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Help Others Restore Integrity 16 minute read

Beyond the Superficial: 7 Principles from Proverbs About Friendship

Last Updated: February 29, 2024

It is often a problem, especially among men, that we don’t intentionally seek out good friendships. Often we don’t seek out wise counsel unless we are seeking “expert” advice. It is easier to stay on the surface with our so-called friends, and as such they are not friends who help us fight sin.

The Bible has a lot to say about real friendship or real brotherhood. This is what we all want: a friend that sticks closer than a brother. That’s a rare jewel. It is a great blessing to have those people who have been with you through all of life’s ebbs and flows, someone who knows how you tick, someone who is there for you in good times and bad.

Good friends aren’t just close friends, according to Solomon’s proverbs. They must also be wise friends. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). Some of the men in our churches may have some very close friends, but are they wise friends? Do these friendships make them wiser, or do they reflect more of the world’s values?

Exploring the book of Proverbs we find seven qualities (at least) of being and finding a good friend.

1. Good brothers are dependable. Bad ones are fair-weather friends.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). The word love here is the same word to describe the love between Jonathan and King David (Solomon’s father): He loved David as he loved his own soul (1 Sam. 20:17). This is close friendship.

But a friend doesn’t just love in the fair-weather times: a friend loves at all times. A friend is dependable and loyal. He’s there for you when life falls apart. In fact, Solomon says, this is what brotherhood was born for: times of adversity. This is why God gives us good friends. Some of the men in your church have gone through hard times…really hard. And often it is in those hard times we find out who our real friends are. Something in our life fell apart: a marriage ended, we lost a job, we had a death in the family, or we were physically harmed. It was at that time that a good friend stayed by our side when things were worst, and we felt as if that friendship was born for that moment. Some of the men in your church know this proverb to be true from bitter experience, and yet many feel so isolated they only wish they had a story of adversity where a friend came through for them.

Or consider this proverb: “What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar” (Prov. 19:22). Solomon is saying, what people really want to see in a friend is steadfast, unfailing love. The Hebrew word used here is hesed, and it means “radical loyalty.” It is the same loyalty that God is said to have for his covenant people: a steadfast love that endures forever. When he says a poor man is better than a liar, he’s saying even a faithful friend who has nothing is better than a man of wealth who says he’s faithful and then turns his back on you.

This is what people want in a friend: someone who reflects God’s character of loyalty, and sticks with you.

2. Good brothers are honest about their sin. Bad brothers hide it.

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov. 28:13). This means friends confess sin to each other. Friends are accountable to one another.

Accountability is a buzzword in the Christian community, especially among men. But in order to do accountability well, we need to know what it is.

Here’s a good definition of accountability: Accountability is being honest with trusted friends about our temptations, our sins, and the state of our heart.

There are all kinds of games guys play when it comes to avoiding real accountability. For some it’s sheer avoidance. Some men are really good at just never getting into discussions about personal sin. They keep things on the surface. When their friends start getting personal, they just shut up or plead The Fifth.

Others play the “We” game. They might get into a conversation with their Christian brothers about a struggle they have and end up couching everything in “we” terms. “You know how it is when we are really tired or stressed out and we’re hanging out online, and we see a picture of a hot girl, and we just sort of click on it without thinking about it? Sometimes we just don’t have our defenses up.” That is not a confession. That’s a homily. Instead, they should start their sentences with “I.” “I have a problem.” “I shouldn’t do that.” “I was wrong.” “I sinned when…”

Some men keep their confessions at surface level. They tell someone just enough to soothe their consciences but heavily edit and sanitize their stories.

Some confess their sin to others but play the “elapsed-time-game.” They do something they know is wrong and want to confess it to someone, but they make sure to put a good week or so between the sin and the confession. That way, they can build up a nice track record of behavior so their sin seems somehow less significant. “I gave into temptation, yes, but I’ve really been staying strong for the last 6 days or so.”

Some people are really sly: they play “musical chairs” with their accountability partners. They have more than one person they confess their junk to, so no one person really has the whole picture of how bad they are. They rotate through accountability partners, treating people like confessional booths.

These games are deception—they are ways we bend the truth so we don’t have to be brutally honest with anyone. Men in our churches who do this care more about personal image than honesty.

