We live in a culture that is paradoxically concerned with the nature of love and relationships as well as the importance of self and the value of solitude. The reconciling factor in all this is even when it thinks about relationship and community, it usually places most of the emphasis on the needs of the self and how to interact with others on the basis that they have something to offer us. As soon as we are no longer being benefited, we are no longer under any kind of obligation to pursue and maintain the relationship.
A portion of the problem here is that the world also has a skewed idea of what it even means to be benefited. We know in the back of our minds we ought to value higher things and seek true edification in relationships, but we also crave the comfort and ease of friendships and romances which ask little of us exchange for much being given to us. This is part of why society says to seek friends who “accept you as you are” and “have your back no matter what you do”. The world says if someone loves you, they will offer you support regardless of the path you take and the motivation you’re being driven by.
Proverbs 27 offers some counter-cultural advice in light of this. In a world that values cheap pleasantries and ego strokes, Scripture proclaims if someone flatters or encourages you in your self-oriented pursuits, they are your enemy rather than your friend. If our priorities are in the right place, we will instead seek relationships of genuine closeness and integrity.
For example, we hear much about Proverbs 27:17, which says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another,” but then we turn around and avoid friction in our relationships at all costs. We forget that sharpening can be an uncomfortable process…the elements are only sharpened as those fragments that had become dull are chipped away. When tools become dull, they are less able to perform the tasks for which they were originally designed. Whereas verse 17 is easily one of the most commonly cited verses in the whole book of Proverbs, there are two other verses earlier in the chapter that are much harder to hear and more often neglected: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (vs. 5-6).
We need to nurture and cultivate relationships that spur us on in the path of wisdom and righteousness. It’s ironic that this kind of community is neglected in favor of relationships which seem to benefit us in the moment with warm feelings and automatic affirmation when the kind of praise and honor that comes from biblical relationships – where the people involved are concerned for the eternal well-being of each other – is much more beneficial when all is weighed in the balance. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth… The sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel… The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise” (Proverbs 27:2, 9, 21). This is community worth pursuing. The love and friendship promoted by the world is sorely insufficient in comparison.