Proverbs 17:17 NRSV
A friend loves at all times,
and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.
Prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit (in the New Testament), those who followed the Lord (predominantly Israelites) had only the capacity for earthly love, not for heavenly or agape love since they loved out of their own ability and not through the spiritual ability of the Spirit. However, there were still higher standards of behavior given. In the Law, the Lord required:
“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:17-18 NRSV
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. It was this law that was discussed by the lawyer and the Lord Jesus in Luke 10:
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
“He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’
“He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’
And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” (v. 25-29 NRSV)
“As yourself.” How do we love ourselves?
Well, first, as the proverb states, we love ourselves at all times. We may not always like ourselves, but we surely always love ourselves in the sense that we are always looking out for our interests first. Even in the cases of suicide (extreme self-destruction), we are being self-centered. Our baseline position is always to do what we want to do or what we decide to do, to think of ourselves first, to serve our own purposes. And so, we love ourselves at all times. Father God commanded (in the Law) that we love our “neighbor” as ourselves, at all times. This is echoed in this proverb: “A friend loves at all times.”
A friend is a confident, a personal companion, someone with whom we share our lives, our experiences, even our intimate thoughts. Unfortunately these days we make “friends” with just about anyone and everyone, sharing ourselves freely and then taking offense when we are hurt. We want friends for ourselves, but we find ourselves not necessarily being good friends to others. Again, because our position often is self-centered, self-grasping.
Rather than look at this proverb in the sense of what we should expect from our friends, perhaps we should ask ourselves what kind of friend should we be to others? A friend loves at all times. And, as believers, we live under the definition of agape, God-love, given in
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NRSV Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
How can we, as a friend, love all the time?
The first thing, I think, is to forgive all the time. We bear all things, endure all things, including offenses against us or faults in others that we despise. We continue to forgive and aren’t irritable or resentful when those around us do hurtful things.
It’s interesting that the first component listed in this list is patience. Strong’s defines patience as “to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others; to be mild and slow in avenging; to be longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish.”
Having patience is about the willingness to suffer without complaint or vengeance, about the willingness to endure pain and discomfort without moaning and groaning and making everyone notice how much you are suffering. It is out of patience that all the other characteristics of love bloom. One cannot be kind if one isn’t patient. One cannot avoid envy or boastful or arrogance or rudeness unless one is first patient.
We, as humans, are like a mass of balls let loose in a pinball machine at the same time, We bang against the circumstances of life and each other, often causing harm where there is no intent. But because we are not patient, we hurt others.
A friend loves at all times. There is a saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” To be honest, it seems like we as believers have become softer as time goes on. And believers were never intended to be soft, to be incapable, to be (in local vernacular) wusses. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13 NSRV). All things. Why? Because we do it through Christ Who Himself strengthens us. The God of all power and might stands beside us, behind us, within us to strengthen us to be patient, to be kind, to be loving, to be longsuffering… to be a friend who loves at all times.
Perhaps rather than asking ourselves why our friends aren’t the kind of friend we need, we should ask ourselves what kind of friend we are to others?