Proverbs Thematic Sermon: Faithful Friends, Fake Friends (Erik Veerman)

Mar 3, 2024    Erik Veerman

Faithful Friendships, Fake Friendships

Several of you have expressed appreciation for our Proverbs series. Thank you.

Before we started working through the themes, I was worried they would feel repetitive or moralistic. But I’ve found it refreshing, convicting, and redemptive. It sounds like many of you have as well.

Our verses this morning deal with a thing that is near and dear to each of us - friendship. Faithful friendship that builds up and loves and cares versus shallow friendship that is selfish and fleeting and convenient.

Please take out your Proverbs insert. On the inside you’ll see those two categories. (1) On the left-hand side, The Foundation to Faithful Friendship, and (2) and on the right, The Folly of Fake Friendship.

Stand as we read God’s holy Word.

Reading of selected proverbs


The Foundation to Faithful Friendship

Proverbs 11:25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,

    and one who waters will himself be watered.

17:9 Whoever covers an offense seeks love,

    but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.

17:17 A friend loves at all times,

    and a brother is born for adversity.

18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin,

    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

20:6 Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love,

    but a faithful man who can find?

22:11 He who loves purity of heart,

    and whose speech is gracious,

    will have the king as his friend.


    Better is open rebuke than hidden love.

    Faithful are the wounds of a friend;

         profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

27:9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad,

    and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

27:10 Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend,

         and do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity.

    Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.

27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

The Folly of Fake Friendship

Proverbs 14:20 The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,

    but the rich has many friends.

15:17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is

    than a fattened ox and hatred with it.


    Wealth brings many new friends,

         but a poor man is deserted by his friend.

    Many seek the favor of a generous man,

         and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.

    All a poor man's brothers hate him;

         how much more do his friends go far from him!

         He pursues them with words, but does not have them.


You may not have heard this, but there is a new epidemic sweeping the nation. Last October, the surgeon general released a report about its devastating effects.

But it’s not an epidemic spread by germs. It’s not an epidemic that requires masks. We don’t have to wipe down door handles and counters. This epidemic is not helped at all by any kind of social distancing. No, in fact, quite the opposite.

But this epidemic sadly increases your risk of diseases. The report states that if you are touched by this epidemic, your disease and heart condition risks increase by 29% and 32% respectively.

This epidemic has affected 61% of adults. But it has especially targeted younger people. In the last two decades, this epidemic has increased 70% in teenagers and young adults ages 15-24.

It’s been devastating in so many ways.

What is this epidemic? Let me read you the title of the surgeon general’s report: Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.

The trend of more and more loneliness began way before the COVID pandemic but was heightened by it.

Think about this: We live in a world where we have more interaction with other people through social media, yet we are more and more lonely.

We live in a world where we have hundreds of so-called “friends,” online, yet we feel isolated. And I think you know some of the tragic results of loneliness.

In speaking with several of you, I know that some of you are lonely - lonely to different degrees and for different reasons. And we go through phases of loneliness in our lifetime. I remember driving into the Atlanta area for the first time back in the mid-90s. I had taken a job here. But I didn’t know a single soul. Those first few months were very lonely. But by God’s grace, through the church, I began to develop some fast friends. Many with whom I am still friends today.

Proverbs speaks to our hearts about friendship. It not only tells us the importance of friendship, but it directs us to what faithful friendship looks like. And it also warns us about superficial friends.

My hope this morning is that each of us would see, in a deeper way, the importance of friendship… and how to be a faithful friend to one another.

With that in mind, let’s first consider the foundation to faithful friendship and then second, the folly of fake friendship. After that, we’ll talk about where to begin.

The Foundation to Faithful Friendship

As I was contemplating these verses, three categories stood out to me that summarize a faithful friend.

A faithful friend (1) provides steadfast support through the joys and trials of life, (2) imparts God’s wisdom in love, and (3) nurtures mutual brotherhood. (2x)

Some of these verses fit nicely into one of these categories, but a couple of them speak to more than one category.

