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I'll Be There For You

Wisdom in being a true friend

Proverbs 27:9-10

9 Ointment and perfume delight the heart,
And the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel.

10  Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend,
Nor go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity;
Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.

Proverbs 27:17

17 As iron sharpens iron,
So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.


On September 22, 1994, the pilot episode of a new sitcom debuted on NBC, and immediately, television executives knew that they had struck ratings gold. The show was a “sitcom” (that is short for “situation comedy,” for any readers less than thirty years old). Metrics revealed that it had scored a 14.7 Nielsen rating ands was the fifteenth most watched television show of the week with a whopping 21.5 million viewers. 

Even if you are now trying to recall the show’s name, you will certainly recognize it instantly by its catchy theme song:

So no one told you life was gonna be this way
Your job's a joke, you're broke
Your love life's DOA
It's like you're always stuck in second gear
When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month
Or even your year, but
I'll be there for you… 

That’s right, that instant hit was television’s Friends, and it would have a highly successful production run from 1994 to 2004, making it the fifth most watched show in history. It continued on as re-runs and made its way onto modern streaming channels. 

In many ways, Friends seems to capture life in the pre-internet age. The lives of “normal” people interacting with each other in a time before smartphones and social media can seem like something from the ancient past of a lost civilization. 

I personally cannot remember having watched a single episode, but millions of Americans tuned in each week to follow the lives of New York City twentysomething friends—Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Ross (David Schwimmer), Monica (Courteney Cox), Chandler (Matthew Perry), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), and Joey (Matt LeBlanc)—dealing with relationships and solving their problems (in 30 minutes or less).

Why was the show Friends so successful? The show aired at the right time to the right audience. In 1994 it appealed to audiences in their 20’s through 40’s, as   a generation shift was occurring. At the time, broadcast television was still big, and the prospect of anticipating a new episode each week made up of likable, flawed, relatable characters, enriched the social lives of fans as they shared show information like gossip. AP writer Rich Fury writes in a column on American culture:

As part of this, we bond with fictional characters. We cannot help but empathize with them. A series like Friends with its characters and their combinations of breakups, makeups and other mishaps allowed us to safely use our empathy muscles to cheer on and sometimes commiserate with the group of six. It helped that each character was flawed but inherently likable.–Rich Fury, “Conversation” Magazine, 2023

Would you describe your own friends as “flawed but inherently likable?” Even your most highly esteemed acquaintances would certainly fill this bill. As the television show Friends tapped into a rich cultural vein, the Bible has so much more to say about friendship—and what it means to truly be a friend in return.

Solomon often approaches the subject of friendship in the book of Proverbs. He says in chapter 17, “a friend loves at all times,” and warns that isolating oneself can be harmful (18:1), but that having too many casual friends can lead to ruin (18:24). Here in chapter 27, Solomon teaches his young pupils more wisdom about friendship:    

9 Ointment and perfume delight the heart,
And the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel.–Proverbs 27:9

Verses 9 and 10 form a couplet that encourages the cultivation of deep and loyal friendships. Verse 9 contains easily understandable metaphors: ointment (like precious oil) and perfume (or incense) are luxuriant and pleasing to the senses. They give a sense of well-being and happiness. 

Do your friends do this for you? Are your friends “refreshed” by your friendship with them? In this cold and sinful world, true friendship can seem a rarity, and is to be treasured like one of life’s luxuries. This does not mean that friends never clash—for sometimes friends can be at odds, and sparks can even fly—but as Solomon will teach you in a moment, this can be a sign of a quality friend.

Some who seem to be your friend can actually be abusive or enabling in their behavior toward you. You do not expect every moment with a friend to be peaceful, but if you have a friend who continually drains you of emotion, or uses you as a catharsis to only vent frustration, then there is little here to “delight your heart.” 

When David met Jonathan, the two became instant friends. They had much in common, but were also very different. Their bond was more than casual friendship and as deep as brotherhood—they delighted each other’s hearts:

1 Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.–I Samuel 18:1

True friendship, Solomon says, is like a “sweetness” that you experience, not just in common interests and enjoyments, but in “heartfelt counsel.” A salesman will try to talk you into a purchase, a manipulator will urge you to do what is best for him, but a true friend tells you truthfully what he or she thinks is in your best interest.

