By Dolores Smyth, Crosswalk.com
I remember the first time I discovered that God cared about my feelings. I was a teenager and had just ended a friendship with a fellow classmate who had gone from being fun and pleasant to ill-tempered and critical.
Although close friends had warned me to avoid befriending that particular classmate, I thought I knew better and dismissed all the red flags in accepting this classmate’s invitation to become immediate besties.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I was in a bad friendship that made me feel insecure and emotionally drained.
I ended the friendship and knew that I was better off. However, I was surprised by the current of self-criticism that rushed in afterward, sweeping away my peace for not having known better and, by extension, made better choices in my friendships.
It was during this time of trying to figure things out on my own that I spotted a pocket Bible on my mother’s nightstand.
I opened the index and looked up the word “Friendship,” half-expecting that the word hadn’t made the cut among all the other important topics in Scripture. Yet there it was, right above a list of Bible verses including Proverbs 4:23 which warned: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
As I reread that verse and others like it, a sense of comfort buoyed my spirit as I realized that the most High God cared about my emotional well-being.
This emboldened me to try to be more careful about the friendships I made from then on. Simply put, I learned that day that it wasn’t “mean” or “unfriendly” to steer clear of problematic people; it was merely doing my part in “guarding my heart” as God tells us all to do.
Since then, I’ve been blessed with many wonderful friendships. However, there have been times when I’ve found myself at a relationship crossroads, unsure if I should embark upon or continue a certain friendship. Luckily, the Bible is faithful in guiding us as to the people we should let into our lives.
Here are 5 types of people that Scripture encourages us to cultivate friendships with.
1. People Who Are Loyal, Especially During the Tough Times
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
Loyalty is the hallmark of a good friendship. Loyal friends are reliable in terms of the words they say to you and especially in terms of the words they say about you to others.
Loyal friends cheer you on to the finish line of whatever goal you’ve set for yourself, rather than secretly hope that you get tripped up along the way. A friend shows her loyalty by having your back and your best interests at heart.
A loyal friend won’t always agree with you and will often be the one to tell you what you need to hear when others shy away from having those tough conversations with you. Even when she knows you may get upset or withdraw from the friendship, a loyal friend will not mince words whenever your well-being is at stake.
Importantly, if you intend to keep loyal friends, remember that they’ll expect loyalty back from you. People who prize loyalty know its worth and expect nothing less in return.
2. People Who Are Honest
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:5-6).
God doesn’t want us to befriend duplicitous or hypocritical people (Psalm 26:4). God wants us to really understand that when you see someone burning others, you’d be a fool to think you’re fireproof.
Without honesty, there is no trust in a relationship. Friends who are transparent with one another about matters that concern the friendship strengthen their bond as well as the trust that flows between them.
For that reason, honesty is at the core of a successful friendship. Honest friends are well-intentioned with each other, allowing one another to speak openly about their thoughts and be their true selves around each other.
Trust your gut when you sense that a person is being dishonest with you. Remember that a lie isn’t rooted in a memory, which may explain why a friend’s words aren’t exactly adding up. If a new friend is being untruthful, consider whether the friendship is worth continuing.
If it’s an old friend who is otherwise a good friend despite being suddenly deceitful, don’t be so quick to unravel the friendship depending on the level of dishonesty at issue. Instead, be bold enough to ask your friend why he chose to compromise the friendship by lying.
3. People Who Make Good Choices
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).
It’s often said that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). If we know that we should avoid falling in with bad company, then it follows that we should seek to befriend people who make good, levelheaded choices so that we can learn from their example.
While no one is perfect, people who make good choices are usually wise about their health—physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial. They don’t drink excessively or do drugs, they don’t stay in situations that compromise their emotional well-being, they keep God at the center of their life, and they manage their finances wisely.
In addition, people who make good choices treat others justly and with respect. They take to heart the fact that so as they do unto others, it will be done unto them (Matthew 7:12).
Notably, those who make good choices may get angry from time to time but they aren’t known as angry people. Scripture warns against befriending an angry person for fear that you’ll adopt a similar angry outlook and entangle yourself in quarrels (Proverbs 22:24).
4. People Who Don’t Cause Strife or Gossip
“A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).
Everybody knows someone who is bent on causing conflict wherever he goes. This is the person who brings tension into a room just by setting foot in it, who causes people who normally get along to bicker, or who stirs the pot by making insulting and often false accusations.
God tells us plainly that he hates a lying tongue and people who stir up conflict (Proverbs 6:16). For that reason, when you meet troublemaking or gossipy people, you’re better off praying for those people while keeping your distance, so as to avoid being caught up in their behavior or suffering the consequences of the problems they inflict. After all, we’re called to love one another but we don’t have to associate with those who mistreat us or would lead us astray (Matthew 7:6; 10:14).
Instead, focus on befriending people who are considerate of others, and who know the value of promoting peace (Hebrews 12:14). Peaceful people bring calm to any situation and know that side-stepping troublemakers is key to maintaining your peace.
In a similar way, peaceful people generally refuse to spread gossip. They know that gossip is divisive, often exaggerated or untrue, and ruins reputations, including that of the person doing the gossiping.
5. People Who Support You through Thick and Thin
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
It’s a basic principle of friendship that your friends should be supportive of you, not jealous or undermining. The litmus test of a supportive friend is whether that person sticks around after any major life change you may experience such as getting married or divorced, having children, or getting or losing a particular job.
Supportive friends are there to celebrate your triumphs and comfort you during your losses. They don’t extend or withdraw their support depending on your status in any aspect of your life.
The Bible tells us that we’re to carry our own load, meaning that we are to each take charge of our own responsibility (Galatians 6:5). We’re also told, however, to carry each other’s burdens, which means that we’re to support each other when our responsibilities get too heavy (Galatians 5:2).
In times when you’re overwhelmed, notice which of your friends is there to support you and help lighten your load. That’s the person you’d be wise to strengthen your bond with and grow deeper in friendship with.
God puts us on notice as to the qualities we should look for in the company we keep. In seeking friendships with people who have those qualities, keep in mind that you should also reflect those qualities in your actions as well. By heeding the Bible’s description of what friendship does and doesn’t look like, you’ll not only be better positioned to find good friendships in others, but also to be a better friend to others yourself.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Lyndon Stratford
Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her @LolaWordSmyth.