Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel.
The aroma, odor, or scent of good cologne or perfume can bring deep pleasure to your soul through your olfactory nerves (Pr 7:17; Ps 45:7-8; Song 1:3; 3:6; 4:10). Scent is a powerful sense. The effect is immediate and strong. In the same way, a good and honest friend can lift your spirit and cause great pleasure by sincere and profitable advice. This is an observation of Solomon. Do you have such friends? Are you such a friend?
Man by nature is selfish, and most friends pursue their own agenda and interests in their relationship with you (II Tim 3:1-2; Titus 3:3). They do not tell you this directly, but they talk far more about themselves than inquire about you. They love you for your ears! Their talk is self-centered, superficial, and without tangible value for your soul. They eat with you, banter with you, and flatter you, but they do not truly serve you for your own good.
Most friends are little more than acquaintances. They tell you about their circumstances, and they may even inquire about and listen to yours. They send you a birthday and anniversary card, and you return the same to them. They consider mutual flattery and your companionship when they need it to be sweet, but they know little to nothing of the sweetness described in this proverb. If you lose your health, position, or wealth, they are not nearly as friendly; they may even disappear (Pr 14:20; 19:4,7; Ps 38:11).
Great friends do much more (Pr 17:17; 18:24; I Sam 18:3; 20:17). They are more interested in your profit than their pleasure, your perfection than their peace. They understand true love – the sacrificial desire for your prosperity in soul and body. Hard times in your life do not drive them away from you; hard times draw them closer to you: they know they can fill a greater role and help you more in difficulty than in success.
What is hearty counsel? It is counsel from the heart – genuine, sincere, and affectionate. It is counsel filled with goodwill and kindly sentiment, warm with affection and friendly feelings. It is the opposite of superficial chatter, foolish banter, selfish exchanges, or evil flattery. And it is more than advice and instruction, no matter how true and valuable. Sympathetic understanding is a balm for the soul (Rom 12:15; Job 2:11-12; 42:11).
How is it sweet? It is rare, comforting, and provocative to the soul. It stirs the spirit with confidence, goodwill, hope, joy, and thanksgiving. As pleasant odors can stir the body, so hearty counsel pleasantly enlivens the soul. Pleasures are far better shared, and sorrows must be shared (Eccl 4:9-12). Most measure friendship as sweet depending on what they take from the relationship. But that is not true with godly friends (Matt 7:12; Acts 20:35).
Jonathan and David were the greatest friends in the Bible. They met after David killed Goliath and became Israel’s hero. Though the heir apparent of Israel’s throne, Jonathan loved David for his courage, graciousness, and godliness. While other men would have envied and hated David, Jonathan loved him as his own soul (I Sam 18:1-3). The affection and loyalty were so fervent that Jonathan covenanted his life and service to David, and David covenanted to protect Jonathan’s family (I Sam 18:4; 19:1-2; 20:9-17).
When fleeing for his life from King Saul, David often hid in obscure places for safety. Jonathan, though the king’s son and heir to the throne (I Sam 20:30-31), and though a mighty man of valor himself (I Sam 14:1-17), went into the woods and encouraged David in the Lord (I Sam 23:16). Jonathan reminded David of God’s faithfulness and promised his own. He lifted David up from spiritual discouragement and heartily comforted him. How sweet that friendship and counsel was to both of them that day in the wood!
Consider the counsel Jonathan gave David (I Sam 23:17). He first said, There is no reason to fear my father; God will deliver you (Ps 27:1-14). Then he said, You will be the next king, because God will keep His promise (I Sam 16:13). Third, he humbly submitted to God’s choice of David and promised his devotion and service (Pr 17:17). And fourth, he told David that his father knew he had chosen David over him (I Sam 20:30-31).
