Friend. The mention of the word stirs all kinds of emotions within our hearts and minds. When we find our health failing and we become unable to take care of ourselves—a friend lightens our load. When our birthday rolls around and we have people who want to celebrate with us—a friend magnifies our joy. When we’ve lost our job and depression threatens us at every turn—a friend sheds light into dark places. When we experience the joy of childbirth with all of its overwhelming emotions—a friend affirms our feelings. On the other hand, when we share a relationship with someone only to have our trust trounced under foot—a friend becomes an adversary. When we find out that a friend has taken advantage of us—a friend becomes a foe. When we find out that our friend is “two-faced” and is talking behind our backs—a friend becomes an antagonist. Friends can share with us when our hearts soar with excitement and celebration; and friends can cut us so deeply that we think the wounds will never heal.
I am certain that we have all had our share of friends who turned out to be “fair weather” acquaintances—the kind that can never be found when we need them. If the truth be known, we’ve been “fair weather” friends as well. The kind of friend who wants friends when it is convenient, but if the road gets rocky and our friendship demands more than cute clichés and routine telephone calls, then we are tempted to bail out. That is a pretty common practice today in the society of the divine “Me”—the society that exalts self at any and all costs. If my relationship with you can boost my stock then it will be profitable for me to be your friend, but if being your friend holds no potential benefit for me then our friendship is expendable. Although this is very common today from the halls of our schools to our neighborhoods and work places, I want us to look at a friendship that the Apostle Paul shared with the people in the church at Philippi. This study can give us some great insight into building strong, lasting, and fulfilling friendships–the kind of friendships that God fully intends for all of us to experience. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Philippians 1:1-11.
1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: 2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:1-11 NIV)
The book of Philippians is the most joy-filled book in the Bible. When we study the book of Philippians we soon discover that the Apostle Paul has found the key to experiencing a joy-filled life no matter what circumstances or situations he encountered. The Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison some time between 57-61 A.D. We know from the record of Paul’s life in the book of Acts that he was in prison three times (Acts 16:23-40; 21:32-23:30; 28:30). It was during his imprisonment in Rome that Paul wrote the letter to the church in Philippi.
Paul wrote this important letter to the Philippians for several reasons. First, he wrote the letter to commend Timothy and Epaphroditus to the church and to prepare the church for their coming. Second, he wrote to communicate to the people his great appreciation for the gift they sent with Epaphroditus (1:5; 4:10; 14f). Third, Epaphroditus shared with Paul some of the troubles that the church was having and Paul wanted to address the problems in his letter. Lastly, Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi to “hold fast” and to stand strong in the midst of the persecution that they were being confronted with in Philippi.
Paul had wonderful memories of the church in Philippi and the people he had met there. He had many wonderful friends in the church that he dearly loved and shared with in the ministry. It is quite evident from reading the first eleven verses of the letter that these folks were not strangers—they were “family.” I want us to gain some insights into the secret of developing strong, lasting, fulfilling friendships like the one Paul shared with the believers in Philippi. There are four different characteristics of friendship that are quite evident in verses 1-11, and if we will study these characteristics, and then put them into practice we will begin to experience a deeper level of friendship than most of us are accustomed to experiencing in life.
Friends share a mutual feeling of thanksgiving for the gift God has given them to share. Friends view their relationship as something sacred, rather than something simple. The entire section of Philippians 1:3-11 is filled with Paul’s expression of thanksgiving for his friends to Philippi and prayers for them. Friends realize that what they share is a gift not to be taken for granted, but to be valued.
There are basically two types of friendships that I encounter most often in my working with people. First, there are those who view their friend as property, as a possession, as something to be used. Oh, don’t get me wrong—this is an unspoken attitude that is never verbally communicated to anyone. As a matter of fact, if you were to ask the person how he or she felt about their friend they would most often deliver the most eloquent bouquet of words to underscore their love, devotion, and appreciation for their friend. Take the words with a grain of salt and stand back and watch—the friend is treated as something less than a friend. The friend is used, misconstrued, and abused in less time than it would take that bouquet of flowery words to wilt, wither, and die. Any time a gift is viewed as a possession it will suffer neglect and eventually be discarded because it will eventually decay and be destroyed.
Second, there are those who view their friend as a treasure, a gift from God. These people realize that the relationships we share with people shouldn’t be taken lightly, but should always be handled with care and reverence. God gives us special people with which we can share all aspects of life and we should be diligent in expressing our genuine love and appreciation to them. In Philippians 1:3, Paul says, 3 “I thank my God every time I remember you.” In 1 Thessalonians 1:2, Paul again says, “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.” Paul knew the value of friends and he knew that his friends were a gift from God. God gives us a valuable gift when He gives us a friend and our hearts should be overflowing with thanksgiving.
Friends share a common purpose and a common identity in life. Notice that the Apostle Paul says in verses 4-7,
4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. (Philippians 1:4-7 NIV)
Paul shares a common purpose with the people of Philippi—they are partners! Paul and the people are a part of something much, much larger than themselves; their purpose is to work together in delivering the Good News to the entire world. It is extremely difficult for people who do not share a common purpose to maintain a relationship of any kind. If all we share with another person is an interest in athletics, aesthetics, or academics then we will rarely grow with that person beyond a surface relationship.
When we share a relationship with another person or a group of people that is grounded and founded in a purpose, cause, or challenge which is far greater than any one of the individuals alone, then you have the ingredients for a great relationship which will continue to grow throughout time.
