FOUR KINDS OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIP
At any given moment, there are four basic ways in which human beings relate to each other – whether their interaction is surface or intimate, short-term or long-term, acquaintance or kindred, personally present or through modes of distant communication.
These four basic kinds of relationship are revealed in Prov 27:5-6 and are exemplified extensively throughout the Word of God. Though they are experienced by believer and unbeliever alike, only the believer can possess the agapé love which is produced in his heart by the Holy Spirit and which God desires for the best human relationships.
Prov 27:5-6 states,
5 Better is open rebuke
Than love that is concealed.
6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
In verse 5a, the “open rebuke” characterizes a relationship in which the unloving attitude in one’s heart is openly and correctively expressed to another. This can be called an open unloving relationship.
In verse 5b, “Love that is concealed” is descriptive of a relationship in which love exists in one’s heart, but it is closed off from another and is left unexpressed. This can be termed a closed loving relationship.
In verse 6a, one who loves another (the “friend”) is so faithful to him that he may even “wound” him in order to help him. This can be described as an open loving relationship.
In verse 6b, the “kisses of an enemy” can be described as a closed unloving relationship, in which one’s apparent friend harbors enmity in his heart toward him and conceals his true unloving attitude behind “deceitful” expressions of friendship.
If one places these kinds of relationship in order from best to worst, the list will look like this:
The terms “open” and “closed” are suggested by verse 5 and have been chosen because they are quite appropriate to describe interactions between human beings. Though it is true that “all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb 4:13), not all things are open to the eyes of other human beings. In fact, it is not difficult to conceal one’s true thoughts, attitudes, motives, and intentions from those with whom he relates. Since Scripture only truly commends the best of these human relationships – the open loving one – it will be addressed in detail first.
Open Loving Relationship
The term “friend” in Prov 27:6 is not the word most commonly translated as such in Hebrew. It is, in fact, the most common Hebrew word for “love.” The verse is actually saying, “Faithful are the wounds of one who loves.” Likewise, in the second part of the verse, the “enemy” is the one who hates.
Keil and Delitzsch state: “This then, is the contrast, that the strokes inflicted by one who truly loves us, although they tear into our flesh… yet are faithful (cf. Ps 5:1-12); on the contrary, the enemy covers over with kisses him to whom he wishes all evil.”
“An enemy stabs you in the back, a real friend stabs you in the front.”
Though the word “love” here can refer to “affection both pure and impure, divine and human,” it is required of the believer that in all his interactions he love with God’s agapé love. This is to be true not only when he relates to fellow believers, but is also to be the case as he relates to all people (1 Thess 3:12), even when they have set themselves to be his enemy (Lk 6:27-28). So, while the Hebrew word does not confine itself to the love placed in the heart by God as one yields to His Holy Spirit, this is the highest love and that which is to be the believer’s attitude in all his relationships. Indeed, he has much latitude in choosing with whom he interacts, but in those relationships, whatever they may be, he is to have agapé love. While often love is openly expressed in positive, encouraging words and ways, sometimes it will call for “wounding” another individual, even though this is the hardest thing to do when love is one’s motive. Real love is revealed throughout Scripture as being expressed even through pain or hurtful correction.