As church leaders we should be challenging our men to crucify their image to go deeper with their friendships. Are they willing to give and receive honest confessions? Are they willing to pursue brother-to-brother accountability?

Where I work, at Covenant Eyes, we hear hundreds of stories from men who have experienced this sort of freedom in confession as they use our Accountability software. These guys have the Covenant Eyes program on every computer or hand-held device they own, and on a weekly basis a good friend or a group of friends receives their Accountability Report of everywhere they’ve been online. As you can imagine, it totally changes the way they use the Web. They think twice about everywhere they visit, every link they click on. More than this, when they do go to a questionable website they’ve already put the measure of honesty in place: there’s no getting around it. When their partner gets a report that says at 2:37 a.m. on Tuesday they looked up “Sexy college girls” on Google, there’s no room for ambiguity. They can use this report to begin having an honest conversation.

Remember what Paul said. “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12), Christians included. Someday we will stand before the One whose eyes are like fire, who sees everything inside us, and we can’t cloak our sin in front of Him. Yes, if we are united with Christ we will enter into the full blessings of eternal life, but we will give an account all the same. And right now, brother-to-brother accountability is like a dress rehearsal for that great Day. We drag our sin into the light before a safe brother because we know that someday all of it will be exposed to the light anyway.

3. Good brothers are trustworthy. Bad brothers are gossips.

Proverbs 16:28 says, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”

After all we’ve said about confession, we need brothers we can depend on, brothers who will be confidential with the information we give them.

Solomon advises here: Don’t be close friends with a gossip. In 1 Timothy 5:13 these people are called busybodies, people who just like to be in the know, who like to be up on what’s happening in your life, who like to talk to others about everyone else’s business. Some people just want to be close to you to be close to information about you.

For some people, this is the biggest hang-up for getting close to someone else. Maybe they’ve been burned in the past. Maybe someone they know has been burned. They just don’t know if they can trust anyone.

As a disciple maker, you can affirm the suspicions of some of the men in your church. Yes, people are sinful. Yes, people can let you down. Yes, you can unwisely give your trust to someone who breaks it. But the critical question is whether you trust Christ as you pursue deep friendships. Say to yourself, “Despite my fears, I choose to believe that God has placed me into a redeemed family—the church—among people who are being changed from the inside out, and as I pray for discernment, God will guide me into relationships with brothers with whom I can be completely honest.”

4. Good brothers lovingly confront. Bad brothers are spiritual wimps.

A wise brother confronts our sin. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6).

Men must be taught to avoid the extreme of wimpy accountability. You may have had accountability relationships like this. You get together and confess your latest blunder. Your friend confesses his sin too. You pat each other on the back, say everything will be okay, and go home just as unmotivated as before to really do something about your sin. You get back together the next week with the same sad story.

In these sorts of friendships all we’re looking for is absolution. We just want to commiserate with someone over our sin and get something off our chest. We just want to have someone tell us our sins are forgiven. Of course, it isn’t a bad thing to want an affirming word. We should be reminding one another of the grace of Christ and His forgiveness. But a good brother wisely knows that we don’t need cheap peace or cheap grace.

When a friend wounds your pride, it’s not intended to harm you, but to heal you. When you need a new heart, you don’t need a pharmacist to give you pain medication that masks the problem; you need a heart surgeon to cut you open. Does being rebuked hurt? You bet. But it’s a wound worth receiving.

Remember this proverb: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). How does iron sharpen iron? With friction. Sparks might fly. But in the end, the blade is sharper. Real friends are willing to risk some friction with you because they love you more than winning a popularity contest. They don’t shy away from the hard conversation. They wisely know how to confront a sin they see in your life without condemning you. A wise friend expects change in your life and in your character.

C.S. Lewis wisely said, “You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in his eyes as if he were your mistress: better fight beside him, read with him, argue with him, pray with him.” We need to be brothers who fight sin together.

That being said…

5. Good brothers know when to cut you slack. Bad brothers have a “cop mentality.”

Proverbs 17:9 states, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” True friends know how to pick their battles. Sometimes accountability partners can bring a cop mentality into their friendships. They are nit-picky. Like Proverbs 17:9, they repeat your sins back to you over and over again. They don’t let stuff go. They point out every little thing they see that’s wrong with you. It seems like they are out to get you.

