Sharper Friends

My Sunday School teacher said something that has been turning in my mind all week. We have been studying prayer, and this week was about some of the benefits that we receive from adoption into God’s family. The first verse we looked up is Hebrews 12:6: For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (The fact that this comes from Hebrews is just a coincidence if you were wondering if I’ve already jumped back on my Hebrews horse. Although, my friend Dana says that these supposed “coincidences” that occur often when I am studying a certain subject are God’s way of spoiling me.) Back to Sunday School. My teacher, Mike, was teaching us the privileges in being disciplined by God—a discipline in love. Then he went on a little rabbit trail to tell us how he thinks that in some form, this will be a future lucrative career—to hold people accountable, whether it is on their diet, the way they treat their family, for their work ethic, or workout schedule. We already have “life coaches,” but Mike was taking it up a notch focusing on our need for discipline. When he said this, I blurted out (which I tend to do), “Isn’t that what a friend is supposed to do?” What does this say about our friendships now? And really, that’s what Mike was saying. We don’t like discipline. Most people do not want God to discipline them; they just want him to love them. Of course, as the study was showing, that is a warped view of love. But we’ve also extended this deficient definition of love into our friendships. We use words like acceptance and tolerance, to keep our relationships at arm’s length. We want to be able to vent, share our struggles, without getting any real advice. If a friend were to gently try to reveal our shortcomings in the matter, we may call them judgmental. And, that is worse than being cussed out. No one wants to be called the horrid “J” word! So, we keep our thoughts to ourselves. But if you get paid for it, then you’re just a professional, not judgmental. This verse from Hebrews is a quote from Proverbs 3:11-12, an Old Testament book that is full of wisdom. One struggle we have with Proverbs is that we know that it offers truth and wise counsel, but that it doesn’t always turn out that way. We concur that it should be like this wise sage says, but see the frustration when, for example, wisdom does not lead to a long blessed life, like it teaches in the beginning of chapter three.  But we are meant to be frustrated. These are truths that are fulfilled in the epitome of wisdom, Jesus Christ. And we will see an eschatological fulfillment to all these proverbs. Why am I on this rabbit trail? Why, Prov. 27:17, of course. Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Iron sharpening iron might be a great indicator of what Dennis Johnson describes in Him We Proclaim as, “the tension between that truth and our present experience, this side of the Last Day” (309). If Christ Himself, Wisdom Incarnate, had to pass through suffering to, as Johnson put it, “inherit the eschatological ‘life’ that was rightly his in return for his covenant faithfulness” (311), what would we expect for ourselves? We are not yet in our perfected, glorified state. As we still struggle with sin in our sanctification we need loving correction and encouragement in our friendships. This is one way God holds us accountable. And like iron sharpening iron, it may be a little painful. So I have to ask myself, do I keep my friends at an arm’s length? Do I allow them to gently correct me and point me to Christ? What areas do I try to hide my shame so that it will not be dealt with? And, secondly, am I able to gently correct a friend in love? Do I rely on the Holy Spirit to do this so that I am not being overly judgmental, or overly accommodating? How can I be a sharper friend, for free?