1. How kind the rebukes of a friend,
Who seeks not to tear, but to mend;
To know that they love me enough
To risk being called both cruel and rough.
2. Their love is a beacon that stands,
To lead my frail ship to safe land;
A pattern of Him up above,
Who knows what it costs to put forth love.
3. And though it be hard at the start
To say I’ve a Judas-like heart;
True friends always point to the cross,
And bid me to count all else but loss.
4. Like watchers on walls they do stand,
And cry out when dangers at hand;
Like surgeons who work on the heart,
They cut out the cancer from each part.
5. Lord, take all the beams from my eyes,
And all the false speeches and lies,
That comfort the sinner in sin,
And make him think all is well within.
6. And teach me to be such a friend,
Who sees where rebellion will end;
Then filled with all holy desire,
I’ll work to pull souls out of the fire.
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Because of the selfishness that has become part of the human nature since the fall of man, the word “friend” usually means someone who flatters and favors another. But both of these are not healthy.
Flattery is the praise of another, putting them on a pedestal, and leads to unfair favoritism—esteeming them as more valuable than others. Therefore, those who agree with me, or like what I like, are more valuable to me. I call them my “friends”. Others who are not like me, or do not like what I like, are less valuable.
This false standard leads to discrimination, strife, prejudice, fear, bigotry, persecution, and finally, war.
The Bible presents a different standard. Real love “esteems others better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3). Jesus elaborated on this in his Sermon on the Plain:
27 Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
29 And unto him that smites you on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that takes away your cloak forbid not to take your coat also.
30 Give to every man that asks of you; and of him that takes away your goods ask them not again.
31 And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise.
32 For if you love them which love you, what thanks have you? for sinners also love those that love them.
33 And if you do good to them which do good to you, what thanks have you? for sinners also do even the same.
34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
In these remarkable words, Jesus laid bare the difference between God’s love, and human (supposed) love. The real test of love is how does it treat its enemies? God is merciful and kind especially to His enemies. If your love mainly extends to your close family and friends, and not much further, then it is not the love of God.
God’s love is unselfish. It does not need to be awakened by special favors, because it is always awake, and looking for those in need. It is especially mindful of the enemies because of their great need of reconciliation with their heavenly Father.
Likewise, a true friend who has this kind of divine love, will not flatter and praise when he sees a soul in danger. He has such a high regard of the value of life that he cannot keep quiet when sinners are destroying themselves in their ignorance. Love impels him to raise a warning and reach out a helping hand.
It was this kind of love that was indicated in one of the laws that Moses gave to Israel:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall in any wise rebuke your neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. – Leviticus 19:17
Here, rebuking sin in a neighbor is defined as “not hate”, or simply, love. You “shall not hate” your neighbor by remaining silent when he goes on in sin. True love will raise a warning, because it feels the value of each soul.