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Proverbs 11:1214; 17:17; 18:24; 27:56, 910, 17; 28:23; 29:10comment (0)

May 23, 2013

By Scott McGinnis

Related Scripture: Proverbs 11:1214; 17:17; 18:24; 27:56, 910, 17; 28:23; 29:10


Bible Studies for Life 
Associate Professor of Religion, Samford University

Giving Others What They Really Need


Proverbs 11:12–14; 17:17; 18:24; 27:5–6, 9–10, 17; 28:23; 29:10
Much of Proverbs addresses what makes for strong friendships. This selection of verses highlights components of healthy relationships by way of a series of contrasts.

Honesty (27:5–6; 28:23; 29:10)
Every relationship of worth has honesty at its core. Honest friends care enough about you to go beyond social niceties and the limits of politeness to get to the heart of the matter. The words “love” in 27:5 and “friend” in v. 6 share a common root in the Hebrew, so the sense of these two verses could be loosely paraphrased as “Don’t hide your love for friends by not telling them they are wrong when they need to hear it; speaking a hard truth to help people you love is better than telling them what they want to hear.”

Truth-telling is hard for the teller and hard for the hearer, and initially a rebuke may produce more heat than light. The key word in 28:23 is “afterward.” Time allows one to understand and come to appreciate the rebuke of a friend when that rebuke is rooted in the truth (compare Prov. 9:8). However, we cannot be guaranteed that our honest efforts to advise those we love will be met with appreciation either in the moment or later. The risk is what makes honest speech with those we love an act of love: we risk friendship for friendship’s sake.

Loyalty (17:17; 18:24; 27:10)
Constancy is another mark of a true friend, who loves “at all times” (17:17). The parallel in the second half of the verse extends and completes the idea. Friends love not only when times are good but also during adversity. There is resonance here with the saying of Jesus regarding friends and enemies: everyone loves those who love them but God calls on us to love enemies as well. In so doing, we strive after the completeness or perfection of God, who loves all the same (Matt. 5:46–48).

Teachers would be well advised to compare a number of translations for 18:24 since the ambiguity of the Hebrew makes the sense uncertain. Possibilities for the first part of the verse range from “a man of many friends comes to ruin” to “some friends play at friendship.” The latter picks up the contrast seen elsewhere in the book, notably the difference between appearance and reality, between a true friend and someone who is a friend only when it is convenient, and thus no friend at all.

Strong family relationships are promoted and respected throughout Proverbs, yet the book also recognizes that kinship does not necessarily make for the strongest friendships of one’s life. This may be because the neighbor is close by while family is far away (27:10), but it may also be the case that we find our deepest kinship of spirit with those outside our family (18:24b).

Support (11:12–14; 27:9, 17)
Selfish people make themselves feel more important by belittling others. A wise person makes for a better friend since she knows when to speak and when to remain silent. What we say matters, a lesson we learn early in childhood. 

Not long ago, my 7-year-old daughter told me that she thought saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” wasn’t true since hurt feelings matter as much as or more than hurt bodies. In Hebrew thought, there is finality to the spoken word, either good or ill (Gen. 27:36–38).

Careful speech is one way of showing our love and support for our friends. Sometimes honesty calls for forthrightness, but the motive must always be to build another up. 

Discretion — wisdom — lies in knowing when to speak and when to be silent. Proverbs calls on us to become dispassionate observers who acknowledge our feelings but choose what to do based on a clear-eyed sense of our moral principles.

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