Friendship in the Bible (1)
With thanks to Cooper P Abrams III for most points 

“No longer servants, but friends!  Note that Jesus didn't say that to everyone, just to the Twelve.  He played favorites. He was especially close to Peter, James, and John.  And of these three, John referred to himself as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' (John 19:26).  ... Jesus' words and example make it plan that we are spiritually impoverished if we don't have a least one or two soul friends. ... 'What a friend we have in Jesus,' we sing with confidence.   But the reverse is also true—what a Jesus we have in friends” (Griffin)!  A modern Jewish rabbi observed: “Anyone who goes too far alone … goes mad” (quoted in Faulkner).  A Christian psychologist made this affirmation: “There are no happy hermits [who live alone on islands].  God planned it that way.  He created us as social beings who depend on one another. … If a hermit had $10 billion and everything he desired, he still wouldn’t happy.  [This] is because he needs people to rejoice with him in his good fortune and people [with which] to share his things” (Ibid).  Another psychologist named Lisa Berkman, along with her colleagues at the University of California in Berkeley, made an intensive study of 7000 adults over a period of nine years.  They found that people with weak social ties to others had a 2-to-5 times higher death rate than folks with strong social ties.  That’s a startling statistic!  They’re saying that a person with few friends or no friends if far more likely to die prematurely than a person with lots of friends … regardless of whether the people smoked, drank, exercised, jogged, or were overweight.  The bottom line?  Loving people is more important to healthy living than good health habits. … So do yourself a favor.  Make friends and serve people because it will be good for what ails you” (Ibid).  What a Jesus we have in friends!

Hopefully, we've seen from these statements the importance of friendship and how we all need friends,  The Bible has much to say about friendship.  We'll examine many aspects and examples in several lessons.  This morning, we'll concentrate on four important aspects: friends listen, friends protect, friends care, and friends empathize. 

First of all, we see that friends listen.  Please turn to Luke 10:38.  Here we find that Jesus enters into the home of three people who were very good friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  On this occasion, Martha welcomes Jesus and begins preparing something to eat.  Verse 39 tells us that her sister Mary “sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word.”  This reminds me of modern example about a college teacher.  [There was this teacher who] just had something about her that attracted you to her instantly.  And everybody loved her.  So this professor began watching her in a faulty meeting one day.  Well, she just radiated.  … And he watched to see if he could figure out why.  It didn’t take very long.  Everybody was sitting in chairs that swiveled.  Every time a different person began to speak, this lady would turn her chair to face them.  And she just drank them in, every word they said, with her eyes and attention.  When the person next to the professor began speaking, she turned and faced them almost squarely on, and that's when he saw it so clearly.  She just seemed to breathe in that speaker's personality.  She totally absorbed everything that was being said, and the speakers knew it.  The professor was amazed and thought, 'That's it!'  Any speaker picks out those people in his audience.  You are drawn to them.  You catch yourself looking at them over and over because they just seem to be sponging up your every word” (Faulkner).  That's exactly what Mary was doing; she was drinking in Jesus' teachings, breathing in His personality, and sponging up every concept.  She was so engaged that Martha tired to get Jesus to scold her into some help, but Jesus enjoyed His listening friend and told Martha that Mary had made a wiser decision, and He wasn't about to let her listening to Him be interrupted for lesser matters!

