“Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).
This is another proverb in which the original Hebrew is a little difficult. The scholarly commentator Friedrich Delitzsch spends several paragraphs laying out the alternative approaches to the Hebrew, but as in most cases, the general sense is pretty clear. A comparison is made between that which is physically pleasant (ointment or oil and perfume) and that which is mentally and spiritually refreshing. Wisdom is telling us the great value of a good friend.
A friend’s counsel is “hearty”, carrying the sense of “earnest”, “robust”, or perhaps “lively” would be another way to view it. The Hebrew word is nephesh, which is often translated “soul” or “life”. This is not dispassionate counsel, but that into which a friend pours himself, counsel from his very soul.
Lesson #1 — Value Such a Friend
If God gives you a friend like this, one who is willing to invest himself in your life, value that friendship highly. When he gives “hearty counsel”, receive it with gratitude. Take his counsel into serious consideration, with the recognition that it cost him something to give it. He has invested time and thought into your life and your situation. Even if his from-his-soul counsel “steps on your toes”, ESPECIALLY if his hearty counsel steps on your toes, be appreciative for what he has done. He probably didn’t like stepping on your toes, so it really has cost him something. Place a high value on that friend — his love for you is a pleasant thing of great value.
Lesson #2 — Be Such a Friend
Be the kind of friend who is valued for hearty counsel. This is going to take some hard work, if you want to give valued counsel.
- Immerse yourself in the Word of God. If you want to give valued counsel, you need to be a person of the Word. Your life needs to be so ordered by the Word of God that, even if memory fails and you can’t give the Scriptures that apply, your decisions, your attitudes, and your counsel are so driven by Scriptural principles that the wisdom of your counsel will be self-evident to anyone who is truly desiring wisdom.
- Invest in the life of your friend. If you don’t know someone, there’s a chance you aren’t giving hearty counsel, but just shooting from the hip. You may hit the target more often than not, but you might also hit a few other things. The better you know someone, the more likely it is that your counsel is going to address the real facts.
- Investigate the problem. Ask questions, and listen to the answers, and ask questions about the answers. Be aware that one person’s perspective on a situation is often flawed. Just because you know your friend is honest doesn’t mean his understanding of the situation is complete or accurate. All the world is quick to give advice, especially in the Internet age. People write about their problems on a blog or discussion site, and the whole world chimes in. If our advice is going to be hearty and robust, we need to actually take the time to really know what we are talking about.
Hearty counsel is sweet. We should be people who value a friend’s counsel, and give valued counsel.