Friendly Wounds

As we continue to examine the five kinds of constructive speech noted in the book of Proverbs, we must accept that not all constructive speech is pleasant. In fact, the most helpful use of the tongue can be quite uncomfortable for everyone involved—the speaker, the hearer, and bystanders. Moreover, pleasant, soothing words given in the wrong context can lead to disaster.

  1. Reproof, rebuke, spiritual exhortation

A fool rejects his father’s discipline,
But he who regards reproof is sensible. (15:5)

Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way;
He who hates reproof will die. (15:10)

He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof
Will dwell among the wise.
He who neglects discipline despises himself,
But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.
(15:31–32)

Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (27:6)

He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
Than he who flatters with the tongue. (28:23)

Reproof. How rare yet how essential! Pause and think of an occasion when someone wisely yet firmly rebuked your behavior, your thinking, or your attitude, and you became a better person as a result? Look again at Proverbs 27:6. I will amplify it, using the Hebrew text as our guide. Literally the verse reads:

Trustworthy are the bruises caused by the wounding of one who loves you; deceitful is the flattery of one who hates you.

This tells us several things:

  • The one who does the rebuking should be someone who loves the person he or she rebukes.
  • A bruise tends to linger long after the wounding; it is not soon forgotten.
  • Friendship should allow freedom to offer constructive criticism.
  • Not all compliments are offered with the right motive.

So much of this matter of rebuking has to do with discernment and discretion. There is a right way and a right time (not to mention a right motive) for rebuking a loved one. If your friend’s motive is to help you, those “wounds” will make the best use of timing, be done privately, focus on a specific issue, lead to long-term improvement, and include lots of affirmation and encouragement.

Consider what the sage wrote:

Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances.
Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold
Is a wise reprover to a listening ear. (25:11–12)

These healing “wounds” must be sandwiched between words of affirmation and encouragement. In fact, I prefer a ten-to-one ratio of affirmation to criticism. In other words, when dealing with an employee or a ministry volunteer, I try to affirm and encourage as much as possible. Then, when I must reprove or offer constructive criticism, the person knows that the wound comes from a leader who loves and appreciates him or her.

  1. Words of encouragement

A man has joy in an apt answer,
And how delightful is a timely word! (15:23)

Bright eyes gladden the heart;
Good news puts fat on the bones. (15:30)

Pleasant words are a honeycomb,
Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (16:24)

By “encouragement” I mean sincere expressions of affirmation and gratitude given honestly to another individual—in public whenever appropriate, in private if that is wiser. We so seldom do this, yet it is one of the signs of a mature, godly individual.

From Living the Proverbs by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Worthy Inspired., an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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