Friendship in the Bible (3)
With thanks to Cooper A. Abrams III for most points

“In October 1993, in the town of Worchester, MA, police found a 73-year-old woman dead on her kitchen floor.  She had died of natural causes, but this was not an ordinary discovery.  She had been dead for four years before her body was discovered!  In some ways it was a mistake.  Four years earlier, neighbors had called the police expecting something might be wrong.  When the police contacted the woman's brother, he said that she had gone to a nursing home.  The police told the postal service not to deliver there anymore.  A neighbor paid a grandson to keep the lawn mowed.  Another neighbor called the utility company to cut off the water when a frozen pipe broke and sent water spilling out the door.  In some ways, it was not a mistake, and shows how tragically neighbors have grown apart in postmodern America.  Her brother reported that the family hadn't been close since their mother died in 1979.  Then he added, 'Someone should have noticed something before now'” (Larson).  As sad as that story is, here's another one that's just as sad.  It comes from some research about young people dropping out of churches.  It claims that 70% of America's youth drop out of the churches between the ages of 18-22.  Why did they leave?  The top three reasons given were: Their faith was not the same as that of their parents (in fact 47% of those interviewed stated that they did not agree with the beliefs of their churches, and many of them never understood they could serve and help others through their churches), they saw hypocrisy in their homes (yes, parents attended church, but they never discussed faith or offered spiritual guidance throughout the rest of the week), and lastly there were changes in their life situations (they went to college, they got a job, they devoted their time to other personal interests).  Let me bring these stories together with this question: Could members here at our congregation die spiritually, and we not know about it until several years later when they ultimately vote with their feet and not longer come to our doors?  If people are really our friends and out brother and sisters in the Lord, we won't treat them with the neglect and indifference that we saw the folks in that MA  neighborhood.

We've been looking at friendship in several of our previous lessons.  We've seen how friends listen and protect, they care and empathize, they share in our interests and live through all kinds of experiences, they bring out our best and they build up our faith.  We want to conclude this series today by looking at four other characteristics of friends: friend are loyal; friends are kind; friends are truthful; friends are forgiving.  As we discuss each of these characteristics, let's do so with an attitude that we'll work hard never to let anyone here in or church family become a spiritual casualty!

The first characteristic again is friends are loyal.  They are loyal like Ruth was to Naomi.  Remember when Naomi decided to return to Israel after the losses of her husband and sons in Moab during the years of a famine, she told her daughters-in-law to return to their own families.  She saw them as still being able to find husbands, so she encouraged them to forsake her and remain in their own culture.  Orpah decided to return and gave Naomi a farewell kiss, but Ruth decided that she would stay with Naomi.  Naomi again urged her to leave, but Ruth responded with those lofty words of 1:16-17: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your god, my God.  Where you die, I will die, and here will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.”  Ruth's answer is a classic expression of loyalty.  She declares her devotion to Naomi and affirms her determination to stay with Naomi, a loyalty that would be permanent, even if it meant adopting a new culture!  She adopted the Jewish culture, worshiped Jehovah, and becomes the great grandmother of one of Israel's greatest kings!  Friends are loyal, like Ruth was to Naomi.