(1) steadfast support

Let’s begin with the steadfast support one. I am including the phrase “through the joys and trials of life” because think of the different kinds of experiences in life. Joys include celebrations and success and other kinds of milestones, and trials include different kinds of suffering and sadness and difficult change.  

And a true friend is one who is there. It’s someone who is present and who endures with you through thick and thin.

I think the Proverb that most embodies this characteristic is 17:17. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

If you are going through one of life’s valleys– no matter what it is whether grief or doubt or persecution of some kind, a true friend will be there for you. He or she will encourage you if needed, or be present with you if needed, or care for and provide. That friend will know you and how to care for your soul. And if you are both going through that adversity together, you can support one another through that time.

Proverbs 18:24 also captures this in a different way: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

A companion, by the way, is someone with whom you share something in common or you occasionally spend time together. In other words, a casual friend.

If you only have people in your life who are companions, then when adversity comes, you may not have someone there for you. “…but a friend,” it says, “sticks closer than a brother.” Someone you are knit close to will be there for you.

A couple of these other verses similarly emphasize this kind of steadfastness, like the one that says, “do not forsake your friend or your father’s friend…”

And this kind of steadfast support needs to be demonstrated. What I mean is, it’s one thing to say you are faithful, but it’s another thing to confirm it with your actions. That’s what Proverbs 20:6 says. “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?”

So, that’s the first category – steadfast faithfulness.

(2) imparts God’s wisdom in love

The second characteristic in these verses is how a friend imparts God’s wisdom in love.

This is about loving your friends by giving counsel - not the world’s counsel, but wisdom from the Word. That may be listening to and praying with your friend through a big decision in life. It may be giving godly advice.

For example, look at Proverbs 27:9 “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” A dear friend helps to apply God’s word in various situations in life.

Sometimes that means gently exhorting them when you see a disconnect between their actions and faith in Christ. Take, for example, Proverbs 27:5-6 – It says there in the middle – “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” A friend speaks the truth in love.

Let me add, a friend supports you but does not enable you.

And let me give you an example. Let’s say you are married. Maybe you are. And you are going through a rough patch. And you go to your friend and say, “I’m really hurt. My husband (or my wife) said this difficult thing to me.” Whatever it is… If your friend says back to you “I can’t believe he (or she) said that. You have a right to be angry. That’s the worst thing I’ve heard in a while. I hope that you dished it back at him.” Well, that is not being a good friend.

A faithful friend will instead say something like “I’m so sorry. That sounds very difficult. Can I pray with you and encourage you?” And then later have a deeper conversation about what transpired. And if there were hurtful things said on both sides, encouraging your friend to seek forgiveness from her spouse.

That’s a pretty different kind of response, isn’t it?

I heard someone say the other day “there is no such thing as ‘I love you but’.” Meaning, if you love someone you will always affirm them. That’s not what the Scriptures teach. No, quite the contrary. Displaying love to a friend is speaking the wisdom and truth of God to them. The book of James ends with this word: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death...”

Now, that’s the extreme case. Often times, we just need a gentle correction. Or a reminder of God’s Word in matters of doctrine or practice.

So, first, a faithful friend is there for you in the joys and sorrows of life.  Second, a faithful friend speaks God’s wisdom to you, in love.

(3) nurtures mutual brotherhood.

And third, a faithful friend nurtures mutual brotherhood - brotherhood in the sense it’s used in Scripture meaning brotherly love. Phileo. It’s mutual. To use another word, it’s reciprocal. It’s giving and receiving. Good friends support one another. Not in a selfish way, but in an edifying way.

It’s really difficult to be in a friendship that’s always one-sided, meaning one friend is always the one who gives in the ways we already talked about. To be sure, there will be times when one friend needs to pour her life into her friend. That’s part of what it means to be an enduring friend. But healthy friendships are mutual.

Look at the very first Proverbs listed. 11:25 “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” There’s that mutual relationship.

