Friendship in the Bible (2) 
With thanks to Cooper P. Abrams III for most points

Here’s an interesting description of the church: “The healing church puts connecting at the center of their purpose: connecting with God through daily worship, connecting with unbelievers through daily service, and connecting with each other through daily interactions for wholeness.  Such connecting will be built on a threefold foundation: on a caring leadership who is committed to passing along hope through pouring themselves into other members, on a spiritual direction which is prompted by following the Holy Spirit and by members being present in each other’s lives at critical moments, and on a friendship where members are committed to caring enough that evil plans of the flesh will be disrupted while a vision remains strong of the potential for good that will eventually occur in the same member’s life (Crabb).  This description says that friendship is one of the three foundational elements in a healthy congregation.  This morning, let’s continue our series on friendship and consider four more traits of friends based on examples that we find in the Bible: friends share in one another’s interest, like Aquila did with Paul; friends live through experiences together, like John did with Jesus; friends bring out one another’s best, like Paul did with Philemon; friends build up each other's faith, like Jesus did with Thomas.

Before we look at each of these traits a little more closely, let’s realize something about them.  They are not easy to put into practice because each trait demands a deeper level of time, commitment, and trust.  Are we really ready to give them a try?  It's like a story about two preachers who were having lunch together—one was Caucasian and the other was Hispanic.  The Caucasian preacher began crying and confessed to the Hispanic preacher that he had just attended a meeting of white church leaders where they had made fun of preachers who had different ethnic backgrounds.  He said that he didn't like this, but he really didn't take much of a stand against their sinful behavior, and his conscience had been hurting him all night.  “How can I get over this?  How can we be friends?” he asked.  The Hispanic minister was stunned and remained silent for a moment.  Then he asked, “Do you like soccer?”  Now the other preacher was surprised, but nodded that he did.  So the Hispanic preacher said, “I do too.  I love a good game, and I love to cook out.  So here's what we need to do: I need to get to know you, and you need to get to know me.  Why don't you come over to my house?  Bring your wife so that she can meet my wife, and we'll just sit and talk and get to know each other.  I'll grill some burgers.  Let's start there.”  The other preacher asked, “You want me to come to your house?”  “Yes,” said the other, “if you wanted me to sit here and clear your conscience for your sinful behavior, I can't do that.  Friendship is not cheap.  It takes time and commitment.”  Then the Hispanic preacher gave him his phone number and told him to let him know when he would be coming by.  Sadly, the story ends here because the other preacher never accepted his fellow Christian's invitation (Larson-Elshof).  The Hispanic preacher was right—friendships are not cheap, and they do take time, commitment, and trust.  These are traits that may push us out of our comfort zones too.

The first trait is that friends share in one another's interests.  Acts 18:1-3 tells us: “After these things, Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth.  And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius [who was the emperor] had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.  So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation, they were tentmakers.”  Here we see that the apostle Paul became friends with Aquila and his wife because they had three things in common: they were Christian Jews; they were tentmakers; they were builders of the church.  I wonder what they must have talked about as they made tents together; I'll bet it was more than just the weather, politics, and taxes.  Paul and this couple grew to be close friends.  They traveled together to Ephesus, according to Acts 18:18-19.  This generous couple always had the welfare of the church uppermost in their minds.  Notice what Paul says about them in Romans 16:3-4: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  Likewise greet the church that is in their house.”  We see here that this couple, at some point, had actually risked their lives for Paul's welfare!  Now that's a close friendship, and it all began because they all had common interests that they shared together. 

Now let's make an application.  Someone has noted that friendship is more than talk, but it is born in talk (Greenfield).  Usually, when we want friends, we begin by trying to find some common interests.  You explain your interests and then ask others about theirs.  Remember the story we told just a few minutes ago?  Where did the Hispanic preacher start in establishing a friendship?  He began with a simple question, “Do you like soccer?”  You see, he was looking for a common interest.  Now do we do that when we talk with our visitors?  Can we get beyond the usually talk about the weather, sports, and politics to really get to discover what interests we might have in common?  Such interests can cover lots of categories like tastes, attractions, concerns, involvements, commitments, and values.  Tastes are just likes and preferences.  Attractions would include areas like sports, music, plays, TV programs, movies, and vacations spots.  Concerns would be issues in the political, economic, educational, and religious arenas.  Involvements could include the meetings we attend, the organizations we join, the risks we like to take, and the donations we make to help groups.  Commitments include what we are willing to pay for, to go out of our way for, and to make sacrifices for.  Values are the ideals we greatly prize, the goals we pursue, and the objectives we wish to accomplish (Ibid.).  Here are three things that we might do when talking with visitors.  First of all, share you profile.  For example, I could say something like, “I like jogging, attending Rotary Club, finding open source educational software, teaching others, helping my family, and supporting poor children through Christian Relief Fund.  Now, what are your interests?”  You see, you can be thinking of things to say about yourself that share your tastes, attractions, concerns, involvements, commitments, and values.  Be a good listener when they reply back.  Secondly, another good question that we can ask a visitor is this, “Is there anything that I can be praying for in your life?”  You see, when something is mentioned by a visitor, then it automatically becomes a common interest.  But don't ask this question unless you will sincerely pray about the matter.  Thirdly, we could also do as the Hispanic preacher and invite a visitor to come to our home to share a meal and to get to know one another's interests in that way.  Extending hospitality is a great way to show that you are serious about friendship!  Friendship is more than talk, but it is born in talk.  Friends share in one another's interests. 

