A sermon by, Howard Batson, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.
Proverbs 17:17; 18:24
September 1, 2013
How many friends do you have? Go check your Facebook page. Right there on your cover page it states: “You have 232 friends.” “81 friends.” Or “1,329.”
But is a Facebook friend a real friend? Some of them are, and some of them aren’t.
A high school senior was responding to the survey question, “How many friends do you have?” He answered, “500 Facebook friends. 50 people who say they are my friends. 5 real friends (Stephen, Clark, Brian, Brandi, Kim).” (http://answers.yahoo.com)
A real friend, the writer of Proverbs is going to tell us, is someone who would come to help you whenever, wherever, for whatever.
The young man adds, “Speaking of that, Clark just texted me because he thinks he threw away his graduation cap…It’s 11:45 at night and we are driving to our friend’s house to dive into the dumpster right now.”
Whenever, wherever, whatever. Digging through the dumpster for the graduation cap.
Maybe one of the tragedies of our culture is that we are more drawn to Facebook encounters than we are to face-to-face encounters.
What does the Bible have to say about friendship? And in our present sermon series, what does the wise sage of Proverbs have to say about true friends?
Now, that seems like a watered down sermon, doesn’t it – a sermon about friendship. Is there any space for that when preaching “Thus sayeth the Lord”?
Contemporary Christian categories most often place words like “sin,” “redemption,” “atonement,” “justification,” “repentance,” or “being born again” at the center of conversations about what it means to live out the gospel story. The word “friendship” seems awfully worldly and, well, perhaps, doesn’t even have a place in a sermon like this in a room like this. Friendships, we think – and the idea therein – are relegated to the secular realm and bad music lyrics.
Before you cast aside the importance of friendship as both a biblical and a Christian concept, if you won’t listen to me, listen to the words of our Lord.
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
When Jesus defines His new relationship with His followers – a relationship made possible because of His willingness to lay down His life for us – His death, He says, makes us friends with God.
That’s a shocking idea to us. We think about love and friendship, but not dying for anybody. We celebrate with our friends. We eat and drink with our friends. We take vacations with friends. But, wait a minute – loving enough to lay down our life for our friend? Now that’s language beyond our brotherhood.
I’ve spent many hours this week reading about friends and friendship. I’ve read words of fourth century monks and the great church father, Augustine. I’ve read the words of the proverbial sage and the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I can tell you there is a tremendous tradition – a theology of friendship that we must surely learn. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts and blessings of our life. What would life be without our friends?
And, yet, the sad reality is that we have fewer and fewer friends. Studies confirm this. The latest study of friendship I found interviewed 2,000 adults 18 years of age and older. The results: We have fewer friends than ever before. Forty-eight percent of participants had one true friend. Eighteen percent had two. Adding that together, roughly 70 percent of those surveyed had two or fewer true friends. The average was 2.03 confidants. (Trevor Stokes, Reuters, “You gotta have friends? Most have just 2 true pals” www.nbcnews.com/health)
Since we don’t have many friends, they are rare and precious jewels. Perhaps Augustine had it right when he said, “It’s not best to think of friends so much as people we choose to bring into our lives, but as gifts entrusted to us by God.” For Augustine, God is the initiator of our friendships. Friends are gifts given to us by God for God’s purposes. Providentially paired, you might say. Our friends are channels of God’s grace because it is through them that God watches over us, blesses us, provides for us, and guides and supports us. And, most of all, through our friends God loves us.
But can’t folks of the world pair up as pals, just like the people of God?
Not really. In Christian life, the fundamental purpose of friendship is not to bring us satisfaction and success in the world, but to help us grow together in Christ, in order that we, together, might enjoy friendship with God. The world’s friendships aren’t the same.
A 12th century Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167) found two types of friendship that were not true Christian friendship. I think he’s keenly insightful.
First there is a category called “carnal friendship.” In a carnal friendship, each “friend” plays on the other’s weaknesses and encourages him or her in behavior that is morally and spiritually harmful. True friendship means that we want what is best for our comrade. But in carnal companionships, we actually foster and encourage what is sinful or wrong in the other partner. Our carnal friendships deaden our consciences, harden our hearts, make us comfortable with doing what is wrong, and even encourage us to take a deeper step into darkness. They are simply partnerships in self-indulgence and dishonesty.
Let me ask you. What about your close companion? It is a true Christian brother or a carnal companion who simply blesses and encourages you down the path of darkness? Does being with that person make you, truly, a better person? A more Christ-like person? Are they making you closer to God, or does being with her make you more likely to gossip, be unforgiving, bitter, judgmental, stingy, and inconsiderate? Take an inventory of those in your lives. Which ones are truly after the companion of Christ model? Do you have a relationship that makes you a stranger with God rather than a friend with God.
