The Wounds of a Friend are Faithful
The Bible says that the wounds of a friend are faithful but the kisses of an enemy are filled with deceit. We can intellectually understand the idea expressed in this Proverb when times are good. Sometimes people who love us need to tell us things that hurt for our own good. Sounds reasonable, right?
Yet, when things get rough and a brother is wounding us with a rightful rebuke, we tend to be less philosophically agreeable. It gets more confusing. Injuries hurt and even more so when they are inflicted by someone close to us. Like an animal caught in a trap, the temptation is to lash out at the immediate source of the pain rather than the conduct that got us into the predicament. This tendency to attack the friend rather than our own sin leads to great problems in our lives and the Body of Christ.
Don’t Shoot God’s Messenger
Shooting the messenger is the main reason we don’t have more honest conversations in the church. God calls us in His Word to live in intentional community with one another. We are told to be as close to our church family as Jesus is to the Father, to be one as they are One. This is quite a high level of communion. As part of this relationship, God gives us duties to one another. We are called to encourage each other, exhort each other to good works, and to bear each other’s burdens. These are easy for us to accept. They are positive affirming actions on our part. On the other hand, we are directed to reprove, admonish and rebuke one another in the church community. These are just as clear directions but are much harder for us to swallow. Yet, these more problematic areas are equally important parts of our role as loving siblings in Christ. In our radically individualistic society, it is extremely challenging to be the rebuker and the rebukee.
One of the biggest challenges in this realm is blame shifting. The person who is knee-deep in sin turns on the one trying to help. Rather than accept their own fault, they take what is meant to help them out of the darkness and use it as a weapon against those who are loving them. “This hurts to hear, I don’ like to hurt so I will hurt you to make it stop” is the essential rationale. They confronted person desperately flails against the light shining on their sin and try to knock out the brightness so their sin can remain concealed. In their instinctual response, they shoot God’s messenger rather than accept God’s loving rebuke.
We see a picture of this misplaced backlash in 1 Kings 18. The passage involves King Ahab and his wife Jezebel and the prophet Elijah. Ahab is described as doing more evil than any of the kings before him, a high bar to get over, so he has lots of sin on his accounts. After he marries Jezebel, among other crimes, he worships Baal and orders the prophets of God murdered. God’s chosen king killing God’s messengers and worshipping a false god is a terrible thing. Ahab is a really bad dude who chooses to defile his God anointed position. Yet, despite this God is merciful on Ahab. He sends Elijah to bring God’s message of judgment to him before it actually comes. First, Elijah warns Ahab that a drought is coming as judgment for his wickedness. Then Elijah confronts Ahab repeatedly while famine and drought are ongoing calling him out for his iniquity.
Remember, Elijah is God’s chosen messenger and he is bringing painful bad news to God’s chosen King. Sometimes God’s Word just brings us bad news for our sinful life trying to lead us to a holy life. Threats of impending judgment can also contain the clearest offers of mercy and grace.
Wait, messages of judgments like drought and famine are merciful? Yes! God tells Ahab what is coming. In doing so, God allows a clear opportunity for Ahab to repent and turn away from the sin that is leading to a terrible consequence. Elijah’s messages are only bad news if Ahab continues in his sin. If he repents, then it is a call that leads to rejoicing. It is a message of love, opportunity, grace, and mercy. The choice is in the hand of the hearer. The fact that repentance is called for always implies that there is an option to turn away from sin. But Ahab must be willing to accept God’s calling out his sin. This he staunchly refused to do. How often are we in this very spot? We are allowed to see a consequence building upon the horizon for our deliberate forsaking of the way of God. The Lord telegraphs what is coming so that we know both the cause and coming effect. Then we are given a simple choice: God’s way that provides pain to our flesh in the short-term? Or the long-term hurt that is rolling in like a thunderstorm? This is God’s tender mercy for us.
When Elijah shows up to see him in 1 Kings 18, Ahab has an immediate and dramatic response.