Next, we see that friends live through experiences together, like John did with Jesus.  Luke 19:37ff tells us that Jesus' disciples began praising God with a loud voice as Jesus was approaching Jerusalem: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”  John was probably among these, and perhaps even hopeful that Jesus would reveal His new kingdom.  John even tells us in his gospel at 12:17-19 that those who had witnessed Jesus' miracle of bringing his friend Lazarus to life again also joined in the crowd entering Jerusalem!  But John's jubilation was short-lived wasn't it?  The triumphal entry took place on Sunday, but by Friday, Jesus had been arrested, tried, condemned, and nailed to a Roman cross for execution.  John 19:25-27 reports something very amazing: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”  You see, the apostles had abandoned Jesus, but His female followers were there.  The next verse states: “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciples whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son!'  Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!'  And from that hour, that disciple took her to his own home.”  Of course, we know that the disciple whom Jesus loved was John himself.  When all the other apostles had abandoned Him, John stood with the women at the foot of the cross until His Best Friend breathed His last.  But we also remember that John was one of the first to run to the tomb as well when it was reported being empty!  Friends live through experiences together, like John did with Jesus.

Now, we are going even deeper into friendship because time, presence, and risk are all involved when we determine to live through our friends experiences with them.  You know Jesus' presence on earth was not to travel, give speeches, or confront the religious leaders.  He was on earth to minister to people.  Anytime a person wanted His attention, he or she got it.  His life seems so unplanned, yet Christ was totally in control.  You see, His schedule actually was never interrupted [because] people WERE His program” (Conway)!  “Action is talk with shoes on it ... [and] closeness in personal relationships requires togetherness if any significant depth is to be reached.  However, togetherness is more than merely being together, in proximity, under the same roof or in the same car.  It means sharing a common activity. ... Through participation in a mutual endeavor, we reveal a deeper part of ourselves to each other. ... Deepening relationships need active togetherness. ... In engaging in some common activity, we are going beyond conversation to experience our common [interests]” (Greenfield).  One of the greatest things about being in a part of a church is that we can play together (like some of our ladies did last Thursday and some men did yesterday), and we can pay together (to fund other good works all over the globe), we can grow together in our faith and maturity (you know there is a strength in a group that's almost mystical, and we come to realize that there are some things that we just can never do alone), and we can work together (“When people relate together ... and accomplish something worthwhile ..., there's sort of a psychological and spiritual adrenalin that flows through their lives.  The thrill of common achievement injects a quality of strength that encourages [further accomplishment]”) (Greenfield)!  Someone has noted this about the early church: “Strict isolationism and rigid individualism were utterly foreign to the New Testament churches.  The social-interaction level was a vital part of the relationships of God's people in those early days.  It should be no different today” (Hinkle and Woodruff).  The story is told of a man who had lost his wife during an already painful juncture in his life.  The following morning, the phone rang, and it was Jack, just as the caller knew it would be.  “I’m here,” Jack said, “I know you probably don’t want to see anyone, and that’s alright.  I’ve checked into a hotel, and I’ll just sit here in case you need to do anything.  I can do whatever you want, or I can do nothing.”  The caller knew he meant it.  Jack just waited until his friend had gathered the strength to say that he needed him.  When Jack arrived, he brought food for the children, did a lot of sitting and sharing the silence, and did just a little cleaning.  And the friend later added: “And he got me through some of my darkest days” (Larson-Elshof).  Friends live through experiences together, both bad ones and good ones, like John did with Jesus.

Next, friends bring out each other’s best like Paul did with Philemon.  You remember the story of how Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, ran away, and Paul converted him, and Paul then begged Philemon to take him back as a brother in one of the most tactful letters ever written.  Let’s read verses 17ff: “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me.  But if he has wronged you or owes you anything, put that on my account.  I, Paul, am writing with my own hand.  I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides.  Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.  Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”  I’ve asked you to accept him as a brother, Philemon, but I know you’ll go beyond that and probably grant him his freedom too.  Tradition, has it, that Philemon forgave Onesimus, and Onesimus later became an elder in the church at Ephesus.  Isn’t it amazing how Paul was able to spur Philemon on to give his best.

