me. Attractive. Interesting. Good listener. Fun. We just click. We enjoy each other's company. We're alike. We're different. There can be all kinds of reasons for choosing friends.

Perhaps you don't think much about how to choose your friends. Perhaps your friends chose you. Perhaps life chose your friends for you. The only person who really took the time to get to know you at church. People in a similar stage of life to yours. The members of the small group you got put into.

Maybe you don't have many friends. Maybe you're not sure to go about making friends, let alone how to choose them. I can feel myself getting into a much bigger topic than this Sunday School lesson was meant to address!

The truth is, I've never thought about friendship as a topic the Bible talks much about. I've seen friends as one of those incidental blessings, like food or sunshine. I've chosen my friends with care, but mainly because I warm to them. Because they're keen Christians, yes, but also because I like them.

So it surprised me to see how much God has to say about friends in Proverbs. At the same time, I've been writing on Pilgrim's Progress, and there it is again: Christian chooses his fellow-travellers with such care! Some encourage him and keep him on the path to heaven. Others subtly try to lead him astray. Friends matter.

A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Prov. 12:26)

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov. 18:24)

So what kinds of friends does God think we should avoid? Friends who are evil, who hate, who hurt others, who are violent, who make trouble, who lead us into sin. Foolish people. Fair weather friends, here today and gone when we're in trouble. Friends who make fun of others, who say hurtful things, who hide their dislike with flattery, who get angry, who tell others when we've mistreated them, who lie, who boast of gifts they don't give, who gossip. Friends who talk too much. (Proverbs 10:12; 11:12; 13:20; 15:4; 16:29; 17:9; 20:19; 22:24-25; 24:1-2; 25:14, 19; 27:5-6)

And what kinds of friends does God encourage us to choose? Wise friends who make us wiser. Friends with a kind word when we're sad, who weep when we weep, whose words bring healing. Friends who control their tongues, who can keep a secret. Friends who give honest advice, who rebuke us when we need it. Friends who are faithful when trouble comes. Friends who forgive. (Proverbs 10:12; 11:12; 13:20; 15:4; 17:17; 27:5-6, 9, 20)

Can I encourage you to have a good look at your friendships? Take time to think about your friends, whether they make you wiser, whether they are trustworthy and kind, whether they are willing to give you wise advice and loving rebuke, whether they support you in trouble, whether they weep with you and bring you joy, whether they help you to love and obey God.

And if you don't have any good or godly friends, how do you go about making them? A huge topic, of course, far too big for a blog post which is supposed to be about Sunday School! Just let me suggest one thing: while it's hard to ask "Will you be my friend?" when you're over 6 years old, you can still be deliberate as you go about developing friendships.

Have a look around your church or community, for people your gender and around your age who don't already have lots of friends, who would be the kind of good friend God describes in Proverbs. Sit near them and start a conversation; ask them over; go out for coffee. Or ask them to be your prayer partner: it's amazing how many good friendships grow this way. Be a friend like the Proverbs good friend. And while you're at it, don't forget to pray for the great blessing of a good and godly friend.

I guess I'd better shut up and tell you about Sunday School. I didn't think of it at the time, but I was reflecting yesterday on how helpful an introductory activity would have been. Perhaps one of those trust exercises, where you pair up the kids, and blindfold one in each pair, while the other child leads the blindfolded child around, then you swap blindfolds. An excellent lead in to a discussion about how friends lead us into and out of trouble, and how important trustworthiness is in friends.

I printed out the verses listed above in an easy-to-use translation and a large print, and the children stuck them on two A3 sized cut-outs of people, one "good friend" and one "bad friend". They decided where to paste the verses, then decorated their people to look mean and kind. If you ask me, they both look a bit scary:

This would be a great study to do with teenagers, wouldn't it? At a time of life when friends become so important and influential, but when peers can be so mean and nasty, how helpful it would be to have guidance about how to choose friends with wisdom and confidence!


Sarah B said...

Does this mean we won't have/or shouldn't have CLOSE non-Christian friends?

Jean said...

Not at all. In fact, Proverbs is a pretty good guide to choosing close non-Christian friends too, minus the "godly" part! And even if non-Christians don't fit all the categories, we will still want to befriend them so we can share the gospel with them. But it does mean that we all need good Christian friends, if at all possible - i.e. if God blesses us with them.

Sarah B said...

It is not my intention to be a pot-stirrer, but I went to bed thinking about this post and woke up thinking about it also. I have alot more non-Christian friends than Christian, and have done much soul-searching over this fact. My not-yet-believing friends regularly lie, cheat on their taxes and gossip. The qualities esteemed in Proverbs are glaringly absent. I can't help but think of the people that Jesus befriended, prostitutes, unclean, tax collectors.....

Jean said...

Stir away! This was never meant to be a complete post on friendship - just some reflections on what I've been reading in Proverbs.

I think the Proverbs advice about how to choose good friends wisely, and Jesus reaching out to "sinners", are two different things. You could say the same about Proverbs and money: Proverbs says earn and save money carefully, or you'll be poor and miserable; Jesus says to give up everything - including money - to follow him.

I am thinking out loud on line here! But clearly the answer lies somewhere in the gap between wisdom literature (how to live wisely and happily in this world) and the radical claims of the gospel. I would have to do a lot more reading and thinking about wisdom literature to tell you exactly where.

Which leaves you where? Befriend away! Good on you for reaching out across boundaries, like Jesus. (Although didn't Jesus also gather around him followers true to him? You'd have to take this into account too.)

But if you are choosing a friend to confide in and depend on, someone to support you in your Christian life, then you might want to follow the advice of Proverbs or Hebrews 10:25, which talks about the need to encourage one another to stay faithful to Christ.

So it's great to have lots of friends who you are reaching out to, but it's also helpful to have friends who support you in your Christian life. Knowing you, Sarah, you've got some of these as well.

I don't think it matters exactly what the balance is - probably better to have your kind of balance! - as long as you're having a good impact on your friends, rather than them a negative impact on you, and as long as you have enough Christian support.

Anonymous said...

Hi there. I am new to this blog. My name is Mandi and I am a believer. :) I wanted to tell you that I googled a simple statement: "what does God say about Friendship" and the very first link was this blog. I appreciate the eye-opening honesty and would love to learn more about the things you post on. (I subscribed to this via email). Regardless, a christian friend of mine is having problems with her cousin (non-christian) friend and I just needed something to throw her way as I didnt know where to start to look for that topic in my bible. Anyway, I'm excited to have this conversation with her and wanted to thank you for the information (opionions...and so on)!! THANKS!
In Christ,

Jean said...

Thanks, Mandi, glad you found it helpful, and welcome to the blog! I'm about to take a break from blogging for a few months, but please feel free to search through the archives - it's all indexed! :)