Recently I was rightly rebuked by several friends. Once the Lord gave me victory over my carnal self-defensiveness and my unjustified taking of offense at their intervention, one of the first thoughts that He brought to my heart and mind was the familiar text from Proverbs: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (27:6). Among other things, this text suggests answers to the following questions.
What is the nature of a true friend? Is a friend merely someone we are comfortable with? Is it someone who shares the same interests and engages in the same activities? Surely, that is a sort of friendship. A higher level of friendship is demonstrated when one friend is willing to expend his time, energy, and substance for the benefit of another. And to do so without needing to be reciprocated or even thanked is an even higher measure of friendship. In the first instance, the friendship produces mutual benefit. In the second and third, it may not. But perhaps the greatest measure of friendship is that which is mentioned in our text because this type of friendship runs the risk, not merely of being unappreciated, but of being resented and refused; if taken wrongly, it may result in alienation and various false accusations. But as one who stumbles, errs, and sins, I need a friend who will have enough love for the Lord and for my soul to risk hurting, angering, or even alienating me for the sake of my eternal well-being and the glory of God. In short, a true friend is one who will come with the Word of God, and in love, kindness, and patience (considering himself lest he also be tempted [Gal. 6:1]) tell me my fault. The Bible does not have in mind here a busybody, a self-righteous prig, or someone with a critical and censorious spirit. But someone who is genuinely motivated by love for the Lord and the blessing of his friend will come to him and warn him of the danger of the sin or error he is in. Someone who recognizes yet ignores that danger is not my true friend.
What is the character of a true friend? A true friend is watchful for the spiritual well-being of those he loves (Heb. 10:24). He is constantly removing the beam from his own eye that he might be able to help with the mote in his brother’s eye. Love and courage characterize a true friend. The former quality makes him self-forgetful—gladly willing to spend and be spent, though the more he loves the less he is loved [II Cor. 12:15]. The latter quality motivates him to overcome the natural fear of hurting the feelings of a friend, of alienating him, even of making him an enemy if he is met with a carnal rather than a spiritual response.
Am I a true friend? Am I willing to “wound” a brother, to risk his discomfort or his ire in order to deliver him from sin and its consequences, or is my friendship the superficial kind that ignores serious needs for the sake of getting along? The Bible does not charge us with pointing out every petty foible we are prey to in the flesh. But there has never been a true friendship of any duration that has not required spiritual intervention on behalf of those in the friendship. We are frail human beings, who sin—sometimes carelessly, sometimes casually, all too often deliberately. And if we do not repent but persist in our sin, we need godly friends to point this out to us.
How do I respond to a true friend? When wounded by my pastor or another person close to me who comes to show me my sin, how do I respond? Do I respond as a friend should with meekness, contrition, and thankfulness? Or do I display a carnal response? We would all do well to remember that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”: he is doing God’s work.
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