Characteristics of a True Friend – Exploring the Passages

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What is one characteristic of a friend that is described in Proverbs 17:17 (printed below?)

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

A true friend is distinguished by his faithfulness; he “loves at all times.” Consider the example of Jonathan and David: Jonathan exhibited his friendship for David even in the face of the evil wrath of his father and despite the prospect of losing the throne of Israel (cp. 1 Samuel 18:1,3-4)

2. What does Proverbs 18:24 (printed below) tell us about the man who makes many friends? What do you think would motivate him to do such a thing?

He who makes many friends does so to his own ruin; but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

Proverbs 18:24a is describing the man who wants to be friends with everybody: he wants to be liked by all; he cannot stand the thought of being rejected by anybody. Such a man will sacrifice anything (his integrity, his virtue, his standards, his self-respect, his dignity, his conscience, his convictions) to be accepted and gain “friends.” But he does so to his own destruction: he has sacrificed all that is valuable, and he gets nothing of value in return.

3. Whom does Proverbs 20:19 (printed below) warn us to avoid as a companion or friend? In contrast to this type of individual, what should be a characteristic of a true friend?

He who goes around as a gossiper reveals secrets, therefore do not be a companion with the man who talks too much. (Proverbs 20:19)

The scenario presented in this proverb is as follows: you are dealing with a man who does not keep a confidence, he does not keep a secret; he betrays a trust. The counsel of Scripture: do not be a companion with such a man, a man who cannot keep a confidence and who betrays a trust. Do not keep company with him because he lacks the chief characteristic of a true friend: faithfulness. One aspect of faithfulness is the ability to keep a confidence.

4. What does Proverbs 27:6 (printed below) tell us about “the wounds inflicted by a friend?” To what do you think this proverb is referring when it speaks of such wounds?

The wounds inflicted by a friend are given in faithfulness, but the kisses of an enemy are profuse. (Proverbs 27:6)

The “wounds” inflicted by a friend are referring to the words of rebuke spoken by a true friend for your well-being. The mark by which to gauge a true friend: Does he love you enough to rebuke you when you are in the wrong? Such rebuke demonstrates his commitment to God and his commitment to you.

5. Consider Proverbs 27:17 (printed below.) How would you explain the meaning of this proverb?

As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the expression of his friend. (Proverbs 27:17)

“Iron sharpens iron.” When you scrape iron against iron you take off the dullness and make it razor sharp. Likewise, as a man interacts with his friend—exchanging insights, receiving counsel and rebuke when necessary, being challenged by his godly example—the man’s “expression,” literally, his “countenance,” is sharpened. Note: the “countenance” refers to the face and its expression as it reveals the mood and character of the person. Do you have a friend who provokes you in the way described in Hebrews 10:24 (“Let us consider how we may provoke one another to love and good deeds”)? If so, thank God for him.