What Makes A Good Friend? 5 Easily Identifiable Traits

two older female friends hugging

Do you know the qualities of a good friend? If someone were to ask you what makes a good friend, what would you say? Since our aim as followers of Christ is to live as He did, let’s see what the Bible had to say about the traits of a good friend.

What are the Qualities of a Good Friend?

If we were to think about what makes a true friend from a worldly perspective we’d probably say things like,

  • A true friend is loyal
  • A good friend is kind
  • True friends are trustworthy
  • Good friends are loving
  • A true friend is supportive and wants the best for me

This is by no means an exhaustive list as I’m sure you can think of several other traits of a friend that you could add. But what does the Bible say?

Characteristics of a good friend according to the Bible

When talking about friendship, there’s no better biblical example than that of Jonathan and David (ha! I bet you thought I was going to say Jesus didn’t you? Well, Jesus takes friendship to a whole ‘nother level. There aren’t many people willing to die for you.)

The story of Jonathan and David starts in 1 Samuel 18:1 and continues through to 1 Samuel 20:41. At their first meeting, we are told that ‘the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David’ and that Jonathan loved David as ‘his own soul’. In Jamaican terminology ‘him spirit tek him’.

The word translated as “knit together” is the Hebrew qâshar, (pronounced kaw-shar’) and it means to tie. In the physical sense, it means to gird, confine, or compact. But it could also refer to the mental connection of love.

From that moment onwards, Jonathan and David remained close friends despite all the challenges they had to face. But what is it that made Jonathan such a good friend to David? Let’s examine their friendship to identify what makes a good friend:

1. A good friend lets you know when somebody means you harm (1 Samuel 19:2).

Have you ever been in a situation where someone disliked you for whatever reason or was saying horrible things about you? How did you find out? Did you have a friend who told you what people were saying about you? Or what they are planning to do to you? Or did you just wander blindly into whatever emotional trap was being set for you?

When Jonathan found out that Saul wanted to kill David, he was upfront about it (1 Samuel 19:2). This must have been one of the most awkward conversations in the history of awkward conversations:

“Ah, bro… you need to get away from here,” says Jonathan

“Um. No! I like it here. I’m in the army. The king let me marry his daughter … we started off a little sticky but I think we’re okay now.” replies David. “Did I tell you I’m still on my honeymoon?”

“Eww, that’s my sister. Well, anyway, my dad wants to kill you.”

“Wait, what? I thought he was over that.”

“Err, no.”

2. Good friends speak well of you (1 Samuel 19:4-5).

Another trait of a good friend is that they speak well of you at all times. When I was younger I didn’t have a lot of friends. As a person who spent a lot of time with my nose in a book, I wasn’t such a popular choice when it came to playing games with the neighborhood kids. I also knew enough to know that the way they talked about me when they thought I wasn’t around was a pretty good indicator that they weren’t really fond of me.

A good friend–a really good one–speaks well of you even when you aren’t there. They see you in a way that highlights all your good points. They recognize that the things you’re not so proud of are learning opportunities and they give you grace–lots and lots of grace. They give you space to grow and many times they are in the trenches with you–wrestling with the things you’re struggling with because they care.

What Makes a Good Friend? 5 Easily Identifiable Traits

3. A true friend can be counted on (1 Samuel 20:4).

This particular trait of a friend is being seen less frequently but it may be one of the most important. There’s a slightly off-color Groucho Marx quote that I think embodies this trait: “When you’re in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, ‘D— that was fun’.”

David had such a friend in Jonathan who was willing to try to stand in the gap between David and Saul–even though the ‘enemy’ was his own father.

4. A true pal is not envious of you (1 Samuel 20:30).

I love watching teen movies but whenever there’s a really popular group of girls there seems to be a thread of envy that runs through the group. Typically, the leader of the group keeps everyone in place by reminding them that she is far superior in every way and they should be lucky that she allows them to talk to her. Her popularity is maintained because there’s a great deal of envy directed towards her. Everyone wants to be her so they do anything to stay on her good side.

This wasn’t the case with Jonathan and David. As the son of a king, Jonathan should have been next in line for the throne, but God had already chosen David as the next king.

Both Saul and Jonathan knew David had been anointed as king but Jonathan had no envy towards his friend. Like Saul, Jonathan should have been plotting and scheming to get David killed. Instead, he wanted to preserve his life knowing that it meant all the wealth and power of his father would never be his.

