Growing up, I thought I was a pretty good kid. I did well in school, never did drugs, and always was available to give advice or lend a hand whenever people needed help. Even after I became a Christian, my sense of self-rightness only increased. I knew every Bible story back to front, memorized dozens of verses, tithed a full third of my income, and had several instances when I had clearly prophesied the future without having any prior knowledge.
Looking back, it was pretty convenient how easily I overlooked my many flaws. Besides the lack of respect I gave my parents and the many attitudes of my heart rooted in selfishness and entitlement, I actively said and did things which were sinful in both action and heart.
I gossiped, lied and broke speeding laws at least three times a day (thankfully, this was seven years ago — statute of limitation, baby!). I took advantage of loopholes at work, of my friends’ generosity at school, and very definitely my parents’ provision at home. I lorded it over those who had less — or who I thought were less — and I was absolutely insufferable when I won or loss any kind of game (which is still something I’m working on).
One day, a friend of mine, one who I still greatly respect and care about, came to me and shared some of his observations about my behavior. Without pulling any punches, he went through the day we had just spent together and pointed out several instances when I had said or done things that could have been hurtful to those around me. He then shared a couple other examples where he had seen similar actions and attitudes in the past. When I objected, naturally, he patiently answered all my questions, diffused all my arguments, and finally ended with this:
I know many people wouldn’t tell you these things, and I’m sorry that it probably hurts a lot. Just know that I love you and want you to grow into all that God has for you, both now and in the future.
That day changed the way I viewed friendship and love. Far from giving in to temptation to ignore my sin or joke about it with other people, my friend had come to me with firsthand accounts of my actions, let them speak for themselves, and then told me how they had affected him personally. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” True friendship isn’t all about making each other feel good or simply having a fun time. Love also has an element of sharpening to it that is painful, but ultimately for the building up of one another.
Yet when (or if) that happens, our response is equally important. Looking back I know I had many people who had tried to tell me of these issues in my life: my parents, my leaders, some friends, even some enemies. Yet I refused to listen. My selfish heart, with an infinite list of justifications, wrote them off, even cut them out as overprotective, legalistic or simply unloving people.
I’ve since gained an ounce more good sense and a few drops of humility. In 1 Timothy 4:16 it says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and your teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” As growing and ever maturing young Christians, we should always be among the first to admit our own sinfulness. In fact, out of our love for Christ and desire to be more like Him we should constantly examine ourselves. That way when our friends come to us with concerns and ways we could grow, we should gladly face the facts, accept their feedback, apologize for misunderstandings, repent of any sin, and move forward in God’s grace.
Of course that doesn’t mean we should become naval gazing, self-absorbed narcissists, nor self-pitying donkeys who constantly complain about our inferiority. Even in the midst of our realistic assessments of ourselves, the goodness of the Gospel still stands, and our identity in Jesus remains unchanged. My exhortation, because I love you, is simply this: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). That can include their observations and opinions about your life.
Love on your friends, help them grow, and when they do the same, face the facts with joy, knowing that God is helping you become more like Him.