Iron Sharpens Iron: Biblical Friendship

Relationships with people are often complicated and unpredictable - solid and stable one day, and chaotic and frustrating the next. Perhaps the issue we deal with the most in our day-to-day lives is figuring out how to navigate interpersonal relationships. Every day we interact with people, build different kinds of relationships, and in some instances we even end up with friends.

But what does the Bible say about friendship, if anything? You may find that the stories you know from the Bible don’t seem to really apply to your day-to-day relationships. Sure, there are people in the Bible who have friends, but is there any real advice you can apply to your life?

While friendship isn't necessarily the main theme or the only theme in the Bible, there are places where this issue is addressed directly. You will find especially in the parts of the Bible known as the Wisdom Literature (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs) that there is a lot of insight to be gained about different kinds of relationships.

Some people today may try to go it alone or say “I don’t need anybody,” but in Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 we learn about the tragedy of not having friends. Scripture shows us that people with companions have someone who can lift them up when they fall, and that teams of multiple people are harder to defeat than just a lone person. The Bible tells us that friendship is part of what makes life worth living. . This echoes an earlier thought from the book of Genesis - that it is not good for a person to be alone. The Bible encourages us to pursue relationships for our own good.

The Bible also recognizes that friendship can be complicated and disappointing at times. “Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?” (Proverbs 20:6) Since there are no perfect people to be friends with, even the best advice in the world does not guarantee perfect friendships. There are general guidelines that will point you in the right direction in your relationships with others, but we ultimately have to face the challenges and frustrations that inevitably come with friendship. In a way, those challenges are what friendships are for. As Proverbs puts it, Proverbs 27:17 - “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Growing alongside other people makes us better, stronger, more reliable and resilient. Friends can bring out the best in each other.

But because the Bible is a very well-rounded book that takes all of human experience into account, there is also a negative side to this story. The book of Proverbs and the book of Job also point out some examples of bad friendships. Job's friends in particular spend almost the entire book of Job trying to convince their friend to admit to a sin he had never committed, constantly accusing him of being the cause of his own problems. Proverbs similarly contains many sayings warning about the dangers of false or compromised friendships.

It seems that friendship has always been complicated and troubled, even back in ancient times. Even Jesus was not immune to this. God, in human form, was betrayed, denied, and abandoned by the people closest to him in his darkest hour. One amazing thing about the gospel is that it shows us how God is still willing to call human beings his friends, even though that friendship has been so full of humanity's dysfunction. God’s love as we see it in Jesus is the best demonstration of true friendship. Look to God’s wisdom, and you will learn how to be a friend worth having.


The following section has a number of quotes from the book of Proverbs. Take some time to read through them and either discuss them with a friend or write some personal notes or thoughts down. How have you seen this principle proven true (or not) in your own life? Have you seen this be the case for others? Can you think of ways that applying this principle might affect the kinds of relationships you choose to maintain, repair, or let go? Do your friendships live up to these guidelines, or are there some friendships that need growth? Most importantly, are you the right kind of friend to the people around you, or do you need to work on some things?

On choosing friends:
Proverbs 13:20 - “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.”

Proverbs 22:24-25 - “Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.”

Proverbs 18:1 - “Unfriendly people care only about themselves; they lash out at common sense.”

Proverbs 12:26 - “The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.”

On gossip and arguments:
Proverbs 20:19 - “A gossip goes around telling secrets, so don’t hang around with chatterers.”

Proverbs 18:21 -  “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.”

Proverbs 18:13 - “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”

Proverbs 18:19 - “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.”

On loyalty and fake friends, and people who use others to get something:
Proverbs 18:24 - “There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.”

Proverbs 19:4 - “Wealth makes many “friends”; poverty drives them all away.”

Proverbs 19:22 - “Loyalty makes a person attractive. It is better to be poor than dishonest.”

Proverbs 19:6 - “Many seek favors from a ruler; everyone is the friend of a person who gives gifts!”

Proverbs 17:17 - “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”

Cover image by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash.


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