Are we really listening?  “A family sat down in a restaurant and contemplated the menu.  After taking the grown-ups' order, the waitress turned to the 7-year-old boy and asked what he'd like.  Up to this point in his life, no one had ever cared to know, so he hesitated.  And before he uttered a sound, his mother answered, 'Junior will have creamed chipped beef on whole wheat toast.'  The waitress's eyes never left the boy.  'Would you like a hamburger?'  'Yes.'  'Want cheese on it? 'No.'  'Ketchup and relish?'  'Yes.'  As the waitress headed toward the kitchen, the kid turned to his folks and exclaimed: 'Wow, she thinks I'm alive!'” (Griffin) Someone was really listening.  Now brothers (all you males), we need to learn something today.  For the most part, we need to greatly improve our listening skills!  It has to do with our wiring.  One Christian psychologist explained it this way: “Attentive and sensitive listening is hard work.  It takes concentrated energy and control.  The ears of [friends] are fine-tuned to sense the vibrations of need in the tones and emotions of the speaker.  They pay close attention and look for opportunities to draw you out and help you express what’s on your heart.  That’s one of the differences between men and women.  Women are wired for 440 volts!  The have little emotional wires sticking out from them in all directions.  They are wired for sound and two-way communication.  They talk and receive.  They hook into another person’s line and listen loudly to that person’s emotions and needs.  We men are wired for 12 volts.  That’s all [that's the maximum!]  We have two little wires sticking out, and they’re both badly bent.  Our speakers are usually hooked up, but our receivers are dead.  So, we have to work a lot harder to listen louder than the women do.  We’re just wired differently.  We men are like two tin cans and a waxed string.  But the women are hooked up like [high speed Internet]” (Faulkner).  Someone else made this good observation: “So why do we insist on reading each other's minds?  What conceit allows us to believe we can know the thoughts of another? ...  Every human being deserves the courtesy of being heard.  Yet how often do we presume to know another person's heart?  We can barely discern our own motives, much less the purposes of others.  The single most important tool we can bring to conflict is a listening ear.  True listening is more than a period of time during which I let you babble while I formulate my next statement.  Listening is respect fleshed out.  It communicates our regard for others, that we are more interested in finding truth than making points. ... When we listen carefully, we set the stage for deeper relationships, no matter the outcome of a particular agreement.  Solomon said, 'He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him' (Prov. 18:13).  James admonishes us to take listening seriously when he states: 'So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God' (Jam. 1:19)” (Hinkle/Woodruff).  To accomplish better listening, let's take the PQRST approach—Put out of your mind that your magic words will fix people and Pay attention to another's facial expressions (which often communicates about 90% of what someone is feeling); Question very lightly—stick with the here and now, not the how and why (no matter how fascinating their motives might be); Rev up your ears (which means closing you mouth); Summarize what the other person has told you; Think hard about what the other person is saying, feeling, and sharing (that's kind of like focusing on all three rings of the circus at one time) (Ibid and Griffin).  “[Friends] are good listeners.  They are listening for opportunities.  They are listening for hurts to heal and joys to share.  Learn to be a [good] listener, and you'll be amazed at what will happen to you [and your friendship]” (Faulkner).  Friends listen.  What a Jesus we have in friends!

The second aspect is that friends protect.  A good example of this is one of David's friends named Hushai in 2 Sam. 16-17.  When Absolom rebelled against his father and marched toward Jerusalem, David and his family had to flee.  Hushai was ready to go with David, but David asked him to remain and feign loyalty to Absolom.  He could then serve as a spy and send messages to David about Absolom's intentions.  After Absolom moved into the city, he asked his trusted advisor Ahithophel what should be done next.  Ahithophel told Absolom to give him permission, and he would pursue David immediately.  Then Absolom asked Hushai for his advice.  Hushai told Absolom that it would be good for him to gather a large army, and Absolom should lead it into battle against his father.  You can see pretty clearly that Hushai was buying time so that David could put more distance between himself and Absolom.  In fact, Absolom takes Husahi's advice, and Hushai tells others to relay to David that he should continue to flee and cross the Jordan River, which is exactly what David does!  Hushai works to protect David and his family, and God blesses his plan with success!  We see other examples in the Bible of this same idea: Jethro protects Moses for working himself to death (Exodus 18); Jonathan protects David from his jealous father (1 Sam. 20); Ebedmelech protects Jeremiah from death (Jere. 38); Esther and Mordecai protect the Jews from being annihilated (Est. 8-10); Aquila and Priscilla protect Paul from death (Romans 16); Peter and Jude write letters to protect Christians from false teachers (2 Peter and Jude)!

