What does the Bible teach about true friendship? It does teach that a friend loves at all times (Prov. 17:17), but it teaches more than that! Here’s a nice, brief summary of this topic by Jonathan Holmes: What are the marks of a biblical friendship? Here’s what Holmes says based on several Proverbs (I’ve edited this list for length):
1) Constancy. …Proverbs portrays truly biblical friendship as something constant and abiding. Proverbs 18:24 states, ‘But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ In an ancient Near East culture, where family was everything, such a statement would have been provocative, to say the least. A friend can be closer to you than a biological brother? The wisdom of the Proverbs answers with a resounding Yes! In Proverbs 19:7, moreover, we are told that a poor man’s brothers will hate him, pointing out that biological connection alone is no guarantee of faithfulness in adversity. Consider David and Jonathan…. Biblical friendships are not fleeting and easily disposable, but are characterized by true constancy, in defiance of the obstacles continually tossed at us by the effects of the fall.
2) Candor. Framed in a biblical context, candor is the ability to speak truth in love for the good of your friend. Proverbs 27:5-6 says ‘…faithful are the wounds of a friend….’ It may seem like this doesn’t make sense: wounds hurt. Yet the Proverbs tell us a biblical friend is willing to wound us, and those wounds are actually for our good. This kind of constructive wounding, even via the pain of open rebuke, is shown to be a mark of true faithfulness, an expression of love that refuses to be hidden for the sake of convenience or a false sense of peace (cf. Prov. 28:23). The willingness to engage in biblical candor for the sake of another’s spiritual good is one way in which biblical friendship is obviously and dramatically different from those worldly substitutes that typically ignore unpleasant subjects.
3) Carefulness. …Carefulness urges wisdom and consideration in how to live out the life of friendship. A biblical friend is careful, not in an overtly timid or cautious sense, but in consideration and care. A biblical friend should be full of care for his friend. Proverbs says friends should be full of care in speech and timing (Prov 25:20, 27:14, and 25:11) and full of care in stewardship (Prov. 11:13). A biblical friend cares what he says and when he says it, and is a wise steward of his friend’s trust.
4) Counsel. Proverbs is replete with wisdom concerning the counsel of wise friends: with many advisers plans succeed (Prov 15:22), in the abundance of counselors there is victory (Prov. 24:6), the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel (Prov 27:9), and iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17). In a truly biblical friendship we desire to spur one another into greater Christlikeness. Too often our friendships lack this mark of godly counsel that seeks to build one another up. …What we need most in this area, however, are friendships oriented for Christ’s glory.
Holmes does say more about these four marks, to be sure; he also explains how they are centered on Christ. I recommend this book if you want a good one on the topic of biblical friendship (my earlier review is here, by the way). Christian friendship is a great blessing of God for us on our pilgrimage – something we should be thankful for and something we should seek to grow in! This book will help towards that end.