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I suppose we have all received a rebuke from a friend which felt like it came from someone who did not have our backs or love us. This should not be. A Christian superpower is to rebuke someone while making them feel like you love them and will never abandon them. 

The rebuke of a friend should aim to heal, not harm. After all, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance”(Rom 2:4). And so it stands to reason that if we want someone to repent, we should be kind. 

How can we be this good friend whose words heal, not harm? One place to learn how is the Book of Proverbs. 

Friends

In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon says, “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy” (Prov 27:6). Elsewhere in the book, we hear that “A friend loves at all times,” and “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 17:17; 18:24). In other words, a friend should love to the point that such love could be closer and more intimate than the love of a sibling. When such a friend counsels you, it is sweetness: “and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Prov 27:9). 

More could be said, but these verses set the stage to think about loving and wounding. In a perfect world, we would also consider the narratives of friends like David and Jonathan whose “love to [David] was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26). That I suppose illustrates the kind of friend it takes for a wound to heal. 

Love and Truth

God is love (1 John 4:8, 16) and truth (John 14:6). And so we speak the truth in love, which means speaking the truth lovingly (Eph 4:15). For us, love is one thing; truth is another.[1] We then must speak the truth lovingly and love truthfully because love is not truth, and truth is not love. 

No one should say, I have spoken the truth, and that is all that matters! A harsh truth is generally a loveless truth. A loving truth is usually a kind truth, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom 2:4)?

“Love is patient and kind,” writes Paul (Rom 13:4). And so it is not so hard to figure out what that might mean for us. It means: speaking the truth lovingly and loving truthfully.

Exceptions

Exceptions prove the rule. Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia and describes his opponents in sarcastic ways. He wrote to Christians using shocking language, although I should note here he did not directly speak to his Galatian opponents in this way. 

Jesus himself speaks rather strongly against religious hypocrites—those who claim to know the truth but use it like a weapon to push people out of the kingdom. It is to this hard-hearted, stiff-necked group that Jesus uses the hammer rather than the chisel. 

There is a place for strong words. There is a role for the hammer. But the general tenure of the Christian life is “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). 

I am here advocating for the general tenure of the Christian life which the New Testament repeatedly emphasizes. I am not excluding any strong or harsh words, but they are exceptions to the rule and for good reasons. Jesus knew the hearts of all people (John 2:25); we do not (1 Sam 16:7). And so he always had good reasons. It is harder for us since “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jame 1:20). 

So is there ever a time to turn over tables? When you are the Son of God come to your Father’s house which typifies your body, you may overturn the tables to symbolize the purity coming to the temple of God via the Spirit. Until then, “​​be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).  

The Wounds of a Friend

The Holy Spirit gives us a superpower. When the love for God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit indwelling us (Rom 5:5), we can patiently love even our enemies—just as Jesus died for sinners (Rom 5:8). We can exhibit the same patience God has shown to us that led to our repentance (Rom 2:4). 

When you rebuke a friend, make sure they know you love them and will always have their back. They should hear the rebuke as a medicine to their soul, not a knife to the heart. While the rebuke may sting, it should be for a short while. As Hebrews reminds us, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11). 

The wounds of a faithful friend heal because they are the words of life and goodness and love. I have been rebuked by friends and not friends. And the former always feels different. The key seems to be genuine love and kindness. 

Chances are that the riches of our unkindness will not lead to repentance but to hardness and alienation. If we care for others, we need to use our superpower. We need to rely on the Spirit so that we can love like God does according to our capacity as human beings (see James 1:20). 

Our kindness and love should work alongside our truth-speaking. When that happens, I suppose we can say that we have become faithful friends, and we know that our rebukes will heal, as long as someone accepts the medicine.  

 


[1] Since God is simple, love and truth are one in God. Since we are not simple, love and truth are distinct for us.

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