Are we protective of our friends like Jamey's teacher and a Christian counselor?  “There was this little guy named Jamey.  And it seemed everything went wrong for him, especially at school.  He just wasn’t very good a many things.  You know the kind, he was always the last kid chosen for any team.  Nobody wanted Jamey.  He was a born loser, it seemed.  His teacher noticed the problem and wondered what she might do to help.  One day, the teacher was walking home from school, and Jamey pulled up beside her on this bike and began to peddle at the same slow, steady pace that the teacher was walking.  She noticed that, even at that slow pace, the bike wasn’t tipping, wobbling, or going off course.  So, to test it further, the teacher just started walking even slower.  Sure enough, Jamey just slowed down too, and his bike stayed steady and upright.  No matter how slowly she walked, he stayed right with her.  'That’s amazing,' she thought.  The next day during recess period, the teacher said, 'Hey, kids, we’re going to do something different today.  We’re going to have a slow bike riding contest.'  And who do you suppose won?  And who do you suppose made little Jamey’s day?” (Faulkner)   Where does a counselor go when he needs help?  One answered in this way: “In my case, it’s these same fellows in my prayer group.  While I’m looking out for them, they are looking out for me.  I trust them explicitly.  I’d trust them with my wife, my kids, my money, my problems—anything.  I need them.  And knowing that they care about me and would do anything for me is a source of great potential fulfillment” (Faulkner).  Let's protect our friends—from evils, from bad situations, from others who might gossip about them, from things or habits that might harm them, from practices that might cause their stumbling!  Let's continue to look out for one another!  Hebrews 12:15 admonishes us to be protective: “Look carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God.”  When we know that friends are protecting us by being supportive and watchful, what an encouragement we experience!  Friends protect.  What a Jesus we have in friends!

Friends care.  A great example of this is seen the relationship that Jesus had with Lazarus.  When Lazarus become ill, his sisters sent for Jesus.  To return to Judah would not be safe, even the disciples knew that Jesus had come close to death during their last visit down south.  But Jesus said in verse 11: “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him.”  Jesus meant that their good friend Lazarus was dead and that He would raise him. When Jesus stands before his good friend's tomb, we have those marvelous words in verses 35-36: “Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, 'See how He loved Him!'”  Jesus knew that bringing  Lazarus back to life would certainly provoke greater danger to His own life, but because of His great care for this family, Jesus cried in a loud voice in verse 43: “Lazarus come forth!”  And Lazarus was resurrected!  Notice that right after this miracle, the Jews began plotting in earnest as to how to kill both Jesus and Lazarus!

Would our friends see such a profound care on our part in their times of need?  Can we show care like an new convert and an old convert?  During the 1960s, a preacher in St. Louis converted a long-haired jean-clad college student who was a gifted music major at Washington University.  It happened that on the first Sunday morning this new convert went to church, an old man led the singing.  His voice cracked, he did not know how to beat time, and he didn't even sing in tune.  After the worship service, the young man rushed to the preacher and demanded, 'Why would you let that old codger lead singing?  He knows nothing about music and ruined the whole service!  He was awful!'  The preacher said, 'Do you remember our study of the love of God and how He accepts us in spite of who we are?  That's how we are to love each other.  That old man is your brother, even though he may not be much of a song leader.  You have to love him whether you like his singing or not.'  The young man scratched his head, frowned, and walked in the direction of the old man.  They stood before each other, a gray haired retiree and a long-haired student.  The young man wrapped the song leader in a huge bear hug and said, 'You're the worst singer I've ever heard, but I love you anyway!'” That new convert may not have understood caring perfectly, but he was certainly getting there wasn't he?  An old convert made this observation: “A few months ago, I asked my 92 year-old mother what I could get for her birthday.  She replied, 'Son, I don’t need many things.'  What did Mama mean?  Mama needs a hug, a kiss on the check, a pat on the back, a letter in the mail every week, and telephone calls and visits.  Mama needs me.  And that’s what everybody needs—not a lot of things, but a lot of YOU.  You know, folks, when you’re first born, you need lots of hugging, holding, patting, kissing.  And when you get old, what do you need?  Yep, a lot of hugging, holding, patting, and kissing.  So why is it that in the middle years between a baby and getting older you spend so much time trying to acquire things when you don’t need them either coming or going?  What you need is other folks with whom to share life, love, and God. ... And, folks, laying up treasures in heaven has just got to involve people, not things, because it’s people who will go to heaven, not things.  You see, people are a much better investment, and the return on your investment will be out of this world!” (Faulkner)  Be warned, however, this kind of caring takes a lot of courage.  Someone has stated it this way: “Caring for another calls for personal involvement.  However, getting involved in someone else’s life situation can be very time-consuming, awkward, possibly unwanted, emotionally draining, and even expensive.  Therefore, you may need a great deal of courage to get involved, at least to remain involved for long” (Greenfield).  “And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'” (Mt. 25:40).  Friends care.  What a Jesus we have in friends!

