Traits of a True Friend

Few things are more important in life than friends. They support us. They help us. They pick us up when we're down and smack us when we're arrogant. Family is the core, and hopefully you are friends with many of your family members, but most of us will spend more time with friends in our lives than with family.

Proverbs 18:24 ...there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. 

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.

It can be difficult though. People we presume to be friends are not always as friendly as we might like. Sometimes there is betrayal, or dishonesty, or other negative events. Or perhaps more likely, you find a person you thought was your friend ditches you when you're down and out. It can happen to any of us. This post is my explanation of how I choose friends. How do I know who to trust and who to keep at a distance?

Psalm 41:9 [My] own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.

If you were like me as a teenager, friends were very important to you. I wanted to know lots of people and have lots of phone numbers in my phone. It is one of the ways this age group finds affirmation. It's somewhat normal, but throughout those years you learn that not everyone who hangs out with you is your friend

If only it were this easy!
There is a spectrum of commitment. Some dislike you but tolerate you because other people like you. Some are indifferent to your presence. Some people have found ways to benefit from your presence in the "circle of friends" but actually care nothing for your well-being. Then there are those that care for you enough to do some things for you and maintain the friendship, but they wouldn't be too upset if you were gone tomorrow (not dead, just out of the social group). Lastly, and most importantly, there are the people who genuinely care about you as a person. They want what is best for you, and they are willing to step on your toes sometimes to say what you need to hear (Proverbs 27:6). They sacrifice for you when necessary and are there to help no matter how stupid you've been. These are the "true friends". You're fortunate to have one in your life time, and if you have more than one you are exceptionally blessed. Many people have none.

Here are five foundational traits I have sought after when choosing my best friends.

#1 Genuine: No ulterior motives

The most deceptive group in the spectrum of possible friends are the users. They are nice to your face, and they may even do nice things for you once in awhile; but beware. They are in it for a reason. It can be subtle too. If you present yourself as a wealthy person, you might attract friends because they like to be around money. I am a firm believer in being invisibly rich (if I were rich) because having money shrouds friendships with doubt and mistrust. You could be used for transportation (especially teenagers), appearance, wit, or connections. 

Let's take appearance first. Maybe you're a pretty girl or a handsome guy. Having good-looking people around always makes a party better, so you get invited just because of how you look--nothing more. Maybe you're ugly, but super funny. I mean, you're a future Comedy Central mega-star; so people bring you along for entertainment. Lastly, maybe you're friends with somebody popular. They might be your true friend, but the rest of the bozos only let you be around because you're friends with the "cool guy". All of these situations are sad, and often it's not quite this clear cut; but I think I've made my point.

As a teenager, it took me several years to realize that I had very few true friends. Most of the numbers in my phone were connected to people who were not interested in me; they were interested in something I could provide. It doesn't change as an adult either.

How can you test how genuine a person is? Life will do that for you. Something bad will happen to you or you will do something dumb that makes you far less attractive to the "users". If friends stick with you through the valleys, it's a good sign they are the real deal. The worst thing a person can do is "settle" for poor friends because they think they will never find true friends that really care. Don't waste your time with users, because then you won't have time to meet and nurture relationships with real friends.

#2 Interested: Listens to and cares about what you have to say

Few things are more infuriating than talking to someone and having them completely brush off what you're saying in order to center attention on what they want to talk about. They don't listen even if they hear you. They don't think about what you said. They are too busy thinking about what they are going to say next. Now look, we all mistakenly do this from time to time because we're human. Doing it once doesn't mean much other than sometimes friends needs a swift kick; but if you're seeing a pattern of ignoring your thoughts and ideas for the sake of theirs, they're not a good friend. More often than not, they are using you as a sounding board to vent, and they don't want your input. Not your friend.

