Have you ever been shocked to life by the words of a friend?
Recently, I was working out with a friend when I shared that my prayer life was dry, time alone with God was sparse, and my soul felt withered. After listening kindly to my half-hearted excuses, he paused our workout, turned to me and said, “Bro, I love you, but that’s unacceptable. People look to you. You need to be looking to Christ — it’s not optional.”
After the initial assault on my pride, a wave of gratitude and relief washed over me. Finally, the truth I had been evading — the God I had been evading — caught me. God used a friend’s honesty to awaken me from spiritual slumber.
Wounds of a Friend
When we think of friends, we often think of the people who we naturally like, who like us, and who like the same things we like. We hope for friends who will encourage us, comfort us, and support us — but what about praying for friends who are willing to wound us?
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)
“Godly friends will wound us for our good. They’ll rip open our carefully crafted excuses and stun us back to life.”
True friends are not mobsters who club us with their words to prove points or settle scores. But godly friends are not less than EMTs (emergency medical technicians) who will rip open our carefully crafted excuses and stun us back to life. They wound us for our good.
And of course, friends must be more than this — after all, we aren’t Pavlovian puppies to be shocked every day. But in a world of political correctness and hyper-sensitivity to criticism, such friends with backbones are nearly as extinct as they are unwelcomed — even within the church.
Safe Friends Are Dangers to Our Sin
Your soul needs friends who are willing to risk wounding your pride in the moment for the long-term good of your soul.
The world cares nothing for our eternal good. Ungodly friends cheer us on toward destruction. They bequeath the kiss of flattery — the Dementor’s kiss. They coddle our egos, telling us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear. Even the most genuine and moral among them sets sail away from God. Thus we need a crew of Christian companions — a body — to keep us from shipwreck. Finishing the race is not an individual endeavor, and eternity is at stake.
Praise God then for the faithful wounds of true friends who protect us from ultimate injury. They tell us plainly, “You’re flirting with destruction!” Or, “Spiritual sloth is unacceptable!” Friends who ask us hard questions, who crush the whispering lizard on our shoulder, who are for our eternal soul above our momentary feelings — these are true friends.
Find these friends. Thank these friends. Imitate these friends. They are, as a friend of mine calls it, God’s “community grace” to you.
What Would Jesus Say?
Jesus calls his followers friends (John 15:14). Some of us may not have many companions, but in Christ we have the Truest Friend, who gives friendship meaning. But had we lived two thousand years ago, we might not have enjoyed living with the Son of God as much as we suppose at first. Jesus was not afraid to wound his friends for the healing of their souls.
“We need friends who are willing to risk wounding our ego in the moment for the long-term good of our souls.”
He did not walk in step with our unoffensive niceties. He rebuked follower and Pharisee alike. He would not have balked to say things that would offend us. He was without guile, without flattery. He called a spade a spade, and sin “sin” — always with love, and always with truth.
But the unbelievable thing is that Jesus also was wounded for his friends (John 15:13).
He didn’t do accountability drive-bys and leave it at that. He loved with word and deed. He rebuked the sleeping disciples, and called Peter “Satan” one moment, only to lay down his life for them in the next (Matthew 16:23; 26:36–46; 27:24–56).
Jesus loved his own with comforting words, encouraging words, life-giving words — and hard words. And he backed up every sharp word with three piercing nails and a cutting crown of thorns — all for the everlasting good of his friends. He hurt his friends in order to help them. He was wounded for his friends in order to heal them (Isaiah 53:5).
Friends Like Jesus
We should thank God when he gives us friends like Jesus, and pray that he sends us more.
1. Pray for friends who wound in love.
Though they don’t always feel like it, these friends are a good gift from God. Your soul needs these friends. Ask him for them.
2. Pray for friends who also build up.
More than just wounded, we want to be built up. We want to be loved through encouragement, affirmation, and deeds as well as tough words (1 Thessalonians 5:11; 1 John 3:18).
3. Thank friends who love enough to wound.
Often, those friends who do speak the truth in love feel as uncomfortable and awkward saying tough things as you do hearing them. They may also fear your disapproval and rejection, so when they do speak up, thank them — even when they don’t do it perfectly.
“In a world that’s hyper-sensitive to criticism, friends with backbones are as valuable (and hard to find) as ever.”
4. Invite wounds from others.
Take initiative to ask friends to be honest with you about your weaknesses and blind spots, knowing that, because Christ was wounded for us, we can invite wounds; he is our identity. May we say,
Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. (Psalm 141:5)
5. Be a friend who wounds in love.
The author of Hebrews calls us to beware unbelieving hearts that cause us to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). How do we not fall away? We “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Today is called today. Which believers will you exhort? Be courageous and speak the truth in love when the time comes (Ephesians 4:15).