God Himself wounds His children as He disciplines them for their good (Heb 12:5-11, cf. Prov 3:12). A loving parent wounds his child with the rod and reproof (Prov 13:24, 29:15) to deliver him from his foolishness (Prov 22:15). The Apostle Paul poured out his love in correction to the errant Corinthians and pleaded for their love in return (2 Cor 6:11-13). David even prayed that the one who loved him would correct him, “Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; it is oil upon the head….” (Ps 141:5, cf. Prov 28:23). The Lord Jesus Christ always and in all things was loving to everyone with whom He related, even when He related in godly anger (which co-exists with God’s love) and was open at the perfect, considered moment, in words of purity and in unerring truth. Likewise, the believer is told to speak God’s truth (whatever the cost) in love (Eph 4:15). It should be noted that in Proverbs 27:6 the wounds of one who loves are “faithful” (“faithful, sure, dependable”), because the loving one is himself faithful to the one whom he wounds. This word reveals how open one is constrained to be as he relates to another person. He is to be as open as it takes to be faithful to that relationship. If one has a surface acquaintance with another, he is required to be faithful only to the depth of that relationship. He need address nothing except those things which affect that relationship. If one is interacting at work, he is to be faithful to openly and lovingly share those things which concern his relationship with each one with whom he works. Within marriage, there should be a willingness to have almost total openness, since whatever affects one spouse affects the other. The exceptions would be those things (possibly in the distant past) which have no effect upon the relationship of husband and wife, or quirks or issues which one has already addressed and now forbears with a calm, equitable spirit.
An open loving relationship, however, does not necessarily call for immediate expression of all thoughts and feelings. On the contrary, if one has a commitment in his heart to be open with another, it assumes sensitivity both to God and to the other person to communicate openly what is true at the proper time, having pondered what to say and how to say it. This may mean momentary consideration or lengthy rumination, according to the situation. God alone is capable of guiding the believer in these matters (Ps 32:8).
When one is open and loving, then, he is sensitive to speak what is true to another (Prov 10:19, 22, Eph 4:25) – not, by the way, what is flattery (Prov 29:5, cf. 28:23) – at the right time. Prov 25:11 says, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” And Proverbs 15:23 reminds the believer, “A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word!” In open love, Jesus said to His disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (Jn 16:12). In God’s grace, however, they have now been said in the writing of the New Testament (Jn 16:13).
Open loving communication is also to be thoughtful. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer” (Prov 15:28a, cf. Prov 16:23). What is said is to be considered before it is spoken, so that only that which is “good for edification according to the need of the moment” will “give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29, cf. 1 Pet 3:15). Who has not at one time or another failed here?
Open love likewise communicates itself in the proper way. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:6). It is the wise in heart whose speech is sweet (Prov 16:21) and whose tongue “makes knowledge acceptable” (Prov 15:2). Even when one says the right thing yet in the wrong way and at the wrong time, its effectiveness is lost. A case in point is Prov 27:14: “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him.”
Open love also has a good spirit. Prov 15:1 states, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Here open love is expressed through a gentle answer to one who is already extremely angry. Not only is it gently said, but it is said also from a loving heart (cf. Prov 25:15). There is no needless communication of a “word of pain,” but both one’s words and one’s spirit are soothing (cf. Prov 12:18), resulting in the diminishing of the wrathful individual’s anger in all cases except those rare ones in which the person giving the gentle answer is called on by God to suffer for righteousness’ sake (e.g., 1 Pet 3:13-17).
These things having been said, though, the believer should think of the various kinds of human relationship as momentary choices, not as set in concrete, for all relationships fluctuate, even if two people are very close to each other. This is because men’s hearts run hot and cold, and the believer’s walk in Christ varies also. He may be open and loving one moment, and then choose to sin in his heart toward the same person and be closed and unloving the next moment. Still, the goal of his life should be to be loving and open in all his relationships at all times.
Though that will not be fully attained this side of heaven, consistency here will depend upon his walking in love and upon his commitment to be open by faith.
Closed Unloving Relationship
On the opposite end of the spectrum of basic human relationships is the closed unloving one. The second half of Prov 27:6 states, “But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” The enemy, as has already been mentioned, is the one who hates. This does not mean that the only two attitudes one may have toward another are love or hate. The Book of Proverbs contrasts opposites which are at the extreme poles in order to give the reader a clearer picture of what the concept in mind truly entails and where it leads. Thus, since the extreme opposite of love is hate, this two-line proverb is couched in these terms (cf. also the wise man and the fool, the righteous and the wicked).
