We talk rather glibly about friendship and toss the word “friend” around rather freely. But when the Bible speaks about friendship, it does so with great seriousness. We are counseled to choose our friends wisely because alliances with the wrong friends leads to trouble. We are told that friendship is one of the richest treasures of life. Solomon understood the value of friendship. Listen to some of the things he wrote,
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Proverbs 27:6 (NIV)
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)
If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecc. 4:10-12)
Solomon affirms the importance and the value of friendship. Henry Brooks Adams wrote, “One friend in a life is much, two are many, three are hardly possible.” It is true that finding a good friend is difficult and becoming more difficult all the time. There are several things that hinder our desire for close friendships
- the pace of life . . . we are too busy to nurture relationships
- the distractions of life . . . television, the Internet, video games
- the mobility of life . . .people move frequently from job to job and location to location
- the isolation of life . . .we spend much time at computers and in front of boxes which provide no interaction at all.
- the cynicism of life . . . we distrust people and so we are reluctant to let our guard down
All of these things serve as barriers to true and lasting friendships. This morning we look at some personal comments of the Apostle Paul. He talks about two people that I would call his friends. Timothy spent more time with Paul and probably would be classified as a “best” friend, but both men were friends in some measure.
Timothy was a young man Paul helped come to Christ. His mother and Grandmother were Jewish believers but his father was a Greek. Timothy came to faith and became Paul’s loyal companion. He was with Paul when he ministered in the cities of Philippi,Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, Ephesus, and he was with him in prison in Rome. Timothy was associated with Paul in the writing of no fewer than five of his letters–1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians and Philippians; and when Paul wrote to Rome Timothy was joined with him in sending greetings. Paul trained Timothy for the ministry personally.
Epaphroditus is a man we only read about in the letter to the Philippians. Apparently, Epaphroditus was sent by the church in Philippi to help care for the Apostle Paul. We know that while Epaphroditus was with Paul he became seriously ill. His illness must have lasted for a long period because the Philippians heard about it and had sent word back about their concern for Epaphroditus. We don’t know what was wrong with Epaphroditus but we do know that Paul was concerned about him.
We also aren’t really sure what Epaphroditus did for Paul but Paul uses some strong words to describe this man. He calls him, “my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.” (2:25) These strong words lead us to believe that a strong bond had been created between these men.
In these verses before us the Apostle draws a picture of what a true Christian servant is like. But in doing so, he also gives us a glimpse of what a true friendship is. Let’s look at three qualities of a good friend.
The first characteristic of friendship I see in Timothy and Epaphroditus is the fact that they were there with Paul. Remember, Paul is not on a speaking tour. He is in jail. There is a good chance that the Emperor Nero was going to have Paul executed. And it was also a distinct possibility that those who were “known associates” would be at risk too. Consequently, I’m sure many people stayed away.
We forget that Paul’s job was one that would leave him pretty lonely. He traveled much and had many demands on his time. It would be hard for him to get close to people. Paul had lots of people around him . . .but I suspect few knew him well. When Paul was popular, lots of people thought of themselves as Paul’s friend. But when Paul was in trouble, those friends often disappeared. In 2 Timothy 4 Paul wrote to his dear friend Timothy near the end of his life. Paul confesses his loneliness and asks Timothy to come and be with him.
And this is why the idea of presence is so important to friendship. Friends are the people who are there when others are not. When the crowd dies down after a crisis, your friends are the ones who are still active and involved. Friends will,
- sit with you in a hospital
- sit quietly as you grieve
- be available at a moment’s notice in a crisis
- come out to help in the middle of the night
- lend a hand when there is work to be done
When others could not, or would not travel to be with Paul, Epaphroditus went to be by his side. These two men were dear to Paul because they were by his side helping in the work and helping him personally.
Jackie Robinson was the first black to play major league baseball. While breaking baseball’s “color barrier,” he faced jeering crowds in every stadium. While playing one day in his home stadium in Brooklyn, he committed an error. His own fans began to ridicule him. He stood at second base, humiliated, while the fans jeered.
