Question: "What does it mean that a friend loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17)?"
Answer: While the book of Proverbs focuses on wisdom, many of the individual proverbs emphasize the importance of loyal love. To nurture strong relationships with God, family, and friends, we must prioritize love and faithfulness. In Proverbs 17:17, Solomon submits that a faithful friend is as valuable as a family member who will support us through a crisis: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
Unconditional love is the bedrock of lasting, healthy relationships. Proverbs 3:3–4 urges, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” Whether a friendship develops from convenience, shared interests, a business connection, or simply by coincidence, love and loyalty are the qualities that will create a solid and satisfying bond.
A friend who loves “at all times” is a friend who loves even in times of hardship and trial. A companion verse to Proverbs 17:17 is Proverbs 18:24: “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother” (NLT). Fair-weather friends come and go, but, in times of trouble, we discover who are our true friends. A genuine friend will exhibit unselfish, sacrificial love by staying at our side despite adversity.
Jesus Christ is the epitome of a friend who loves at all times. Perhaps more than any other Gospel writer, the apostle John highlights the extent of Christ’s unconditional love by which He “loved His own to the end” (John 13:1), that is, to the uttermost limits of love. Jesus always loves us—He has since the beginning of time and will throughout eternity (Ephesians 3:17–19; Romans 8:35, 38–39). While He ministered on earth, Christ loved through sacrificial service (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27; Philippians 2:6–7), washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1–17), healing the sick (Matthew 4:24), casting out demons (Mark 1:34), raising the dead (Luke 7:14–15), and setting people free from sin (Luke 4:18–19). He also loved with the ultimate sacrifice of laying down His life on the cross for our sins (1 John 4:9–10).
Because our Savior is a friend who loves at all times, we must love as He does (John 13:14–15; Ephesians 5:25–27). Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:12–15).
Jesus calls His followers always to love one another. The early church writers took Christ’s message to heart, understanding that the entire Old Testament law could be summed up with these words: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14; 1 John 3:23; 4:21; 2 John 1:5). James dubbed this command the “royal law” (James 2:8). The apostle Paul explained it like this: “Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law” (Romans 13:10, NLT; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:9). The writer of Hebrews urged, “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 13:1, NLT). And Peter counseled, “Have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
Solomon wisely observed, “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9, NLT). If we want to be a friend who loves at all times, we must follow Scripture’s guidance and “always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of [our] love” (Ephesians 4:2, NLT). We must be willing to forgive the offenses of others, especially when they sin against us (Proverbs 10:12; Luke 6:37; 1 Peter 4:8).