One story from Nate Larkin’s book, Samson and the Pirate Monks, illustrates this:

You’ve probably seen that poor fellow who decided one day to be honest in a Christian meeting. Maybe he’d been caught in a sin, so he really had nothing left to lose, or perhaps he was so plagued by guilt that he decided to take the church’s rhetoric about grace and forgiveness at face value and bare his soul in a desperate bid for freedom.

I remember a guy who did that. As soon as the fateful words were uttered he looked around, hoping somebody would say, “Me too,” but all he heard were crickets. After a pause, a curious investigator launched into spiritual cross-examination. Then a few concerned “ex-sinners” gathered around him and preached a series of sermons disguised as prayers. Finally, a helpful brother prescribed three Scripture verses to be taken in the morning and at bedtime. Later, the guy was assigned a probation officer—excuse me, an “accountability partner”—who would check in on him for a few weeks to make sure he had actually turned around. […]

To make matters worse, as he left the meeting that poor guy was struck by the realization that he had just volunteered to become the church’s new topic of conversation. Suddenly he knew that telephone lines were already humming with the latest “prayer request.” Next Sunday, his suspicions were confirmed. The sidelong glances, the awkward silences, the careful distances kept by his former associates, their wives, and others, verified that his disclosure was now common currency in the congregation.

This men’s group did not understand the meaning of the words, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love.” Sometimes love is better served by silence. Sometimes what we need is empathy, not a sermon.

A cop is someone who is just looking over your shoulder for you to screw up. We don’t need any more accountability cops in the church. Christians have come up with some very religious and sanitized ways of being a jerk. But a real friend isn’t someone who merely polices your life. Good accountability partners are fellow travelers, not cops. A real friend is someone who gets in the vehicle with you, helps you drive in the lines, travels with you in life in good times and bad, helps you look out for the potholes, helps you read the road signs, and helps you get to where you are going.

A good friend learns how to balance both confrontation and compassion, persistence and patience.

6. Good brothers are realists. Bad brothers are foolishly cheery.

“Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda” (Prov. 25:20).

Perhaps you have had this kind of a friend. They think they are bringing you joy, but they are depriving you of the warmth you need. These friends are as worthless as vinegar neutralized by washing soda:

  • The look-on-the-bright-side guy: You tell him you’ve just lost your job and he says, “Well, at least you have your health.” Thanks.
  • The class-clown guy: There’s not a serious moment with him. You tell him something serious and he cracks a joke in the name of good fun.
  • The super-spiritual guy: Confess some struggle you’re having and all he can say is, “Well, praise God in all circumstances,” and walks away whistling his favorite hymn. Again, thanks.

Of course, good friends don’t want you to stay in the muck of depression, but this proverb is about the superficial, sing-songy friend who glosses over your heavy heart.

I’ve mentioned the wimpy accountability partner and the legalistic accountability partner; but this is the cheery accountability partner. We don’t need a wimp; we need someone who lovingly confronts us in our sin. We don’t need a legalistic cop; we need someone who is compassionate and patient. And we also don’t need an eternal optimist; we need a realist. A realist is someone who knows there is more to life than just feeling good. If feeling good is all we need, then foolish optimism is the best medicine. But a real brother wants us to be good, not just feel good. He doesn’t want to put a colorful Band-Aid over an open wound. Instead he wants to help you dress it.
This leads to the last point…

7. Good brothers focus on your heart. Bad brothers see only the surface.

“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5). As I mentioned in Chapter 7, this proverb speaks of the depths of the human heart. Why do we do what we do? What really motivates us deep down? Why are we tempted by this thing or that thing? What makes a sin so at- tractive? Where does our anger comes from? Our fears? Our cravings? Our lusts? Our hearts are like deep water. Look all you want, you cannot see the bottom.

But a man of understanding is someone who helps you discern the motives of your heart. A man of understanding thinks deeper than just what you said or did. He knows how to probe beneath the surface. He not only seeks God’s wisdom, he seeks to know you.

What is a “man of understanding” like? The book of Proverbs says we identify these wise friends by how they live.

