“A true friend stabs you in the front.”[1]

I’ve been stabbed in the back before. Not literally, but figuratively enough times that it starts to feel like there are real scars. 

I’ve also held the knife that wounded a friend, and I’ve seen the blood caused by my gossip drip down their back.

We all know what betrayal feels like. Scars caused by cutting words or piercing gossip make our backs sting. It hurts too much to be vulnerable in the presence of a friend, so we keep our backs to the wall, skeptical of all. 

Jesus was no stranger to the wounds of a back-stabber. His own disciple would rather see Jesus’ skin torn and his body hung on a tree than lose a chance to make a little cash. Judas’ simple greeting, “Rabbi!” was the word used to betray the perfect Son of God into the hands of his murderers (Mark 14:45). Judas was not a true friend of Jesus. He was an enemy of God.

It was the ultimate betrayal. No one in history would stab a more undeserving person in the back. Jesus understands what it feels like to find a friend’s knife in your back. He felt one himself, along with a multitude of other piercing wounds. Jesus died so that you and I can find healing from the scars of betrayal - he knows our pain, and he bore it perfectly (Hebrews 4:15).

We all know what it feels like to betray. Our words can fly like daggers into our unsuspecting friends. We slander, gossip, lie, and exaggerate with words, all for selfish gain. Out of our mouths come hurtful words that benefit us in some way. Look at what I know that you don’t. See how much worse this person is than all the rest of us? We’ve all been in Judas’ shoes, willing to give up someone else to pad our pockets. We have not been true friends, but enemies of one another. 

Jesus died for those who are betrayed, and those who do the betraying. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). His wounds heal our wounds.

You may think, at this point, that all hurtful words are sinful words. But if you are a Christian, hurtful words have their place. 

My sister told me recently, “You said something to me a year ago, and at the time I was really angry with you, but now I see it in my relationships and I am thankful.”

I can also think of a time where a friend said something to me in a restaurant that hurt, but years later I can now see how it was the starting point of transformation in me. 

Hurtful words are only good if they are selfless words, driven by love. Jesus is the perfect example of one who says a hard word for another person’s good. In John 4:18, Jesus tells a woman he just met that she has had multiple husbands and is living with a man who is not her husband. Ouch. But Jesus’ harsh words aren’t to show off and say, “Look at how omniscient I am. Cool, right?” They’re to show her how omniscient He is so that she might be transformed into one who believes that Jesus is the Messiah (John 4:39-42).

My truest friends are the ones who do not withhold words that may hurt me. As fellow believers, we ought not speak flippantly to one another, using hurtful words to build a platform made of the backs we’ve stabbed. Rather, we “speak the truth in love” as Christ did (Ephesians 4:15). 

Doing this may hurt for a time. We must look to Christ as our example, not considering himself, and not withholding truth, but saying words that hurt for our good. 

“The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive” (Proverbs 27:6). We must trust sharp words from loving friends. These wounds are not to kill and destroy us. But rather, like a surgeon, they cut to reveal a cancer that must be removed. 

We must become a surgeon for our brothers and sisters - knife in hand, love in heart - and we must cut our friends so they might be well. Never do we take up the knife if there is any ounce of pride in us. No, we take up the instrument that hurts for a time, and we humbly come before God, asking him to make us like Jesus in our words, trusting that even if we fail, God is the great Healer of all wounds, from friends and enemies alike.

Notes

  1. ^ This quote is attributed to Oscar Wilde, but after some research, it seems there is a discrepancy on whether or not he said it. Whether or not they are Wilde’s, I know, at least, they are not my words.