When friendship and truth clash

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).

Around here in Southeast Louisiana you’ll see billboards that say “Friends don’t let friends eat imported crawfish.”

I know people in other parts of the country who would change that to say “Friends don’t let friends eat crawfish, period.”  🙂

A friend speaks up when his buddy is in trouble. A friend tells the truth even when doing so is uncomfortable for both parties. A friend rebukes his colleague if he’s doing something dangerous or self-destructive.

I want to be such a friend; I want to have such friends.

A few years back, while in Birmingham, I sought out a few friends whose opinions I treasure and handed them a brief manuscript I had labored over.

After all, who should know better than Calvin Miller, Fisher Humphreys, and Charles Carter whether my writing is sound, on target, helpful, and publishable?

“I need you to be brutally honest,” I said.

And I wondered whether that was true or not, if I could handle the unvarnished truth.

Each was helpful and gracious, because that’s the type of people they are.  None was brutal, and I have mixed feelings about that.

Sometimes the harsh criticism of a piece of writing does the most good.

When people send manuscripts or books for me to look at, I ask, “Tell me what you need.”  Maybe they’re looking for suggestions on content or a critique on their writing style.  Some want me to review it and promote it on my blog or Facebook page.

If I can, I do.  (Mostly, I don’t.  Doing a few seems to invite more and more.  Pretty soon, you don’t have time for anything else.)

Sometimes I am wonderfully surprised at the book they sent. A few times I’ve been dismayed.

It’s the last–times when I’m dismayed–that put me in a quandary.  Should I be brutally frank or spout a platitude?  “That’s a fine piece of writing. I predict success.”  Or, something like “For people who need this advice, this is the kind of advice those people need.” (Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have said that.)

A couple of times I’ve told the self-published author, “You have learned to write and you express yourself well. You have definite convictions and interesting ideas. However….”

Here it comes.

“You are now at the point where you need professional guidance from a veteran editor.  You need someone who can tell you what works in your manuscript and what doesn’t.  You need someone who knows how to bump your work up to the next level.”

I am not that person. I wouldn’t have a clue whom to suggest.

Mostly, however, I do not tell the author that.  Either it would be presumptuous and possibly hurtful, or we simply do not have a strong enough relationship for me to say such a thing.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful the kisses of an enemy.”

Is that a great verse or what?

I see this intersection of friendship and truth all the time.

–In the business world, a colleague is doing really self-destructive things that could (choose one) get him fired, get him arrested, or both. Do you speak to him or take the coward’s way out (especially knowing if you do speak up, you lose his friendship)?

–At the playground, your friend is absorbed in her phone or iPad while her child is engaging in dangerous stunts on the swing.  Surely you speak up.  Even if she protests that “I’m watching and he’s all right,” you did the right thing.

–You are riding with a buddy. While driving, he/she pulls out a phone and begins calling a number–looking up at the road, glancing down to click a number, back at the road, and so forth. You are horrified.  Do you speak up or sit there hoping to get through this intact?

A friend speaks up.

–At church, a friend of yours is tormenting the pastor or a staff member for something he did poorly or not at all.  You are sympathetic to your friend but you know the poor beleaguered minister has a thousand things on his plate and cannot be expected to please everyone.  Do you call your friend off to the side and ask him to cool it?

Please do!  Do not take the coward’s way out and hope the pastor will be able to handle him.

As a friend, you are perfectly situated to handle this. Go to it.

Start gently. “Bob, why are you doing this?”  And get progressively tougher as necessary.  If he persists in attacking the minister and this is becoming an obsession with him, move away and resort to Plan B.

Plan B is calling in the heavy artillery.  You go home and call two more friends whom Bob trusts, and ask them to go with you to see him, making sure you’re all on the same page.  In their presence, if Bob is dead-set on fighting the preacher, you three unload on him with both barrels.  “Bob, this thing you are doing is wrong.  Furthermore, the devil is using this in your life.  Bob, I am rebuking you in the name of Jesus. Stop this. And stop it now!”

You can see how very few people would do this.

Only a real friend.  Someone who loves the Lord mightily and treasures the Lord’s church and His shepherds, plus someone who adores his friend and is willing to lay down his life for him.  (see John 15:13.)

That’s what it will feel like, incidentally—laying down your life.  Or, at least, taking it in your own hands.  Risking everything.

I’ll tell you this. Many a church split could have been avoided if someone in the congregation had loved his friend enough to have gone to him and called him down, asking him to “stop this foolishness.”

Many a pastor’s ministry could have been saved had someone gone to a friend in the church who was attacking him and called a halt to it in the name of Jesus.

Likewise–someone is waiting on me to say this–many a pastor has needed a good friend to stop his self-destructive behavior that was threatening to destroy his family and his usefulness in the kingdom of God.

That’s why you and I need a few good friends.

I hope to be that kind of friend to you if you ever require it.



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