All comments, experience, and help are welcome.
Well, the whole thing goes—
Pleasant speech multiplies friends,
and gracious lips, friendly greetings.
Let those who are friendly to you be many,
but one in a thousand your confidant.
When you gain friends, gain them through testing,
and do not be quick to trust them.
For there are friends when it suits them,
but they will not be around in time of trouble.
Another is a friend who turns into an enemy,
and tells of the quarrel to your disgrace.
Others are friends, table companions,
but they cannot be found in time of affliction.
When things go well, they are your other self,
and lord it over your servants.
If disaster comes upon you, they turn against you
and hide themselves.
Stay away from your enemies,
and be on guard with your friends.
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter;
whoever finds one finds a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price,
no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
those who fear God will find them.
Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship,
for as they are, so will their neighbors be.
So, at the surface, it seems to suggest that it’s imprudent to be best friends with just anyone— that people you think are your friend might disappear in times of adversity, and it saves you the heartache of fair-weather friends.
Later on, it goes–
In prosperity we cannot know our friends;
in adversity an enemy will not remain concealed.
When one is successful even an enemy is friendly;
but in adversity even a friend disappears.
as well as–
Every friend declares friendship,
but there are friends who are friends in name only.
Is it not a sorrow unto death
when your other self becomes your enemy?
“Alas, my companion! Why were you created
to fill the earth with deceit?”
A harmful friend will look to your table,
but in time of trouble he stands aloof.
A good friend will fight with you against the foe,
and against your enemies he will hold up your shield.
and in Proverbs, you have–
Wealth adds many friends,
but the poor are left friendless.
So, while the swings of fortune, and the effects of misfortune, still continue to affect people today, I would suspect that back in the day, misfortune far more easily led to death and crippling poverty, and if one fell from security, it was far more difficult to regain it. Our relationships with our friends are still an important resource, but back then, it was more likely to be the difference between life and death. Today, we’re so relatively affluent, and there are so many social safety nets, that our friendships are more psychological in their benefits, rather than material… both giving and receiving. But the advice still resonates, even though the details have changed.
I understand the whole. But that reduces the entire “test” to a function of circumstances, and then observing attentively. (I think there’s more to it.)
Can you give a practical example of a “test” please @midori?
Basically, they are those who keep their promises to you; who keep their word; who can and do keep secrets.
Simply, ask a “friend” for a favor. If they agree and keep their word, then they are at least trustworthy in small things.
EDIT: Saint Paul teaches that we are to test all things and retain what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Friends fit into the category of “all things.” But, we do so charitably and without drama - over time. If they are untrue, that will soon be revealed - thus we begin carefully.
So, one of the things I do for fun is historical reenactment stuff. It involves a lot of time, a lot of expense, a lot of travel.
Once upon a time, DH and I were leaders in charge of about 4,000 people who participated in our geography. It was mostly a position where you traveled around giving attaboy-awards to local people, adding color and pageantry, and stuff like that.
But it wasn’t just the two of us. Our friends had to travel just as much to support us, and make us look good. They spent a lot of time, and a lot of money, traveling nearly every weekend for nine months of the year, until our term was up, and we could pass the reins on to the next pair of leaders.
So-- #1, that was the first test that our friends went through. Were they willing to spend thousands of dollars and give up 3 out of 4 weekends in a month, just to be generous and (a) make sure we had a good time, but also (b) make sure we looked good?
A lot of people stepped up. A lot of people were very generous. They used their skill and their talent to give us the opportunity to upgrade our wardrobe. We paid for materials in all cases, and we paid for labor in many others, but in some situations, people donated dozens of hours’ worth of labor, with nothing expected in return. If we wanted to acknowledge them in some way, that was nice and all… but ultimately, anything we could give, plus $5, would get you a drink at Starbucks.
But more importantly, #2-- after we relinquished the leadership, and someone else was in charge… our friends were the ones who continued to hang out with us and do stuff with us/help us with stuff, even when we didn’t have any attaboy cookies to pass out. There was no expectation of doing things for personal benefit; it was out of friendship.
I suppose a better real-life example would be with celebrities. Like, for example, MC Hammer spending $500,000 /month on a 200-person entourage. It was very generous of him to hire out-of-work friends and family from his old neighborhood… but if I’m blowing through a million dollars every other month to support 200 of my closest friends and relatives… hrmmm.
Of course, he went bankrupt pretty quickly. Spending $30M on a mansion (later sold for under $7M), or buying 17 luxury cars, a jet, and 21 racehorses— yeah, you’re going to run into financial problems if you don’t have a solid financial advisor looking out for your best interests. (Versus, say, your big brother, who knows nuthin’ about finances.)
So-- of course, if he’s a rapper on a global tour, and is pulling in $50M in a single year in today’s money— yeah, you’re going to be popular. But when you’ve declared bankruptcy, and you’ve sold all your fancy toys, and you’re now a preacher— how many of those 200 friends and family are still hanging around because they love you for you, rather than because you represent Opportunity?
