Question 1: Are You a Fake Friend?
There is one defining characteristic of the phony friend in Proverbs: he uses people. The fake friend makes friends with people who can give him things. He establishes relationships solely for personal gain. In Proverbs this means money.
- “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend” (19:4).
- “The poor is disliked by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends” (14:20).
- “Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man’s brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them” (19:6-7).
It’s hard to tell if Proverbs is making a moral judgment on those who cozy up to the rich. Certainly, part of the point is simply to show the privilege of the rich versus the poor. But I think we are meant to see the recognize the fickleness of these friends. Faithful friends are hard to find (Prov. 20:6). Fake friends come in abundance, and they come for your stuff.
Fake friends use people. Money is the example in Proverbs, but there are other ways to use people. Some people get close to pastors or politicians or athletes because they want access, power, or popularity. Others may be so accustomed to soliciting favors for business or school or church affairs that they can no longer tell when their personal charm is genuine and when it’s an act. None of us are immune to the dangers of friendship fakery. It’s possible to plug a book, or speak at a conference, or rave about a blog, or feign chumminess with a Christian mover-and-shaker and all the while wonder if you are doing this to receive the same treatment.
A few years ago I read a book about Billy Graham and the presidents. What struck me most was how these powerful men welcomed Graham into their lives because he seemed like the only person who didn’t want anything from them. History shows they often wanted something from Graham, but he gave them the gift of friendship without manipulation. He was no fake friend.
If I ever get into the business of writing fortune cookies, this will be one of my first ones: “Beware the friend who passes out back-scratchers. He does not have your best interest at heart.”