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The average Facebook user has more than three hundred friends, while a large percentage of users have vastly more. Yet, it seems that while people have more “friends” than ever, we’ve never had so few friends. We might have one hundred “friends” who know what we had for dinner but no friends who know the deep-rooted sins of our hearts. Most people want fellowship and community, but we typically want it on our own terms—if and when it’s pleasant. The first sign of discomfort and we’re out.
In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes between three tiers of friendship: utility (mutual benefit), pleasure (enjoyable company), and goodness/virtue (common character and genuine care). Most of our friendships fall under the first two categories; they tend to be shorter and involve less commitment. But the friendship of virtue is what we would call in modern parlance “true friendship” that lasts. Most only have a few of these friendships in their lifetime, if at all. These friendships typically take years to form, and crossing the threshold from pleasantry to virtue is difficult. One of the ways we know that a friendship falls in this third tier is if the friend has liberty to offer us correction, and vice versa. Only a true friend will muster up the courage to lovingly offer correction to us when it’s needed. As well, only a true friend—and a maturing Christian—will choose to receive the correction rather than spurning it. The Proverbs frequently commend correctability as virtuous:
The reproofs of discipline are the way of life. (Prov. 6:23)
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life. (10:17)
The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. (15:31)
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (27:6)
Conversely, he who snubs rebuke is foolish:
He who rejects reproof leads others astray. (10:17)
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (18:13)
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (29:1)
Indeed, by comparing a loving rebuke to a wound, Solomon acknowledges that receiving reproof is painful. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be so quick to avoid it. As it is, we all have natural defense mechanisms erected in our own hearts—the inner self-advocate who rises to our defense when we are corrected. We spurn correction to our own shame. Christians ought to be quick to receive reproof, for we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Are you correctable? Let us be as open to correction as David: “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5).