A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
Although the translation of the first part of Proverbs 18:24 is disputed, there is much agreement on the second part which is where I really want to go with this lesson. Before we go there, however, let’s address the first part: “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.” We know this principle is true, even though it is an inexact translation. Many proverbs and other examples in the Bible teach us the importance of friendship and being loyal friends (Proverbs 17:17; 27:10; Ruth 1:16). “The Golden Rule” also makes the point that “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). These things, and common sense, verify the importance of being friendly if you want to have friends.
More recent translations render the first part of verse 18 differently. “He that maketh many friends doeth it to his own destruction” (ASV). “A man with many friends may be harmed” (CSB). “Friends can destroy one another” (GWN). Bullinger in a note in his Companion Bible offers the following translation: “There are friends that rend us, but there is a lover who is closer than a brother.” Also Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, suggests: “Sometimes even friends destroy each other, but there is a Friend who loves more faithfully than a brother.” Nearly every translation emphasizes the plurality of friends, making the point that even someone with an abundance friends may still have problems. A large number of friends does not guarantee help in the time of need.
That being said, let’s move on to the second part of the verse on which there is much more agreement. The friend referred to in the second part of the verse is an allusion to our Lord Jesus Christ. He indeed is the friend who “loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17) providing “hearty counsel” and never forsaking us (Proverbs 27:9-10). This indirect prophetic reference points to the one who described himself as friend (John 15:14-15) and was described by others as “a friend of publicans and sinners” (Luke 7:34).
We show ourselves to be his friend when we do as he commands (John 15:14). Our ready obedience allows us to own and develop our friendship. Deuteronomy 13:6 describes a friend as one “which is as thine own soul.” Such was the friendship of Jonathan and David who were of one heart and soul. We also see it in the Book of Acts where the believers moved as one (Acts 2:41-47). So our friendship with Christ should be expressive of the close union we have with him. For truly he adheres to our cause and interests, being constant and continuing as a friend at all times.
The nine uses of “friend” in Proverbs show that there are two kinds of “friends”: One is the friend who exists because you have something to offer such as a material gift or some other benefit of association, the other friend exists due to genuine love and is like an extension of your own soul. Proverbs 18:24 offers a contrast between the two. We can amass as many friends of the first type as we want but still come to ruin; however, even one friend of the second type is a great advantage.
The genuine or authentic friend can be counted on. He or she is steadfast, trustworthy and will be there for us even more so than a family member. There are things in his friendship which render us sure of not being deceived, therefore we unreservedly put our confidence in him. So great and fathomless is his love that we are truly sure that there cannot, by any possibility, arise any cause which could make Christ love us less.
Is it not written of Judas in Psalm 41:9: “Even my close friend (speaking of Judas), whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Yet in Matthew 26:50 when Judas acts as guide to them that took Jesus, Jesus greets Judas saying, “Friend, do what you came to do” (ESV). Jesus remained the consummate friend. Right to the end, Jesus held out the possibility of friendship between himself and his betrayer, but Judas rejected the opportunity. Everyone one of us has the opportunity to receive or reject his friendship. What will we chose?
Do we want a friend who’ll never let us down, never disappoint, fail or give up on us? Do we want a friend who’ll never tire of us? Jesus Christ wants to be the dearest friend we could ever have, and he has the wisdom and ability to see us through the most difficult situations.
Oh the wonder of the intimacy to which he invites us. In Eastern culture a host would not normally eat with a guest. He would prepare and serve the guest food but would only eat with them if they were family or the most intimate of friends. Because so much of the food was prepared and preserved with salt, eating salted food together involved entering into a salt covenant. That is why Revelation 3:20 uses eating together to show the intimacy of the relationship that the Lord wants to have with us. He wants to be part of our lives in a most intimate way.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
The salt covenant dates back to antiquity and was a most solemn and binding agreement. One would never break a salt covenant. The consequences for doing so was death. With this understanding, one can see why Judas, refusing to accept Jesus’ offer to tarry in Jerusalem and be endued with power from on high under a salt covenant, would go out and kill himself.
Indeed in Acts 1:4 Jesus took salt with all the apostles. He guaranteed and bound his friendship with them with a covenant of salt which he will never break. He has extended the same invitation to us; let’s not let it slip away. He has promised, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). Let’s enjoy his friendship.
By Wayne Clapp