Friendship is crucial for us to be the people God has called us to be. But what does it take to be a friend? I have over 600 “friends” on Facebook, but what does that mean? Studies show we have less people we can really confide in than past generations. Our society does very little to help us in this area. Fifteen year-olds spend months learning how to drive but rarely learn how to be a friend. College students spend years learning the skills of engineering or business but the skill of friendship is left up to osmosis. We have a generation of people who aren’t succeeding in this area and it affects everything. How can we learn the skill of friendship? There is no better place to learn about friendship than the book of Proverbs. Proverbs has taught me at least four skills that are required to be a friend.
First, there is a need for sensitivity. We’re talking here about being sensitive to what’s appropriate or offensive. Proverbs 25:17 says, Let your foot be rarely in your neighbor’s house, Lest he become weary of you and hate you. Here is a warning against wearing out your welcome. Don’t be in your friend’s house too much because sooner or later he’ll get sick of you and loathe the sound of your voice at the door. It doesn’t say that we shouldn’t ever be in our friend’s house, but don’t overdo it. It helps to understand that culture. In that culture hosts were obligated to welcome and provide for guests, even if they resented it. It’s the same thing in many countries today. In my travels in Eastern Europe I’ve learned I have to be careful about staying in homes with families. In those cultures they’re expected to go overboard in extending hospitality even if they don’t want to. Often it’s very genuine, but since it’s a cultural expectation you have to be careful not to take advantage because they would NEVER say anything. That’s what this Proverb is talking about–being sensitive to those kinds of issues. Yes, we should show hospitality to one another, but that doesn’t give us the right to take advantage.
Sensitivity is also needed when a friend is hurting. Prov 25:20: Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart. Two images are given and they both speak of actions which cause an immediate unpleasant reaction. One who takes a coat off on a cold day immediately reacts to the cold. And the acid in vinegar combined with the alkaline in soda immediately creates a bubbling reaction. When we sing songs to a troubled heart an unpleasant reaction takes place. When a person is hurting, the last thing they need is for someone to come along and try to get them to think positive or to look on the bright side. What they need is for someone to come along side of them and weep with them and be tender with them. George MacDonald writes, “Tears are often the only cure for weeping.”