Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy way to choose friends?
You may be one of many readers who personally understand the devastation of unwise friendships. Who knows how many grandmas have quoted their own version of 1 Corinthians 15:33? “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” The reality is this: when you choose friends poorly, your unwise friends have a corrupting impact on you in every way. Your friends’ influence affects your character, values, communication, and behavior.
The author of Psalm 119 provides two key principles to use when choosing friends.
I am a companion of all who fear you,
of those who keep your precepts.
Notice how the psalmist frames his standards for friendship. First, he identifies his friends as companions. Friendship here refers to those who have a close bond; as those who are knit together, they associate with each other. The emphasis of this kind of friendship focuses on what friends share in common. The close relationship between Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah was categorized in this way (Daniel 2:13). Furthermore, the psalmist strives for impartiality. In other words, the psalmist is open to friendship with any person fitting his standards for friendship. He accepts all people on the sole basis of these two standards and no others, such as socio-economic status, race, or gender.
Principle One: Fear of God
To fear God refers to a reverential awe toward God. The response of awe toward God recognizes His holiness, authority, deity, magnificence, and threat of judgement. There is a respect of God that permeates one’s whole being. This fear is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7) and is what every person on earth is called to do (Psalm 33:8). For the Christ-follower, the fear of God is paramount. In describing Jesus the Messiah, Isaiah wrote, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”
What does the person look like who fears the Lord? This person lives life in active awe of God. This person keeps God at the forefront of his or her thinking. This person contemplates God’s character and desires while moving throughout his or her day. This person organizes life around his or her relationship with God. To the contrary, the unbelieving person without a relationship with God is known as one with no fear of God before his or her eyes (Roman 3:18).
Principle Two: Obedient to God
The second principle is obedience to God’s commands or precepts. Whatever God commands, this individual honors and seeks to fulfill. Jesus simply stated to His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
What does the person look like who obeys God? This person strives to live in obedience to whatever will honor or please God. The apostle Paul said of himself, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). Any person who says he or she abides in Christ ought to live obediently to God and according to His will, just as Jesus did (1 John 2:16).
This is Every Christ-follower’s Challenge
No doubt these two principles are connected in the life of the Christ-follower. To fear God encourages obedience to God. Consider how the fear of the Lord and obedience to the Lord are associated together in the following two verses:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.
These are fundamental obligations for every wise, godly person. As such, the psalmist makes them his two gold standards for friendship.
An Old Testament Example
Many scholars suggest Daniel to be the author of Psalm 119. If that is true, consider the impact of these friendship standards on his life. Away from home, away from family, away from the priests, away from the reading of the Scriptures, all Daniel had was the Torah that he had memorized and his chosen friends. Together the four of them lived out these principles as they chose to fear God and obey Him instead of the king. This meant that the three companions faced the fiery furnace. For Daniel this meant he faced the lion’s den. Such incidents surely emphasize the importance of the friendship between these companions who feared God and obeyed Him.
What about the scores of other men who were also brought out of Jerusalem to Babylon to serve the king? They were the best and the brightest Jerusalem had to offer. They were intelligent. They were popular. They were privileged. However, these boys, who chose not to fear God and obey Him, also continue to be nameless.
So What about You?
Every day each one of us chooses to fear God and obey Him or not.
Every day each one of us makes friendship choices which honor God or not.
Every day each one of us impacts those around us either for God’s glory or not.
Let me encourage you to consider two things today:
- Would you be a good friend to someone? Do you personally live according to the gold standard of friendships? Do you fear God and obey Him?
- Do your friends fit the gold standard of friendships?
If your friends do not meet the biblical qualifications for godly friendships, then you have a perfect opportunity to do careful self-counsel. Ask yourself, “Have I been the kind of influence that would encourage my friends to fear God and obey Him?” If not, then repent and determine to be a godly friend. In addition, look around your life and find some people who are godly. Invest your time, energy, and efforts into building friendships with these people. Together you and your companions will glorify God as you fear Him and keep His commandments.
Join the Conversation
Jesus also had a clear standard for friendship. According to John 15:14-15 he said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” What more does Jesus add to our understanding of God-honoring friendships? How could you use Psalm 119:63 and John 15:14-15 in counseling teens? How might your use of these passages be different if you were counseling middle-aged or older adults?