Giving Others What They Really Need

 

Week of May 26, 2013

 

Bible Verses:  Proverbs 11:12-14; 17:17; 18:24; 27:5-6,9-10,17; 28:23; 29:10.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you embrace the value of investing in the lives of others and influencing them for Christ.

 

Practice Honesty:  Proverbs 27:5-6; 28:23; 29:10.

 

[27:5]  Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  [6]  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.  [28:23]  Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.  [29:10]  Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless and seek the life of the upright.  [ESV]

 

[27:5-6]  Verse 5 is another example of a Better … than proverb [12:9; 15:16-17; 6:8,16,19,32; 17:1; 19:1,22; 21:9,19; 22:1; 25:7,24; 27:10; 28:6]. This verse and the next form another of the pairs that open this chapter, being bound both by theme and the related words translated love … friend. That which is better is open rebuke. Proverbs has had much to say about rebuke, a great deal of it to make us open to it. Indeed, rebuke is the path of life [6:23; 15:31], honor [13:18], understanding [15:32] and wisdom [29:15]. He who rejects a needed rebuke is stupid [12:1], a fool [15:5] and despises himself [15:32]. Little wonder open rebuke is considered a good thing, even though painful. When it is needed, blessed is the one who has a friend willing to throw the wraps off of the rebuke he so desperately needs. The contrast is hidden love. What good does love do in theory? How can love be known unless it is released from the closet of self-protection and made known? Just why the love is concealed is not stated, but perhaps it is out of fear of hurting the one loved or out of concern that the relationship will suffer damage beyond repair. In either case, there would seem to be more self-love involved than selfless love. The open rebuke of a friend is the sign of true brotherliness and commitment to another’s welfare more than one’s own comfort. Like the preceding proverb, the one in verse 6 prefers the pains of true friendship to the professions of false love. When a friend confronts, it may feel like wounds. Love sometimes hurts in order to heal. But, such wounds are faithful. That is to say, they arise from a heart that is true and pure in its commitment to our welfare. Such were the words of Nathan to David [2 Sam. 12:7] and such are God’s to us. Such words go to the depths of our innermost parts and work change for the better. We should wear such marks of friendship like a prize. In contrast (But) are the supposed marks of commitment from an enemy. Like Judas to Jesus, the false friend feigns friendship to achieve a personal goal. Such a one prostitutes the friendship.

[28:23]  Proverbs has consistently spoken of reproof or rebuke as a means of growth, health and life. Little wonder that whoever rebukes is so highly spoken of here. The contrast is between whoever rebukes and he who flatters with his tongue. The latter is the same expression used of the immoral woman in Proverbs 2:16 and 7:5. Flattery is never looked upon favorably in the Proverbs. Wisdom reveals that A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet [29:5]. If you are wise, whoever rebukes you will afterward find more favor with you than he who flatters with his tongue. The word translated favor means acceptance, goodwill or approval. It comes from a root meaning ‘to be pleased with.’ The combination afterward … favor implies that the first response to rebuke is not pleasant, but that, in time, one learns to rightly value the honest person as a friend and to see through the flattery of the other. As nice as it is to have someone say only favorable things to us, wisdom teaches us to provide an even greater welcome for the one who speaks the truth for our own good. Listening to an honest, truthful rebuke ushers in greater measures of God’s Spirit and God’s word [1:23]. For this reason, we should delight in and love such a friend. This welcome proves you are wise, prudent and knowledgeable. The wise man will regard such a friend as a precious possession. Peter exemplifies the kind of wisdom described here. Paul openly rebuked him for his hypocrisy regarding eating with Gentile believers [Gal. 2:11-14], but later Peter was able to call him our beloved brother Paul, ascribe to him wisdom and set his writings on a par with the other Scriptures [2 Peter 3:15-16].

[29:10]  Intolerance lies not with the righteous, but with the wicked. The subject of line one is bloodthirsty men. They hate those who possess integrity. The word describes a strong emotional reaction to that which is, or those who are, detested or abhorred. This emotional response moves toward action designed to distance oneself from the person or thing hated. In this case, the hatred moves the bloodthirsty to try to do away with the blameless. These folks are not morally perfect, but rather people of integrity, persons whose inner and outer life are one. The best illustration of such integrity, and such violent hatred of it, is the response of the Jewish leadership to Jesus. Jesus promised His followers would face the same kind of enmity from the world. The exact referent of the second line is somewhat difficult to identify. The line reads literally, “but the upright seek his soul.” The problem here is that “seek his soul” normally means to seek to kill someone. This seems an impossible thing to assign to the upright. The best option seems to be to see this as a unique usage of the verb and to read it as expressive of the concern of the upright for the welfare of the blameless. Thus the second line would then read “but the upright are concerned for his life.”

