“A friend loves at all times…” – Proverbs 17:17
In a chapter on “The Discipline of Friendship,”* Kent Hughes writes, “Few men have good friends, much less deep friendships.” Hughes notes that America’s leading psychologists and therapists estimate that only 10% of all men ever have any real friends.
The problem, Hughes says, stems from the way men are wired. Unlike women, men are more into doing than talking. Because we gear ourselves for the marketplace, we men understand friendships more as acquaintances than as relationships. Adding to our deficiency, Hughes notes, is our bent to buy into the Hollywood delusion that “real men don’t need other people.”
This is a tragedy, Hughes concludes. By failing to experience deep friendships we rob ourselves along with our wives, children and others, because it’s through relationships that we develop our full potential as men.
So how does one move from acquaintances to relationships? A good place to start might be to become what others are looking for in a real friend. And what’s that? Proverbs 17:17 reports that the DNA of a genuine friend is that he “loves at all times.” Whatever the obstacles to caring for the other person – our inconvenience, their screw-ups, etc. – a true friend, we’re told, never fails to love. Is that possible?
It’s not if we buy into our modern world’s understanding of love. We’re told that love is a feeling and therefore out of our control. People say, “I fell in love,” like love is a ditch that we unwittingly stumble into and can’t get out of. But if love is no more than a feeling, then loving “at all times” is impossible because, frankly, we don’t always have loving feelings toward others. Is there more to love than feelings?
To find out I turned to the encyclopedia. Under “love” it said, “See ‘emotion.’” Under “emotion” I found one lengthy article that used the word “love” twice and never defined it. No help there.
Next, being a red blooded American male, I looked up “sex.” There I found a three-page article on the history of marriage. It mentioned “love” once. Still no definition. I thought, “It seems that in America we know a lot more about marriage and sex than we do about love.” (Duh!) No help in the encyclopedia.
So I turned to the Bible. There I discovered some really interesting stuff on “love.” For instance, in talking about love the Bible cites words like patience, kindness, protect, trust. Obviously, the Bible’s view is that love isn’t just something we say, it’s something we do; a demonstration, not simply an inclination.
I also found that, rather than a feeling, the Bible defines love as a matter of the will. It would be pointless to command that we love one another, as the Bible does, if love is just a feeling. Feelings don’t respond to commands, but the will does, or at least it can. Sure, love creates emotions, but love is not an emotion. It’s a choice. Let’s be honest, we don’t fall out of love. We decide to stop loving. Hence the proverb exhorts us to love continually, that is, to determine always to act toward others in a caring way, no matter what.
The question remains, however, how is this possible? If the DNA of a genuine friend is to always do the loving thing, including when the loving thing is the last thing we feel like doing, how do we make our will override our feelings? A lot of times we can’t, but God can. Only Jesus is always kind, always patient, always forgiving. Fortunately, he’s willing to love others this way through us. We have only to ask him.
*From Hughes’ book, “The Disciplines of a Godly Man”
Dr. Jim Furr