In 1982, a survey of 40,000 Americans was made asking them, “What qualities do you most value in a friend?”  There were three predominant answers: keeping confidences, being warm and affectionate, and showing loyalty.  We show our loyalty to God by keeping His commandments (1 Kings 8:61), and we show our loyalty to others by sticking close to them no matter what the circumstances (Prov. 18:24).  Our modern times make it hard to keep loyal to our friends.  Two authors made this interesting comment: “This sense of transience [i.e. of moving all the time; it is the opposite of have a sense of permanency where one lives in the same place with their extended family] impacts how we view reality, our commitment to people, and even ourselves.  [People sort of float in and out our lives, and we just can't seem to keep up with them very easily.]  We no longer define ourselves in corporate terms.  We don't make decisions primarily on the basis of how other people would be affected or how that would be beneficial for the group.  We belong to the 'me ' generation; we have entered the Age of Individualism.  We have become a people who unconsciously evaluates every action primarily in terms of how it affects self.  The people of the present no longer see themselves as a 'piece of the continent' [as poet John Donne wrote 300 years ago].  Today, they take song-writer Paul Simon's line: 'They are rocks.  They are islands.' ... the Church is faced with teaching the 'me' generation how to think in 'we' terms.  People born and reared in a culture that worships individualism must now learn how to behave in a group—the Church . ... it is fair to say that most people entering the Church today are simply not equipped to think in group terms.  Dependency [is seen as] weakness; accountability [is seen as] slavery; submission [is seen as] demeaning.  The very notion of denying self to promote the group is alien to the modern mind. ... [Most members] still think in 'me' terms.  They make decisions and act not based on what is good for the group, but on personal preference and values” (Woodruff/Hinkle).  In this kind of culture where all are thinking about “me and my preferences,” maybe we see once more why a friend's loyalty is so greatly valued because loyal friends are always thinking in terms of “we” and go out of their way to show their support.  In Dec. 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson, running back of the San Diego Chargers, carried the
football into the end zone for a record-breaking 29th touchdown of the season.  But what happened after the run is what really gets our attention.  Instead of taking the glory for himself, he called all the offensive linemen to come and join him around the goalpost to celebrate together.  Then, in the interview following the game, he continued to include his teammates: 'We made history today, and there's no better feeling than to share it with that group of guys in that locker room (Larson -Elshof). Tomlinson's behavior was rare—he was thinking “team” and letting others share in the glory, and did you notice how he said “WE made history”?  What's the point?  When are we, as Christians, going to learn to show as much, if not more, loyalty to other members on our spiritual team known as the church? Would people find more loyalty to others in a locker room or in a church building?  Like Ruth, let's think in terms of “we” or what is best for our whole church family, and let's pledge ourselves to sticking close to one another day after day, year after year, no matter what the circumstances—every member can count on our devotion and our support—until we ourselves must bow out of the game.  Friends are loyal, like Ruth was to Naomi.

Secondly, friends are kind, like David was to Jonathan.  The friendship of Jonathan and David is one of the greatest that we find in the Bible.  Saul was jealous of the rising star David, but Jonathan became his steadfast friend.  In 1 Samuel 20, we read how David informs Jonathan of his father's ill will towards him.  Jonathan says that he will feel his father out and then let David know the score.  They pledge their kindness to each other's households, and they devise a plan so that Jonathan will shoot arrows to give an indication—short shots will mean that all is well and long shots will mean danger.  Jonathan almost lost his own life while discovering his father's wrath.  He shoots the arrows long, and Jonathan weeps with David and tells him to depart in peace.  Saul continued to pursue David, and David continues to escape.  While David was on the run at one vital point, Jonathan finds David.  ! Sam. 23:16-18 reports: “Then Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God.  And he said to him, 'Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you.  You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you.  Even my father Saul, knows that.'  So the two of them made a covenant before the Lord, and David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.”  Many years later after Jonathan's death and David has been made king, he remembers the covenant hat he had made with Jonathan, and in 2 Samuel 9, we see how David takes in Jonathan's cripple son Mephibosheth and allows him to eat at the king's table for the rest of his life!  What great acts of kindness we see in this friendship!

