There is an old missionary adage that goes something like, “Pay close attention to the first person who enthusiastically greets you when you get off the boat. That will be the first person who will try to kill you.” This saying resonates with us because we have all known folks who have received us warmly but then turn against us without warning or provocation. Of course this does not mean that we should view every warm enthusiastic person with the same level of suspicion or cynicism. Many people are genuinely friendly, receive us quickly and are without guile. But that missionary maxim goes a long way toward warning us about the danger of disingenuous people who pose as friends, but end up doing us great harm.
The Bible has a few things to say about false friends. One of our most priceless assets in this life is that reliable friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Yet, there are those few deceptive people who weaponize the intimacy we grant them and use it against us the same way that Judas took advantage of his nearness to Jesus. In Psalm 41, David laments that the man who has shared his bread has turned against him. He talks about the enemies who visit him as if they were his friends, but all the while they are gathering secrets so that they can spread gossip everywhere. Proverbs 27:6 alerts us to the flattering kisses of an enemy. There are those who shower compliments, but secretly plot our destruction. Psalm 55 speaks about the man whose words are smoother than butter, but war is in his heart.
When we become aware of the existence of this kind of person, they become easier to identify. The false friend is likely the person who will gossip to you about everyone else and who cannot reliably hold anything in confidence. Do you really believe that they suddenly become discrete with the details of your life when you are not around? The false friend pretends to not know you if they see you in public or when they are around their more wealthy or successful friends. False friends are quick to ask you for your help, but slow to respond to your requests. They are users and manipulators. False friends open their mouths when they should keep them shut. They freely criticize, accuse, ridicule, belittle. There is no filter between their brain and tongue. False friends close their mouths when they should open them. They do not protect your reputation when given the opportunity. They do not offer sound counsel when you need it. They do not correct falsehood and speak truth when necessary.
If it turns out that you have a false friend, as painful as it is, you are called to be a good friend to them. We are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who despitefully use us—even those who have been making a mockery of our friendship. Loving them may mean overlooking small offenses, but love also requires us to confront the big sins like betrayal, broken confidences, and selfishness. If there is no fruit of repentance, we may also need to put that person out of our lives, not allowing them to get close enough to hurt us, our family, or our church again. Paul urges the Romans to “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” Jesus is a true friend, and He protects His friends from both that ancient false friend, the serpent, and His children.
This article was originally published in Every Thought Captive magazine. Subscribe HERE.