“Good friends are hard to come by.”
We’ve all heard it. All said it. And it’s true. I can personally count on one hand the men I would consider to be true friends, in every sense of the word, to me.
Good friends might be hard to come by, but they’re worth the hard search and work to find and make. Good friends are critical to a life well-lived. God’s Book of Wisdom does not overlook the importance of friendship. God gives us instruction by example. Like David and Jonathan. Ruth and Naomi. Paul and Barnabas.
But God also gives us some important instruction on friendship by way of Proverbs. Chapter 27 shines here.
“Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (vv. 5-6).
We often quote the phrase, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” without considering its immediate context. Too often in the church we use this phrase as warrant to go around rebuking everyone anytime we want. But the key word is “friend.” That word assumes a closeness. A bond. A mutual commitment to one another. And the preceding verse makes it plain that true love does not fake friendship by refusing to confront sin or correct error. True friends are faithful to do hard things to ensure they are growing one another in godliness. True friends must rebuke one another, but always and only to expose real sin that is preventing further growth in Christ-likeness.
In other words, true friendship is hard. It hurts sometimes. But it’s worth it if we want to be wise like our Lord.
“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend” (v. 9).
Oh, thank goodness! Real friendship is not all rebuke and wounding. Friends also share sweet counsel. Advice and words that make the heart glad. In other words, friends are committed to pursue wisdom together. They look to one another to build up and “wise up.” It’s hard to imagine having a good friend that you dread talking with on a regular basis because he or she never has a good word for you!
“Do not forsake your friend or your father’s friend” (v. 10).
Friendship means loyalty. This is why I personally believe one of the critical keys to a life-long marriage of joy is true friendship. I know no better human friend than my wife. What a blessing! Real friends do not leave when things gets thorny or uncomfortable. They stick with you even after you rebuke them faithfully. They also remain committed to you even if you are struggling with a sin that needs rebuke. They’re in it for the long-haul and they’re in it for your good growth in holiness until death ends the friendship. God even expects friendship loyalty to cross generational lines!
“He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse on him” (v. 14).
Ah, true friends are thoughtful and considerate of one another. Is your friend not a morning person? Then don’t start texting her at 6 am. Friends put the good of the other before their own wishes. Friends do practical things to bless one another. I mean, after all, what “blessing” could possibly come from my yelling a prayer at my friend at the crack of dawn? Friends serve one another in practical, down-to-earth ways that meet real needs.
“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (v. 17).
Here is the essence of friendship. When iron strikes iron, sparks fly! But the end result is more usefulness. A dull blade makes precious little impact. Sharpening requires removing some material. Sins must go. Attitudes that do not reflect Christ and His Word must be ground away. Life dulls us in so many ways. We need true friends to pull out the spiritual whetstone and lay it to our hearts. The very best way I know of to do this is to read, discuss, think on, and memorize the Word of God together.
But if we continue to desire comfort and “concealed love” in the church, if we continue to run when relationships get hard, then we will never reap the harvest of friendship – true godliness.
“He who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit” (v. 18).
God help us seek good friends in the church. God help us be a good friend to at least a few brothers and sisters in the church. Lord Jesus, thank You for calling Your disciples Your friends (John 15:12-17). It is only because of Your loving sacrifice for us that we can have any hope of ever being a true friend to someone. Make us like You. May our church’s friendships bring You great glory as we reflect the love, loyalty, and sharpening that comes by Your sanctifying grace. Amen.