The two kinds of relationship in Prov 27:6 are therefore put in bold relief as the lover and the hater, the one who wounds (though loving) and the one who kisses (though hating), and the one who is faithful and the one who is deceitful (or “excessive”). It should be noted, however, that for the believer anything less than agapé love is sin. Therefore, his relationships may be seen as either loving or unloving, even though they may not be characterized by hatred. Consequently, the relationship which contrasts an open loving one is a closed unloving one. In the closed unloving relationship of Prov 27:6b, the person is not only unloving but “deceitful.” The word is rare in the Old Testament and means “be abundant.” Perhaps “deceitful” has been chosen as its translation in this context because it contrasts “faithful” in the first half of the verse. While the wounds of one who loves are faithful (because in giving them he is being faithful to the relationship), so also the kisses of the one who hates are abundant (because in giving them he is being deceitful to the relationship). And in this case, “they are too abundant, so much the more plentiful to veil over the hatred.”
Perhaps the best example of this kind of relationship is Judas. Though he kissed Christ only once on that last night (Mark 14:45), it was a kiss of deep emotion (kataphileo in the Greek), totally out of proportion for one whom he had seen a few hours before. In contrast, the same word is only used elsewhere in the New Testament in situations of great poignancy – the intense gratitude of the forgiven woman (Lk 7:38), the profound relief and forgiveness of the prodigal’s father (Luke 15:20), and the great sadness of the Ephesian elders upon hearing that they would not see the Apostle Paul again in this life (Acts 20:37). With Judas, however, his kiss of intense affection covered over strong hatred.
A closed unloving interaction, therefore, gives little or no indication of the unloving attitude which exists in one’s heart (“deceitful”), and, in its strongest form, it hides that attitude with what appear to be expressions of love (“kisses”). Because of this, a closed unloving relationship may often look the same to the other person as an open loving one, depending upon the skill and desire of the one hiding his unloving attitude. In this same vein, Prov 26:23-24 says, Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross are burning lips and a wicked heart. He who hates disguises it with his lips, but he lays up deceit in his heart.
David, too, referred to those who “speak peace with their neighbors, while evil is in their hearts” (Ps 28:3) and who “bless with their mouth, but inwardly they curse” (Ps 62:4). He saw that another’s “speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords” (Ps 55:21, cf. 2 Sam 13:22). Jeremiah also experienced the words of those who were closed and unloving toward him, for God warned, “Do not believe them, although they may say nice things to you” (Jer 12:6). The believer should be cautioned, however, that it is not up to him to know whether another person has an open loving or a closed unloving attitude toward him. He is to give the benefit of the doubt when love is expressed to him (1 Cor 13:7) and to assume that what appears to be loving actually is given in love. His responsibility is to be sure that what is communicated in his own life is open and loving.
On the other hand, a Christian is to be wise, not gullible, especially if he is being asked to take some action by someone who is playing him with plaudits and praises. “When he speaks graciously,” Prov 26:25-26 goes on to say of the one whose hatred disguises itself with his lips, “do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart. Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.” One’s character and reputation may give good indication that his praises are insincere and his kisses may be excessive, or his life may strongly exhibit in one’s presence the characteristics of an unloving heart – guilt, apparently uncaused fear, or apparently uncaused fleeing.
Common Expressions of Closed Unloving Relationship
Flattery (saying that which is “smooth” from an insincere, unloving heart) is a common expression of closed unloving communication. A man who flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his steps. (Prov 29:5) A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Prov 26:28) They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things. (Ps 12:2-3)
Another indication of a closed unloving relationship with another person is talking behind his back – exposing something negative about him to someone else without his knowledge (whether what is exposed is true or not).
Proverbs 10:12 says,
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.