Lastly, friends empathize.  Look at 2 Tim. 1:15-18: “This you know, that all in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.  The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he might find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.”   Here we see an interesting situation.  The great apostle Paul felt abandoned.  His faith might have been weakened as well.  You know, his fellow Christians whom he thought he could count on, had now abandoned him after he had been arrested again.  During his first arrest, Paul had been allowed to live in an apartment, but after this arrest, he was in a horrible prison cell.  At a time when he himself needed some support, Phygellus and Hermongenes broke their ties with Paul.  But at this low point, Paul had a great brother and friend named Onesiphorus!  This brother heard that Paul was imprisoned and abandoned.  Maybe this brother had had a similar experience in his life.  Whatever the case, we see that he not only traveled to Rome but he also searched diligently throughout Rome until he finally located Paul.  After he found him, he spent some time encouraging Paul.  Paul says that he had refreshed him or brought new life to his spirit.   You see, Onesiphorus was one who showed great empathy for Paul!

One preacher defined empathy in this way: “The courage to get involved requires not only your willingness to be present when needed but also your compassion and empathy.  Having compassion means 'to suffer with' someone who is hurting.  Empathy is understanding another’s dilemmas and feeling as he or she does” (Hinkle/Woodruff).  Let's look at two modern examples: one is a family who was unempathetic and one are some boys who were empathetic.  The unempathetic people were the family of Emily in the play “Our Town” by Thorton Wilder.  How can one forget the scene where little Emily dies?  She goes to the cemetery and is told, 'Emily, you can return home for one day in your life.  Which day do you choose?'  She replied, 'Oh, I remember how happy I was on my 12th birthday.  I’d like to go back on my 12th birthday.'  The people in the cemetery cry out, 'Emily, don’t do it  Don’t do it, Emily.'  But she goes anyhow.  Emily wants to see her mama and her papa again.  The scene changes, and she is home.  Emily, a 12-year-old girl in a beautiful dress and with pretty bouncing curls, strides down the stairs.  But Mama is too busy making the birthday cake to stop long enough to look at Emily.  Emily says, 'Mama, look at me.  I’m the birthday girl.'  And mama says, 'Fine, birthday girl.  Sit down and have your breakfast.'  Emily says again, 'Mama, look at me.' But Mama keeps on cooking.  Papa comes in, and he’s so preoccupied with making money that he doesn’t look.  Brother comes in, and he’s so busy with his own interests that he doesn’t look either.  The scene ends with Emily standing in the middle of the stage saying, “Please somebody, just look at me.  I don’t need the cake or the money.  Please, look at me.”  Yet nobody looks, and she turns to her Mama once more and says, 'Please, Mama?'  But then she turns and says, 'Take me away.  I’ve forgotten what it was like to be human.  Nobody looks at anybody.  Nobody cares anymore, do they?'” (Ibid)  Now here's the flip side seen in 10-year-old Kyle Hanslik and his classmates.  “They attended the Lake Elementary School in Oceanside, CA.  When Kyle heard that a classmate named Ian had shaved his head because of chemotherapy for lymphoma, he talked to some other boys in his class, and soon all 13 boys in the class shave their heads.  Kyle explained: 'The last thing he would want is not to fit in.  So, we just decided to make him feel better'” (Larson).  Now there's an empathetic group—they understood Ian's dilemma and his feelings, so they took action themselves to help him out!  Unlike Emily, Ian saw that his classmates cared!  Are we an empathetic congregation?  Do our fellow citizens see that we understand their needs and their feelings?  Can we get out of ourselves long enough to bless somebody else's life?  Are we an humble people who cares enough to help others out?  Friends empathize.  What a Jesus we have in friends!

“ ... in the Church, [Christian friendship] is first and foremost a decision to treat people as God has treated us.  We are not free to make [Christian friendship] anything we wish.  If we want to be Christian friends, the Bible has shown us that we must listen like Mary, protect like Hushai, care like Jesus, and empathize like Onesiphorus!  Let's start acting towards others as Jesus has acted toward [us]” (Hinkle/Woodruff)!