Rev. Joostens is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Lynden, Washington.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”
Although all Scripture is God-breathed and “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” we always look for particular little nuggets of practical wisdom that find immediate application to our lives, passages with which we can readily identify in our daily living. We find an abundance of such Scripture in the poetical books of the Bible, and the book of Proverbs stands out in our minds. I want to explore with you a moment such a practical nugget, one which exposes our vanity and will guide us in evaluating the praise and criticism of others.
In all honesty, we must confess that we often fall prey to the flattery that is heaped upon us and we are unjustly angered by faithful rebuke and warning! Unwarranted praise tickles our fancies and seems good to our flesh, while we tend to bristle at well-meant correction, admonition, or rebuke. God, through the Preacher, has some wise counsel for us in this regard when he writes, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Prov. 27:6).
We find wounds and kisses standing over against each other in typical Hebrew parallelism. They appear in stark contrast, the one to the other. They are as different as day and night, black and white. A wound is the painful aftermath of violence or accident. It is a laceration that cleaves the flesh and lays bare the nerve ends which signal great pain. Who is not familiar with such intense pain? A kiss on the other hand is a symbol of friendship, love, and intimacy! We plant them upon the cheek or lips of those for whom we feel deepest affinity and love. Among the ancients it was a customary greeting among friends. Today it signifies the intimacy of a relationship of love. A tender kiss stands at one end of the spectrum of feeling, and a painful wound at the other.
But you notice that, strangely enough, the wounds are here ascribed to a friend, while the kisses are planted by the enemy! It is evident that the Preacher is not speaking in literal terms but in symbolic. Faithful “wounds” are faithful words! “Kisses” are deceitful lies!
Faithful wounds are spoken words of truth which are uttered out of deepest care and loving concern. We can place stock in such words. They are words in which we can have confidence, because they are motivated by a sincere love and are intended to serve the purpose of correction and warning.
But the kisses of which the Preacher speaks are nothing more than flattering lies motivated by hatred and by a desire for our ruin. They are like the kiss Judas placed upon the Lord’s cheek in the garden of Gethsemane. And they betray, even as that disciple betrayed our Lord for thirty pieces of silver.
True friends withhold their lips from betraying flattery. True friends refuse to employ such a loving sign to betray. They withhold their lips from false flattery and speak the truth in love. But the enemy will use even the beautiful symbol of a kiss to deal falsely. His words are full of deceit and lying.
You will find such deceitful words in the world. They proceed from the mouths of Satan’s children. They perform the lust of him who is a liar from the beginning and the father of it (John 8:44). But words of truth, though they inflict deep wounds, may be found in the realm of the church and among the people of God where His love pertains.
It stands to reason, does it not? True friendship is found exclusively among the children of God in the covenant and church. For such friendship is of God! He called the patriarch Abraham His friend, as we read in James 2:23. God is the sovereign Friend of His people as He has justified them in the blood of His Son, even as He did Abraham. And it was our Lord Himself who called us His friends when He was about to lay down His life for us (John 15:13).
That friendship is revealed unto us by God in the gospel as we find it in His Word. And we understand, do we not, that the faithful Word of God which calls us powerfully into His friendship and makes us mutual friends in the body of Christ inflicts a painful wound. For the gospel does not come with flattering words which appeal to the flesh, but with painful words, words of truth that inflict deep wounds and devastate our pride, words which, taken together, form the first of the “tulip” doctrines of Calvinism, namely, the total depravity of man.
Who cares to hear it? By nature none of us does. It makes our flesh bristle in hatred to hear God’s faithful Word speak the devastating truth about us. For it humbles all our pride and makes us fall upon our knees and beat our breast, saying, “God be merciful to me the sinner.” That faithful Word of God humbles us so deeply and makes us feel so ashamed when we learn from it that the only way of salvation is found in that accursed tree. Yet, it is precisely such faithful wounds inflicted by the Holy Spirit that bring about our spiritual good to His glory!
The Word of God inflicting such faithful wounds is found among God’s covenant people, who as His friends gather round His Word from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. And that Word of God becomes the fountainhead of all their speech and activity! It is the church of God which makes the Word of Truth her faithful and inerrant guide. First of all, therefore, we find a friend in our pastor, who as the oracle of God leads us in the green pastures of that Word. Through preaching he inflicts deep wounds, and we feel as if our toes have been stepped on. Pastors are the “power of God” unto salvation! (I Cor. 1:18). Such faithful wounds are also inflicted by the words that are found upon the lips of faithful and conscientious elders of the congregation, who discipline us by means of the Word of God as a “remedy” for our spiritual health. It would be deceitful, and they would make themselves our enemies, if they planted flattering kisses upon us as we walk in the way of sin to our destruction.
It is the love of God which encourages us, as saints, in mutual admonition, which refuses to allow a brother and sister in the Lord to walk in the way of sin. Children and young people ought to understand that they have friends in their parents, who stood before the face of God in the midst of the congregation and vowed concerning them that they would nurture them in Jehovah’s fear by speaking words of Christian chastening and rebuke. For the words of godly parents, teachers, elders, preachers, and fellow saints of God create “faithful wounds” which are inflicted in the spirit of love and devotion for God’s sake.
But if we desire that smooth kisses of deception which spell our ruin be lavished upon us, then we must set our ear toward the world, where the enemy will gladly embrace us with his godlessness. The wisdom of the world, which is foolishness in their science, philosophy, psychology, etc., will pleasantly deceive us. They will, with enticing words as lush kisses placed upon our cheeks, betray us. The world, as the enemy of God and His church, is as so many Judases who seek to plant betraying kisses upon Christ’s brothers and sisters in trying to persuade them of the truthfulness of the lie!
Let us be warned! The kisses of the enemy are sweeter than honey, but their end is bitter as gall. The lie inevitably leads to ravaging and destruction. We can count on the fact that the father of the lie is bent on our devastation, for his time is short. He will spare no effort. As the Prince of the power of the air, he enlists the whole of the sinful world against us, and through them he whispers his sweet lies. We can hear it in the entertainment of the world. We can mark it in her culture. We perceive it in reading her philosophy. We are continually exposed to it in the advertising of the world: sweet nothings, pretty pictures, and attractive ways as so many smooth kisses motivated by deceit and geared to our destruction. He who is the Liar from the beginning uses the facade of reprobate men, concerning whom Paul warns that “… their throat is an open sepulcher … the poison of asps is under their lips: … Destruction and misery are in their ways” (Rom. 3:13-16).
It is so easy to fall prey to the flattery of those who masquerade as friends but are, in fact, our enemies. It is so difficult to hear good words of true friends who inflict faithful wounds for our spiritual welfare. We do well to turn away from the deceitful kisses of the enemy and hearken to faithful words of our true friends in the Lord!