Sunday, September 20, 2015

Friends

Most of you are pretty familiar with the opening chapters of Genesis. You know the basic outline of what happened, and you know many of the particulars. So, when God says,

It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him … (Genesis 2.18)

you know what’s going to happen next. You know all about the creation of Eve and the first marriage. And from this you draw a conclusion. God’s solution for loneliness is marriage. Well, I’m going to disagree with you on that. It’s not as accurate an understanding of the text as it needs to be. And getting that wrong here will lead to problems later. A measure of precision matters.

In these opening chapters of Genesis God reveals how His creation works and He does that by pointing out examples. So, God doesn’t directly talk about the sacred. Instead, He talks about the seventh day as an example of the sacred. The rest of the Bible fills out what that means. In a similar way, what’s going on with Eve and marriage is an example of a principle of creation. So, instead of saying that God’s solution for loneliness is marriage, it’s better to say that God’s solution is other people. His solution is friends. Eve was a particular kind of friend to Adam, a wife. That’s why she could be a solution to his loneliness. But God’s big point here is about friendship and not merely about marriage. And that, I think, becomes clear when you remember that there will be no marriage in the age to come. Will we all be lonely then?

What I want to do this morning is talk about friendship. The way that God runs His creation calls for you to have friends and to be a friend.

As usual, we need to start with a definition. What’s a friend? Here’s something from Proverbs.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

I imagine that many of you have heard of this verse before. It provides a good definition of a friend. And it will do that even better when you understand what the word translated ‘friend’ literally is. It’s the word for ‘love’.

Faithful are the wounds of someone who loves you …

That gets to the heart of what a friend is. He or she is someone who loves you.

Now, unfortunately, the word ‘love’ has been hijacked and re-defined so I’ll have to define that also. Love is not about having certain sentiments toward someone. It’s not about how you feel. Love is primarily about how you act. It’s about doing something. To love someone is to do good to that person.

The proverb I read to you tells us something not just about the nature of a friend but also something of the nature of love. Someone who loves another will sometimes wound that person. There are times when love will do something that will hurt, and it will do that because it’s the best way to bring about good for that person. So, a friend is someone who loves you, and loves you enough to hurt you for your own good.

I hope that it is obvious that the key to this kind of friendship is being close to another person, emotionally close. How can you love from a distance? So, another proverb.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

And then, an example of true friends.

The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

Being a friend means being close to that other person. And there are several ways that that emotional closeness reveals itself. One of them is honest talking. There is polite conversation at a dinner party, raucous shouting at a football game and the gentle offer of advice over coffee. Friends may participate in these kinds of talking, but they also do more. Friends open their souls to each other and tell each other what’s really going on. The walls are lowered and the masks are set aside. Honest talking. And when you experience that, you are experiencing friendship.

Now, I think you can see why I say that marriage was intended to be a form of friendship. Marriage is where one soul is deeply open to the soul of the other. What is unique to marriage is that a husband and wife have this degree of openness with no one else.

This has something to say to you who are younger and think about getting married. Falling in love is a lot of fun. It makes you feel really good. But the goal is not to find someone who is fun and who makes you feel good. The goal is to find a friend, someone you can open your soul to and who will open his or her soul to you. You’re looking for honest talking. If this isn’t happening with someone you’re falling in love with, walk away. That person is not a good marriage partner. If you marry that person you will have heartache down the road. Such a marriage can be rescued. But it is so much better to avoid that situation.

This is a good enough place to also expose a myth. According to popular thinking your friends will be and should be people who are your peers. So, teens make friends with other teens, young marrieds with other young marrieds, senior citizens with senior citizens. Is that written somewhere in the Bible? Actually, the Bible has something different. It has something like this. The teenager who is an eye in the body of Christ is joined to the oldster who is an ear. And the one needs the other. The young need the wisdom of the old and the old need the enthusiasm and fresh perspectives of the young. While you will have friends who are like you, you also need friends who are very different from you.

Now, the practical question. How do you develop friendships? I have four thoughts here.

First, believe God. He’s the one who said that it isn’t good to be alone. And I think that we will agree that He knows what He’s talking about. As a result of His conclusion about loneliness He introduced friendship. God says you need friends, real friends. That says a huge amount about marriage. But it also has lots to say about the church. We profess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the communion of the saints. And what does that mean? Whatever else is going on in that phrase, it includes the idea of friendship. In the age to come what will we all be if not friends, real friends? So, friendship is part of what it means to be a church. This is a place where friendships are developed. And we pursue that because we believe God when He talked about loneliness and as He has described the church.

Here’s a second thought about developing friendships. Be willing to invest time and energy because developing friends will take both. Now, some will say that they don’t have any time or energy to spare. Their lives are full to the max. And that may well be the case. So, what that means is that some priorities need to be changed. You’re going to have to make space for friendship. Here, remember what I said in that first thought. We do this because we believe what God has said.

How many people invest themselves in their jobs and in their kids only to find that once the kids are gone and they are retired from the job that there are no friends, not even in the marriage? Be willing to invest the time and energy for the sake of your own soul as well as for the sake of other people around you who need friends.

Third thought. Be willing to risk. To open your soul to someone, even just a little, can be a very scary thing. It just might hurt - a lot. And yet, love opens itself up to hurt for the sake of the one being loved. Jesus showed us that.

This is a good place to insert this thought. Every friend you will ever have will let you down. At some point or other he or she will respond poorly to you. That’s not because all your friends are evil. It’s because we are all so prone to sin. Again, remember Jesus and how He was abandoned by His friends. When this happens, don’t shut down. Don’t give up on working at being a friend. And don’t give up on that other person. Forgive and work at that friendship. It’s what Jesus did. And again, this has special application to marriage.

Fourth thought. None of this will work without the kind grace of God. There will be large obstacles to overcome, obstacles in others and obstacles in ourselves. So, you’ll need to pray that the Spirit will act to bring about friendships in your life. Nothing happens without prayer.

Now, two final things.

First, all of this about friendship helps you to understand something about Jesus. Here’s the first line to a really good hymn. ‘Jesus! what a friend for sinners. Jesus! lover of my soul.’ Jesus is the perfect friend. He will always love you and never fail you. Never. Because of His love for you, He will wound you. But the wounds of this friend are always faithful. Always. And that says something about prayer. Because of Jesus, prayer is honest talking between you and the Father. No polite conversation or rote religious phrases. Honest soul-to-soul talk.

Then, the last thing. I do not tell you these things about friendship because I am so good at it. I am not. I am a very solitary and private person. How many times have I told you, ‘Put me in a corner with a book and a cup of coffee and I’ll be fine’? Being open with someone else is not something I am used to. Sad to say, this affected my marriage, to my deep regret. But I am learning that I need to be a friend and to have friends. And by the kind grace of the Father I am making some progress. So, if I can learn how to do this, any of you can also. The Spirit is busy. He is changing us. Thanks be to God for that.

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