Read: Proverbs 27:5-6
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
Wanted: A “You’ve-Got-Spinach-Stuck-In-Your-Teeth” Kind Of Friend!
I’m amazed when I read the Bible—especially the book of Proverbs—how relevant and practical it really is. People who criticize it as being boring to read, difficult to understand and out of touch probably haven’t given it much of a chance. Seriously, the Bible is the best and only true roadmap/self-help book/fire insurance manual out there worth its salt, if you know what I mean.
Proverbs 27 is an excellent case in point. For instance, how much clearer, more relevant and to the point can it get than when it says you and I need friends in our lives who will not only love us unconditionally and protect us at all cost, but will also call out the best in us, even when it hurts? From my vantage point as a spiritual leader, I see way too many people who’ve treated that command to invest in these kinds of industrial strength friendships as optional—both having those kinds of friends and being that kind of a friend to others—and have done so to their own detriment.
Part of my role is to shepherd people through the junk in their lives, and I’ve wondered on a few occasions if some people just never had someone like the Proverbs 27:5-6 friend speaking truth into their life, someone who was willing to say, “hey, pal, you’ve got spinach stuck in your teeth!” or “hey sis, you gotta cut the crap!” Some of the chronic dysfunction and destructive patterns we fall into may very well have been prevented at their source if we would have allowed someone to lovingly rebuke us and inflict a friendly wound along the way.
There’s an interesting verse, Psalm 141:5, that says, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil to my head. My head will not refuse it.” The Hebrew word for kindness is “hesed”, which means loving acts of authentic friendship. We need to have people who have the freedom to be totally, lovingly truthful with us. And, by the way, we need to be that kind of friend as much as we need them.
The temptation we all face is to surround ourselves with people who make us feel good but don’t help us to become righteous. We’ll never grow past character flaws and personality weaknesses if we don’t have people speaking truth into our lives. Proverbs 15:31 says, “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.” There’s an old Jewish proverb that says, “A friend is one who warns you.” Got anyone who will warn you?
Most people don’t, unfortunately. The American Sociological Review cited evidence that Americans have a third fewer close friends than just a couple of decades ago. People who have nobody to count as a close personal friend have more than doubled. Having no one outside of one’s own family as a trusted confidant has risen from 50 to nearly 90 percent. Even within families, the degree of intimacy, trust and honesty needed for emotional health has steadily diminished.
You don’t just need a lot of friendly people in your life, although having friendly people around is a good thing. What you most need are godly people who’ll come alongside you to call out God’s best in you. Proverbs 27:17 says of these kinds of friendships, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
You and I need friends like that —friends who are unconditionally loving yet absolutely committed to growth in our character through loving honesty. I like how the Good News Bible translates Proverbs 27:5-6, “Better to correct someone openly than to let him think you don’t care for him at all. Friends mean well, even when they hurt you. But when an enemy puts his arm around your shoulder—watch out!”
That’s not a declaration of open season for brutal honesty, but it does speak of the vital connection between the health of our whole being and the difficult conversations needed to get us there—and God’s gift of true friendships that makes it possible.
“Friends are God’s way of taking care of us.”
Your Assignment, Should You Choose To Accept It:
Much of Proverbs up to this point has called us to accountable relationships—to develop friends and partners who will call out God’s best in us and hold our feet to the fire in terms of our personal and spiritual growth. Instead of challenging you yet again to get friends like that, let me challenge you to be a friend like that. Think about what it will take to become that kind of friend (which doesn’t happen overnight—it takes a track record of love, faithfulness and encouragement) and who it is that really needs you to be that kind of friend (believe me, God has at least one candidate for your friendship).