The world has changed. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it. Time no longer has any meaning. Is today Thursday, or is it all just one long endless day? Oh wait, I mean - Happy Thursday and welcome into the REAL episode #100 of the Bible Reading podcast! I'm going to celebrate by taking the day off. See you tomorrow! Okay, maybe not. Today's Bible readings include Leviticus 13. Psalms 15 and 16, Proverbs 27 and 2nd Thessalonians 1. Today's Big Bible question is from Proverbs 27:6:
Better an open reprimand than
The wounds of a friend are trustworthy,
but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.
I don't know about you, but I'd generally rather be greeted by a holy kiss, rather than a friendly wounding, but Proverbs here is telling us something significant. An enemy might give excessive kisses, compliments, flattery, etc, but when a real friend wounds you, then you can be sure that those wounds are trustworthy. What is up with that, and why are we wounding each other anyway - shouldn't we just encourage each other and stay away from wounding altogether? Let's read the Proverb and come back and talk about whether or not it is appropriate to sometimes wound your friend.
Think about the worst injury you've ever had. For me, the worst physical injury I've had was a shoulder injury that I obtained one morning in 1991 when a friend of mine and I skipped school, and went caving in a remote area. I was attempting to climb up a wall in the cave when the rocks under my feet gave way, and all my weight was hanging on my right arm, which promptly dislocated, and did so six other times as I tried to climb out of the chasm I was in. Despite two surgeries, one by one of the best surgeons in the world - Dr. James Andrews - My shoulder has literally hurt almost every day since then. Not 100 percent of the time, but enough. If a friend had offered to kick me in the shins that day, and given me a bruise of a wounding, instead of a lifetime of shoulder pain, I would have been a fool to turn it down. Yes, the shin-kick would hurt, but a million times less than the shoulder injury has hurt. This is the dynamic the Proverbs is telling us about. The wounds from a friend help us to avoid the often permanent and sometimes catastrophic maimings from sin.
I have had the privilege of having a number of high caliber, high quality friends. People that weren't just in it for the fun of it, or to have a good time, or to their own advantage, but faithful friends and brothers who were great teammates, and helped me to be a better man. I can think of multiple times in my life where a friend stepped in front of me when I was headed towards trouble, and had a hard conversation with me - warning me and (lovingly!) wounding me, to spare me from much greater and more catastrophic injury. I can think of several times in my life - times that I am immensely grateful for now - when a loving friend has stepped in my way and wounded me in order to help me.
Once, in the mid 90s, I had become disillusioned with church - with the hypocrisy and the loving of traditions instead of the love of God and His Word. I was befriended by a group that seemed passionate and on fire for God. Some thought they were a cult, but all I could see was their refreshing passion! I began to meet with them some. Not whole hog, but some. A Christian friend grew very concerned about that, did some research, and had a very hard meeting with me in which he solemnly warned me about joining that group. It wasn't hard because he was mean, but it was hard because it was awkward, and I didn't listen at first. He won me over, however, and I am eternally grateful that he chose to wound me, rather than let me suffer a fate worse than wounding. In the latter 90s, I had a friend who valued integrity walk beside me and lovingly wound me many times over my habit and sin of lying and telling half truths. Over the course of years, and many faithful wounds, I was brought to repentance, and learned to value the truth in a much greater way, probably saving myself and my family the damage that would have been done by thousands of lies and half-truths. This same friend also lovingly wounded by in the early 2000s over my habit of pirating music and games. Digital thievery surely wasn't as bad as physical thievery, right? More wounds, more repentance, and more maimings from sin avoided. I can recount countless other times, but the point is that when somebody loves us and wants the best for us, we can trust that their wounds are designed for our best.
Jesus Himself gives us a pattern for those types of helpful woundings:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you.
So - WHEN should you wound a friend?
#1 - When it will clearly and obviously benefit and help them in the long run. Be careful when 'wounding' a friend with your words when you will be the primary benefactor of their repentance. Wounds from a friend a trustworthy precisely because they aren't motivated by selfish causes, but by love for another.
#2 When what they are doing is clearly and obviously unbiblical and will lead them into the dangers of sin. Avoid wounding a brother of the kind of doubtful matters addressed in Romans 14. Is your brother not celebrating the Sabbath the way you do? Does he eat only vegetables, and you eat meat? Does he celebrate Easter, and you don't (or vice-versa!) does he believe in open communion, and you believe in 'fencing the table?' It's fine to have an opinion on these doubtful matters, and to even discuss that opinion from the Bible in order to reach a consensus, but it is not find to WOUND a friend over doubtful matters.
5 One person judges one day to be more important than another day. Someone else judges every day to be the same. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, and he gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and returned to life for this: that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
3. When you can do the wounding with the meekness and humility of Christ, and without a plank in your own eye - or hypocrisy. If you are a drunkard thinking you need to wound a liar (or vice-versa), then Jesus' counsel to you would probably be to first remove the plank from your own eye.
4. When you can be sure that you yourself aren't a professional critic, or friend-wounder. If you find yourself in the position of being a constant friend wounder, it is possible that you are giving into judgmentalism and a spirit of criticism, rather than actually seeking the overall good of your brother. It is not your business to criticize, it is your business to EDIFY.
Don’t criticize one another, brothers and sisters. Anyone who defames or judges a fellow believer defames and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear
James 4:11 and Ephesians 5:29
TRUE friends are very scarce. We have a great many acquaintances, and sometimes we call them friends, and so misuse the noble word “friendship.” Perhaps for some, after a bit of adversity, when these so-called friends have looked out for their own interests, and left us to do the best we can for ourselves, that word friendship may come back to us with sad and sorrowful associations. The friend in need is the friend indeed, and such friends, I say again, are scarce. When you have found such a man, and proved the sincerity of his friendship; when he has been faithful to thy father and to you, grapple him to thyself with hooks of steel, and never let him go. It may be that, because he is a faithful friend, he will sometimes vex you and anger you. See how Solomon puts it in this very chapter: “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
It takes a great deal of friendship to be able to tell a man of his faults. It is no friendship that flatters; it is small friendship that holds its tongue when it ought to speak; but it is true friendship that can speak at the right time, and, if need be, even speak so sharply as to cause a wound. If you are like many other foolish folk, you will be angry with the man who is so much your friend that he will tell you the truth. If you are unworthy of your friend, you will begin to grow weary of him when he is performing on your behalf the most heroic act of pure charity by warning you of your danger, and reminding thee of thine imperfection. Solomon, in prospect of such a case, knowing that this is one of the greatest trials of friendship among such poor imperfect beings as we are, tells us not to forsake our friends, for this reason...the man who has been to us and to our family a true friend: “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Best Friend,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 45 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1899), 289.
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