Then shortstop “Pee Wee” Reese came over and stood next to him. He put his arm around Jackie Robinson and faced the crowd. The fans grew quiet. Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career. — Larry Wise, East Troy, Wisconsin. Leadership, Vol. 11, no. 2.
Do you think that Pee Wee Reese didn’t catch some grief for what he did? Of course he did. But he was not going to allow a friend and teammate to face that kind of persecution alone. Timothy and Epaphroditus were not going to allow their friend to be left alone either.
Do you have this kind of friend? If so, thank God for them. Can you be this kind of friend for another? You don’t have to have profound words or great ability . . . you just need to be there.
A second characteristic of friendship in both Timothy and Epaphroditus was their willingness to sacrifice.
They Gave of Themselves
Paul says of Timothy,
But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. (22-24)
Of Epaphroditus we are told that he was a “fellow worker”. He served beside Paul.
Timothy’s volunteered to take this letter to the church in Philippi when no one else was willing to do the job. It meant time away from home (remember it would take many weeks to travel to Philippi in these days). It meant inconvenience. And it also meant travel which at times could be quite dangerous. As Epaphroditus came to be with Paul, Timothy was willing to serve Paul by going to the Philippians.
A friend will do what they can to help another. They will give their time, their resources, their energy. A friend is not afraid to get involved with your life. They are willing to roll up their sleeves and help.
They Gave with no thought of themselves
Paul says about Epaphroditus,
Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.
William Barclay gives us some pretty good insight when it comes to the way Epaphroditus gave,
The word for “risked his life” is a gambler’s word and means to stake everything on a turn of the dice. Paul is saying that for the sake of Jesus Christ Epaphroditus gambled his life. In the days of the Early Church there was an association of men and women called the parabolani, the gamblers. It was their aim to visit the prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases. In A.D. 252 plague broke out in Carthage; the heathen threw out the bodies of their dead and fled in terror.
Cyprian, the Christian bishop, gathered his congregation together and set them to burying the dead and nursing the sick in that plague-stricken city; and by so doing they saved the city, at the risk of their lives, from destruction and desolation. [William Barclay, Philippians]
These people in the early church were willing to gamble with their lives to help others. And really, isn’t that the picture of what true discipleship is? We are to “put it on the line for Christ.” But in a similar way, we put it on the line for our friends.
Do you see what Timothy and Epaphroditus had in common? Of Epaphroditus we read, “[he] takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” You can’t be a good friend if you are only looking out for your own interests. Friendship is not about you . . . it’s about your relationship to and with your friend. Sometimes friendship is inconvenient. Sometimes it is unpopular. Sometimes it is difficult. But if you only desire friends who will say nice things to you and never demand anything in return, you will never have a close friend.
These men were not looking out for their needs. They weren’t with Paul out of some warped desire to gain notoriety. They weren’t concerned about what happened to them. They were serving the Lord first and in their service to the Lord, they served Paul. They gave their time, their substance, their energy.
The story goes that two friends were fighting side by side on the battlefield. The combat was fierce and many men were dying. One of the friends was wounded and couldn’t get back to the trenches. The other friend went out to get him, going against orders. He returned with a wound that would lead to his death and his friend was already dead.
The officer looked at the dying soldier and said, “It wasn’t worth it.”
The soldier replied, “O but it was sir. When I reached my friend, he looked at me and said, ‘I knew you’d come.’
You don’t get true friends because of the car your drive or the money you have. Oh, you can get people to hang out with you because of what you have, what you look like, the influence you hold, or because of what you do . . . but when somebody has something better, those friends will be gone. A solid friendship is built on relationship, not superficial things. A good friend is not there because of what they can get from you. They are there because of what you mean to them. They will gladly give of themselves for you.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends.”
One more thing to see, these men were not only friends for a short period of time, they were friends for the duration. Timothy traveled with Paul. He was there when he was in jail and there when he neared the end of his life. And Timothy was there to carry on the work of his dear friend after he was gone.
We’ve already alluded to it several times, but it must be stated clearly: A good friend is one who is with you for the long haul. They understand that we everyone makes mistakes and at times they do stupid things. They don’t desert you when you do something foolish. They don’t walk away because you had a bad day. They don’t become scarce because times are rough. They hang in there. They are committed.
