True Friendship or Playing at Friendship?

Proverbs 18:24 NRSV
Some friends play at friendship
but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.

I think that, on the whole, we don’t really know how to be friends these days. In fact, our idea of friendship is often quite skewed because we either liken it to some kind of party (albeit an informal gathering down at the local pub over a brew) or we see it as something that makes us feel better. I think, all in all, we are more likely the first—someone who plays at friendship—than the latter—someone who sticks closer than a brother.

Understand that, when Proverbs was written, families lived together in one compound. Thus, there was a bond—heightened by financial intertwining—that existed between brothers. Sons (and daughters) didn’t grow up to maturity and move away, but rather grew up to become part of the family’s industry (whatever that was). Brothers were interconnected to such an extent that it was difficult to exist apart. So not only were they related physically (by blood), but there was a geographic and financial relationship that never ended.

Kenneth Aitken (The Daily Study Bible Series Proverbs) writes:

“There is one for whom the bond of friendship is closer than kinship, and who ‘sticks’ with his friend through thick and thin. ‘Sticks’ is the same word used in Ruth 1:14 of Ruth ‘clinging’ to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ecclesiasticus puts the contrast this way: ‘There is a friend who is a table companion, but will not stand by you in your day of trouble’ (6:10)” (p. 169).

The thing I think we often miss is that friendship isn’t about what we will get, but rather what we should give. You can’t have friends because people choose whether or not to be friendly. But you can choose to be a friend. In other words, while this is an observation about who our friends are, it’s even more a description of the kind of friend we need to be to others. Do we play at friendship . . . and then leave when we get disinterested or when it becomes harder to be that person’s friend? Or do we hang around even when the going gets tough? As Christians, in everything we do, we need to be true. And if we purport to be someone’s friend, then we need to be a true friend through the power of the Holy Spirit.