The following two verses of scripture are among my favorite in the entire Bible because they cast a vision for the highest form of friendship, which makes its telos the spiritual welfare of each person.
Open rebuke is better than secret love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
but the kisses of an enemy deceitful (Proverbs 27:5-6, KJV)
Here is Charles Bridges’ masterful commentary on the verses, which C. H. Spurgeon calls “The best work on the Proverbs. While explaining the passage in hand, he sets other portions of the Word in new lights.”
What is the friend, who will be a real blessing to my soul? Is it one, that will humour my fancies, and flatter my vanity? Is it enough, that he loves my person, and would spend his time and energies in my service? This comes far short of my requirement. I am a poor, straying sinner, with a wayward will and a blinded heart; going wrong at every step. The friend for my case is one, who will watch over me with open rebuke; but a reprover, when needful; not a flatterer. The genuineness of friendship without this mark is more than doubtful; its usefulness utterly paralyzed. That secret love, that dares not risk a faithful wound, and spares rebuke, rather than inflict pain, judged by God’s standard, is hatred. (Lev. XIX. 17.) Far better the wound should be probed than covered. Rebuke, kindly, considerately, and prayerfully administered, cements friendship, rather than loosens it. The contrary instances only prove, that the union had never been based upon substantial principle.
Many indeed profess their value for a true friend; and yet in the most valuable discharge of friendship, they “count him their enemy.” The Apostle had some just apprehension on this account, though so wise and affectionate, and speaking from the mouth of God. (Gal. IV. 12-16.) As if the rule of friendship was, that we should absolutely “please,” without reference to the Divine restriction—”for good to edification.” (Rom. xv. 2.) Christian faithfulness is the only way of acting up to our profession. And much guilt lies upon the conscience in the neglect.
But this open rebuke must not contravene the express rule of love—”telling the fault between thee and him alone.” Too often, instead of pouring it secretly into our brother’s ear, it is proclaimed through the wide medium of the world’s ear; and thus it passes through a multitude of channels, before it reaches its one proper destination. The openness of the rebuke describes the free and unreserved sincerity of the heart, not necessarily the public exposure of the offender; save when the character of the offence, or the interests of others, may appear to demand it. (1 Tim. v. 20.)
But never let a false tenderness be suffered to dilute a paramount obligation. Could Paul have answered to God for his secret love to a brother apostle, when the compromise of a fundamental principle called for open rebuke? (Gal. ii. 11-14.) Obviously however the sin should be brought to view, ere we rebuke. Nor should we vehemently reprove involuntary slips (See Ecclus. xix. 16); much less forget the exercise of a loving spirit. Leighton’s gentleness gave such a power to his reproof, that rare was the repetition of the offence; rather however from shame, than from the new principle. The mark of true godliness is an anxiety to have our faults pointed out; and a thankfulness to those who undertake the self-denying office.* A faithful reprover is a very great help in our Christian course. He is to be valued above the greatest treasure.’ ‘He that would be safe’—says one of the ancients—’must have a faithful friend, or a bitter enemy, that he may fly from vice by the monitions of the one, or the invective of the other.’ Much more valuable is this faithfulness, than the smooth politeness of the world’s intercourse. Nay, some defect in this courtesy may be excused for the sake of the sterling quality.
The truest friend of man—his wounds are faithful. He will not pass by a single fault in his people. He acts upon his own rule from the most considerate regard to their best welfare. And who would not choose this faithful wound, however painful at the moment of infliction, rather than the deceitful kisses of the enemy? The kiss of the apostate was a bitter ingredient in the Saviour’s cup of suffering. His foreknowledge of the treachery,3 in no degree weakened those exquisite sensibilities, which, from their intimate union with the Godhead, rendered him susceptible of suffering beyond all comprehension.**
* Neh. v. 7-13. Even when given most rashly and unkindly, one of the meekest of men could say—I was thankful to God for admonishing me, and my gratitude to the man was, I think, unfeigned.’ In his journal, the reprover’s name was found specially remembered in prayer. MARTYN’S Life, chap. iii.
** Philip Henry beautifully describes the proper offices and uses of Christian reproof. ‘To reprove a brother is like as, when he is fallen, to help him up again, when he is wounded, to help to curse him; when he hath broken a bone, to help to set it; when he is it out of the way, to put him in it; when he is fallen into the fire, to pluck him out; when he hath contracted defilement, to help to cleanse.’—Life, chap. x.