Ahab shifts the blame for his suffering and that of the nation. His heart is so hard from years of sin that he cannot feel the conviction of the Lord for his own actions. Remember, it is very clearly Ahab’s sin caused the judgment of God. Elijah told him this very directly. Ahab’s refusal to repent is causing it to continue. The famine, drought and great pain are consequences of his sin. Yet, because of his pride, will, and rebellion, Ahab refuses to hear. He decides that it is all the fault of the messenger. Elijah reminds Ahab of his sin and the painful consequences therefore he hates the very sight of Elijah. He and Jezebel go to great lengths to try to kill Elijah. Ahab literally tries to kill the messenger, but Elijah is not willing to go along with Ahab’s self-deception and denial. It takes a strong heart and a sharp mind to speak God’s word sometimes. Elijah sees the truth and is not willing to take responsibility for another man’s sin.
Elijah is so devoted to following God that he is willing to face down an evil King who murdered hundreds of his brother prophets for the good of the king and the country. He is willing to sacrifice everything to do so. Love of the Lord and of his nation compels Elijah to do so. By 1 Kings 18, Ahab has sent his servants all over the region searching for Elijah to kill him. He is that determined to punish Elijah for his own sin. Yet, Elijah freely walks into the Ahab’s court among the same servants to bring God’s Words to the evil king. Elijah is that motivated to see evil’s hold on Israel and even on Ahab broken that he repeatedly risks his own life to get to Ahab. He will never lay down truth while doing this, however. Love of God and his country also forbids Elijah from every do this. It is the truth that sets us free after all. If we don’t have that, we have nothing. The famine is Ahab’s fault. The pain is from his sin. The message is clear and unyielding on this point because it points Ahab to the Lord, the only source of respite.
We may be put in the same position as Elijah. We may have walked in his shoes in the past. God calls us to bring our brother’s unrepentant sins to them when called to do so by God. This is never an enjoyable process to contemplate, but it is a good one. Friends, going to a brother or sister in Christ to call them back to God is hard but it is worth it. It is one of the most uncomfortable things we are asked to do as a member of the Body of Christ. The person we approach out of love may try to shoot the messenger – us. They may accuse us of all sorts of offenses. They may start a whisper campaign against us. They may even be successful on the worldly level. But God’s love never gives up on even the most backslidden Christian. He goes after the most stubbornly wayward of His sheep and uses us to bring them the message. Are we willing to cooperate with the Lord in His pursuit of the lost?
In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
We may also be the Ahab in the story. Satan prowls around this earth like a lion looking to devour people. He has an insatiable appetite for Christians and unbeliever’s alike. He uses our own desires to tempt us to pursue what God despises. Sometimes we allow those desires to overtake us and we end up awash in a sea of sin. Satan consumes us for a time and there seems to be no way out. Here is where an Elijah comes in. A true friend who is willing to take the risk of our backlash to bring us the pure Word of God. There is a reason that the Bible is referred to as a sharp sword. It cuts our flesh very deeply at times, like a surgeon removing a disease, to save our spirit. It is good for us, but it may hurt. Our question, then, is how we will react to the wound?
The wounds of a friend are faithful.
Satan thrives when we avoid the conviction of the Lord. The Enemy loves when we shy away from Godly love driven confrontation. God’s chastisement may be painful for a time but it only comes when we have headed away from Him. It is like a parent tackling a small child who is headed for an unguarded cliff. The Lord corrects those He loves, like a father to his son, so that they don’t continue down a path that will cause even more heartache and pain. Therefore, when a sibling in Christ comes to us with the Lord’s rebuke for us we should be grateful. We should welcome them and their loving correction from the Lord. We should even seek it out when we are struggling. The fleeting pain caused by the wounds of a friend doesn’t compare with the eternal gifts that come with following closely with the Almighty Father.
Whatever your role today, be thankful that the Lord cares so much about His sheep that He is willing to use other sheep to help bring them back to His loving fold.