We have a number of things we can be grateful for this week. Chief in our list, I would think, would certainly be our gratitude for the salvation which is extended to us through Jesus Christ. Without this salvation we are left without hope, without forgiveness, without direction and guidance. It is the chief blessing to be sure. But there are other blessings. We have a life to enjoy, a measure of health, and an abundance which makes complaints appear foolish. We should be thankful for family.
This morning I add yet another reason for gratitude: our friends. In these final verses in Colossians Paul lists a number of people he recognizes as blessings given by God. I think as we look at this often overlooked passage we will be stimulated to number our own friends among our richest blessings.
Someone has said, “if in the course of life you have the privilege of having one true friend . . . you have been blessed beyond all measure.” Any of us who have trusted friends would nod our head to the truthfulness of that statement.
In the passage before us I see three characteristics of Paul’s Friendships. My hope is that these characteristics will stimulate your own thinking about your friends.
THESE FRIENDSHIPS WERE ANCHORED IN CHRIST
These people, all from different backgrounds were all brought together by their common experience of grace at the hand of our Lord Jesus. When we come to Christ an amazing thing happens. People who once were enemies become friends. In Paul’s list of friends there are three Jews: Aristarchus, Mark and Justus and also some Gentiles: Epaphras, Luke, Demas.
What unlikely friends these were. These people who at one time were enemies because of their nationality and religious background, were now friends because they were united in Christ. The gospel builds bridges over ethnic, racial, economic, and sexual divisions.
In this group of people was a Doctor (Luke), a pastor (Epaphras), a fugative (Onesimus), and a woman (Nympha). They came from different backgrounds but their friendship was anchored in their relationship to Christ.
It is a wonderful thing to go to a Christian conference and see people of who just met praying together, weeping together, laughing together. This is what happens when Christ enters our lives. Worldly barriers lose their significance when our focus is Jesus. You see, only with a fellow believer do we share so much in common:
- We share a common confession: we are sinners in need of grace.
- We share a common confidence: that the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin and sets us free from our just condemnation.
- We share a common hope: that we will live forever in God’s kingdom as children of God
- We share a common passion: to share the gospel with all who are lost and perishing
- We share a common desire: to serve the Lord and one another.
These things should bind us together. Your closest friends should be your brothers and sisters in Christ. Our times of worship should be a gathering of friends. Look around the sanctuary and think of other believers in our community . . .and give thanks.
THESE FRIENDSHIPS DEVELOPED IN SHARED EXPERIENCES
Paul testifies that Tychicus and Epaphras were fellow laborers. Tychicus may have met Paul in Epehsus. He traveled with Paul to Jerusalem (a dangerous place for a Christian to be) carrying an offering for the church there. Tychicus is the one who carried this letter the church in Colosse. He went over rugged terrain to bring word from Paul. Paul calls him, “a dear brother, a faithful minister and a fellow servant in the Lord.” These men were partners in ministry.
Epaphras is another co-laborer Paul recognizes as a friend. He was probably the founder and perhaps Pastor of the church in Colosse. He was the one who came to Rome bringing Paul word of what was going on in Colosse. Paul admired the way Epaphras prayed fervently for his congregation, even while he is separated from them. He respected his ministry.
It is for this same reason that many college roommates become friends for life. You have shared problems, you have worked through annoying quirks, taken tests together, had dates together and had shared much of life. One of the great parts of our vacation to California a year ago was seeing Phil and Sharyn Waters. It had been a number of years since we were able to spend much time together . . . but it didn’t matter. Within minutes we were sharing our hearts with each other. When you have lived and labored side by side for many years your friendship grows and is established. These people understand you.
This is one of the reasons it is so valuable to get involved in ministry in the church. People in the choirs develop a special bond, those who teach grow together, those who serve on committees, attend Bible studies, are part of a Sunday School class . . . all find friendships developing out of these shared experiences. As you serve together, you grow together. You may say you don’t feel like you have any friends in the church . . . I would suggest that it is probably because you are not involved anywhere. Get involved in a small group or ministry. As you do, you will see that friendships naturally develop.
FRIENDSHIP IS NURTURED IN THE STORMS OF LIFE
Paul mentions that Aristarchus, Mark and Justus were the only Jews who were standing with him. While most of the Jews sought to eliminate Paul, these three men stood beside him. They were unafraid to be counted with and associated with him.
Tychicus & Aristarchus are called fellow-prisoners. When Paul was imprisoned, when he was persona non grata in many circles, these men stood by his side. They supported him even though it might stain their own reputation . . . even though it might cause them to lose their own life. During Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, a riot broke out and the crowd sought to kill Paul. At that tumultuous time Aristarchus stood with Paul. And now, while he is imprisoned Aristarchus remains at his side. It’s possible that Aristarchus himself had been arrested due to his association with Paul.
How often have you heard or said these words, “when I was going through this difficult time, I learned who my true friends were.”?
Let’s face it, most people are fickle. Anyone who has been an athlete can testify to this. When they make the big play and win the big game, everyone gathers around them. Everyone acts like your best friend. However, once you cost your team a game, or lose a big game, the crowd disappears. When we are popular, everyone wants to “hang” with us. When you are popular you may believe that you have lots of friends. . . Don’t delude yourselves. If that popularity wanes, you will discover who your real friends are.