Once again, extreme opposites are contrasted (love and hatred) to give the reader a clear understanding of the difference between the two kinds of involvement. One’s hatred (or any increment of unloving attitudes less than love) stirs up strife among people by his uncovering the transgressions of another (implied from the second hemistich). But one’s love produces peace among people (the implied opposite of strife) by his covering the transgressions of another and not exposing them to other people. Strife is produced here, in fact, because, the words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body. (Prov 18:8, cf. Prov 26:22)
When one person speaks to another about a third person’s wrongs, what is said goes into the other’s heart and prejudices him against the absent individual. Not only are these words spawned by unloving attitudes (Prov 10:12), but the only way for the second person to keep them from influencing his heart against the person who has been exposed is for him to openly and lovingly encourage the speaker to share his observations with the one about whom he has spoken (Prov 27:6a). In this way, the second person is not only expressing love to the one who has spoken to him of the other, but he also is expressing love to the absent individual by sending his critic to him to make his observations. He is seeking to promote love instead of strife in all the relationships concerned. Thus, Proverbs 17:9 states, He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.
How easy it is for even the believer to slip from an open loving relationship to a closed unloving one simply by being unwilling to risk a possible negative reaction from the one to whom he should speak kindly and correctively at the proper time and in the proper way. In failing to be lovingly faithful to wound another person, then, the believer is choosing an unloving attitude (anger, selfishness, worry, resentment, or pride, for example) and is closing himself off, only to let his unloving attitude fester in his own heart and communicate itself to someone else (through gossip), instead of to the person who should hear it.
Open Unloving and Closed Loving Relationships
While in Prov 27:6 the best and worst of relationships have been revealed, verse five unfolds the interactions which are in between: open unloving and closed loving. The verse says, Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. The word “rebuke” comes from the root meaning “to decide, judge, prove, rebuke, reprove, correct,” and the word “love” comes from the same root as the word “friend” (one who loves) in 27:6a. This passage is one of the 21 verses in the book of Proverbs which use a “better… than” format. A careful study of the other 20 statements demonstrates that in each case every element addressing a subject in the first unit of thought (usually in the first hemistich or half verse) is a stated or implied contrast to every element addressing that subject in the second unit of thought, and vice versa. So consistent is this pattern in interpreting “better… than” statements in Proverbs that at 19:1 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown call it “the law that each clause is to be supplied from the other parallel clause….” Therefore, if one is to understand Prov 27:5 consistently with what is revealed in every other “better… than” verse in the book of Proverbs, the elements in each line are to be seen as opposite the elements in the other. That is, “open” in the first hemistich is contrasted with “concealed” in the second (which is quite obvious); “rebuke” is implied to have its contrast in the second half of the verse, and “love” finds its implied contrast in the first half of the verse. Thus, “open rebuke” is to be understood as coming from an unloving heart (the opposite of the “love” in 27:5b), and “love that is concealed” is implied to have in mind a loving “praise” or “encouragement” (the opposite of the “rebuke” in 27:5a). Prov 27:5 should therefore be understood to say, Better is open rebuke from an unloving heart, than love that is concealed though one has a praise in mind. Perhaps influenced by the open love of 27:6, few commentators appear even to consider that the rebuke in 27:5 is flowing from an unloving heart, though a couple of the more perceptive expositors mention this possibility. But even they muddy the interpretive waters with the concurrent mention of rebuke from a loving heart, strangely inconsistent with the way even they themselves interpret all 20 other “better… than” verses in the book. For example, Keil and Delitzsch note, “The meaning of the proverb is different: it is better to be courageously and sternly corrected – on account of some fault committed – by any one, whether he be a foe or a friend, than to be the object of a love which may exist indeed in the heart, but which fails to make itself manifest in outward act….” The Pulpit Commentary comes closest to a consistent interpretation of 27:5 with these statements: … disguised love is worse, more objectionable, less beneficial, than the plain speaking which bravely censures a fault, and dares to correct what is wrong by well-timed blame…. Shrewd is the observation of Cato, that some are better served by bitter enemies than by friends who seem to be agreeable; for the former often speak the truth, the latter never….” The foregoing has been given to help establish the fact that 27:5 reveals the middle two kinds of human relationship and delineates their order of desirability. That is, an open unloving association which communicates correction is better than a closed loving one which does not communicate its appreciation at all. This is surprising, because it is usually assumed that since a loving attitude is better than an unloving one, a closed loving relationship must be better than an open unloving one. But the opposite is true. In the realm of human relationships, open unloving communication is better than closed loving lack of communication.
