The writer of Proverbs tells us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). While a friend is most often an encourager, a true friend is also to be marked by an honest, blunt willingness to speak the truth in love. We desperately need friends who love us enough to refine us rather than flatter us.
I have to give myself a daily injection for a health condition I have, and sometimes the injection leaves a bruise. I do not like the bruise, but I do appreciate what it represents—better health. The word “wounds” can also be translated as “bruises” or “wounds.” At times a friend must say things that hurt us. But these bruises from a friend are out of love. In contrast, an enemy’s words are to harm us, whether it is by verbal attacks or corrosive flattery.
Consider the letter below as a faithful example of the tough love words of a friend. It was written by the great protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483—1546) to his dear friend and ministry co-laborer Philip Melanchthon (1497—1560).
GRACE and peace in Christ! In Christ, I say, and not in the world. Amen.
As to the justification for your silence, of that another time, my dear Philip. I am heartily opposed to your great anxiety, which, as you write, is weakening you. That it is conquering you completely, is due not to the importance of the affair, but the extent of your unbelief. For this very evil was much more serious in the days of John Huss and in the time of many another, than in our own period. And even if it were great, he who began and conducts it is also great; for it is not ours. Why do you fret so always and without ceasing?
If the thing is wrong, then let us recall it; but if it is right, why should we make Him untruthful in such great promises, who tells us to be of good cheer and contented? Throw your care upon the Lord, he says; the Lord is near to all sorrowful hearts that call upon him. Would he speak thus such comfort into the wind, or cast it down before beasts? I also often feel a horror coming over me, but not for long. Your philosophy therefore is plaguing you, not your theology. The same is gnawing at the heart of your friend Joachim (Camerarius) also, as it appears to me, and in the same way; as though either of you could accomplish anything with your useless anxiety. What more can the Devil do than throttle us? I beseech you, who are so efficient in combat in all other things, fight against yourself; for you are your own worst enemy, because you give Satan so many weapons against yourself. Christ died once for sins; but for justice and truth he will not die,—rather he lives and reigns.
If this be the case, why fear we for the truth, so long as he reigns? But, you say, it will be struck down by God’s anger. Let us then be struck down by it, but not by ourselves. He who became our Father will also be Father to our children. Truly I pray diligently for you; and it pains me that you suck anxiety into yourself like a blood-leech, and make my prayer so powerless. Whether it is stupidity or the Holy Spirit, that my Lord Christ knows; but truly I am not very anxious about this matter. I have more than I would ever have thought to possess. God can raise the dead; he can also preserve his cause, even if it falls; when it is fallen, he can raise it up again, and when it stands fast, he can prosper it. If we should not be capable of effecting this end, then let it be brought about by others. For if we do not let ourselves be raised up by his promises, who else is there now in the world to whom they do apply? But of this more another time, although I do nothing but carry water to the sea. May Christ comfort, strengthen, and teach you all through his Spirit: Amen. Should I hear that this matter goes badly with you and is in danger, I shall scarcely restrain myself from flying to you, to see how terribly the Devil’s teeth stand around, as the Scriptures say.
From our desert (Coburg), June 27, 1530.