Does It Matter Who Your Friends Are?
Helpful facts that young people want to know
HAVING friends is one of the things that contributes most to the joy of living. People who isolate themselves and shun others are never really happy. What is there about companionship that adds so much to our happiness?
Doing something with a friend seems to multiply our enjoyment of life’s pleasurable experiences and accomplishments. You may remember how, in Jesus’ parables, the shepherd who found his lost sheep and the woman who found her lost coin each called in his or her friends, saying, “Rejoice with me.” (Luke 15:6, 9) Yes, we normally want to share good things with companions, and our pleasure seems to double as a result.
On the other hand, when things do not go so well for us and we feel depressed, a good friend can do much to reduce our sadness. Friends can often be of tremendous help when trouble threatens, warning us against danger or helping us to escape it, giving us extra strength at critical moments. As Proverbs 17:17 says: “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.”
That scripture emphasizes a quality that outstandingly marks real friends: loyalty. Being a friend really means more than just ‘acting friendly.’ A genuine friend is loyal to you and to your best interests. Are your friends like that?
Today, people in general seem more interested in outdoing their neighbor than in helping their neighbor. This is just as true among young people as among older ones. Even among so-called ‘friends’ there is often a spirit of competition, not of loyalty. Many friendships last only as long as neither person is called on to make some change or sacrifice some selfish interest. In this competitive world, a true friend is not easy to find. “There exist companions disposed to break one another to pieces,” Proverbs 18:24 tells us, “but there exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.”
The Bible shows that David, the son of Jesse, had some really worthwhile friends. More than once these saved his life. You may recall how, after David’s defeat of the immense Philistine warrior Goliath, he gained a fine friend in Jonathan, the son of King Saul. Jonathan could have hated David as a rival for the throne of Israel, a throne that Jonathan might have hoped to inherit from his father, King Saul. Instead, Jonathan recognized that God’s favor was on David, and “Jonathan’s very soul became bound up with the soul of David, and Jonathan began to love him as his own soul.” (1 Sam. 18:1, 3) Instead of being envious of David, Jonathan loved him for his courage and faith in Jehovah God. And more than once Jonathan risked his life and endured his father’s fierce (but unjustified) anger in order to protect his friend.—1 Sam. 19:1–20:17, 24-40.
You can also read about a later friend of David named Hushai, who, as the “king’s companion,” was one of David’s closer associates during his kingship. The way Hushai risked his life to thwart the traitorous conspiracy of Absalom, one of David’s sons, makes a thrilling account to consider.—See 2 Samuel 15:10-37; 16:16–17:16.
Perhaps you also have friends like these. But, if not, how can you gain them? It will take real effort, but it is certainly worth it.
SEEKING WORTHWHILE FRIENDS
There is a saying that ‘the only way to have a friend is to be one.’ A lot of truth there is in that statement. Sometimes persons are lonely and feel ‘left out’ of things by other young persons whom they may admire. Or they may have had friends only to ‘lose’ them. They may feel hurt because of this. But friendship is a two-way street.
So we do well to ask ourselves, What am I doing to be friendly to others? How much sincere and unselfish interest do I take in others and what do I do to contribute to their happiness and their good? What qualities am I cultivating that would make others feel they would like to share my companionship more often?
The way you go about trying to find friends will generally determine the kind you get. Some seek to win friends by spending money on them or by inviting them to share the pleasures of other material possessions—a stereo outfit and records, sports equipment or other such things. True, this may draw certain ones to you, just as the book of Proverbs says that “many are the friends of the rich person” and that “everybody is a companion to the man making gifts.” (Prov. 14:20; 19:6) Many people act friendly when a person spends his money in a lavish manner. But when the money runs out so do such ‘friends.’
Sometimes it is not money or material possessions that we might use to try to ‘buy’ friendship. We could do it also by flattery or by catering to another’s every whim and fancy, letting ourselves be used by that person for his or her selfish interests. But worthwhile friends cannot be ‘bought’ in these ways. Any friend that can be bought is never worth the price—no matter how small it may be. True friends are attracted to you by what you have in the way of worthwhile qualities—not by what they can get out of you.
So, it is good to have a friendly disposition toward people in general; but if you want genuine friends you need to be selective about those you accept for close companions. David was. He says: “Anyone slandering his companion in secrecy, him I silence. Anyone of haughty eyes and of arrogant heart, him I cannot endure. . . . There will dwell inside my house no worker of trickiness. As for anyone speaking falsehoods, he will not be firmly established in front of my eyes.” (Ps. 101:5-7) Why is it so important for young people today to be selective as to close companions?
WHY SELECTIVITY IS VITAL
It is a basic principle of social relations that you tend to become what those around you are if you associate with them long enough. There is a Spanish proverb that says: “Tell me with whom you walk and I’ll tell you who you are.” (Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.) Your choice of friends tells a lot about what kind of person you want to be. Your close friends are bound to have a ‘molding’ effect on your personality.
