One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
We live in an age of hundreds and maybe even thousands of Facebook ‘friends’, but many of us are lonelier than ever before.
Proverbs like these, then, can seem both completely alien and entirely relevant: completely alien because ‘friend’ has become a loose description assigned to many who can be ‘unreliable’, but entirely relevant because we long to find those who will ‘love at all times’ and ‘stick closer than a brother’.
As with many things, we can often fall into the trap of thinking that more friendships mean better friendships. Bigger is better, quantity not quality… but these proverbs suggest otherwise. The significance of friendship is shown to be not in their quantity, but in their quality. Better is one friend who ‘loves at all times’ than ten ‘unreliable’ friends.
The second proverb speaks particularly of ‘fair-weather friends’. These are the friends who will celebrate your promotion, your engagement, or your new baby, but when you are fired, your marriage breaks down, or a loved one dies, they are nowhere to be seen. The opposite of such a friend is one who ‘loves at all times’.
This presents us with two challenges. Firstly, what kind of friends are we choosing? Friends that make us look and feel good, or friends that stand alongside us no matter what?
Secondly, and more importantly, what kind of friends are we being? Are we only around for the highlights reel of our friends’ lives, or do we get stuck in with the mess and the pain as well? Are we learning to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn? How are we displaying God’s faithful love to our friends day by day?
Far from the potential superficiality of contacts on social media, these passages give a bold definition to the word ‘friend’. A ‘friend’ will stick with you at all times, even in extreme anguish and suffering. The true character of friendship is shown by substantive, unselfish action in adversity, not by outward appearance alone.
Loyalty cannot be underestimated, particularly in times of trial. Faithfulness in friendship is a clear example of God’s faithfulness to and love for us. God has never been a ‘fair-weather friend’, and neither should we.