- In his new book, Ed MacMahon talks about Johnny Carson. He relates Carson’s loyalty to his friends. He tells how Burt Reynolds was going through a very tough time in his life. Most of Reynolds friends had deserted him. In fact, Reynolds quipped, “my Christmas card list shrank considerably. . . . but Johnny Carson remained constant, calling frequently to see how I was doing.”
Mark and Paul became friends even though they disagreed fiercely early in the ministry. On one missionary journey Mark came along with Paul and Barnabus. During the journey Mark became homesick and left the team. Paul was angry and refused to allow Mark to travel with him again. He was convinced Mark was a quitter and could not be depended on. However, it is apparent that Paul and Mark worked on their relationship. They worked through the difficult times of the past. And at the end of his life, one of the people Paul wanted around him was his friend, John Mark.
Onesimus, was a runaway slave. He had undoubtedly stolen from his master, Philemon. While he was “on the lamb” he met Paul. Paul led him to Christ and Onesimus was gloriously converted. The runaway slave had become a brother. He was changed and now Paul was sending him back to Philemon with a letter testifying to what a great friend Onesimus had become.
You see, the thing that forges friends are the trials of life. When you’ve worked through difficult times you don’t forget those times. You don’t forget the people who stand by your side in tough times
- those who stand with you as you go through a divorce
- those who are there when you have experienced a public failure
- those who come to your side in the time of tragedy
- those who help you in a time of financial reversal
- those who remain constant even as you act foolishly
No, these people are the ones you remember and cherish. These are your real friends.
After showing you that many friendships are anchored in Christ, developed through shared experiences and nurtured in the trials of life, I want you to see a few things this morning.
1. Everyone needs a Friend. We are not made to be islands. We were created with a need for companionship. We may feel like we are intensely independent. You may try to tell yourself that you “don’t need anyone.” But let me be blunt: I don’t believe you. There are times in all of our lives when we need someone to listen, to hurt with us, to rejoice with us, to pray with us. At times we need to know that someone cares about us. Somewhere in the course of life the mask must come off . . . the barriers must come down . . . we need to be accepted for who we really are. Warts and all.
God created the church to be a community of interdependent people. Paul uses the analogy of a human body. We are all parts of the same body. None of us can function effectively without the other. We need friends. The church is a place where friendships should develop and grow. If you want to develop friendships,
- take your eyes off yourself and give yourself to another
- look for ways to serve together. Get involved in a small group.
- Turn towards a person rather than away from them when they are going through tough times.
As you do these things friendships will naturally develop.
2. We should thank God for the friends we have. It’s sad that we often don’t appreciate our friendships until a crisis strikes. Life gets busy. Jobs change, people move, friends can grow apart. However, the true friends are those that can pick up their relationship with a simple phone call, or visit.
This Thanksgiving make an effort to express thanks for your friends. Give them a call, drop them a note and say, “This Thanksgiving I was counting my blessings and I wanted to let you know that you are at the top of my list.” Reaffirm that relationship. Glory in those God has given you. And when you enumerate your blessings on Thanksgiving day, mention your friends to the Father.
3. Understanding Friendship deepens our relationship with Christ
Jesus said to His disciples (and to all who believe),
- “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (JN 15:15)
Do you understand the impact of these words? It means the Savior loves us. He accepts us. He is willing to work with us and stand with us in the hard times. Our relationship with Christ is not one of formality, but intimacy. Jesus is willing to be your friend.
Understand, Jesus is not offering to be our friend because of what He thinks He will gain from the relationship. He is a giant God. He has no need of us. God is complete without us. His power needs no augmentation. His wisdom needs no improvement. His plan needs no refining. He has no needs for us to meet. And yet . . . . and yet He stoops low to dry your tears, to hold your hand, to give you strength. He is an Awesome God . . . but He offers us His friendship. What a staggering concept. What a wonderful picture. What a precious gift!
The book of Colossians has focused our attention on one primary truth: Jesus is Supreme. He alone is sufficient for what we long for. He alone can save us from our sin and from ourselves. He alone stands as the doorway to eternal life. He is the one who makes strained relationships new. He is the one who makes governs the ways of the world. He is the one who changes the hearts of sinful self-centered people so that their desire is to serve one another. It’s not the Union Church, it’s not me, it’s not America . . . . it’s Jesus.
So as we conclude our study I must ask an all important question: Where do YOU stand with this Jesus? Have you seen His greatness? Have you realized that He is the one you have been looking for? Have you dared to place your life in His loving hands? When all is said and done, this is the most important question: “Where do you stand with Jesus?”
I hope that somewhere in our lengthy study of this great book, God has opened your eyes. If He has, I encourage you to respond. I challenge you to this day, right now, say: “Lord Jesus, you are the King and I am the rebel. I come to you not because I deserve anything but because You have invited me. Today I gratefully place my trust in You. Today I acknowledge that my hope of Heaven is solely in what you have done for me. Today I receive you as my Lord, my Savior and as my friend. Today I give you the throne of my life, confident that you will take me to places I never dreamt possible.”
If you have made this commitment, or if you have been strengthened in your commitment then Paul’s letter to the Colossians has yielded great fruit.
So, as we approach the table of the Lord this morning, we do so not to fulfill some religious ritual. We are having dinner with a friend. A good friend. The best friend. . . . . And we should be grateful.