This morning our men’s group discussed John 18, the fall of the Apostle Peter. It’s a heartbreaking story of how a man, who had witnessed the power of Christ regularly, fell in his faith. I did the usual conversation about how no one is immune from such a fall, persecution burns out faith to test what is pure and what is not, and that Jesus is in the restoration business. Then one of our fellows, Cam, commented that it was interesting Peter’s fall coincided with his separation from his friends…he mentioned how easy it had been for Peter to stand firm in the midst of other believers, but when separated, he was open to the temptation to deny Christ…talk about schooling the preacher! That was pretty profound!
I started thinking, “What does the Bible say about friendship and the gospel?” In John 16:33, Jesus promised the disciples that in “this world you will have troubles. But take heart, I am with you.” I’m still working through a few of my thoughts…some of them from a scriptural standpoint, others of a more practical nature. It seems to me we find several characteristics common to American Christianity today:
- Those who view the promise of John 16:33 as a license to go solo. No doubt, Jesus was making a promise…a promise that the world would be full of trouble…and a promise that if no one else stands with the believer, he does not stand alone for Christ is with him. But does that mean we are to embrace solo Christianity?
On the other hand are those whose friends play to great a role in their Christian walk…maybe the Galatians would be a good example here. Paul asked the Galatians who had “bewitched” them, led them astray. Apparently they had allowed some people into their fellowship and not tested their belief and motive. The end result of the wrong “friendships” was a church being led away from the gospel…unfortunately this exists today as well. There are those that place too much value in the council of some who lead them down the wrong path…
What we know for sure is that God made human beings to be communal. Just a cursory glance at the creation account is enough to prove this point. After God had made all things, He had repeatedly asserted their “goodness” (perfection). However, when He saw that Adam had no one to share the earth with, for the first time God said, “it is not good that man should be alone.” God created mankind to live in community, fellowship – with Him and each other.
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to friends. At the close of Titus, as in many other places, he writes, “All who are with me…” He had apparently surrounded himself with people to encourage and strengthen him. But not all relationships worked out – there was the notorious case of Demas!
Friendship can be pretty difficult sometimes…the people we select don’t always do what we think they should. Sometimes they make mistakes, sometimes we make mistakes. On the other hand, a friend in the difficult hour can be more precious than gold. Henrik Ibsen said, “Friends are an expensive luxury, and when one invests one’s capital in a calling or mission in this life, one cannot afford to have friends. The expensive thing about friends is not what one does for them, but what, out of consideration for them, one leaves undone.” In fairness, Ibsen may not have shared our faith…but he acknowledged that friendship is a costly matter…Question: Are they worth it?
Enter stage right – the Gospel… “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:3-7)
Notice, with great eloquence, the Apostle’s statements on friendship.
- He thanked God for them…He was in prayer on their behalf…they brought him great joy…
The glue of their friendship was the gospel…”because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” – The church has always been a band of misfits, murderers, thieves, drug addicts, liars, idolaters, and the list continues… But the gospel had overcome these things and its people were meant to dwell in unity.
He carried his friends with him…”I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” – Friends are not picked up and dropped off, they are carried along with us in the good and the bad. They rejoice when we rejoice and the weep when we weep. Because friends are carried with us, there is the necessity of transparency. I have to give to my friends (time, energy, resources, wisdom, ears, etc.). And true friends give back…they don’t just take. If you find yourself only giving, but not receiving, it’s probably not a gospel friendship…likewise, if you are always receiving and never giving…well, you get the picture.
The point – the gospel is the root of an abiding friendship. It is what draws us together and binds our hearts in unity. Consider the wisdom writer, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
Make a friend in the gospel today…restore a brother…or both!
Held by Grace, Pastor Chris