What the Scripture is apparently saying here is that man is in such need of correction in his life that it is better for him to receive this correction even from one who does not love him, than it is for him not to receive positive communication even from one who does love him.
Keil and Delitzsch comment that “any one who frankly and freely tells us the truth has by far the preference, for although he may pain us, yet he does us good….” After all, “reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Prov 16:23), and “he who listens to reproof acquires understanding” (Prov 15:32) and “will dwell among the wise” (Prov 15:31). Who has not received benefit from the correction of a parent (or a friend), though his correction was given in an unloving attitude – impatience, anger, resentment, or a caustic, critical spirit (cf. Prov 29:15)?
The Apostle Paul could rejoice when the truth of Christ was preached even from unloving hearts (Phil 1:15, 17), because “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached, and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.” Evidently, where the truth of God is concerned, it is better that it be proclaimed from an unloving heart than that it not be proclaimed at all. Best, however, is “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).
Lest this point be misunderstood, it should not be taken to put in a better light the fool who only delights in “revealing his own mind” (Prov 18:2) and whose “vexation is known at once” (Prov 12:16) or the wicked who “pours out evil things” (Prov 15:28). Quite to the contrary. The one who openly rebukes another (even in an unloving attitude) has enough knowledge of and relationship with the other individual to call into question something he has done that is wrong. The true fool has no such relationship and is interested in no such knowledge. The open unloving interaction spoken of in Proverbs 27:5, then, is that of the worried, critical Martha (Lk 10:40-41) rather than that of the evil, self-absorbed Nabal (1 Sam 25:3, 25), which could accurately be termed a non-relationship.
Still, the very idea that an open unloving communication could be better than a closed loving lack of communication is surprising. But that is exactly the point of the “better… than” contrasts in the book of Proverbs. They are truly thought provoking and sometimes even shocking.
Another possible misconception should be addressed as well. Since it is the nature of love to express itself, it might seem a contradiction in terms to speak of “love that is concealed.” Yet, here it is in the Word of God. How, then, is it possible for one to genuinely have agapé love for another and not express it?
In the first place, even a believer could be closed and loving if his pattern of life has heretofore been essentially closed. As he is in the process of maturing in Christ and of learning to walk by the Spirit, God may not yet have convicted him of the importance of openness with others. Thus, he may have God’s love but not openly express it.
Secondly, even upon learning of the necessity of openly expressing God’s love to others, the believer may have honest questions and some hesitancy about doing so, especially in certain situations. Or perhaps he senses that God’s timing is not right Hence, for the moment he may be closed and loving in some relationship and still be trusting God.
On the other hand, when his conscience, prompted by the Holy Spirit, urges the believer to openly express God’s love, but he decides against it, he descends to a closed unloving relationship, because in his disobedience (due to pride, worry, stubbornness, or other unloving attitude), he is no longer walking by the Spirit whose fruit is agapé love. Therefore, the believer may be closed and loving when he is walking by faith but is not yet convinced that he will or should be open with someone and when he is not yet being convicted on that issue in his heart. Once he knows that he should be open, however, and the time is appropriate for expressing himself (Prov 25:11), his disobedience removes the fruit of the Spirit (until confession), and he descends to a closed unloving relationship.
