The Wounds of a Friend

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Proverbs 27:6

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:6, RSV

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

These words offer profound, surprising insight, and they also propose a searching test. They help us understand what real friendship is, and in doing that, they give us a criterion for measuring our relationships with other people. They help us to distinguish real friends from those who only seem so. And closer to home, they let us see what kind of friends we ourselves are becoming.

THE KISSES OF AN ENEMY

Listen: “Profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” That’s a startling thought, isn’t it? Aren’t kisses signs of affection? Don’t they demonstrate tender feelings of regard? How can any person be an enemy who showers us with them? The surprising message here is that people who show great affection toward us may in fact be our enemies. While seeming to wish us well, they may end by doing us great harm.

Most of us won’t be fooled by someone who is clearly and avowedly our enemy. We’ll steer clear of him or her. We won’t let them get near enough to beguile us with kisses. Those who show us all this affection must be people whom we have trusted, whom we number, at least in some sense, as our friends.

Let’s fill out the picture a bit. How might those profuse kisses look in relationships we presently have? Here are persons who in everything they say to you never offer anything but compliments. They point out your strengths. They applaud your accomplishments. They extol your virtues. You sense from them steady, enthusiastic admiration. Whenever you’re around them, you get the impression that to them you are someone extra special. They think you are great. Sometimes subtly, sometimes lavishly, they give you positive strokes. They know how to make you feel really good.

But that’s all they do. They never call into question any of your plans or designs. They never protest against anything in your behavior. They never suggest that you’re out of line. Even when you’re making an absolute fool of yourself, they look the other way or chuckle indulgently.

Now as much as you and I would like to think that such persons are our friends, they aren’t. At a crucial point they let us down. They don’t serve our best interests. They don’t seek our good. In terms of our character, our personhood, they are useless to us. And they may be doing us serious harm.

If you are wealthy or famous or if you occupy some place of power, you may be especially vulnerable to what we’re talking about. The luminaries of this world often have a host of such admirers. After all, many would like to gain favor with the important and the influential. They fear to offend them in any way or ever to say anything critical in their presence. As far as the faults and moral lapses of prominent people are concerned, these gushing friends are always mute. So vital concerns for the real welfare of such persons are totally neglected. What are they becoming? What kind of character are they forming? Are they living in a way that pleases God? Are they serving other people in love? None of that gets any attention from false friends. Letting all of that go by, they keep on telling us how wonderful we are. And if we are foolish enough to keep listening to them, they can eventually ruin us.

A well known television personality is never allowed, we understand, to receive critical mail. All communications directed to him are first screened by his staff. Nothing challenging or negative comes across his desk. He only reads the compliments, the expressions of appreciation, the positive testimonials. According to the wisdom of this ancient proverb, those who keep back from him all messages of criticism and rebuke do him a disservice. Desiring to treat him well, to spare him distress, to keep him happy, they actually cease to be his friends. And if he asks for this treatment or knowingly approves of it, he becomes his own worst enemy.

When parents are totally permissive with their children, when they never correct them or call them into account for their behavior, is that love? Is that enlightened parental affection? We read of King David that he treated one of his sons in just that way: the young man Adonijah. The Scriptures tell us that David had not displeased him at any time in saying, “Why hast thou done thus and so?” The undisciplined Adonijah eventually brought about his own destruction by an unbridled passion for power. All his life long, he never learned to tolerate limits. How that young prince, growing up in a king’s court, needed a father and a friend!

THE WOUNDS OF A FRIEND

Let’s look now at how real friends act. They will surely affirm us too, and their affection will be warmly expressed. They will encourage us when we’re down, as Jonathan did for David, and put fresh heart into us. They will listen to us when we need to talk and offer us their good counsel. But they may not give us many compliments. One of the best friends I have in the world almost never compliments anyone.

The proverbs tell us that true friends are considerate. They don’t outstay their welcome in our home. They don’t become too hearty with us at the wrong times, singing songs to a heavy heart or shouting at us when we’re barely awake. They are also sensitive enough to our feelings to know when a joke has gone far enough.

True friends are constant. They are always there for us, always the same, utterly dependable. “A friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17:17). He is “born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17), the proverbs say. In our worst times, when others are drifting away, a friend sticks closer than a brother.

But the special quality of friendship lifted up in this passage is one we often overlook. Listen to it again: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Friends are persons who at certain times in our lives may faithfully wound us.