5. A friend mourns when you mourn (1 Samuel 20:41).

There’s nothing worse than going through heartache alone. As social beings, we handle situations better when we have someone there with us. A ‘bonafide brethren’ is there not only when things are happy but also when they are sad. Because they know and care about us, they are affected by the things that make us sad.

When David had to deal with the fact that he would have to leave his home, his family, and his friends, he was deeply distressed. So was Jonathan. Did they think they would never see each other again? Probably not. What they knew was that they would be separated as long as Saul wanted David dead or until Saul died.

Do you have a friend like that? Are you a friend like that to someone? There ought to be someone that you can call on when things get a little rough. People need people. Women need other women, a girlfriend that they can call at 2:00 am and know that they’ll answer and help you work through what they’re struggling with.

Now that we know what makes a good friend, let’s talk about what makes a bad friend.

What Makes a Friend Bad?

A good friend does not lead you into destruction. In Proverbs 1:10-19 (NLT) we read:

My child, if sinners entice you,
turn your back on them!
They may say, “Come and join us.
Let’s hide and kill someone!
Just for fun, let’s ambush the innocent!
Let’s swallow them alive, like the grave;
let’s swallow them whole, like those who go down to the pit of death.
Think of the great things we’ll get!
We’ll fill our houses with all the stuff we take.
Come, throw in your lot with us;
we’ll all share the loot.”

My child, don’t go along with them!
Stay far away from their paths.
They rush to commit evil deeds.
They hurry to commit murder.
If a bird sees a trap being set,
it knows to stay away.
But these people set an ambush for themselves;
they are trying to get themselves killed.
Such is the fate of all who are greedy for money;
it robs them of life.

Raise your hand if you have ever had a friend that your parent told you was “bad company”? Oh, was it just me then?

This passage in Proverbs gives a pretty good idea of how it happened. So maybe the “bad friend” doesn’t say, “Come let’s go rob and kill.” It could be as simple as, “Let’s take something that doesn’t belong to us.” Or, “Let’s say something is true when it isn’t.”

We are told to stay far away from people like this because they are headed for destruction and if we go along for the ride–we will be destroyed as well.

The book of Proverbs is filled with advice on how to avoid those who would lead us down the path of destruction. Many times when a person’s heart is set on doing wrong, it only takes a thought for them to turn against their “business partners”.

In fact, a lot of times that was their original intention. The Bible is very clear that we should avoid persons who are not wholeheartedly following Christ. The only example we should be following is Jesus’.

And yes, sometimes that will mean that we are laughed at or teased. We may even be persecuted for our beliefs. But if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith – we can walk boldly the path that is set before us.

Traits of a bad friend

Not every bad friend will lead you down a path towards destruction and death. There are other, more subtle ways in which those types of friends can mislead you.

A bad friend distracts you from God. Our whole purpose on earth is to give–and bring–glory to God. But when we are distracted from following him with our whole hearts we end up cut off from him. Sometimes we may even try to fill our God slot by spending more time with our friends or trying to please them.

A bad friend can distract you from your purpose. What is our purpose? God has created each one of us on purpose for a purpose. Are you living up to that purpose? Or are you allowing people to prevent you from doing what God has called you to do?

A bad friend can distract you from your dreams. What do you dream of doing? And no, it’s not the same as your purpose–at least, it doesn’t have to be. Your purpose is what you were created to do, your dream is how you see yourself making it happen.

Good friends support your dreams, and while they may not understand them, they help push you towards accomplishing that dream. Don’t let fake friends keep you from trying to accomplish your dreams.

What Makes A Good Friend?

The Bible tells us “there’s a Friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). It, therefore, means that the persons we choose to associate ourselves with should have the characteristics of Christ.

  1. They should know Jehovah and be in an intimate, saving relationship with Him.
  2. They should show love to everyone in all their dealings.
  3. They should choose to do the will of the Father each and every day.

You will know them by their fruit. Actions often display our thoughts, mindsets, and attitudes. The way a person acts is a pretty good indicator of their character. But don’t get drawn in by someone who’s a great actor. Listen to their words and you watch their actions. Look into their eyes as you listen to what they say and pray. Ask God for the discernment to know who is genuine and who is not.

What do you think are the traits of a good friend? How many of these traits do you have?

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