Oh, that our friendships could show such acts of kindness as well!  Proverbs 19:22 states: “What is desired in a man is kindness,” and 1 Corinthians 13:4 explains: “Love suffers long and is kind.”  Surely, our experience with God's kindness in our lives should motivate us to show kindness to others (Titus 3:4).  Kindnesses can be so powerful.  Did you hear about the motorist in Portland, OR who decided to pay the drive-thru coffee shop not only for her mocha but also for the driver behind her.  Well, the next driver was so delighted that they did the same thing for the next customer behind them.  And this kindness was passed on for over two hours and 27 customers (Larson-Elshof)!  A little kindness went a long way.  Here's another example: One of the professors in a Christian college told how when he was teenager he had been asked to lead the closing prayer at worship service.  It was his first prayer.  Although he had practiced it over and over, when he got up to the microphone, he froze and when blanked for about 30 seconds.  Then he said something like, “God, thank You for being God.  In Jesus' name, Amen.”  He felt really embarrassed and tried to slip out the auditorium's  side door.  But before he made it to that door, an elder intercepted him and said, “That was a fine job, brother!  Don't stop now, you'll be a great church leader one day.”  That elder saw much potential in that teen, and now he's written about 4-5 books and is having a global impact through various missions programs.  A little kindness went a long way.  Here's one more example that I need to practice more often: ''When you are in conflict with somebody else, why not try approaching them with these words: “I know that you love God as much as I do and that you want what is best for His work.  We seem to be on different sides of this issue and that concerns me because I respect your views.  Tell me again what you are thinking and help me to see things from your perspective” (Woodruff/Hinkle).  That kind approach is bound to go a long way as well.  I can guarantee you one thing: the kindnesses we practice with one another not only will be noticed by unbelievers but also they will be a more effective witness to Christ' s power among us than a month of my sermons would be!  Friends are kind, like David was to Jonathan.

Thirdly, friends are truthful, like Nathan was to David.  In 2 Samuel 12:1, we read that the Lord sent Nathan to David  Have you ever wondered what must have been going through Nathan's mind as he approached his friend David to reveal to him the truth of his awful sin and God's punishment?  The text itself sort of leaves the impression that Nathan just “hit and ran”.  No pleasantries whatsoever are mentioned in the text.  We do know, however, that David did not harm or exile Nathan for his telling the truth.  In fact, we see another incident where Nathan again confronts David with another painful truth.  This is seen in 1 Kings 1:22-27.  This time he bows before David and asks David some questions to see if he had authorized his son Adonijah to rule after him.  Then he told how Adonijah was proclaiming himself to be his father's successor and how he and others had not been asked to his inauguration.  He then again asked David if all this had been done with his approval.  Of course, Nathan knew already that David had verbally sanctioned Solomon to be his successor, so he worked with Queen Bathsheba to bring about Solomon's rise to the throne.  Nathan was more tactful this time, but he still confronted David with the truth.  Like Nathan, good friends are truthful. 

Jesus confronts us with the truth because He Himself is truth.  He gives us God's Word, and God's word is cutting—it's sharper than a two-edged sword and rips apart our soul and spirit along with the thoughts and intentions of our heart (Hebrews 4:12).  Some of Jesus' truth hurts, but His truth is like a surgeon's scalpel; it cuts us to heal us.  For example, He explains clearly that we are sinners, so that we might see His salvation!  “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3)!  Genuine Christian friends, like Nathan and Jesus, are always honest with us.  They are like Oscar Wilde's definition of a friend: “A true friend always stabs you in the front!”  Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” and Paul admonished Christians of his time “to speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).  We need to be reproved when we've offended someone, when we've sinned, and when we are about to make a bad decision.  Painful truth given by another loving member in the body is an unselfish act.  That good brother or sister has our best interest at heart and even risks being disliked in order to help us.  One writer offers us some interesting guidelines to help us speak the truth in love.  First of all, he says that we must win the right to be heard (we need to invest much in one's emotional bank account before attempting to correct).  Secondly, don't be to hasty in giving your advice; it comes across so much more effectively if it's asked for.  Thirdly, confront in private, never in public (and allow much time for listening).  Fourthly, instead of announcing the wrong, try to ask questions which will help the person to see the wrong for themselves.  Fifthly, gentle nudges might be just as effective as “fire an brimstone” (much depends on the strength of your relationship and the other's personality).  Lastly, always have a spirit of mutuality (a few tomorrows later, you may need to hear some helpful truth form the brother or sister that you are advising; we're all striving to get to heaven together)(Griffin).  Speaking the truth in love—we all need to practice it: elders, deacons, preachers, members parents, children.  Friends are truthful, like Nathan was with David.

