I used to know a dear brother who frequently made poor clothing choices. Too old to wear jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets (I think they’re a poor choice regardless of age), but unaware of his fashion faux pa, he didn’t think twice. We all – his friends – knew he had a problem. We talked about it amongst ourselves, “What was up with those jeans?” and “Man, someone should help that guy out!” But we never got around to addressing the issue with him.
Years later, this friend got married to a beautiful woman. It turns out, the jeans weren’t as big of a problem as we thought. With marriage came a new wardrobe. The old rhinestone jeans were retired, and now he was dressing pretty nicely. One day we were catching up, and he actually brought up the old jeans. “She [his wife] couldn’t believe I wore those things!” I laughed. Blushing, and completely honest, he asked, “Why didn’t anyone tell me I looked silly in those things?” Embarrassed, I shrugged as if I had been clueless.
Of course, how we dress usually isn’t that big of a deal. If our outfit doesn’t match, or our shirt is too big, who cares? But what about the stuff that really does matter? What about when you see a friend doing something that isn’t just embarrassing, but wrong? I remember being so grateful for someone in college who had the guts to confront me about behavior that wasn’t honoring to Jesus. At first his words stung, and I wanted to be defensive. After a while however I was taken aback by the fact that out of all my friends, he was the only one who said anything.
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Prov. 27:5)
Your friends won't sit by and watch you engage in sinful behavior. Much less will they share in your indulgences. The person who does that isn’t your friend, but an enemy of your soul. Perhaps it’s the fear of not wanting to be the person who rains on someone else’s parade, or maybe it’s a mutual pact (often made without words) that we’ll just give a pass to one another’s transgressions. Whatever it is, it’s deadly. God calls you as his child to care more about the soul of your brother than you do his comfort. You can kiss your “friends” to death by overlooking their sin, and it will only be to your shame, and their destruction. We have to take the command in Hebrews 3 to heart, “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (v. 14)
If you want to grow in grace, surround yourself with godly friends. These are the people who aren’t afraid to wound you every now and then so that you get your act together. Woe to you when your friends only have kisses for you, those aren’t your buddies. Blessed are you when like king David in 2 Samuel 12, you have a Nathan in your squad. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad! “Let the righteous man strike me – it is kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” (Ps. 141:5) Choose the friends who are going to love you enough to be real with you when you’re falling. If you don’t – if you surround yourself with people who won’t call you out, or worse, who share the same idols you do – you’re digging your own grave.
Jesus was a friend of sinners, but you never get the sense in the Gospels the Son of Man was overlooking their sin. People were drawn to Jesus not because he turned a blind eye to their iniquities, but because he brought grace and forgiveness to them. What a picture of the kind of friends you should seek out for yourself. Surround yourself with friends who aren’t afraid to wound you with God’s holy law, but (and this is equally important) who know how to bandage you with the gospel of God’s love. Pray that God will not only give you these kinds of friends, but that he’ll turn you into one of them as well.