The monk found another category of ungodly friendships which he called “worldly friendships.” These are not the same as carnal. They work this way: Worldly friendships are self-serving relationships with the fundamental aim of promotion and advancement of one’s self. In other words, you disguise or feign interest in others for your own good. These are the kind of relationships you find in business. You might join the Rotary Club to make business connections. Or in politics. Or in colleges. And, I’m ashamed to say, sometimes even in churches. These are alliances that help us get ahead – not real Christian friendships. (Paul J. Wadell, “A School of Christian Love,” Christian Reflection: Friendship)
So, knowing that friendship is grounded in the idea of our ultimate relationship with God and the followers of Jesus and their relationship with their Lord, what does the Bible have to say about friends?
I. A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17)
The first thing I’ll say about friendship is that true friends are friends at all times.
This idea calls to mind the word “loyalty.” Loyalty doesn’t get near the good press that it once did. We are all a bunch of opportunists, looking around the next corner for one who will make us even a better offer. Good friends are there through thick and thin.
After David had killed Goliath, it was great to be his friend. He was on the “in” with Saul. So no one should be surprised that Jonathan chooses to be David’s friend at this successful junction in his life. You will find a lot of friends when you are successful. People who have good fortune find friends and third cousins they never knew they had. “Hey good buddy, old friend…” is the way that their conversations usually begin. But for Jonathan to befriend David, even as his own father was intending to take his life, was a great example of a bad weather buddy.
Look at 1 Samuel 20:1-4. David finds Jonathan and pleads, “What have I done? For what offense is it that your father seeks my life?”
Jonathan is so hopeful about his father. “Oh, my father is not really seeking to kill you. My father discusses all of his decisions with me, whether they are great or small. Why would he not have told me if he were really seeking to kill you?”
David replied, “But Jonathan, your father knows you love me, and he will not tell you of his plans to kill me. Really, I tell you there is but one step between me and death.”
Notice 1 Samuel 20:4. David is having bad weather. No longer is he parading through the streets as the women rejoice in song and dance over his victories. No longer is he the boy wonder because he has defeated the Philistine champ. No, now David is on the run and, as he described, “but one step from death.” But Jonathan responds in this bad weather, “I will do whatever I need to do.”
In verses 5-11, David explains to Jonathan he will fail to show up at the new moon, a rest day each month when special sacrifices were presented. Saul was having a three-day festival, and his close associates were expected to be in their places. Saul’s reaction to David’s absence would make known his intentions toward David. If Saul was angry at the absence of David, it would show that he intended to do David harm.
In verse 8, David reminds Jonathan of the covenant relationship and tells Jonathan that if he is guilty of actions against Saul, then he will invite Jonathan to slay him.
Jonathan has a plan. “Be in the field, and I will shoot three arrows as though I were shooting at a target.” Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you,’ then all is well. Come home because you are safe. But if I say to the arrow boy, ‘Look, the arrows are way behind you,’ then you must go because the Lord has sent you away.”
Abner was there. Saul was there. Jonathan was there. But David’s place was noticeably empty. The next day, David’s place was empty again. Saul had had enough. “Jonathan, where is David?”
“Oh, he asked if he could go to Bethlehem to be with Jesse and his brothers for a special sacrifice. That’s why, O King, he’s not at your table.”
“You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! You have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame. As long as David lives, you’ll never be king. Now go get him for he must die.”
Jonathan defends David. Saul hurls a spear at his own son. Jonathan runs out. The next morning he goes to the field. He shot the arrow. “It’s beyond you,” he called to the arrow boy. “Hurry so quickly. Don’t stop.” David knew he had to run.
Jonathan sent the boy back to town with the weapons. David and Jonathan embraced. It was a time of bad weather, but Jonathan remained a good friend.
Look at 1 Samuel 20:41
When the lad was gone, David rose from the south side and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times. And they kissed each other and wept together, but David wept the more. Jonathan said to David, “Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the Lord, saying ‘The Lord will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.’” Then he rose and departed, while Jonathan went into the city.
Tough times for a friendship. Jonathan’s loyalty to David transcended the family table.
Good friends are friends at all times. You let a tragedy strike – I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “Pastor, because of this I found out who my true friends are.” Sin, embarrassment, discouragement, shame – and watch the people run. But those who are our true friends stay by our side. Good times and bad times. Joy and sorrow. Riches or poverty. Sinlessness or shame.
Chad knows all about friendship for hard days. He can’t really deny what happened. In the mirror, he sees the 14-inch scar across his abdomen. Beneath the scar, lodged below his heart, is a piece of his brother, Ryan.