#3 Respectful: Values you for who you are

If you are in any type of relationship with another person, and they do not respect you, it's bad news. What is respect? I define it as valuing the thoughts, opinions, desires, dreams, intelligence, freedom, will, and body of a person. Someone who respects you will know when you're being serious and will not mock your opinions, dreams, or aspirations. If your "friend" shoots down all your ideas and criticizes all your plans for the future, they don't respect you. If the person tries to overpower your will by coercion, manipulation, or intimidation, they are not your friend. Friends are gentle and kind--not overly harsh and critical. For more on this, see "Coping with Critical People".

One of the things I enjoy most of about my closest friends is I can trust them. They respect my independence, my ideas, my choices, and my goals. They offer advice, sometime unsolicited, and I'm okay with that. I like hearing their perspectives. Some of my friends have very different beliefs than I do, but we can respect that in each other and still benefit.

#4 Consistent: Not influenced by circumstances

Good or bad, a true friend supports you and tells you what you need to hear. We often think of the bad situations, as I mentioned in #1. However, what if things start looking up for you? What if you get drafted into the NFL or become a Broadway-level performer? If you have a true friend, they will treat you the same. They won't kiss your feet and worship the ground you walk on. Those people are not your friends--they are misguided, empty shells of people stumbling around the world looking for someone to bow to. If your career takes off and you're the next big thing in your industry, your friend will keep you balanced and help you keep your feet on the ground.

What if you really mess up your life? What if you act like a fool and even say hurtful things to your true friend? These are more acid tests to see if they are the real deal. I don't suggest faking these events for the sake of testing! But if you're friends with someone long enough, you will hurt them or mess something up. If you haven't already, just wait. Entropy will find your brain. How do they react to your stupidity? 

Maybe you are really messing up your marriage. When you call your friend to talk, does that person give you useful advice and encourage you to do better? Or do they just tell you how badly you messed up, and now they're not even sure they can be your friend?

Maybe you said something insensitive or left your friend out of something. How do they react to that? True friends will forgive and move on for your sake and the sake of the relationship. Fake friends will hold grudges, or pretend to forgive you but hold on to the event for years, remind you of it, and use it to manipulate you. Nothing says "not your friend" like bringing up old mistakes and rubbing your face in them. It makes me want to vomit.

#5 Loving: Willing to be hurt for you

John 15:12-13 This is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this--that a man lay down his life for his friends.

As I already mentioned, a friend will put up with your insensitivity, stupidity, and arrogance because they love you. I'm not saying they will let you walk all over them. But they will forgive and forget. You may already know this, but English is a silly language. In our everyday speech, we only use one word to describe a wide array of feelings. "Love" describes how we feel about pancakes, Pinterest, guns, cars, food, God, spouses, children, best friends, and your new salad spinner. Shouldn't there be more than one word? In Greek, there were several words. I don't know Greek, but people who do have told me this; I believe them.

The word that describes friendly love is phileo. English typically applies this as a prefix or suffix to modify words, such as Philadelphia--the city of brotherly love. In science, words like hydrophilic mean a chemical is attracted to or "loves" water. This type of love is based on mutual benefit and attractive properties. There is nothing wrong with these types of friends. Actually, most of your friends fall in this category, but these friendships are typically conditional. If you start acting like a jerk, they're out. Sayonara. 

The other word in Greek is agape. This is how you should love your spouse and your best true friend(s). It means you're willing to be injured for them. You will suffer pain for them. You will endure loss to ensure the relationship continues. Jesus is the ultimate example of a Friend--One who had everything and needed nothing from us. Yet He sacrificed on our behalf so we could have a relationship with Him. It is His intention that we transmit that type of love into the world as a reflection of Him. 

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.


I have a small list of true friends, but I know I can count on them. One of them is my wife, and the others I have met in different places--growing up, in high school, in college, in graduate school, and during my career. They are out there if you look for them. Don't settle for less.

Image credits:
Guys golfing image from
Bad friend shirt image from
'Just want my money' image from
Talking couple image from
Love image from