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Faithful are the Wounds of a Friend

"Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” – Proverbs 27:5-6

This passage from the Proverbs expresses one of the defining qualities of true friendship, which is the willingness to be truthful with another regardless of the consequences.  This is not a quality that we always enjoy from our friends, but it may be the best evidence of who our true friends really are.  If the people we count as our friends truly love us, then they will praise us in that which is right and rebuke us in that which is wrong.  If we are wise, then we will recognize this quality in others and seek to have those persons as our friends.  At the same time, we will seek to possess this quality in ourselves so that we may also be true friends to others.

Notice the contrast in verse 5 between open rebuke and concealed love.  On the surface, an open rebuke may appear to be an expression of cruelty and disdain.  Because of this, our tendency is to recoil from rebukes and despise those who rebuke us.  Yet the Scripture says that open rebuke is better than concealed love.  The reason for this is that an open rebuke is actually an open expression of love.  For example, Proverbs 3:12 says, "For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights.”  God reproves us through His word because He loves us and seeks to train us in righteousness through discipline.  Likewise, if others love us, they will also reprove us when we are in the wrong.  Such a loving expression of rebuke is far better than the silence of those who claim to love us while tolerating our sins.

Further expressing this truth is the paradox in verse 6, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”  Typically, we would not expect that our friends would ever wound us, for that seems contrary to friendship.  However, there are times when our true friends must cause us pain in order to raise our awareness of our own sins.  No one wants to be told he is wrong, but knowledge of sin is necessary for repentance and forgiveness.  Sometimes the truth hurts, but it is better to know the pain of the truth than to be blissfully ignorant and lost.  Therefore, when our friends point out our failures, we should be thankful for their concern rather than resentful of their honesty.

Perhaps we can notice a subtle difference in the concepts of fidelity and loyalty.  In verse 6, the word "faithful” is from a Hebrew word meaning "to build up or support” or "to foster as a parent.”  This faithfulness, or fidelity, is a characteristic of true friends and causes our friends to seek what is truly best for us.  In contrast to that, one who is loyal does not always necessarily seek the best for his friend.  He may simply stand by his friend no matter what the friend does.  Therefore, a loyal friend may support you in any situation, but a faithful friend will oppose you when you are wrong.

With this understanding, we should welcome the rebuke of our faithful friends.  Of course, there is no joy in being wrong, but there is joy in having faithful friends who love us enough to show us our faults.  Our attitude and prayer should be like that of David expressed in Psalm 141:4-5 – "Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness with men who do iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies.  Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; it is oil upon the head; do not let my head refuse it, for still my prayer is against their wicked deeds.”

Unfortunately, a friend’s faithful wounds are not often well received.  There may be a time when you will lovingly approach your friend about his sins and be rejected, reproached, and counted as an enemy.  Paul experienced this when he rebuked the Galatian Christians for deserting the gospel of Christ.  He wrote, "Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16).  It has always been the way of man to resent those who tell him he is wrong and to resist the call for him to change.  We should not be surprised when men still react this way today.

Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of a true friend to be truthful with others, whether the truth is good or bad about them.  Paul did not allow the sensitivities of the Galatians to prevent him from telling them the truth, and we should not be discouraged from telling our friends what they need to know.  In fact, if we fail to be truthful with others about their sins, then we make ourselves enemies to them, for we are not seeking the best for them.  Faithful wounds that expose the painful truth are far better than deceitful kisses that give passive approval to sin.  Therefore, let us practice faithful friendship toward others and value the friendships of those who are truly faithful to us.

Stacey E. Durham




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