 

Show Loyalty:  Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; 27:10.

 

[17:17]  A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.  [18:24] A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. [27:10]  Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend, and do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.  [ESV]

 

[17:17]  This proverb has created a division of opinion among commentators. The question is whether the parallelism is antithetical or synonymous. The connective translated and can also mean but. If the two lines are set off in antithesis, then a contrast is intended between the love of a friend and a brother. Even here there is a division, for some see the point being that the love of the brother is superior and others that the love of the friend is being exalted. If, however, the two lines are set in synonymous parallelism, then the two are not contrasted. But the point is simply to highlight the importance of strong human relationships. It seems preferable to see a synonymous parallelism here. A friend loves at all times. No matter what your circumstances, a true friend will always stand with you. A brother is born for adversity. Even when family tensions have created relational distance, often, in calamity, the ties of blood bring that family member rushing back to your side. They were indeed born for this. Adversity is often a revelation of who your true friends are.

[18:24]  This antithetical proverb makes clear that one true friend is superior to having a multitude of casual friends. The first line describes the man who has focused on quantity of friends over the quality of their loyalty. He knows everyone. Everyone knows his name. when he enters the room, people slap him on the back and shake his hand. He wrongly assumes by such behavior that these are true friends. These relationships are built on social convenience. The word for friend in the first line is a general one that can describe everything from a close friend to casual acquaintances. It is often descriptive of mere neighbors or associates. Because his relationships lack depth, he eventually may come to ruin. The verb ruin means to break in pieces and describes the ruin that awaits the one who assumes too much of casual acquaintances. The second line describes the wiser course for friendships: fewer friends (even just one) with whom one builds deeper ties. In times of adversity, such a friend sticks closer than a brother. However trustworthy an earthly friend may prove, we must realize that relationships will disappoint. The fewer, deeper and more trustworthy the friendships, the more secure one’s life. The word for friend in this second line is different from that in the first. It, more literally, means ‘one who loves.’ It describes a deeper and more solid relationship than the first. David and Jonathan provide an example of this kind of committed friendship. Ultimately, however, even the closest of friends may back away when trouble comes. At such times, only Christ will refuse to abandon us. Thankfully, Jesus delights to call us not only servants, but His friends [John 15:13-15]!

[27:10]  This unusual three line proverb continues the theme of friendship from verse 9. The first line is a plea for the preservation of friendships, particularly longstanding family friendships (your father’s friend). The second line seems to discourage seeking family support in difficult times. It appears to stand in direct opposition to Proverbs 17:17: A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. The prohibition here, however, is not to be considered absolute. It must be read with the first and third lines. The third line affirms that, when life is cruel, we are better served by a near friend (neighbor) than a distant relative (a brother who is far away). It is not that we shun family at such times, but that we realize the depth of our need and the obstacle of distance and the time needed to cover it. The brother who is born for adversity, is far away, could do little (in a day of limited communication and travel) to help in time of need. But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother [18:24]. Rely upon, and accept, the help of such a brother. What we have, then, is an encouragement to cultivate friendships (line one), not to the exclusion of family relationships (line two), but so that in days of need (line two) you may find the immediate support you need (line three). A friend who is willing to confront us when needed [6], share out of the depths of his soul [9], and reciprocate mutual edification [17] is an asset not to be taken lightly. The comparison of friend, brother and neighbor do not depreciate the value of family, but celebrate the worth of friendship.

 

Be Supportive:  Proverbs 11:12-14; 27:9,17.

 

[11:12]  Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.  [13]  Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.  [14]  Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.  [27:9]  Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.  [17]  Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.  [ESV]

 