There’s a term I remember from chemistry-- precipitation-- to cause an event to happen very suddenly or unexpectedly. Up until we had our stint in leadership, I was very standoffish and reserved. I had known a lot of these people for about 10 years, but ultimately, they were my husband’s friends, and I wasn’t good at opening up. Serving in that leadership capacity made me throw my usual standoffishness out the window. I had to depend on them. I had to rely on them. And I couldn’t allow them to make that kind of sacrifice and keep them at arm’s length. I didn’t have another 10 years to decide whether or not I wanted to warm up to anyone in particular… I had to warm up, now. I was full of pleasant speech to multiply friends, and I was full of friendly greetings. But even though there were so many people helping me, I was sensible enough to know that many of them were helping me because of my office, not because I was me myself. So I opened up---- but I wasn’t silly enough to open up that much. The ones I had known for 10 years— they were a safer bet that they would still like me for myself when it was all over. The new people I got to rely upon, I accepted what they were willing to give, but I didn’t have additional expectations, although a sustained future friendship would be nice if it happened, but them fluttering off to help the next leaders wouldn’t be unexpected, either.
Most people don’t get that nice, safe opportunity of playing pretend to precipitate relationships and thereby tell the difference between “faithful friends” versus “table companions”.
Don’t think of it as testing people, as in putting them to one or more tests to see how they measure up. Rather, think of it as the test of time. Work with them or spend time with them, and circumstances will arise. The circumstances will test them, and you will see what they are made of, see what they are, and see into their heart.
Now, the interesting thing is that it is not a one way process. You are not shopping around until you find a true friend. You grow the friendship. As I’ve heard it said, you find a friend by being a friend.
Here’s how it works: In those circumstances which test us, they too will see what you are made of, see what you are, and see into your heart. The good that you see in them will change you, and the good that they see in you will change them. That’s how the friendship grows.
Maybe that’s what the prophet meant by “gain them through testing.”
Footnotes from USCCB:
- [6:5–17] One of several poems Ben Sira wrote on friendship; see also 9:10–16; 12:8–18; 13:1–23; 19:13–17; 22:19–26; 27:16–21. True friends are discerned not by prosperity (v. 11), but through the trials of adversity: distress, quarrels (v. 9), sorrow (v. 10) and misfortune (v. 12). Such friends are rare, a gift from God (vv. 14–17).
Thank you @midori for the trouble you took in answering me. I truly appreciate it. (and the story you recounted was really interesting to read and consider in its own right.)
I want to say, however, that the examples of application I am thinking off in asking my question are different in nature. I wish, if possible, to exclude “camaraderie” - and so isolating a factor. As to focus on friendship (looking closely at what is proper of false friends).
I’m taken to think that some of this might be “eschatological” since I won’t see justice (or peace) in the terms of the footnotes within my lifetime.
I think, especially of 2 cases:
1ºHow a society/group can force one party (or both) to destroy a friendship (placing insurmountable exterior difficulties to it.)
2ºHow on entering a society/group as an outsider/new-joiner (might be work, or a preexisting group of friends/acquaintances). The entire society/group might be set up (among them) to either exclude you, or dominate you through falsehood (of the false friendship they offer). Falsehood being the key word, inseparable of betrayal. Having nothing but malice -of exclusion and use- in their objectives towards outsiders.
[So my characterization of any friendship I come across in the context of a group, today, follows along these lines necessarily. And I’m not including the conspiracies/competitions in the work place surrounding professional progression.]
These 2 scenarios are well summarized by pope Francis in “Gaudete et Exsultate”:
It takes time and experience to form a friendship.
Most people have a number of friendly acquaintances, but a friend needs time and nurturing, and they have to prove themselves worthy.
(This is not the same as the agape charity Christians are to extend to all mankind)
Peace comes from God. We are not always willing to accept His peace, but, it is there for you at any time. Christ’s peace is the sort that allows us to go to sleep in the boat when the storm is raging.
Justice, again, God’s justice is often different than what we see as justice. Often I want vengeance, retribution or reprisal when those are not God’s justice.
Keep putting it in God’s hands.
In my opinion, there’s no actual test in mind. Who goes around asking for favors or whatever, just to test if someone is trustworthy?
Jesus is merely observing that this is how you know who are your true friends. Because it is with them that you have overcome adversities (i.e. tests) together.
As an example, there are people whom I didn’t like, at first sight, because they were either vulgar, dressed in an unsavory manner or for some other reason. But, in adversity, they turned out to be the ones’ I could count on.
One of the key things to remember is that just because I’m friends with A, and I’m friends with C, doesn’t mean that A and C necessarily have to like each other, or even get along, or even tolerate each other. I can sustain independent friendships with each of them despite their mutual feelings towards each other. But at the same time, it’s natural of evaluate someone based on the merits of the friends they’ve chosen to surround themselves with.
Thank you for your post and I’m sorry I didn’t reply earlier. I want to take some time to meditate on the answers folks are giving me, so I can’t really give immediate meaningful answers.
I really like your perspective on Sirach 6:7 and friendship, it brings me a certain feeling of calm and peace (you include a dynamic dimension taken over time, which has an optimistic outlook and that’s perhaps also something I need. In that aspect, you follow pope Francis’s line of thought.)
However, (like @0Scarlett_nidiyilii pointed out) “phillia”, or love of friendship, takes time…And time is a precious, scarce, commodity.
I would love to consider the passing of time in establishing a friendship as something positive. But that, only too much, reminds me of countless “no win” situations where only falsehood and betrayal will ever result. And also, how the former conditions and shapes the real friendships you can establish, given that context.
(I won’t, this time, write out exact references in the literature to the above.)
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