Not too long ago, I went through a difficult time—some of which was of my own making. Solomon wrote of a broken spirit and how difficult this can be to bear (Proverbs 18:14). But thankfully another “Solomonic pearl” accompanied my pain: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). A friend showed himself to be a brother. My spirit was healed and I was able to get back into the race. Thank you, friend; thank you, brother.
In reflecting on this, I am committed to emulate my friend, to imitate my brother’s behaviour. I want to be a friend who loves at all times. I want to stick with them in good times and in bad times. I don’t want to be the kind of “friend” who is easily offended and who simply moves to another relationship every time a “former friend” offends. I want to be a true friend.
Yet, more than this, I want to be a true brother to my friends; especially in their times of adversity. I want to be there for them when they feel crushed by the various pains of life, including the pain inflicted from their own failures. So what does this brotherly relationship look like? Let me suggest a few of its characteristics, and then conclude with the characteristic.
It looks like risk and time. My friend took the “risk” to speak with me about some issues. He took the time to do so. Rather than merely lobbing volleys of admonitions from afar, he came alongside and spent several hours, both in person as well as on the phone, engaging me. He heard me and I was therefore able to hear him.
It looks like honesty. My friend proved to be a brother by saying the hard things, but saying them in such a way that, though they made me vulnerable, they did not make me feel threatened. What a wonderful gift. What a helpful approach.
It looks like affirmation preceding rebuke. I have written about this before. Suffice it to say that it is far easier to accept the hard sayings of someone when there has been a culture of commendation and expressions of affection. My friend is not one who simply tells me that all is well, but because he has a history of communicating encouragement it is that much easier to hear his rebuke.
It looks like tenderness tempered with toughness and toughness tempered with tenderness. When your spirit is broken, then piling on is rarely helpful. This is not about winning a rugby match. This is about helping your brother across the line. One day, a little boy said to my wife, “Aunty Jill! Today I made a try in my rugby game!” Not being very clued up on the sport, she responded, “Well that’s great! You just keep trying and I am sure you will do better.” I am sure the kid was rather confused, if not a bit deflated! Well, as we are learning in our studies of Hebrews, we are running this race together, not in competition. Tough love and tender understanding are both necessary if we will try hard to cross the line together.
It looks like hopefulness. Such brotherly concern for and companionship with one in adversity requires truthful and therefore hope-producing exhortation.
Failure need not be final. Heartaches need not be permanent. The gospel provides hope in our adversity. And friends who are brothers are able to bring such gospel hope into the equation. The better we know and love the gospel, the better friends and the more effective brothers we will be.
It looks like perseverance. My friend was at first merely an acquaintance but over the years we have become close friends. And close brothers. He has loved me in the good, the bad and the ugly. This perseverance has given him access to my life. Too often, this is where we go wrong. Don’t quit your friendships—unless, of course, they are a negative influence on you. Rather persevere. Not only will you one day need a brother in your adversity, but most importantly, one day they will as well.
It looks like forgiveness. Many years ago I heard a pastor say, “The church rolls on the wheels of relationships.” How true that is! But it is forgiveness that oils those wheels. If there is not a culture of forgiveness in your relationships then you will never develop and maintain a friendship. And without this, it is doubtful that you will be able to enjoy the fraternal relationship of having a brother born for adversity. Learn to forgive and, over time, you will see how this gives birth to a blessed brother.
Finally, it looks like Jesus, our friend who indeed sticks closer than a brother.
All that I have said is epitomized in the Lord Jesus Christ who “is not ashamed to call [us] brethren” (Hebrews 2:11).
Jesus is the friend of sinners for whom He laid down His life (John 15:13). But what an added honour that He is our brother. He loves His own at all times and so we can sing with great confidence, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” But what an inestimable joy that He is our Brother who was born for our greatest adversity!
We entered this world as sinners under the just wrath of God. There is no greater adversity than this. But Jesus, the second Person of the Godhead, became a man. He lived the life for us that we could not live, and died the death for us that we so deserved. He then arose for our justification. He has rescued us once for all from the adversity of the just and eternal wrath of God. What a Saviour, what a Friend, what a Brother!
And so let us live in the light of our glorious and gracious Brother. As we do so, His ways will rub off on us. Then, empowered by the gospel, we will prove to be friends whom others can count on to be “a brother for adversity.”