A true friend – Proverbs 18:24

A man of many friends comes to ruin but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  Proverbs 18:24

At first glance it might appear that the purpose of this proverb is primarily to make us think about the quality of the friends that we have.  It’s great to be popular, it’s great to have a lot of friends, but when trouble comes and those so-called friends desert us, what we really need is someone who won’t.  We don’t need lots of friends but good friends who will treat us like their own flesh and blood.

While this is true, I’m not sure that this is the real point of this well-known proverb.  I wonder if what is actually being said here is more about us than about our friends.  In other words, the contrast is not so much between having one good friend and many fake friends but rather between the danger of seeking to have many friends as opposed to seeking to be a friend.

Notice that ‘a man of many friends’ is not being compared with ‘a man of one really good friend’ but rather with ‘a friend’.   There is a man who works hard to be popular but there is also a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  There is a man who has many friends  but there is also a man who actually is a friend.

If this interpretation is correct, then the warning is not so much about the  number or quality of friends that we have but about the friendship that we ourselves offer others.  Instead of asking ourselves whether we have  one or two really good friends, we ought to ask ourselves whether we are concerned to be true friends ourselves.

It’s been said that we live in an age where people have never been more connected and yet more lonely.  We have no shortage of email addresses, mobile phone contacts and social networking sites where we accumulate hundreds of ‘friends’ but something’s missing.  It’s possible to be so busy seeking friends that we forget how to be friends.  This proverb teaches that it is better to be a friend than to have friends.

Of course it’s not just a matter of taking a good look out ourselves and determining to be nicer to other people and a little less obsessed with ourselves.  Simply trying to do better never works.  We don’t naturally have the resources to be truly good friends.  We find that only in Jesus, who,  though he was the Lord of glory, was not ashamed to call us brothers.  As we experience his friendship in response to our hatred and his stick-ability and patience in response to our propensity to wander off in sin, we will learn how to show this same friendship to others.

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