Advantages of Open Unloving over Closed Loving Relationship
All things being considered, there are several advantages to an open unloving relationship over a closed loving one. Not only does the one being rebuked gain needed correction in an open unloving relationship, but the rebuker himself is better able to pay attention to the concerns in his heart which he needs to cast upon God (1 Pet 5:7) and to the unloving attitude which he needs to confess to Him (1 Jn 1:9). In contrast, the one who is closed and loving with another is less likely to pay attention to any concerns which he should give to the Lord, thus setting himself up to “take into account the wrong” of the other when it comes (1 Cor 13:5) and to slip into a closed unloving relationship.
Furthermore, unloving attitudes are less likely to fester in the heart of one who is open even though unloving. If he closes off his love, however, then when unloving attitudes arise (as they inevitably will), they are more likely to be ignored and to be harbored in his heart, left to poison the relationship.
One who openly expresses himself, even in an unloving attitude, is also exposing his heart to the other individual – his hurts, his weaknesses, his desires, his disappointments, his sorrows, his struggles, his dreams – and in doing so is providing the stuff upon which a relationship can be built. In contrast, the one who closes off love from another is not known by him to any significant degree, and the relationship is stunted. It is no accident that a child will often choose to push his parents to relate to him openly and unlovingly (in discipline, disapproval, or even rage) rather than to experience being closed off from his parents’ affection which is actually there but unexpressed.
The point here, of course, is not to exalt open unloving interaction, for sin is present in the individual’s heart. The point is simply to stress the value of open relationships, exalting the only relationship which is fully commended in Scripture and is always exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ, the open loving relationship.
Instructively, even the world has observed the importance of openness in human relationships. It also acknowledges the indispensability of love. But if one goes to human wisdom for counsel on relationships, he will find no sure resource for love. He must content himself with the love he can muster from God’s good gifts (Jas 1:17, Lk 6:32, Acts 14:17) rather than from a relationship with God Himself (1 Jn 4:19, 1 Cor 13:4-7), and he will spend much of his time, at best, in open unloving relationships, since earthly resources are but a frail substitute for God’s love available through His Holy Spirit.
Attaining Open Loving Relationships
How, then, does a believer attain open loving relationships in his life? If he finds himself in a closed unloving pattern, he should first acknowledge his unloving attitudes as sin to God and be filled with His Spirit (and consequently with His agapé love). Then by faith he should openly express himself to the other individual at the proper time and place and in the proper way. If there is reason to believe that the other individual has sensed an unloving attitude from him, he should begin by apology for that attitude. If the believer is closed and loving in a relationship, he should commit himself before the Lord to openly expressing to the other person the love which is in his heart as the Lord provides him the opportunity to do so. Should the believer be interacting openly yet unlovingly, he first will need to confess his unloving attitudes as sin to God and be filled with His Spirit and His love. He then should openly express God’s love to the one with whom he has been relating. In this case, the believer’s first open expression of God’s love should be apology for the unloving attitude which he has already communicated.
Here a note of caution should be given. It should not be surprising to the believer to find that even though he is walking in open loving relationships one moment, this will not guarantee that he will be doing so the next. The flesh is ever present, and it is all too easy for the believer to entertain unloving attitudes in his heart – the choice of a moment. When this happens, an open loving relationship is lost, at least in the heart, and it is tempting for the believer to subtly cover over his failure to love, resulting in a closed unloving association, even when the other individual is yet unaware of what has happened.
At this point the believer will need to decide whether to continue his charade or to confess his sin (perhaps apologizing as well), thereby moving back to an open loving relationship. As he matures in Christ, the consistency of his walk in love should strengthen, along with the consistency of his openness with others in that love.
To summarize, the highest and only commendable human relationship is an open loving one. To lack love yet still to be open enough to rebuke another (open unloving) is better than having love in one’s heart but not expressing it (closed loving). The worst of these relationships is a closed unloving one, though it may seem like the “nicest” or “sweetest” since its “kisses” cover over the unloving attitude which lurks within one’s heart.
Insights and concepts adapted from The Heart of Man and The Mental Disorders by Rich Thomson)