This means that a true friend will be genuinely concerned for you, passionately so, even. This true concern for what is happening in your life, your joys and sorrows, will result in good, solid advice that you can take to the bank. Solomon continues:

10  Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend,
Nor go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity;
Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.–Proverbs 27:10

True friendship is put to the test in this second proverb, for it shows you true friendship in a time of crisis. It seems to give conflicting advice, but it reveals a wise ancient logic. Do not abandon your friend, nor a trusted family friend in need. The mention of “your father’s friend” denotes a trusted family friend who is a blessing across generations. 

Likewise, when “calamity” strikes you, Solomon advises you to get the best help available—and that may not necessarily be from your immediate family. In other words, there is wisdom in having a trusted, close neighbor or nearby friend on whom you can rely. Even in ancient times, family could be far away or indisposed—whereas real help may be right there in your own community. 

“Busted” is a classic country song by Harlan Howard that has been covered by notable singers like Johnny Cash and Ray Charles. In it, he describes a man down on his luck who seeks help from his brother, only to find that his brother was mustering up the courage to ask the same favor of him:

I went to my brother to ask for a loan 'cause I was busted
I hate to beg like a dog without his bone, but I'm busted
My brother said there ain't a thing I can do
My wife and my kids are all down with the flu
And I was just thinking about calling on you and I'm busted  

A friend or neighbor who is closer to you in spirit or on the map, may provide true sympathy—and will not count the cost to himself. As C.S. Lewis describes in his book, “The Four Loves:”

“The mark of Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all.”–C.S. Lewis

The implication here and in these proverbs is that family cannot be chosen, but a friend, by definition, is a friend by choice. 

As Solomon sets these proverbs down, he pens another that takes friendship to a whole new level:

17 As iron sharpens iron,
So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.–Proverbs 27:17

This is one of the best known and oft-quoted of Solomon’s proverbs. It is frequently used for men’s retreats and Bible studies, but it speaks to men and women alike. Just as good counsel and mutual support are marks of friendship, a true friend will speak truth to you—and it may not always been in a friendly manner.

“Iron” here summons the image of a blacksmith’s forge or an armorer’s bench. The hammering of steel to harden it to create a sharp tool, or pounding and folding the white-hot metal to make a sharp blade indicates that the role of a true friend is sometimes to speak the painful truth to you. 

Is this not what true, heartfelt advice should do? And whom among your friends and acquaintances are you close enough to that might provide such hard wisdom to you? Which of your friends would allow you to do the same for them? Difficult, truthful advice does not seek to harm, but can be painful to bear—but in the end you know that it will only make you both stronger for having shared it. As C.S. Lewis again ponders:

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.–C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”

The ultimate example of a true friend, is Jesus. Just as David loved Jonathan’s soul, so Christ, as David’s greatest son, is the lover of your soul:

13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.–John 15:13-15

Jesus, as your truest friend, comes into this world that is bent and darkened by sin, and joins you to Him through His love by His spirit. Christ reconciles you to His Father, and so you too are joined to your dear Christian brothers and sisters as a result. The Christian faith creates an abiding eternal bond between people who otherwise have nothing else in common.

Think of the diverse backgrounds of your Christian friends. God has brought you all together under one roof, in one family, to worship and enjoy Him—and each other—forever. Think of Jesus’s twelve very different disciples, or the disparate nature of the early churches planted by Paul. 

All too often, it seems, that believers are quick to be at the throats of other believers. Strife, gossip, factions, and other problems plague churches. Instead, there should be delight in our fellowship, the bestowing of deep grace to each other, and the joy of communal worship of our Risen King. The greatest gift that you can bestow on your friends is Christ—by being Christ to them. 

The Apostle Paul says as much to the young church in Colossal:

12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.–Colossians 3:12-14

So, even if it has not been “your day, your week, your month or even your year,” be there for your friends, just as Christ has and always will be there for you. 


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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