We all know about the wounds our enemies inflict. They mean evil against us. They want to do us harm. They take satisfaction in it when we suffer. When they can hurt us, humiliate us, even finish us, they have accomplished their aim.

Friends wound us too, but differently. They take no pleasure in doing so. They do it at great cost to themselves and with considerable risk. They wound us because they care about us, because they want for us the very best.

When I was a young seminary student, I became acquainted with a retired lady missionary. She was a woman of great spiritual depth and insight. As I worked for two summers at the Bible conference where she taught, she had considerable opportunity to observe me in action. She noted some of my rough edges and willful ways. “Bill,” she said, “You have gifts and you have zeal, but if you don’t learn to walk with the Lord in your life, you’re going to be superficial and unstable.”

I can still feel the pain those words caused me. I wanted to be a devoted Christian. I wanted to be a faithful disciple. I wanted to have a dimension of depth in my life. But I came to realize that this dear lady was absolutely right, that apart from the Lord’s transforming fellowship I would always be shallow and erratic. She helped me to see some unpleasant realities about the way I was behaving. Her words cut me to the quick, but looking back, I know they were the wounds of a friend. She wanted me to be a good servant of Jesus Christ. She wasn’t satisfied to see me going on the way I was. She loved me enough to challenge me. She did me, bless her, a lot of good.

As I said, I only came to see all that in retrospect. Another proverb says, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” Those who rebuke us rarely get appreciation back right away. Usually they get from us anger, defensiveness, even counterattack. No one enjoys being wounded. It always hurts at the time. And we don’t usually feel kindly toward the one inflicting the pain. But afterward, as the proverb says, afterward we’re glad. The day will come when we may say, “Thanks! I needed that!”

Here’s another proverb that describes what friends do for each other. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). Picture that in your mind. How does iron sharpen iron? Not always gently. What’s being described here is a healthy clash of personalities. At times we bring real pressure on each other, and the friction that results can be highly uncomfortable. But that kind of bracing friendship strengthens us, sharpens us, hones us to be what we’re meant to be.

I’m asking myself as I prepare this, as I speak it to you now: What kind of friend am I? Do I sharpen people or merely smooth their feathers? Do I take the hard road of challenging them at times or the far easier way of simply ignoring things about them that trouble me? I may be ready to do them a good turn which they will recognize as such but am I ready to risk their displeasure by an honest confrontation? Maybe you’ll want to ask yourself questions like those. Are you the kind of friend who is willing to administer a faithful wound?

THE BEST FRIEND

It’s in God’s dealings with us that this word of Scripture finds its highest fulfillment. His attitude toward His people is one of measureless compassion and concern, greater far than that of the most devoted human parent. But God’s is the love of the Holy One, who is of too pure eyes to behold iniquity, who is unalterably opposed to moral evil. God loves us with a “tough” love. He cares too much to leave us as we are. In the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ, He sends a message that wounds before it heals. He shows us the humbling truth about ourselves. He shatters our vaunted pride and leads us to repentance. He makes us realize our spiritual poverty, our sickness of soul, our guilty estrangement. But it’s all for our good. He wants to speak to us the word of forgiveness and to bring us home to Himself.

And even after we become His children and are reconciled to Him through His Son, God goes on refining us, sometimes by the word that searches us through and through, sometimes through a genuinely caring friend. Sometimes in the strange workings of His providence He sends us pain. He may even break our hearts. But the gift of His Son is the pledge that behind all that painful chastening is a heart of unspeakable love. He does not afflict willingly or grieve the children of men. And so the hurts He sends us need leave no scars of bitterness. Yes, they mercies in disguise, the wounds of a friend.

I ask you today: Have you come to know this seeking God who yearns for our good, who sends His Son to save us from our worst ills, who cares for us too much to leave us alone and who hurts us only to heal and bless? He will not coddle you or let you live comfortably when your heart is far from Him. But He will always seek your good and never fail to tell you the truth about yourself. What a friend we have in Jesus! If you will commit yourself unreservedly to God through Christ, He will call you, wonder of wonders, one of His friends, and even give you the grace to be a faithful friend to someone else.

PRAYER: Father, for friends who care enough to tell us the truth and love us enough sometimes to wound, we bless You. And for Your grace in Christ which humbles us to lift us up, we praise You with our whole hearts. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.