How can you know if someone is your friend? This is a crucial life skill that you and your children must master. Failure to discern who is a genuine friend leads to being manipulated and used. This may result in bitterness and a crippling inability to trust others.
God has provided tools in Scripture so that you can recognize genuine friendship. Becoming intimately familiar with passages that teach what friendship in action looks like is a way to start. I Corinthians 13:4-7 is such a passage. Another place to look is in the Proverbs.
Most Proverbs should not be read as commands but as reliable observations about life. For example look at Proverbs 12:18:
“The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
These words provide insight about how to distinguish between the wise and the reckless. The reckless or rash person’s words hurt and bring pain. They cut deeply. So when you see someone who claims virtue for speaking his mind and is yet insensitive, you can know this is not a person to be trusted. In contrast, the words of the wise bring healing, even if they hurt. The words of the wise are well thought out. The words of a wise person do more than blurt out the obvious. They bring healing and comfort. The wise person will be a good friend.
Here is another example found in Proverbs 27:5-6:
5 Better is open rebuke
than hidden love
6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
These two verses work together to drive home a particular point. This is a common occurrence in Hebrew poetry, formally called parallelism. Parallelism has several subtle forms. In this case the first lines of verses 5 and 6 make a positive observation. The second lines of the two verses illustrate the negative application. Here is how it works.
“Better is open rebuke” in verse 5, connects with “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” in verse 6.
In contrast, “than hidden love” in verse 5 connects with “profuse are the kisses of an enemy” in verse 6.
The way these verses are structured allows us to make an observation that we may not make without the parallel thoughts. Verse 5 shows that love that is hidden, that is, love that stays in the shadows, is not love at all, but cowardice. So, rather than speak the truth, a person is showered with false kisses. This is a way to identify manipulation at work.
Positively, an open rebuke is connected to the faithful wounds of a friend. Someone who loves you enough to honestly, but lovingly, tell you hard things is your friend.