“A man with many friends may be harmed, but there is a friend who stays closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
“Friend” is a watered-down word. It’s like that with virtually anything that is so seemingly easy to come by. Here is a noun that, in the world of social media, has been turned into a verb, and along the way has come to mean something much different than it should. A “friend” now means someone that we know a few facts about (maybe), or someone that we have at least been introduced to. It’s no longer a term of intimacy as much as it is a catch-all word meant to describe virtually any relationship we have with anyone else, regardless of how truly close.
But into this world of watered-down friendships steps the wisdom from Proverbs, reminding us that though there might be many who hold the title of “friend” in our social networks, there is still another category – a friend who stays closer than a brother. I have, over the course of my life, known these kind of friends. The kind of people who are ready and willing at a moment’s notice to pray, listen, give, and support. Those with whom you share life and all its joys and pains. Those that, when you are in the same room with them, bring an instant comfort and security.
And yet we know that these friends are only shadows – pointers – to a greater friend who is indeed closer than a brother. For in the gospel, Jesus has done something that seems so commonplace in a world full of friends, and yet helps us recover the true gravity and meaning of the world. Jesus, the King of the Universe, calls us His friends:
“I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father” (John 15:15).
What a marvelous thing to be called a friend of Jesus. And what a thing to know that no matter how deep, how precious, or how committed the other friendships we have are, that they pale in comparison to this one. So what, then, can we expect from this friend who is indeed closer than a brother?
We can certainly expect love. We can expect faithfulness. We can expect generosity, forgiveness, understanding, and presence. But there is one other thing we can expect from this friend – truth. Back to the wisdom from Proverbs:
“Better an open reprimand than concealed love. The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive” (Proverbs 27:5-6).
Is this not the truest gauge of whether someone is our friend or not? I believe it is. For there are many who will “like” our photos, many who are good to hang out with, some who are charming conversationalists and good for a laugh, but there are far fewer who love us enough to actually tell us the truth. Not when the truth is hard. Not when it’s wounding. But this is what we can – and should – expect from our friends. It’s what we should want from them.
We are self-deceptive creatures. We have the unbelievable ability to talk ourselves into anything, and then justify our decisions until they actually make sense in our minds. But our friends? The ones that stick closer than brothers? These are the ones who care too much to let us deceive ourselves. These are the people in our lives who will tell us the truth.
Here is where we find the Son of God, our friend. He is the One who gave up His life for us, the One who is more invested in us than any other. And He is the one whose wounds we can trust. For the great news of the gospel is that though our friend Jesus will wound us, He will also bind up the wounds. This is the measure of His commitment to our ultimate and eternal good – it’s not that He is the cosmic yes-man, but that He is willing to say the hard things, to tell us the hard truth, to wound us deeply – all for our own sake.