Friends

Arthur Pink, 1951
 

At the very beginning of human history, God Himself declared, "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen 2:18). He was not made for solitude, but society, not to live in isolation, but in company with others. Yet since God spoke those words sin has entered the world and human nature has become depraved. But Christ too has entered it, and His Spirit is conforming a chosen people unto His holy image.

There are therefore two totally distinct classes of people on earth, the regenerate and the unregenerate; and it makes a tremendous difference, both to the formation of character and the ordering of our lives, from which of these classes each of us selects his most intimate associates. Scripture plainly warns us that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God: whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (Jam 4:4). To His own people He has said, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph 5:11), and again, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what communion has light with darkness? Therefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing" (2 Corinthians 6:14, 17). Thus, though he be a social creature, it is rank disobedience and disloyalty unto his Master, for the Christian to be friendly with those who are His enemies.

For wise and good reasons, God has ordained, and orders His providences accordingly, that many of His people shall have considerable contact with the unregenerate, laboring with them side by side as they earn their daily bread, thereby affording them occasion to shine as lights in dark places and to witness for Him by their ways and workmanship (Ti 2:9-10). While it is a Christian's duty to seek to promote their welfare and to heed the injunction, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men" (Gal 6:10), that is very far from signifying that he is to make any of them his bosom companions or seek their company after the day's labor is finished.

Great care needs to be taken in the selection of those we propose making free with, and particularly does the young believer need to be much in prayer for discernment that he may make a wise selection of those who are the most suitable companions for him, for nothing is more deadening to the spirit, than consorting with the world. It is not the ones who are most congenial to our natural tastes, but those who are walking the closest with God, and are most likely to help us spiritually who should be sought unto.

The choice of our friends is a matter of great practical importance, and therefore much caution and care should be exercised therein. Not only is each person known by the company that he keeps; but, for better or worse, he is morally affected by the same. Voluntarily or involuntarily, we become like those with whom we intimately associate. "He who walks with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed" (Pro 13:20).

As a close observer of human nature expressed it, "Companionships influence us by way of communication and suggestion, by combination and cooperation for good or evil ends, by confirmation or assimilation to our companions themselves." It must be so, for there are such interchanges of thought and feeling, that they serve to mold one another's thinking, regulate their emotions, and direct their aims and the closer be the bond of intimacy and the freer the interchange the greater is the influence of the one upon the other. They will inevitably either elevate or degrade their conceptions, determine the objects of attachment, affect the moral judgment, tendering or dulling the conscience."

"Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend" (Pro 27:17) as to associate with those who are well informed serves to stimulate the mind and quicken thought. "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man you shall not go; lest you learn his ways, and get a snare to your soul" (Pro 22:24-25).

Such is poor human nature that we are much more easily contaminated by evil company than we are refined by good company. Most essential is it, then, that we fraternize with none but those who will . . .
set before us an example of true piety,
encourage us in the work of mortification and the denying of self,
inspire us to heavenly mindedness, and
provoke us unto good works and zeal for the glory of God.

The real friend is not the one who humors my fancies and flatters my vanity, but who has my highest interests at heart, and acts accordingly. Our lot is cast in a day when real friends are like genuine jewels precious, but rare. Each of the Lord's people should be able truthfully to say, "I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked!" (Psalm 26:4-5). That is the negative side. Positively, his testimony should be, "I am a companion of all those who fear you, and of those who keep your precepts" (Psalm 119:63).

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Pro 27:6). One of the offices of real friendship is to give reproofs where such are seen to be needful, for as the preceding verse tells us, "Open rebuke is better than secret love." This is a task which calls for much grace and wisdom. All reproofs do not proceed from love, nor are they given in a friendly spirit and manner. Only too often do they issue from self-righteousness and a delight in finding fault, and are delivered in a fleshly way. Yet even then, we should prayerfully ponder what has been said to us. Genuine godliness desires to have its faults corrected, and often that means they require to be pointed out. "Let a righteous man strike me it is a kindness; let him rebuke me it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it!" (Psalm 141:5). It may wound my pride and hurt my feelings, but it can do me no harm; yes, with God's blessing, it will do me much good if I receive it with meekness.

The spirit and manner in which a reproof is given constitute a real test of character, and still more so how it be received. The fool will resent it, and the proud be offended but the truly humble are more willing to be admonished than praised.

The fear of displeasing and severing the ties of friendship, is not to allow us to maintain a guilty silence. I must discharge my duty at all costs, and deliver my own soul. "Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt." (Lev 19:17). Here the deceitfulness of the human heart is divinely exposed. It is not love which causes silence in order to avoid hurting his feelings, but hatred if you rebuke not his sin. Moreover, if he truly hates sin, he will welcome its being pointed out to him; but if he takes it badly and henceforth gives you the cold shoulder, then his "friendship" is not worth having. He may indeed feel keenly your rebuke, and at first the flesh rise up in opposition thereat; but if he is truly spiritual, he will soon recover himself and realize that you acted the part of a true friend towards him, esteeming you the more highly on account of the same. "Reprove one that has understanding, and he will understand knowledge" (Pro 19:25). "Yes, rebuke a wise man, and he will love you" (Pro 9:8); but, "Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse." (Proverbs 9:7).

"A man that has friends, must show himself friendly" (Pro 18:24). Friendship is reciprocal. Not only must there be a mutual spirit of give and take, but if it is to be of real service, I must "show myself friendly" when rebuked, by evidencing myself to be agreeable and manifesting gratitude for such faithful dealings with me. That is part of the spiritual meaning of Proverbs 18:24. "Reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (Pro 6:23), for they are one of the means God uses in convicting us of sins of which we are unconscious.

"Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel." (Pro 27:9). That is another office of friendship (note its coming right after verse 6!) to advise when the other is in perplexity and trouble. Such tenderness and sweetness will heal the wounds which the reproofs have made! "Sympathy is the balm of friendship" (Thomas Manton, 1620-1677).

All friendship pales into utter insignificance when compared with that of Christ's. "Greater love has no man than this: that a man lays down his life for his friend" (John 15:13). But though no man ever yet manifested greater love than that, His far exceeded it, for He laid down His life for those who were His enemies (Rom 5:10). "And what amazing, what everlasting, what unexampled proofs did He give of His friendship! He engaged from everlasting as our Surety. He took our nature, married our persons, paid all our debts, bore the whole weight of our sins and His Father's wrath; and having died for us, He took up both the person and causes of all His people. He is now carrying on the whole purpose of redemption, and never intermits for one moment, an unceasing attention to our present and eternal interests. Neither will He, until He has brought home all His redeemed to glory, that where He is there they may be also" (Robert Hawker, 1753-1827).

The friendship of Christ signifies:

First, a hearty welcome unto all who respond to His gracious invitation to come unto Him.

Second, that such will be the objects of His loving ministrations.

Third, an inestimable privilege on their part to be admitted into such a relationship.

Fourth, His gracious bearing to treat with them so familiarly manifesting Himself unto and opening His heart to them (John 15:15).

Fifth, a pressing duty, that they conduct themselves as His friends, so valuing communion with Him as to shun whatever would mar it, seeking to please and glorify Him in all things (John 15:14).