And, as friends, we should be doing the same thing as well.  Do we as members here have these feelings: do we feel that we’re being supported, do we feel that were being understood, do we feel that we’re close, do we feel that we can confess our sins without it being gossiped about all over town, do we feel that others believe in us, do we feel that others here will defend us in spite of our imperfections, do we feel that there will be concrete assistance, in times of crisis, do we feel that there are other members who can help to restore us when we’ve lost our confidence in running the Christian race?  Those are vital questions.  And if members aren’t feeling that here, maybe that’s why they begin to seek out other churches where they think they can feel these things.  Are we really trying to bring out the best in each other?  A preacher, who also has a degree in psychology, made this observation: “Nurturing expresses itself in and through inspiration.  A nurturing person inspires you to be your very best self, to reach for attainable and worthy goals, to carry plans to completion, and to make dreams come true.  Inspiring people produce inspired people, and both tend to be very healthy people both mentally and physically” (Greenfield).  Bro. Chuck Monan, the preacher at Pleasant Valley in Little Rock, recently wrote an article in the Gospel Advocate entitled “Stopping the Exodus” which was about young people dropping out of the church.  Here was his conclusion: “”One of my friends is a 70-year-old college professor who interacts with more college kids than anyone I know.  He has conducted a running, informal survey of hundreds of these kids over the past two years asking them: “If you could change anything about the church, what would it be?”  [‘More meaningful relationships’ is their response.]  When we start living out Christ’s call to love each other and committing our lives to our Lord and to each other, we won’t have enough room in our churches to hold everyone” (GA 10/25/08).  As interested and caring friends, we must bring out the best in each other, like Paul did with Philemon.

 Lastly, friends build each other’s faith, like Jesus did with Thomas.  In our reading this morning, we saw that Thomas was skeptical about the report of the other apostles.  Hadn’t Jesus Himself warned that other false Messiahs would arise?  Whatever had motivated Thomas’ reluctance to believe, Jesus reappeared before His disciples and challenged Thomas to remove all doubt: “Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here and put into My side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  And Thomas exclaimed, ‘My Lord and my God!’”  Friends build each other’s faith, like Jesus did with Thomas.

Isn’t it amazing that even when we attend church three times a week, we rarely develop much closeness and insight into a person’s spiritual life.  Why is that?  We’ll let’s think for a moment.  Our class times are pretty short, the furniture there does not often invite interaction, and the class size is probably too large for much meaningful exchange.  Our potlucks are a great time of eating, but rarely do we take the time to do much beyond that.  Our worship services do little to promote closeness: after our opening greeting, it’s on to the routine, with the hope that it will all get finished on time so we can rush out the doors and further avoid each other.  I’m talking here about a closeness where we share experiential awareness about each others’ lives, about what’s been happening to us.  It’s about an emotional awareness as well, or how those recent experiences have made us feel.  And it’s about a spiritual awareness, or how our relationship with God is developing in our circumstances.  It’s also about a reciprocal awareness as well: we know each other’s plans and we know how each other fits into those plans.  Are we really sharing on that level?  If so, it’s usually not here.  Someone has correctly observed: “Your faith in God is something else you can care enough to give.  It’s stunning how many people in this world have never heard another person share with them their personal relationship with God.  This is something you would naturally expect Christians to do.  However, we are so afraid these days of being ‘personal’.  Why?  If  knowing God personally is the most important thing in all the world, as Christians claim, then we ought be giving this knowledge away as often as possible” (Greenfield).  Self –disclosure can bring about forgiveness, and truth can bring about healing, but who wants to be the first to put such actions into practice?  “[This condition explains] why the church is so badly in need of men and women who [will] make it their ministry to encourage others by exerting a positive influence, by opening doors of opportunity, by helping  fellow Christians triumph over disappointments and mistakes [and by really caring for another’s spiritual well-being.  You know, we can] nip discouragement in the bud by helping [all members] around [us] to bloom.  [Let’s make it our] business to do all [that we] can to assist others in fulfilling their spiritual potential” (Johnson).  Just like the Hispanic preacher said, “This all takes time and commitment, and the courage to call a sin a sin, and the willingness to praise when one shows signs of maturity in the faith.  As friends, let’s build up each other’s faith, just as Jesus did with Thomas.

We’ve examined four more traits of friends based on examples that we find in the Bible: friends share in one another’s interests, like Aquila did with Paul; friends live through experiences together, like John did with Jesus; friends bring out one another’s best, like Paul did with Philemon; friends build up each other’s faith, like Jesus did with Thomas.  These are lofty ideals!  Are we really ready to give them a try?  This sobering poem by Edward Guest will serve as our conclusion:

 “I watched them tearing a building down, a gang of men in a busy town.
   With a ho-heave-ho and a lusty yell, they swung a beam and the side wall fell.
   I asked a foreman, ‘Are these men skilled, as the men you’d hire if you had to

 He gave a laugh and said, ‘No indeed!  Just common labor is all you need.
   I can easily wreck in day or two what builders have taken a year to do.’

And I thought to myself as I went away, ‘Which of these roles have I tried to
   [Am I a wrecker who walks the town, content with the labor of tearing down?
   Am I criticizing others every day and dwelling on how many are spoiling life’s
   Or am I a builder working with care, measuring life by rule and square.
   Am I shaping my deeds to a well-made plan and patiently [helping others] the
         best I can?’”

Jesus wants to be your friend, and has given you an invitation to eat with Him?  Will you accept it?