Some of the most important decisions we make in our lives are the friends we will keep. The Bible warns us, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals (1 Corinthian 15:33).” And encourages us, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17).” The friends we make and keep are important to God and to our Christian maturity.
In a three-part series, I would like to encourage you from God’s Word to consider how you might make good friends, or, more specifically, with whom you might make good friends. I was told by a friend of mine, “You should always have three types of friends. Friends ahead of you, to learn from; friends beside you, to learn with; and friends behind you, to bring along.” I believe there is good biblical wisdom in this statement and I will use it as the structure for these posts.
Let’s get started with the first of those groups:
One of the reasons I love that advice quoted above is because it was told to me by one of my “older” friends. Someone with over 40 years of extra “experience”. I have been deeply served by friendships with older people and the Bible holds up older friends as a treasure for all of us to pursue. I want to look at the story of Ruth and Naomi to illustrate why we all need older friends, and how we can make the most of these valuable relationships.
And the first reason we need older people as friends is that,
1) They’ve been there
The book of Ruth opens with a tragic scene. Elimelech and Naomi along with their two sons choose to leave the land of Israel to sojourn in Moab because of a great famine in the land of Israel. Once they arrive Elimelech dies, their sons marry foreign wives, Orpah and Ruth, and then the sons die. This leaves Naomi with no husband or sons to provide for her in a foreign land. Naomi has seen some things, endured some hardships, and been some places. Naomi’s life echoes the dirge of Ecclesiastes, that this life we live under the sun is full of toil.
Generally, the longer you live, the more you have suffered, and suffering in the life of the Christian produces something the author of Ecclesiastes did not foresee. Romans 5:3-5,
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Naomi’s value may not be in her property, her ability to provide for herself, or her health and strength; but she has known God through tremendous suffering. Younger people need that example. Older friends can help us make sense of the hard things of life.
2) They Know God Better
This is not a universal rule, but generally, if you have an older friend who is a Christian, they have known God longer than you have. It was certainly true for Ruth and Naomi. Ruth came from a country and people who did not know the God of the Bible. But she saw hope in Naomi’s God. When Naomi tried to send Ruth back to her family Ruth says,
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” – Ruth 1:15-17
Do you have questions about how to understand or apply certain biblical concepts or doctrines? Ask someone older that you trust who has walked there before you and seen the wisdom of God played out in their lives. Older people know God better.
Those are two reasons for seeking out an older friend in friendship, but how should we make the most of that relationship? Let me offer 3 quick thoughts:
1) Stick Close
Ruth saw the spiritual strength and hope in Naomi and would not let go. Keep your relationships familiar with older friends so you can pray for them and have them pray for you. Be intentional about connecting with and remembering them.
2) Ask for Advice
One of the greatest ways you can honour older friends is to ask for their advice. Ruth did this with Naomi. Once they returned to Israel, Ruth had to work to provide for her mother-in-law. She couldn’t just drop a resume off at Tim Hortons, she had to glean the fields of the local landowners. Which meant she got to pick up the leftover fruit of the field that the harvesters dropped. Knowing she was in a foreign land with very little knowledge to keep her safe, she asked Naomi if Boaz’s field was a safe place to work. Naomi told her that was an excellent idea and to stay close to the other gleaning women.
Ask the advice of older friends. I think you will be amazed how there is very little that is new under the sun and their advice will ring true.
And finally, once you ask for advice,
3) Do what they say
If an older friend gives you advice, you owe them the respect and honour of trying out their advice. We were made to spur one another on and build each other up, but that only works if we are humble enough to admit we don’t have all the answers.
If Ruth hadn’t taken Naomi’s seemingly crazy advice to lie down at Boaz’s feet (Ruth 3:1-4), we would never have their love story and surprise royal ending. Rather than moving forward in her own strength and wisdom, Ruth said, “All that you say I will do (Ruth 3:5).” God used Ruth’s humility to bring the entire nation into a new era of prosperity under King David. Such an amazing result from one humble act of friendship.
Our Big Brother
Older friends are a true treasure in our lives. But even the best of friends is only a shadow of our “big brother” Jesus himself. He is the one who knows our frame (Psalm 103:14) and took it upon himself to live with us and for us. He has gone before us into suffering, death, and glory. We can always look to Jesus as one who "has been tempted in every way as we are yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15)." He is the word of God given to us so we can know the wisdom and "advice" of God. In Christ, we always have an example for us, and a willing mediator who intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Stick close to older friends in Christ, but when even our oldest and wisest friends let us down, we know that Christ's love and power never fails.