“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” Proverbs 27:9 (ESV)
When I was still dating the young woman who would become my wife, I somehow stumbled upon a breed of roses that were both beautiful and fragrant, called “Sterling.” They were deep lavender in color but had the strong perfume of rose that I had never smelled in most other roses that could be purchased from the florist.
I’m not a rose expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what a rose should smell like. Most roses today that you can purchase either don’t have any smell, or worst, have a musty smell that to me smells of mildew. Perhaps it is because of the process of breeding to get larger varieties that last longer, or maybe it is some other reason, but I had stumbled across a rose that was both beautiful to look at and had a perfume that was deep and rich.
These sterling roses instantly became my wife’s favorite for the reasons I have just mentioned. But over time this particular breed of rose became harder to find and even now are almost impossible to buy anywhere without a special order from a flower shop. I’m not sure why this is the case, but they are rare. The rarity and perfume of the sterling rose reminds me of Proverbs 27:9.
Indeed the perfume of flowers make most people’s heart glad. Thousands of romantics and lovers can attest to this fact. But this proverb takes that reality and applies it to the sweetness of a real, deep friendship.
Whereas the sterling rose finds its sweetness in its perfume, the source of a friend’s sweetness is found in his “earnest counsel.” Although the translations vary, the main meaning seams to be clear enough—a friend’s counsel is sweet like perfume and for the wise person who accepts it, it is not an offense, but a welcome joy.
Unfortunately, like my wife’s sterling roses, the acceptance of the fact that counsel from a friend is sweet, is becoming more and more rare. It only takes losing a friend, finding your counsel received poorly, a relationship ending in awkward silence, or even a response of heated anger to realize that it might be better to just keep our counsel to ourselves.
But this isn’t the way of Christ. As Shakespeare has written, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” so too godly, loving counsel that is repugnant or refused by a foolish friend is still sweet perfume that honors the Lord when spoken. But this Sort of friendship is like the roses that we have today—large, deep in color, beautiful to look at in a vase, but when you go to this rose and take a good, deep smell—the stench of mildew fills your nostrils!
We live in a world where the path of least resistance is the path well travelled. Why bother, when it seems that no good comes from risking the loss of a good relationship? But with the loss of these good, honest conversations comes the loss of the sweetness of earnest counsel and truly deep friendships. And it is this sweet speech that is not only needed by our friends, whether they want it or not, but it is the true beauty and sweet perfume that this world needs to see right now.
Friendships without honest and loving counsel are like roses that smell of mildew. They look good from afar, but they do not carry the perfume that should accompany their beauty. May the friendships of Christians both look and smell beautiful.