Since the earliest days of my Christian experience, I’ve had the privilege of forming friendships with brothers and fathers who are wiser, more mature, more spiritually minded, more experienced, more humble and more loving than myself. The benefits that have accrued from the seemingly innumerable conversations that I’ve had with such brothers and fathers in the faith is incalculable. The following Proverbs have been the source of my seeking out such friendships:
Proverbs 12:26, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.”
Proverbs 13:20, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”
Proverbs 17:7, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Proverbs 18:24, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”
Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
We see these principles laid out in the Scriptures. They are most notable in the life of David–who, in all likeliness taught his son, Solomon, the principles that the latter then set down in the Proverbs. We especially see these principles worked out in the friendship between David and Jonathan. When Saul was pursuing David, we read:
David stayed in strongholds in the wilderness, and remained in the mountains in the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand. So David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. And David was in the Wilderness of Ziph in a forest. Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God.
In the very place where we are told that “God did not deliver him into Saul’s hand,” we are told that David needed Jonathan to “strengthen his hand in the Lord.” So it is with believers of every generation. We all need a Jonathan in our lives. Those engaged in full-time Christian ministry especially have need for such godly friendships. Every Gospel minister needs an Aaron and a Hur to help them when they are weak and weary to help hold their hands up for the battle (Ex. 17:12). The Apostle Paul spoke much of the rare friendship that he had with his son in the faith, Timothy.
Church history is also replete with examples of such godly and spiritually beneficial friendships; perhaps none is so important as those that we read of in the life of the great Genevan Reformer. While Calvin’s friendship with William Farel has been well-documented, Scott Manetsch, in Calvin’s Company of Pastors, makes the following observation about the significance of Calvin’s relationship with Theodore Beza:
Calvin first met Beza in the fall of 1548, several weeks after the young Frenchman had converted to the evangelical faith and, with his wife Claudine Denosse, fled Catholic France to find a safe haven in Geneva. Though not yet thirty years of age, Beza’s credentials were already impressive. The product of Burgundy’s lower nobility, he was refined in his cultural tastes and at ease in the presence of people of power and wealth. His academic training and intellectual gifts were also impeccable: as a young man he had been trained in civil law and humane letters; at the time of his religious conversion, he was a member of a distinguished sodality of Catholic humanists in Paris; and he was an accomplished poet with a superb command of classical Greek. Calvin possessed a keen eye for talent and immediately recognized Beza’s enormous potential as a churchman and scholar…Over the years a deep bond of friendship and trust was forged between the two men, due in large part to their shared labors for the Gospel, their common concern for France and Beza’s unflinching loyalty to his spiritual mentor. “I would be very cold-hearted,” Calvin noted, “if I did not care deeply for Beza who loves me more than a brother and honors me more than a father.” Clearly, Calvin became for Beza what Bucer had once been for Calvin: a spiritual father, a theological mentor, a trusted friend, a guide who helped him discover his pastoral vocation.
The time would fail me to tell of all the times I’ve needed the friendship, support, counsel, guidance, iron-sharpening, encouragement, correction, rebuke, love and example of the friends that God has placed in my life. I am eternally grateful to the Lord for bringing Stephen Burch into my life a month before I was converted. The countless hours we have spent in biblical, theological, homiletical, practical and pastoral discussions have been inestimably spiritually beneficial. From my early days in seminary and in the pastorate, numerous other men (e.g. Burk Parsons, Matt Holst, Jeff Waddington, Dave Filson, Roland Barnes, Joseph Randall, Travis Peacock et al) have been enormously beneficial spiritual friends and supports to me. I trust that I am a better man and a better Christian because of these men. I hope that I have become a more careful thinker in the theological realm on account of them.Their insights, edifying words, counsel and rebukes have challenged me to be more faithful in the calling to which I’ve been called. There has been sweet blessing in running the joyful, challenging and painful experiences of life by them. It has been an immeasurable benefit to be able to seek counsel from them in times of difficulty. I trust that I am a more mature pastor because of their influence and example.