[11:12-14]  Verse 12 continues and advances the theme of speech beginning in verses 9-11. The first line announces the foolishness of the one who belittles his neighbor. By itself, this line might sound as if it refers to simply an inward attitude of disdain. The word, however, describes outward, expressed and vocalized contempt. In Proverbs, it describes contempt for wisdom and instruction [1:7; 23:9], a thief [6:30], God’s word [13:13], parents [23:22; 30:17], and a neighbor as here [14:21]. That this disdain is expressed is clear from the contrast of remains silent in line two. One who gives uncontrolled expression to such feelings lacks sense. Literally, the text reads ‘lacks heart.’ Such a one lacks the inner discernment to see that a relationship with a neighbor is a valuable thing, not something to be wasted over a few needless comments made rashly. Indeed, it is more than foolish; it is sinful [14:21]. No doubt, this spite, at various times, takes the form of gossip, slander, false witness, boasting and quarreling. In contrast to the rash words of the fool is the silence of a man of understanding. That is to say, he possesses discernment. Such discernment often keeps itself quiet, rather than flaunting its insight. Solomon continues in verse 13 to illustrate how powerful an influence the tongue is. The word translated slandering here refers not simply to one who, without thinking, unwittingly reveals a confidence, but to one who maliciously uses privileged information to his advantage. The word secrets refers to confidential conversation, thus it is often translated as ‘counsel.’ It may refer either to divine or human information. The Scriptures repeatedly denounce one who betrays a confidence and uses it to his own advantage. In contrast to such a treacherous companion is he who is trustworthy. The basic root of the word means that which is firm or certain. With such a one, you know what and who you are dealing with. You are never uncertain as to their motives, nor their dependability. There is no concern that they might not keep in confidence what is shared with them. Such a one keeps a thing covered. They ‘keep a lid on it,’ as we might say. Whether the information is gained through a personal confidence or they stumble across such knowledge, your well-being is safe with this neighbor. Whether applied to corporate settings (such as a nation or grouping of people like a church or organization) or to the individual’s life, verse 14 underscores the essential nature of soliciting and listening carefully to the advice of wise counselors. Vision is absolutely essential to a healthy nation, church or organization, not to mention the individual’s life. The word guidance is a rare word that comes from a root having to do with the equipment necessary for the steering of a ship. People need to know how to steer a wise course through life and its multitude of opportunities. They need to learn the ropes of their particular circumstance and find God’s charted course through it. For this to happen, they need an abundance of counselors. The verbal form of the word describes giving counsel, deliberating, determining purpose and making a decision. We first meet the word in Exodus 18:19 when Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, gives him wise counsel about how to handle his workload. It is not only folly to fail to listen to good counsel, but also to seek out and heed bad counsel. One error is often as devastating as the other. It is, of course, ultimately, the counsel of the Lord which one wants most to determine. He only is the Wonderful Counselor [Isaiah 9:6]. Yet, the proverb here tells us that, to determine His counsel, we must often seek out those around us who possess wisdom and insight. With such counsel, there is safety. The word often carries the connotation of salvation or deliverance from danger. One can be delivered from the consequences of an otherwise devastating choice if he will seek wise counsel. Finding such wise counsel comes not just from seeking one source, but an abundance of counselors. Through the diversity of their insights, one may begin to detect a pattern of common agreement. The proclivities of one and the opinions of the few are balanced by the collective wisdom of the many.

[27:9]  Verses 9 and 10 are linked by the theme of friendship. The first line is clear enough. The use of oil and perfume was widespread. In a day when bathing was difficult and the conditions often sweltering, the use of scented lotions and incense was a welcome luxury to those who could afford them. To greet a friend by anointing his head with oil was a sign of welcome and respect. Such action made one’s heart glad over the bond of friendship. The second line, then, builds off of this emblem in the first. Just exactly the point of this second line, however, has been a matter of considerable debate. The second line, literally, reads, ‘and sweet one’s friend from the counsel of soul.’ It seems best to simply read the second line as a comparison with the first line – as simple luxuries like perfume and oil makes life more sweet, so does a friend who gives counsel out of the deep well of his life’s experience and wisdom. As one might indulge in the simple luxuries of life, so indulge yourself in deeper levels of friendship with those God has sovereignly placed about you. Do not fail to find this sweetness in life because of a refusal to hear a reproof [6]. Rebuke need not be a sour experience, but can actually sweeten the way life unfolds.

[27:17]  The proverb in verse 17 makes its point by comparative parallelism. The first line sets the image clearly. A blade is fashioned, honed to an edge and polished to a fine finish by the use of other metal – the one working over against the other. In a similar fashion, one man sharpens another. The verb translated sharpens in both lines describes making something sharp or keen. This may refer to the edge of a literal cutting tool or, metaphorically, to the adeptness of an animal or the tongue. The literal meaning is clear in line one, but the second line must mean something more metaphorical. We are better for our social interactions, even the ones we least appreciate. We are a debtor to every man whose path we have crossed, for no social contact need be a waste if we will but learn from it. How much more valuable, then, those friendships in which our companion has our highest good in mind.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Proverbs consistently speaks of reproof or rebuke as a means of growth, health and life. Note the contrasts in verses 27:5-6; 28:23 and 29:10: open rebuke and hidden love; friend and enemy; rebuke and flattery. Why does this book place such a positive emphasis on reproof or rebuke? How can you as a faithful friend offer open rebuke in a positive, loving manner so that it does not offend your friend but rather finds favor with them? And pray that you will be able to accept an honest, truthful rebuke from your friends in a gracious, accepting manner.

 

2.         All of these verses deal with the issue of friendship. Describe what these verses say about the characteristics of a true and faithful friend. What do you need to change in your own life in order to become a better friend to your close friends?

 

References:

Proverbs, Charles Bridges, Crossway.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.