Was this friendship and counsel sweet to David? The answer is clear (I Sam 23:18). They made a covenant together before the LORD. Jonathan promised his loyalty and service to David above his father and Israel’s throne; David promised Jonathan his desired position and the perpetual care of his family. How sweet the friendship and counsel was to David! He counted Jonathan’s love greater than the love of any of his wives (II Sam 1:26).
Jonathan was not David’s only friend. This virtuous man had many friends. Consider Ittai the Gittite, one of many of the best of the Philistines that chose treason against their nation to spend their lives serving David (II Sam 15:16-23). Consider Hiram king of Tyre, who did favors for David and his son out of love to him (I Kgs 5:1; II Sam 5:11).
There are other friends in the Bible. Consider Jehu and Jehonadab purging Baal worship from Israel (II Kgs 10:15-28). Do you know of Paul and Timothy and the building of New Testament churches among the Gentiles (Acts 16:1-3; Phil 2:19-22; II Tim 1:1-5)?
Have you read of Aquila and Priscilla giving hearty counsel to Apollos (Acts 18:24-28)? Andrew was a true friend to Peter (John 1:40-42), and Philip to Nathaniel (John 1:43-51). What of Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17; 3:1-5; 4:13-17) and Luke and Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1)? And Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Jesus (Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-46)? And you cannot forget the hearty counsel that Jethro gave Moses (Ex 18:1-23).
Hearty counsel includes rebukes and warnings. David wrote, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities” (Ps 141:5). Kind correction by one who desires your perfection is sweet and true friendship. Contrary to the world’s ideas, true love corrects sin (Le 19:17). Godly men desire wounds of a friend more than kisses of an enemy, and open rebuke is better than secret love (Pr 27:5-6).
David had many wives, but he only had one great friend among them. Who was it? Not his first love, Michal, for she despised his intense love of God and His worship (II Sam 6:20-23). Not the mother of Solomon, Bathsheba, for she participated in the heinous sin of adultery with him (II Sam 11:1-5). It was Abigail, who heartily warned him against ruining his reputation by the murder of her wicked husband (I Sam 25:1-44). How sweet was this counsel? He blessed her and married her as soon as she was available!
Where are such friends found? They are very rare, but they are found among the disciples of Jesus Christ, who have learned true friendship from their Lord and Master (John 13:34-35; 15:11-17). These rare Christians are in the true churches of Jesus Christ, where the Holy Spirit and the Word of God have molded men’s hearts to be the sacrificing, serving, sensitive, and sympathetic friends that this proverb describes (Phil 1:3-5). After all, the blood and doctrine of Jesus Christ are by far the tightest bonds of all among men.
How do you learn such friendship? By the fear of the Lord, the love of Jesus Christ, walking in the Holy Spirit, and the practice of I Corinthians 13:4-7! It is these ingredients and these alone that will make you a heart-rejoicing friend. There are no shortcuts. Neglect one of these factors, and you will be a vain friend (Pr 18:24). You have the ability to relate to other men (Pr 27:19), and you must use it to improve them (Pr 27:17).
There is no room for selfishness, self-protection, or self-promotion in true friendship. You must be willing to expose yourself to your friend in order to help him. How else can you comfort him when he is in trouble “by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (II Cor 1:4)? The apostle instructed, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another” (Jas 5:16). Can you develop this heart of a true friend?
How important are such friends? They should be esteemed and protected above your own family members (Pr 27:10). Great efforts must be made to avoid offences (Pr 18:19). Solomon kept Hiram as a good friend, who had always been a lover of David (I Kgs 5:1-18). But foolish and profane Rehoboam forsook his father Solomon’s friends for his own ignorant buddies and lost the majority of the kingdom to his enemy (I Kgs 12:1-20).
Dear reader, will you add the precious odor of true friendship to this vile world? Or will you add the stench of selfish insensitivity? Will you make your way to the house of God and find this soul communion among the saints of God? If your church lacks this kind of friendship, then show them how it is done. And honor those that do it to you. There is no friend like Jesus Christ, so begin by cultivating your relationship with Him.