Make no friends with those given to anger,
and do not associate with hotheads,
or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare.
A number of years ago, I had the privilege to hear Jim Odens (of PAGE Ministries) talk about evangelism. He told us about a couple who wanted to evangelize several of their neighbors. The problem was that the neighbors all worked many hours and the only time available (when they were all together) for fellowship was from ten to midnight on Friday nights when they all went bowling. (They all belonged to the same bowling league). So this couple, who had small children, hired a baby sitter and went bowling. Oh, not because they liked to bowl. But because they wanted an opportunity to evangelize.
Pastor Odens went on to explain that this couple had absolutely no assumption that these neighbors would ever become “friends” (in the sense that one depends upon a friend). Instead, this couple went to “be” friends, to demonstrate God’s love without the expectation of getting anything in return. In fact, they purposely chose not to depend upon these neighbors for anything (including acceptance or even simple courtesy).
There is a real truth in this that I need to understand. I shouldn’t embrace everyone as a friend. A friend is more than an acquaintance, and regardless of how much I know about someone, I can choose whether or not I trust this person, whether or not I have expectations of accepting anything from them (including loyalty, trust, kindness, etc.). But I can be a friend without expecting friendship in return. I can be a friend while still protecting myself from their influence. And I think that might be the sense of this proverb.
The word translated “friend” has many meanings including a sense of shepherding a flock of sheep. There is an intimacy, a dependency, in the word. In Psalms, we can see friend in the sense of “a bosom friend,” “a friend and a brother,” “my familiar friend,” “intimate friend.” The Hebrew words used here and in Proverbs are the same root. There seems to be the sense of an intimacy, a trust that is in a friend.
We should definitely be in a relationship that gives without taking back in order to witness. But we should trust our hearts only to those who are trustworthy. Why is that? Because, unless we have a guard around our heart, we will become like those with whom we associate. Haven’t you found that to be true? I have. If the people around me are sarcastic, I tend more toward sarcasm. If they are complainers, I will complain and grouse. If they are angry, I tend to take up the cause. This proverb tells us not to be friends with those who are angry or we will become like them. Anger is destructive and the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit. We cannot be angry and kind or gentle or forgiving. And we need to be aware of those around us make us feel and act and talk, so that we are more like Jesus than anything else.