Do You Have True Friends? 7 Marks of Unhealthy Friendships

by Paul David Tripp

Earlier this month I opened the Bible to Ephesians 4:1-7 and wrote about three trademarks of a healthy, growing friendship. Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Working Hard: Are you eagerly working hard to develop your friendship? Or are you expecting it to grow itself?
  2. Removing Expectations: Where are you expecting to be served by your friend? How do you “punish” your friend when they don’t meet your expectations?
  3. Celebrating Diversity: How often do we see diversity as a hindrance? How often are you frustrated and annoyed by the different strengths and weaknesses that your friend has?

Later on in the same chapter (vv. 17-32), the Apostle Paul lays out seven trademarks of an unhealthy friendship. I would encourage to read the full passage of Scripture below.

Before you start reading, let me warn you: It will be very tempting for you to identify a friend or former friend who can be characterized by these trademarks.

The Bible surely sympathizes with, and provides comfort for, those who have suffered in relationships. No one understands the hurt caused by poor friends more than Jesus Christ!

However, the point of this passage is for us to examine our own hearts, not convict others. As you read, fire your inner defense lawyer and ask the Lord to show you areas of personal weakness in your relationships.

Imagine how beautiful a friendship could be if both people were actively committed to confessing these sins in their own life and not finding reasons to condemn the other!


17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.


1. The tendency toward self-indulgence.

Verses 17-24 lay out two warring kingdoms: the kingdom of self and self-indulgence vs. the Kingdom of Christ and self-sacrifice. Every day in your friendship, a battle will be fought on your heart. Will you allow the relationship to be driven by what you want, or by God’s purpose?

2. The tendency toward deceit.

Verse 25 says that we must speak honestly in our friendship, but because we are often driven by our own purpose and not the Lord’s, we will be tempted to manipulate the truth to get what we want from the other person. This is one reason Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37)

3. The tendency toward anger.

Verses 26-27 quote Psalm 4:4. It’s not a sin to be angry; you should be righteously angered when a friend sins against you. However, sin comes into play and the devil gets a foothold when we attempt to control the relationship by venting our anger or by holding it over our friend’s head to manipulate them.

4. The tendency toward selfishness.

Verse 28 may feel hard to relate to at first, if you’re employed or a hard worker and not a thief by definition of local law. So think about it in a more simple way: How often do you protect or hold on to what you have, rather than offer it to your friend in an effort to serve them?

5. The tendency toward unhelpful communication.

Verses 29-30 warn us that rather than using our language to build others up, we tend to use words to ensure that we have the top spot in our friendship. Proverbs 18:21 offers a more severe warning: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

6. The tendency toward division.

Again, verse 31 may feel unrelatable at first, especially if you haven’t gotten into a brawl with your friend! However, it’s much more common for us to view our friend as some type of adversary, rather than a companion in the struggle of relationship.

7. The tendency toward an unforgiving spirit.

The final verse in the chapter is the ultimate definition of a gospel friendship. Rather than want to make a friend pay for their wrongs against us, we should be the first to forgive, because no one forgives more freely than the person who knows how much they’ve been forgiven in Christ.


After reading a passage of Scripture like that, I typically respond with three emotions:

  1. Burdened by the call of the Christian life
  2. Overwhelmed with the amount of trademarks to remember
  3. Filled with regret over past sins I committed in friendships

Here’s what I tell myself in those moments, and what I would tell you:

  1. There is forgiving mercy and empowering grace for every area of struggle in the Christian life. God never exposes our sin to ridicule us, but rather forgives us and invites us to grow in the likeness of Christ.
  2. Instead of trying to memorize or apply all seven trademarks at once, just focus on one or two that the Holy Spirit convicts you of. Print this article off or save it to your phone and come back to it every once and a while.
  3. God’s timing is always right. I wish I could go back in time and pull words out of the ears of my wife, children and friends, but in that moment, I was blind. God chose to reveal truths to me later on, and instead of trying to change God’s timing, I should focus on what he has revealed to me today.

May God bless you as you take full advantage of his new morning mercies as you build a gospel-centered friendship!

Paul David Tripp is a pastor, author, and international conference speaker. He is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries and works to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. This vision has led Paul to write many books on Christian living and travel around the world speaking and teaching. Paul’s driving passion is to help people understand how the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks with practical hope into all the things people face in this broken world. Paul and his wife Luella reside Philadelphia. They are the parents of four grown children.