When I was a boy, my father always prayed that God would make us “wise beyond our years.” One of the ways that the Lord does this is by surrounding us with friends who are wise beyond their years. If you want to be the best doctor, lawyer, teacher, mechanic, chef, etc. one of the best ways to reach your goal is to study the lives and techniques of those more skillful than you in that field. In the business world, those who excel most are those who surround themselves with those who give wise counsel about what they did to excel and how to best go forward. As the Proverbs explain, “In the multitude of counselors there safety” (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). This is, of course, first and foremost speaking of the multitude of counsel in Scripture and from the Lord in prayer–but it also has applicability to the counsel of biblically mature and spiritually-minded men and women that God places in our lives.
Here are seven characteristics of friends with whom we should seek to surround ourselves:
1. Surround yourself with friends who are godlier than you.
Following the example of men and women who are walking closely with the Lord is one of the greatest needs in our lives. We all lack godliness in various areas of our lives. This is one of the reasons why we surround ourselves with the example of the saints who have gone before us. We study their biographies, and we pray that God would make us more like them. There is, however, a different benefit derived from the lives of godly men and women who live before us. We see their strengths and their weaknesses. We do not simply read a hagiographical example in which their blemishes have been taken away. We watch them overcome temptations, walk in faith and love and deal with personal struggles. This is one of the greatest needs we have.
2.Surround yourself with friends who are more spiritually-minded than you.
As with godly friends, so too with spiritually-minded friends. We all lack spiritual-mindedness. The Proverbs tell us to “Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge” (Prov. 14:7). The converse is clearly true as well. We must pursue friendships with men and women of biblical and theological knowledge. After all, a man or woman who is seeking after spiritual-mindedness will surround himself or herself with those who have a reservoir of spiritual-mindedness from which to draw. So it is with our pursuit of spiritual-mindedness. If we surround ourselves with spiritually-minded friends we will long to be more spiritually minded ourselves.
3. Surround yourself with friends who are wiser than you.
As with spiritually-minded friends, so too with wise friends. The wisdom literature in Scripture tells us how rare it is to find wise friends (Eccl. 7:28). We all lack wisdom, and, while we are to preeminently call on God and then search the Scriptures for it, having friends who are wiser that we are hastens the process of gleaning wisdom.
4. Surround yourself with friends who are more mature than you.
We all lack maturity. We should seek out friends who have come to fuller development than ourselves. Mature friends will help us mature and will help us see areas of our life where we have failed to attain it.
5. Surround yourself with friends who are more experienced than you.
There is limit to what you can learn by merely reading books. We should all give ourselves to serious and deep study, but nothing replaces the counsel of friends who are more experienced that us. I have on many occasions called older and more experienced men to find out what they would do in a particular situation. This has yielded some of the greatest growth for me as a Christian, husband and pastor.
6. Surround yourself with friends who are more humble than you.
With spiritual growth comes the temptation to spiritual pride. The Scriptures everywhere warn against this danger (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 13:2; Gal. 6:1; etc.). When we surround ourselves with humble friends we are more apt to learn from their example to be humble ourselves. As with wise saints, truly humble saints are a rare commodity.
7. Surround yourself with friend who are more loving than you.
One of the surest ways to grow in love is to surround yourself with those who you perceive to be more loving than you. The Scriptures give us a seemingly endless number of statements about the value and nature of love: “A friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17:7); “The greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13) “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:13); “Love is the bond of perfection” (Col. 3:14); “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Gal. 5:14); “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins'” (1 Peter 4:8); and “Greater love has no one that this than to lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13). When we get a glimpse of what a truly loving friend looks like, we start to pray that God would make us more loving friends ourselves.
Of course, only one person embodies all of these characteristics perfectly. Jesus Christ is the godly, spiritually-minded, wise, mature, experienced, humble and loving Friend of all friends. He told His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). He is the “friend who sticks closer than a brother.” He is the friend who demonstrated for us that “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). The Scriptures assure us that He will “never leave you nor forsake you.” When the Apostle Paul longed for ministerial companionship–but didn’t find it–he fell back on the fact that it was the Lord who stood with him and strengthened him. Jesus knew what it was to be abandoned by his friends in the moments of His suffering. He knew the pain of what it was like to be alone in his sufferings. He is uniquely qualified as the God-Man and redeemer to be the friend that all of us need. While we should diligently seek out friends with the characteristics listed above, we must always learn to value the friendship of Christ over any other in this world.