He writes in his journal entry on August 22, 2010, “I missed you today Ryan. It hurt so much I felt like my heart had blisters on it. God, why do we need death to reawaken what we should already know?”
Chad feels guilty. You see, he remembers the day that his brother, Ryan, called him and said, “I’m a match.” Chad needed a piece of his brother’s liver. He felt guilty that his brother was even willing to do that for him. His brother had his own young family, his own kids, who would be at risk if he underwent the surgery. Ryan reassured, “You’d do it for me, wouldn’t you?”
Yes, of course Chad thought he would do it for his brother, too.
There was no cure. Chad was in the final stages of liver failure and he needed a liver really fast. A living donor seemed to be the only hope. So his brother, Ryan, stepped in.
Ryan said, “You know, I love Chad. He’s my brother and he’s got a lot of life left to live. Little was said. The brothers said goodbye to each other in the surgical room. They hugged and smiled, but didn’t speak much.
Deaths of living donors are rare – less than one percent. But while Ryan did well immediately out of surgery, things took a turn for the worse. He went into cardiac arrest and died – a husband and a father, leaving three little boys, ages 1, 4, and 6.
And now Chad was left to recover at home, knowing that his brother had given his own life for him. He lay down his life for his friend (John 15:13). He says, “I remember my dad came into the hospital room, grabbed my feet, leaned forward and said, ‘I’ve got some bad news for you. Ryan is gone, but we still serve a good God.’”
For Chad, it comes down to this: his brother died so that he could live. There is no denying that. But it’s a struggle to accept it and go on. And the journey is not an easy one.
Chad writes this in his journal: “This is a Ryan story, not a Chad story. Suffering is like a pile of rocks. You can choose to carry the load, throw them at someone, or you can build an altar.” (taken from www.msnbc.msn.com, “Brother’s transplant gift carries unbearable cost,” “Transplant recipient struggles to go on after brother’s death”; www.kdvr.com/news/kdvr-liver-transplant-death-txt)
And in fact, Jesus says that friendship is defined by even being willing to lay down one’s life for another.
II. Friendship welcomes intimacy
Aristotle made the observation that friends who do not spend time together do not remain friends for very long. A sign of a healthy relationship is that friends delight in one another’s company and find themselves uplifted when they are together. When you’re with a friend, the most mundane and ordinary tasks become a joy – shopping, cooking, cleaning, studying, going to a movie, or eating. You’re locked in the university library for the next hours to study – just knowing that she’s on the couch right across or he’s in the cubicle next to yours, just hearing their noises lets you know there is intimacy to be shared. At least you go through the rigors together.
Not a controlling or a manipulating intimacy, but an open intimacy that frees us and doesn’t constrain us.
One of the most beautiful movies in recent years told a story of friendship. The movie is Shadowlands, the story of the marriage of C. S. Lewis, the famous English author and philosopher, to Joy Gresham, an American poet. Lewis did not marry Joy until late in life. For years he had been, and fully expected to remain, an inveterate bachelor. He liked the bachelor’s life, its cozy routines, its comfort and predictability.
But then Joy rushed in and his life was never quite the same. Their marriage lasted only a short time because Joy falls ill with cancer and dies, but in the few years they had together, Joy Gresham changed C. S. Lewis’s life in surprising, unexpected ways. She drew him out of himself. She taught him lessons in trust and caring and openness. She educated him in those deep mysteries of love, suffering, loss, and hope.
C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham were husband and wife, but they were also one another’s best friends. Like all good friends, they loved one another and they loved being together. They enjoyed the small but important pleasures of life together, pleasures such as a good conversation, making each other laugh, teasing one another, or simply going through a day together. Like all good friends, they shared important things in common –values and ideals, deep cares and concerns, a kindred vision of life. As best friends always do, they made one another better as they helped each other grow in goodness, holiness, and love. It is no surprise then to hear C. S. Lewis say to Joy one day, “You were alive before. I wasn’t…I started living when I started loving you, Joy. That makes me only a few months old.” (Paul J. Wadell, Becoming Friends, p. 39-40)
Our best friends, in their intimacy, help us be our best selves, which is why we are always better for having spent time with them.
Think about your closest friend or friends. What would your life had been like if she hadn’t come walking through the door? What would your life have been like if he hadn’t moved across the street from you when he left Oklahoma? Our history would be different. Our persons would be different. Our friends mold us. Shape us. Build our character. Influence our attitudes, values and perceptions. They challenge us. They teach us not to take ourselves too seriously. And they give us hope and comfort.