Fourthly, friends are forgiving, like Jesus was with Peter.  You recall the scene in John 21 when Peter went fishing, and the other apostles followed him.  Jesus met them the next morning and fixed some breakfast for them.  We begin reading the verse 15: “So  when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?'  He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love You.'  He said to him, 'Feed My lambs.'  He said to him again a second time, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?'  He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love You.'  He said to him, 'Tend My sheep.'  He said to him the third time: 'Simon son of Jonah, do you love Me?'  Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to him, 'Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You.'  Jesus said to Him, 'Feed My sheep.'”  We can't help but see the parallel between Peter's denial three times, and his affirmation of love for Jesus three times.  Of course, this was Jesus' way of letting Peter know that he had been totally forgiven of his past sin, and he was never to look back again.  He was to look forward and care others who would come into the Good Shepherd's one sheep fold.  Peter knew firsthand the sweetness of forgiveness and never tired of preaching it: “To Him [i.e. to Jesus] all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43)!

Friends are forgiving, but it's rarely easy.  Twenty people who had been badly hurt were interviewed abut forgiveness,  These were some of the results: First of all, there was no middle ground with regards to feeling forgiven; they either felt they had or had not been forgiven by the other party.  Secondly, they all longed to go back to the old relationship of happier days as it was before the hurt occurred.  Thirdly, it was discovered that forgiveness could be given, without repentance taking place, but full reconciliation was not likely to occur if some form of repentance hadn't been manifested.  Fourthly, people were happy when the silence was broken, and communication was renewed.  Fifthly, signs of true forgiveness were always sought after the words of forgiveness in compliments, giving and accepting favors, and exchanging touch.  Sixthly, in every case, it took months and months before some wounds could be forgiven, and the parties eventually reconciled.  It's not easy, but Christ's forgiveness of our sins constrains us to forgive others.  “On the morning of October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts barricaded himself inside West Nickel Mines Amish School.  After murdering five young girls and wounding six others, Roberts committed suicide.  It was a dark day for the Amish community of West Nickel Mines, but it was also a dark day for Marie Roberts, the wife of the gunman, and her two young children.  On the following Saturday, Marie went to her husband's funeral.  She and her children watched in amazement as Amish families—about half of the 75 mourners present—came and stood alongside them in the midst of their blinding grief.  Despite the horrific crimes the man had committed against them, the Amish came to mourn Charles Carl Roberts as a husband and daddy.  Bruce Porter, a fire department chaplain who attended the service, was profoundly moved: 'It's the love, the heartfelt forgiveness they have toward the family.  I broke down and cried seeing it displayed.'  He said Marie Roberts was also touched 'she was absolutely, deeply moved by the love shown'” (Larson-Elshof).  The reason for telling this story is to make us think: those Amish forgave one who had murdered their own children.  Has anyone sinned that badly against you in this congregation?  Now if those Amish can practice forgiveness, why can't we do it for lesser evils?  Friends are forgiving, like Jesus was with Peter.

     Here's a short poem for thought:

          Around the corner I have a friend,
          In this great city that has no end.
          Yet days go by and weeks rush on,
          And before I know it, a year is gone.
          And I never see my old friend's face;
          For life is a swift and terrible race.
          He knows I like him just as well
          As in the days when I rang his bell
And he rang mine.  We were younger then,
          And now we are busy, tried, old men—
          Tired with playing a foolish game;
Tired with trying to make a name.
“Tomorrow,” I say, “I will call on Jim,
          Just to show that I'm thinking of him.”
But tomorrow comes—and tomorrow goes;
And the distance between us grows and grows.
And the corner—yet miles away—
“Here's a telegram, Sir.  Jim died today,”
And that's what we get—and deserve in the end—
          Around the corner, a vanished friend (Henson Towne).

Let's practice friendship or brotherly love before it's tool late.  Friends are loyal;  Friends are kind;  Friends are truthful; Friends are forgiving.  Ah, friendship—“the greatest love, the most open communication, the noblest sufferings, the severest truths, the heartiest counsel, the greatest union of minds of which brave people are capable” (Taylor)!  What a fiend we have in Jesus!  What a Jesus we have in friends!  Surrender to Him today, and He will help you to be a better friend!  Or, let us pray with you that God will help you to be more loyal, kind, truthful, and forgiving!