It is difficult to be my dad’s friend right now. His disease has made it tough to talk with him and going places with my dad is a stressful experience because he will sometimes do socially embarrassing things. My parents have found that many of the people they thought were there good friends are now staying very far away. And we understand. It’s hard. But they have one friend that has been there for them throughout the experience. They don’t live close but they visit often. They will spend the night and invite mom and dad to come and spend some time with them. They go on vacation together. They go out to eat. He takes my dad golfing and they do things he enjoys. They do things with my parents even though it is difficult. They don’t stay away. And when they are around dad’s day is brighter and mom’s is easier. They are good friends.
Some of you have had good friends like that. When times were tough you were not surprised when your friend stood by you . . . even though it was unpopular. Perhaps they put their arm around you like Pee Wee Reese, or maybe they provided for some special needs. Maybe they sat by your bedside in the hospital or visited you in jail. And maybe they were the one who was leading the cheers for your accomplishments. And I’d bet that it was at that moment that you knew they were dear friends.
Former televangelist Jim Bakker speaks of events that occurred immediately after his release from prison:
When I was transferred to my last prison, Franklin [Graham] said he wanted to help me out when I got out-with a job, a house to live in, and a car. It was my fifth Christmas in prison. I thought it over and said, “Franklin, you can’t do this. It will hurt you. The Grahams don’t need my baggage.” He looked at me and he said, “Jim, you were my friend in the past and you are my friend now. If anyone doesn’t like it, I’m looking for a fight.”
So when I got out of prison the Grahams sponsored me and paid for a house for me to live in and gave me a car to drive. The first Sunday out, Ruth Graham called the halfway house I was living in at the Salvation Army and asked permission for me to go to the Montreat Presbyterian Church with her that Sunday morning. When I got there, the pastor welcomed me and sat me with the Graham family. There were like two whole rows of them-I think every Graham aunt and uncle and cousin was there. The organ began playing and the place was full except for a seat next to me. Then the doors opened and in walked Ruth Graham. She walked down that aisle and sat next to inmate 07407-058. I had only been out of prison 48 hours, but she told the world that morning that Jim Bakker was her friend.” [BAKER, I WAS WRONG]
Everyone would have understood if the Grahams kept their distance from Jim Bakker. But that was not an option for them because Jim Bakker was their friend. He had made mistakes. He had had hard times . . . but true friendship is not fickle.
I’m sure you understand that this passage in Philippians did not really set out to teach us about friendship. But it teaches us nonetheless. Let me share some final thoughts.
First, everyone needs a friend. We all need someone we know we can depend on. We all recognize that true friends are hard to come by. If you have one of these good friends. Take some time today to thank God for these people and to say to those people, “I’m glad you are my friend.”
Second, we recognize again that in order to have good friends we need to be a good friend. If we want friends we can’t wait for people to come to us. We can’t wait for people to show that the love we extend will be reciprocated. Our job is to be friendly. We must give of ourselves to others. Some people will take advantage of our love. But some won’t. Some people will become our friends. You and I must make the first move. We must be friendly and somewhere along the line, God will help us find the friends we are looking for.
Third, we must be patient. Friendships do not develop over night. They develop over time. Be friendly with many and over time you will discover who your real friends are. In fact, it may surprise you who your real friends turn out to be. They will be the ones who stand with you in the tough times. They will be the ones who share your joy as well as your sorrow. They will be the ones you will cherish for the rest of your life.
Finally, the best way to learn about friendship is to be a good disciple. Have you noticed that being involved, giving of ourselves, and being committed for the long haul are also the traits that are called for in following Christ? These men grew as friends because of their common love for and service to our Lord.
This leads me to conclude that some of the best friendships we have will most likely be found right here in our community of faith. As we serve the Lord we will grow together. As we draw our example from Christ, we will find ourselves becoming better friends. As we learn more about His commitment to us, we will find ourselves willing to be more committed to each other. And as we do this I think we may be able to show the world that friendship is indeed precious, and possible. And in our friendships we will be able to spur one another on in our devotion to the Savior. We will have good friends and be better servants of our Lord. And the Father will smile.