III. Our friendships leave us vulnerable.
Having a real friend is just about like having your heart removed from your body and carried around in someone else’s hands. You really do hurt when they hurt. Having to, like David, move away – being distanced from those you love. It’s so hard to be a friend because it leaves you vulnerable.
Look at 1 Samuel 31:
1 Samuel 31:1-2
Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan….
Oh oh, there it is
Thus Saul died with his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men on that day together.
Notice 2 Samuel 1:11-12, when David learns of Jonathan’s death, his soul-mate in life, his covenant companion, his faithful friend. “Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so also did all the men who were with him. They mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son Jonathan and for the people of the Lord and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.”
Skip to verse 17
Then David chanted with this lament over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he told them to teach the sons of Judah the song of the bow; behold, it is written in the book of Jashar.
Your beauty, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.
O mountains of Gilboa,
Let not dew or rain be on you, nor fields of offerings;
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty,
The bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
And the sword of Saul did not return empty.
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life,
And in their death they were not parted;
They were swifter than eagles,
They were stronger than lions.
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
Who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,
Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan is slain on your high places.
Look at verse 26
“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
You have been very pleasant to me.
Your love to me was more wonderful
Than the love of women.
How have the mighty fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!”
In the poem it is Jonathan – brother, ally, advocate, covenant companion, faithful friend – the one who David loved as he loved himself who is evoked. These words themselves, even in the beauty of the poetry, fail to say all that needs to be said. Jonathan’s life is a cause of amazement. His love has been deeper and more precious than that of a wife. David is uninhibited about his friendship in which personal solidarity is not simply political usefulness. It is a poem of one who knows utter loss – the death of a friend – and who finds powerful words to match the loss.
A friendship, I must say in fair warning to you, will leave you vulnerable – as David was vulnerable at the death of Jonathan, though he was kind always to Jonathan’s descendant.
I want you to think about that special friend in your life – special friends, several of them, perhaps. Maybe just one. Someone who rejoices with you when you rejoice. Who weeps with you when you weep. Someone that you know will be loyal to you to the end, no matter what. Someone to whom, perhaps, even more after today’s sermon you need to express your love more openly, lest it ever go unsaid.
When it’s all said and done, our life boils down to relationships. Our relationship to God through Jesus Christ, His Son. And finally, our relationship to our friends. Are we trustworthy? Are we loyal? Do we have a covenant friendship like the friendship of Jonathan and David?
If you have a best friend, a real friend, chances are you wouldn’t trade her friendship for the world. She’s like a sister. She knows your story. Understands your problems. Puts up with your crazy family. And would do anything you asked.
What kind of friend have you been? What kind of friend will you be?
Every time we make a new friend, we have the possibility of a broken heart. This week we buried a long-time member of First Baptist Church. Jim Moss started here in the cradle – 81 years at First Baptist Church out of our 125 year history. Jim is someone I saw several times a week here at the church – really three of four. He was up here every day – over at the FLC, Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, Thursday mornings. He was always here.
I will never forget my first real introduction to Jim Moss. I was 32 years of age and had been called to pastor the First Baptist Church of Amarillo. I only knew Jim as a deacon who was connected to a very large family in the church. It was a Wednesday evening fellowship time around the table. Jim came up to me and said, “I cannot believe that you don’t have on a coat and a tie on a Wednesday evening.” Now, I had on khaki pants, a navy blazer, and a nice dress shirt. “Dr. Winfred Moore,” he said, “would have never come down here on a Wednesday night without his coat and tie. I can’t believe you’ve shown up looking like you have.” I had a moment of panic inside of me – didn’t know how to respond, couldn’t tell if he was teasing or taunting. He gave that dry, dead-pan look of total satisfaction when he had you.
Then I saw something out of the corner of my eye. As I was looking down, pausing to ponder my response, I noticed that Jim Moss had on blue jeans. the man who just told me I had to wear a tie to the Wednesday night meal was wearing blue jeans. I looked Jim in the eye and said, “Jim, you’re wearing blue jeans. Go sit down.”
Jim and I texted each other frequently. We were both big fans of the Baylor Lady Bears. We would sit there and text back and forth during the entirely of a two hour women’s basketball game. We fussed at the refs. We cheered on Griner and Sims.
He is gone, a friend to many. And all of his friends now have holes in our hearts.
I texted David Moss, Jim’s son, asking his permission to use the story of his father. His reply caught the essence of my message: “He would have given his life for your family, as cliche as it sounds, as he would have for any of his friends.”
Yes, I’m vulnerable. I let Jim close, and now Jim is gone. But the only way to miss the pain was to never have that friendship. I’ll take the pain rather than miss the joys of my good friend.