Do you choose friends who have qualities of honesty and decency, who are considerate and who have respect for God and his Word and have the courage to do what is right?
Or are you attracted by youths who are like the persons David avoided, those who have a very high opinion of themselves and who run others down, who pride themselves on being able to ‘outsmart’ others by slick methods, and who, in place of genuine courage, have only a foolhardiness that makes them take blind risks for no real purpose and with no worthwhile goal in view? They may engage in immorality, or steal or take drugs and then brag that they are ‘getting away with it.’ If they try to hook you into going along with them, can they rightly be called “friends”?
Remember, if you should become close companions of such persons you will either have to go along with them in what they do or disagree with them. To disagree with them will probably end the ‘friendship.’ Why? Because, while such youths often like to ridicule others, they usually cannot take reproof themselves; they hate it. Proverbs 9:8 talks about that kind of person and then, by way of contrast, adds, “Give a reproof to a wise person and he will love you.” (See also Proverbs 15:12.) Real friends can talk frankly to one another and help one another to improve and to correct and strengthen themselves in things where they are weak. The ancient writer says: “Oil and incense are what make the heart rejoice, also the sweetness of one’s companion due to the counsel of the soul.” (Prov. 27:9) When you have a really good companion who thinks straight and talks straight, it is almost like having a second mind to use for your good.
So many young people today, because of having no faith in God’s Word and the hope it holds out, take the attitude of “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.” That was the way many men felt who were sentenced to fight wild beasts in the arena of ancient Ephesus in Asia Minor. They had no hope in Jehovah God and no hope in a resurrection to life in God’s new order. As a young person you are really just getting started in life. So, do you want to adopt the philosophy of condemned prisoners and make that your attitude toward life? After describing that viewpoint of just ‘living for today,’ the apostle Paul goes on to say: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:32, 33) If you seek close companionship with young persons who think only of the present, you can be sure they will spoil your hopes and efforts toward gaining a really happy future. “By his mouth the one who is an apostate brings his fellowman to ruin, but by knowledge are the righteous rescued.”—Prov. 11:9.
Sometimes a young person may say that he or she associates with another of questionable reputation and practices with the idea of ‘helping such one.’ To want to help others is a fine thing. But if you go along with them in pursuit of selfish pleasure, how much help are you giving them? After all, if you saw a child in a mud puddle, would you take some soap out into the puddle and try to clean the child with it? You would only get yourself dirty as a result. You would first have to try to encourage the child to come out of the mud puddle before you could hope to do anything about cleaning him up at close range.
Actually, to accept a youth with bad habits as your close associate will often have a bad effect on that person (as well as on you). Why? Because it may encourage such one to keep on in the same way, feeling that, in spite of what he is doing, you still find his close companionship acceptable. Would it not be of far greater help to limit your association to times when you can really aid the person by pointing out good counsel from God’s Word and by inviting him to accompany you to places where that counsel is discussed and explained?
THE MOST IMPORTANT FRIENDS
Above all, you should think seriously as to how association with persons of questionable practices may affect your relationship with Jehovah God and Christ Jesus. One may say, ‘But I don’t do those bad things myself.’ Perhaps not—at least not yet. But if you do not like or approve of the wrong things the person is doing, then why do you like his or her close companionship? Would not people be justified in thinking you do approve of such one’s practices and would they not be justified in giving you a similar reputation?
At James 4:4 we are told that ‘whoever wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.’ That principle can apply to our relationship with any one person just the same as to our relationship with the world of mankind alienated from God. If we approve of worldly ways in an individual or prefer such one’s companionship to that of the young person who really wants to please God, then do we not show ourselves to be ‘friends of the world’?
If you really want happiness now and in the future, by all means learn to prize the friendship of God and his Son above that of all others. For thousands of years now God has been demonstrating his friendship toward those who love righteousness, developing his grand purposes to bring them everlasting life in really happy conditions. His Son has worked with him and, when on earth, proved his loyal love for right-hearted persons. He told his disciples: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends. You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.”—John 15:13, 14.
Unlike many who may pretend to be your friends, Jehovah God and his Son will not give up on you or abandon you because you run into difficulties. If you put your trust in them you will find that your times of trouble will be when their help and support are most evident.
Do you really appreciate these great Friends? Then show it by seeking friends like them on earth. Seek loyal companions who accept and will live up to the obligation the apostle John wrote about when he said: “By this we have come to know love, because that one [Jesus] surrendered his soul for us; and we are under obligation to surrender our souls for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16) Through thick and thin, they will prove to be the kind of friends worth having. They will help you to gain life forever in God’s new order.