Here’s another one: Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” I think that Proverb is in every single men’s ministry book I’ve ever read. The reason is, it captures both the second point of speaking wisdom to a brother as well as this point, reciprocating brotherly love by sharpening one another.

It’s a great one because faithful friends nurture and challenge one another.

So steadfast faithfulness, speaking the truth in love, and mutual brotherhood.

The greatest example in the Bible of these principles lived out is the friendship between King David and Jonathan. Jonathan was King Saul’s son. We read about their friendship earlier from 1 Samuel 18 and 19.

These two men, David and Jonathan, loved each other with that phileo - brotherly love. They forged a two-way covenant friendship. They fought alongside one another in battle. Jonathan defended David from King Saul’s jealousy. And after Jonathan died in battle, David not only wept bitterly, but later in honor of Jonathan, David cared for Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth essentially became part of David’s family.

And think about this, King Solomon, David’s son, would have heard about his father’s friendship with Jonathan. Solomon never met Jonathan. Jonathan died before Solomon was born. But Solomon would have known Mephibosheth. Solomon would have read the prophet Samuel’s account of David and Jonathan’s friendship - the very words we read earlier. And I think it’s safe to assume that King David would have spoken about Jonathan and so would, of course, Mephibosheth.

So, as Solomon was composing and compiling these Proverbs on friendship, one of the examples of a faithful friendship was his father’s friendship with Jonathan.

It's a beautiful picture of faithful friendship.

And I get angry when I hear people say that David and Jonathan’s friendship included intimacy in inappropriate ways. The Scriptures in no way paints that picture. These were brothers, knit together with that phileo love and trust to defend and support one another.

For the guys here… deep friendships with other men is critical for each one of us. If you are married, yes, your wife should be your closest friend in many ways. But you need other guys like this to sharpen you - to be there for you and to both challenge and encourage you.

Ok, let me say one more thing about friendship and love. As you know, one of the most common passages used in weddings is 1 Corinthians 13 – the love chapter. I think I’ve preached 3-4 wedding homilies on it. But you know what, that chapter is not about marriage. No, the book of 1 Corinthians is written to draw the Christians in Corinth back to unity with and love for one another. Certainly 1 Corinthians 13 applies to marriage, but it’s primarily about brotherly love.

Hear these familiar words… “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

The similarities are striking between Proverbs description of faithful friends and 1 Corinthians 13.

That’s because it’s the love between friends. It was the love that David and Jonathan had for one another. And it’s the love we each need in faithful friendship.

The Folly of Fake Friendship

That brings us now to the opposite of genuine deep friendship and that is fake friendship. You can see those verses on the right, The Folly of Fake Friendship.

These verses capture the general folly of false friends... false friends are convenient friends. They are only a friend to you because they can get something from you or vice versa. Or false friends are superficial because their friendship with you is not based on trust and love but is just a means-to-an-end.

The main example here is how someone with wealth has many friends and someone in poverty has few. You see that in Proverbs 19:4 and 6. It says, “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend. Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.” The point is that the friends of the wealthy are often not genuine. Their interests are more “what can you give me” rather than genuine reasons of mutual brotherhood.

I’ve always found Proverbs 15:17 humorous. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” Amy has tried to get me to eat more herbs – like, you know, basil and cilantro…. something about nutrients and anti-oxidants. But, of course, I’d rather have fattened ox.

Actually, I think the point is more about poverty and wealth. A dinner of inexpensive herbs with faithful friends is so much better than dining on the choicest of foods with fake friends.

And maybe it’s not money, but maybe instead it’s the other person’s popularity. Or their lifestyle that you like participating in… or because it will advance your career or your status in the community. Or because they are an expert at something, and you are intrigued by that. Or because they can become a client of yours.

This reminded me of a painful story in college. I had a friend, a good friend, who signed up for Amway. And, of course, he wanted to tell me about the products he was selling. I listened, but in the end, I politely declined. My reason was that I didn’t want our friendship to be complicated by multi-level marketing or salesy type things. But he kept pushing and he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. That eventually drove us apart and we haven’t talked since. When I think about what happened, it’s always grieved my heart.

