When preparing to preach on the theme of friendship from the book of Proverbs, I was interested in discovering the marks of a wise friend. During my research, I found that one of the most prominent marks of a wise friend is honesty. A wise friend tells the truth, even when that truth might be unwelcome.
Proverbs stresses the importance of being an honest friend in at least two ways: first, by showing the contrast between an honest friend and the flatterer; second, by highlighting the value of truth-telling in friendship.
Flatterers are not true friends. By telling someone what they wish were true about themselves, flatterers prey on one’s hunger for self-esteem. As the inspired sage puts it: “Those who flatter their neighbors are spreading nets for their feet” (Proverbs 29:5). Such flattery works only when because both the flattered and flatterer have a loose commitment to the truth. An honest person does not flatter because he is committed to telling only the truth. An honest person will not be flattered because he is committed to believing only the truth.
A wise friend, in contrast to the flatterer, is willing to tell his friends the truth even when doing so puts him at risk. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love,” the maxim goes. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6).
The value of a truth-telling friend is personal to me. A friend confronted me once for not being completely honest. After that painful conversation, I did not think, “I’m not going to hang out with that guy any more.” Instead, I thought, “Now that is a true friend.”
Someone who goes along with others, whatever they do, is a follower. Someone who tells others just what they want to hear is a flatterer. Someone who tells others the truth—with love and loyalty—no matter what, is a friend.