The Essential James Taylor, two-disc set, was among the CD’s I enjoyed listening to (again) on our road trip last week. This singer-songwriter’s ability to craft an unforgettable melody and marry it to thoughtful words is legendary. His website biography rightly says, “For more than forty years Taylor has been a compass for his fans, articulating moments of pain and joy, and letting his listeners know that they are not alone.” And perhaps no song does this quite like You’ve Got a Friend.
In three stanzas, Taylor describes common hurts and troubles that are universal to the human experience, and then sings the promise of the true friend in the unforgettable refrain:
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there, yes I will.
These simple words lift our spirits by reminding us of the value of a friend who sticks with you through thick and thin. However, it was the third stanza that really got me this time.
Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend
When people can be so cold
They’ll hurt you, and desert you
And take your soul if you let them
Oh yeah, but don’t you let them.
Life is filled with hurters and deserters. Anyone can be one. Undoubtedly, we have all been one or the other at times. But it takes real character and fortitude to be the kind of friend James Taylor describes.
Now a believer for 33 years, and a pastor for over 25 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the singer captured—in this song—the essence of what it means to be a true friend. “I’ll be there, yes I will.” It’s that quality of constancy that marks the true, mature friend. It’s also the first of four qualities that Jonathan Holmes, author The Company We Keep, describes.
A true friend remains faithful through times of adversity. Pain and suffering have a way of sifting out the fickle and fake from the faithful. The faithful friend is the one who sticks with you and is, therefore, a treasure.
- A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17).
- A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24)
- Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find? (Proverbs 20:6).
A true friend speaks with frankness and honesty. There is no “secret love” in a true friend; that is, the public kissing of nice words followed by backstabbing.
- Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:5-6).
- Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue (Proverbs 28:23).
“Secret love is like a man winking at a girl in the dark; it does neither one any good.” [Waltke]
The New Testament affirms that a biblical friend is a true brother in Christ who loves enough to speak the truth in love (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1-3; Ephesians 4:15-16).
A biblical friend is one who exercises care in the relationship. He is careful in three areas:
- Careful in his speech (Proverbs 25:20).
- Careful in his timing (Proverbs 27:14; 25:17). “An uncareful friend does not know the inner topography of his friend’s heart” [Keller].
- Careful in his stewardship (Proverbs 11:13).
A true, biblical friend is one who gives faithful counsel to his friend for his ultimate good. He speaks what his friend needs to hear in order to be obedient to God’s Word. A true friend would never encourage or help his friend to remain disobedient to God. Instead, the true friend risks loss instead of keeping control of a superficial relationship.
- Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).
- …for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory (Proverbs 24:6).
- Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel (Proverbs 27:9).
- Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).
If you’ve got a friend like this, don’t take him or her for granted.