Think about it this way: shallow convenient friendships don’t have the foundation of faithful friendships.

·       Instead of standing by you through trials, a superficial friend is going to flee.

·       Instead of speaking the truth in love, a superficial friend is going to lie or tell you what you want to hear.

·       And especially this last one… instead of reciprocation, a superficial friendship is one sided. It’s a “what have you done for me lately” friendship.

And that is sad.

Finding Faithful Friends

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The question is, how do you be a faithful friend?

And the answer is, you look to the one who is the most faithful friend. You begin with and look to Jesus. He’s truly the one who has fulfilled these proverbs. Like back to 20:6 He promises steadfast love and he has faithfully fulfilled that steadfast love.

Jesus modelled and fulfilled that kind of friendship with his disciples… especially his inner circle – Peter, James, and John. They served alongside of Jesus. He poured out his wisdom to them. He was there to lift them up when they lacked of faith. He called them out when they misunderstood, and he loved them. He washed their feet.

And think about this. All of Jesus disciples left him when he was arrested. Peter was even there in the courtyard that night where they had taken Jesus. And yet, instead of standing by Jesus, Peter denied him three times. Yet, Jesus remained faithful to him and all of his disciples.

Despite their unfaithfulness, Jesus faithfully endured the cross. Through his faithfulness, he redeemed their unfaithfulness.

And after Jesus resurrection and ascension, an amazing thing happened. Peter, James, and John became the epitome of faithful friends to Jesus. They risked their lives to defend Christ and proclaim his truth. They would ultimately die for him, that his name may be exalted.

Jesus faithfulness to them, gave them courage and hope to be faithful to him to the end.

This is the friend that we have in Jesus.

And to be sure, we do not need to set aside our reverent awe for Jesus. He is not our “pal,” so to speak. No, he’s the kind of faithful friend described here… and he is our Savior and our Lord. We can come to him in prayer. We can bare our hearts to him knowing that he bore the cross for us and he hears us. He is the most faithful friend for each of us.

And it is out of that friendship with Christ that we can seek and be faithful friends with one another.

I’m not saying we can’t have faithful friends who don’t yet know the Lord, but I am saying that our closest friends will share that friendship in Jesus. Why is that?

·       Well, because  #1 it is through the faithful ministry of Christ that we can love and support one another through all of life.

·       And #2 because Jesus turned our hearts and minds to him, we can speak his wisdom into each other’s hearts and minds.

To say it in another way, our friendship with Christ enables our friendships with one another.

With that in mind, let me close with two practical encouragements for each of us.

·       First, loneliness is real here among our church family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. And so, as we look out for the needs of one another, one of our deepest needs is faithful friends. That means, if you see a brother or sister in Christ here who seems disconnected, let’s work together as a church family to foster friendships… that we may be a family known for our love and care and support of one another. And if you feel lonely, please share that with one of our ministry team leads or elders or with me so that we can be the body of Christ together.

·       Second, every single human being has been created in God’s image. That means we were all created for relationships. As we think about our own need for friendships, we should also consider the need that our neighbors have for friendships. In the surgeon general’s report on loneliness, it included not only an analysis of loneliness and isolation, but it also included practical guidance - advice to different kinds of organizations including churches. And yes, a lot of that guidance was fostering friendships within the community. But the report also challenged organizations to foster friendship in the broader communities around them. And I think that’s a good word. One suggestion was to “lead by example” to quote the report. When the world sees a church community loving one another as faithful friends…. it testifies to the ministry of God in Christ in us. Another thing we can do is continue to be a welcoming community. That includes here on Sundays as well as the ministries in which we’re each involved in the community. Witnessing to Christ often comes through relationships with those whom God has brought into our lives.

So, may we each grow in our faithful friendship with one another. And in that endeavor, may we look to the one who is our faithful friend – Jesus our Lord. And may we testify to the world around us of the faithfulness of God in Christ as we build relationships in his name.