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Friends like frenemies

Friends like frenemies
Posted on July 10, 2019  - By Dr. Kevin Warstler

Of the many gifts of God that we have in this life, friendship is one of the most significant. It is difficult enough living life in a fallen world, but to do so without the benefit of friends who can come alongside us in our times of need would be a great tragedy. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is an example of the Bible’s teaching on the importance of friendship:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

It is difficult enough living life in a fallen world, but to do so without the benefit of friends is a tragedy

In the book of Job, friendship rises to the forefront as Job’s friends gather around him in his time of need. After losing his family and experiencing intense physical suffering, a ray of hope appears when Job’s three friends leave their homes in order to weep with him and to sit with him in silence for seven days (Job 2:11-13). The fact that he had friends who were willing to do this is evidence that Job’s situation was not as bad as it could have been. The statement “At least you have your friends” could have been said of Job — and it validates the biblical teaching about the importance of friendship.

After the seven days, silence is broken when Job speaks and mourns his own situation (Job 3). This prompts a series of speeches by his friends that lasts through the majority of the book. Each of his friends takes turns to protest Job’s declaration of innocence and his proclamation that God has brought about the suffering of an innocent man. They all state in their own way that Job cannot be innocent because innocent people do not suffer; only the wicked suffer at God’s hands because of their sin. On this point, his friends are in complete agreement and they challenge Job to stop declaring his own innocence in order to accept God’s punishment and to plead for His mercy.

“Miserable comforters”

The problem with the speeches of Job’s friends is that the book itself states that Job is innocent. The reason he is suffering is due to God making him an example of righteousness to Satan (Job 1:8). Even after the initial phase of his suffering when he lost his family, he did not sin (Job 1:22). After he suffers further through physical pain, his wife tells him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). He refuses to follow her advice but instead declares that he will accept adversity from God as well as good (Job 2:10). 

The problem with the speeches of Job’s friends is that the book itself states that Job is innocent

The text once again declares that Job is innocent. Since this comes before the speeches of Job’s friends, it is clear that we, as readers, should not agree with his friends in their assessment of Job’s suffering. This makes the reading of the speeches rather frustrating and we can understand when Job refers to his friends as “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2). In their challenges to Job, they no longer function as helpful friends but take on the role of hurtful enemies.

Love at all times

It is possible, even now, for Christians to respond incorrectly to the suffering of others, particularly those who share in the faith. There is an automatic response, whether stated or not, that suffering is the result of sin and is ‘evidence’ of God’s punishment. This is especially true when the suffering is prolonged and persistent. A little suffering is expected in this life, but when that suffering is too intense and lasts too long, we begin to wonder whether or not it is the result of some disobedience against God.

Job is not the only example of friends becoming like enemies when an innocent person suffers. In Psalm 31:11, not only are enemies part of the problem, but so are friends and neighbours:

11 Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
    especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
    those who see me in the street flee from me.

This is not the kind of behaviour that is appropriate for children of God within the believing community. The command to love one another is not just for times when all is going well. It must include the difficult times when we do not know what is happening in another believer’s life. When suffering does occur, let us not be part of the problem but, instead, come alongside our brothers and sisters with the compassion of Christ.

Dr. Kevin Warstler

About Dr. Kevin Warstler

Kevin Warstler received his Th.M. in New Testament Studies and Ph.D. in Old Testament Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. Currently, he is an Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, where he also serves as the Program Director for the B.A. in Biblical Studies.



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