A man of understanding…

  • knows when he lacks wisdom. He seeks understanding diligently. He is always a student of human nature and divine truth (Prov. 2:3).
  • doesn’t slander, deride, or use rash words. He knows how to hold his tongue. He’s quick to listen and slow to speak (Prov. 11:12; 17:27).
  • doesn’t find humor in the things God calls folly. He finds pleasure in wise living (Prov. 10:23; 15:21).
  • is patient, not quick-tempered (Prov. 14:29).

As a church leader, start taking note of the men in your church you believe meet this description and call them aside to challenge them to build genuine friendships with other men. These men could be your eyes on the ground who have the potential to root out hidden sin in the ranks, who will disciple the young and immature into vibrant and influential disciples of Christ.

Fostering Natural Friendships for the Glory of God

These sorts of friendships aren’t built overnight. The men of your church won’t meet someone today who can discern the motives of their heart tomorrow. But this is the goal we need to strive towards: to be brothers who know one another so well that we become men of understanding to each other.

We need to start small and work up. Experience shows that every friendship goes through different levels of communication.

It starts with cliché communication. “How are you?” “I’m fine.” “How’s the weather?”

It moves to fact-communication. This is information about things going on in our lives or in the world. It’s more than cliché comments, but it also doesn’t involve deep thinking or feeling. “The stock market climbed this week.” “I heard Bob was sick.” “The game is this Saturday.” “I have a wife and two kids.”

Then it moves to belief-communication. This is where you start talking about opinions. “I agree with you.” “I loved that movie.” “I think abortion is wrong.” These are your commentaries. This may be where friction is first experienced as differences of opinion arise.

Then it moves to feeling-communication. This is where we start showing each other emotion. A belief statement might be: “I’m really struggling in this area.” But a feeling statement might be: “I’m really struggling and feel so depressed right now.” This is the stage where the walls come down.

Finally, there is transparency. This is when you’ve built up a habit of communication and you establish a routine of regularly sharing your dreams, confessing your sin, confronting one another, and encouraging one another at the heart level.

Where do you start?

As you are challenging men to build these sorts of friendships, remember real friendship is born out of mutual interest. If you make friendship your focus, you’ll never find it. If you make accountability your focus—throwing a bunch of random men into a room to talk about their struggles—you’ll probably be disillusioned (and so will they). But if you encourage the men in your church to pursue a common goal, real friendships can be the result.

In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis said this is one of the differences between the love friends share and the love married couples share. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other. Friends are side by side, absorbed in a common interest. They share the same enthusiasm for something, a hobby, a topic, or a cause.

A Practical Example

Here’s an example of this from someone who uses our Accountability Software:

The other day I received a Covenant Eyes report for one of my brothers and it looked as though he had visited a site, based on the name listed in the report, which was pornographic. He insisted he had not visited any porn sites that week, so I checked the site. In truth it was not pornographic; rather it was a site mainly targeted toward women which had articles about relationships.

I breathed a sigh of relief, but rather than simply move on, I asked him about the articles he had read. What resulted was a really good conversation about the loneliness in his heart, about wanting a quality relationship with a woman, and an admission that he sometimes struggles to “stay in the fight.” We were able to talk about feeling empty and being made complete in Christ. He was able see that, while technically not lust, his reading of those articles was connected to his efforts to find acceptance, approval, significance and even completion in a woman.

Addressing those deeper longings got us to the root of what has fueled his porn indulgence over the years, as well as his general desire to have a woman in his life as a means of personal security.

It was all below the waterline just waiting to be discovered. That conversation was a moment of real significance, full of the potential for change. It happened because the best accountability is conversational.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every man in your church had these sorts of friends?

Photo credit: andrewrennie

  1. David Haryanto Lee

    Woke. John 3:16, 2 Tim 1:7

    Pleased to been discovered. The Prodigal son returned for I am David Haryanto Lee

    Singapore, The Shinning Red Dot

  2. Aaron

    One of our deepest longings is to be in community where we are fully loved and known :) Before I began opening up and seeking wise and trustworthy friends/accountability partners, I never had the kind of friends I do now! So thankful to God for his grace and redeeming love in bringing these people into my life.

  3. Emmanuel Amadi

    Nice one!

  4. David Canfield

    Dear Luke, This was a very helpful article, and I have forwarded it to the men in the mentors’ training group that I lead. Covenant Eyes, I might add, is a key tool in the mentoring work that I do, and teach others to do.
    In Christ,
    David

    • Thanks, David. I hope it is helpful!

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