When friends share a common purpose there is a bonding that takes place which enables growth to come forth in the individual’s lives as well as the friendship. When friends share a common purpose that engulfs their energy and demands their commitment to the challenge, then many of the nagging problems which deter and destroy many friendships will be suppressed.
We can see in Paul’s life an illustration of this bonding brought about by a common purpose which joins friends together and allows them to share a meaningful relationship. Paul was given an incredible gift which enabled him to communicate with people the mission of the Christian faith—to impart life, the abundant life of Jesus to those the Lord had led into his life. Not only could he communicate the mission to them, but he also witnessed to them in order to enable them to make a decision to join the team.
When the Apostle Paul first went to Philippi during his second missionary journey from 49-52 A.D., which is recorded in Acts 14:40-18:23, we see that he touched several people’s lives. There was a woman named Lydia who responded to Paul’s message and her entire household was baptized. There was also an occasion when Paul and Silas went to prison during their first stay in Philippi. While they were in prison, we find in Acts 16:25 that, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” While they were singing, “Amazing Grace” and “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” a terrible earthquake shook the foundations of the prison and the doors flew open. The jailer woke up, saw the opened door, and said, “Oh no!” He just knew all of the prisoners had escaped and that he was going to lose his job, or his head, so he took his sword and prepared to take his own life. All of a sudden, Paul stopped singing and said, “Hey, hey, wait a minute! We’re all still here. Church ain’t over yet!” Within three verses Paul led the jailer to the Lord and another member was enlisted on the team.
In the short time that Paul was in Philippi he made some friends that shared his heart’s desire to live for, speak for, suffer for, and if necessary, die for King Jesus so that others might know His healing hand and His abundant life. Their common purpose was living for their Savior—this purpose bonded their relationship solidly together and enabled it to grow so that time and distance could not deter the mission nor the love that they shared. We, who share a common purpose in sharing God’s love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness to the world, have a great foundation upon which we can build friendships to fill our longing for deep meaningful relationships and to impact the world with the Gospel.
When friends share a common purpose some of the reoccurring problems that plague many friendships do not have a place to begin to grow. This is not to say that if our friendships are grounded in a common purpose that there will not be problems, but it does mean that many of the petty differences will fade in the light of the purpose to which we are committed. Many friendships that I have had and that I have seen others experience were plagued by pickiness. When friends have too much time on their hands with too little to do then they will begin to pick at one another over the most minute and insignificant things. The Apostle Paul and the Philippians were too busy with God’s work to pick each other apart over insignificant nonsense. They had a mission to accomplish and time was growing short, so therefore they had to focus on the more important tasks.
Friends possess a prayerful heart which continually intercedes for one another. In verses 9-11, Paul writes,
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NIV)
It is a given that those who share in a deep friendship will intercede for one another in prayer. I should pray for you and you should pray for me on a regular basis. Paul gives us a great insight into what it is that we should be praying for in one another’s lives.
First, Paul prays that the Philippians love may abound more and more. If the love of God will abound among the Philippians, it will be impossible for little insignificant quarrels and differences of opinion to destroy their friendships. Let God’s love grow and abound so that our relationships may be characterized by the very love of God.
Second, Paul prays that this love will be accompanied by knowledge and depth of insight. It is love that fosters the growth of true knowledge and discernment or spiritual perception. “Knowledge” divorced from love, “puffs up,” whereas “love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
Paul and his Philippian friends, who shared a common purpose in life, knew how important it was to not get caught up in emotion and be led astray. They were seeking to defend and confirm the Good News which others were discussing and distorting. That was not only the mission of Paul and his friends in the first century—it is our mission as well. Friends, let me tell you this morning that we must pray for discernment in each other’s lives. The Greek word, “ai;sqhsij” (aesthesis), literally means, “perception.” It’s meaning for us has to do with moral discrimination and ethical judgment. It is the ability to see through the façade to the reality which is God’s will for each and every one of our lives. There are so many Christians being led astray by false teachings and false teachers today, and one of the main reasons is because God’s people lack knowledge, depth of insight, and discernment. We do not know God’s Word and that is why those who do surveys have discovered that over 50% of the Christians in the United States who were polled could not identify four of the Ten Commandments. The same percentage could not identify the person who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. If we do not know who gave the sermon, how could we possibly live the high moral standard set forth in the sermon? God’s people need knowledge. God’s people need His Word.
Today, there is so much self-styled religion which tends to cater to people’s own personal desire and which tends to elevate the individual to absolute authority over all other forms of authority, even God’s Word. There are many young people who were raised in the church who are finding the progressive spiritual groups very attractive. Many of these groups take parts of several religions and combine them to form a new faith to meet the self-centered desires of people.
We must pray for one another to have depth of insight and we must join together in studying God’s Word to learn of His ways and His attributes. Friends share together in lifting each other up in prayer so that the servants of King Jesus will remain true to their King. The friends that lift each other up in their prayers and ask God to give their friend knowledge, depth of insight, and discernment will be filled to overflowing with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus. Paul says in verses 10-11,
10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:10-11 NIV)
If you will remember, the Greek word for “righteousness” can just as easily be translated, “right relationships” and this understanding is a far more practical and understandable translation. We will be filled with right relationships which comes from our King! Isn’t that what we all desire? Of course it is.
The friendship that Paul shares with many of the people in the church in Philippi is an excellent model for which we can pattern our relationships. We need to be thankful to God for the great gift He has given us in our friends. We should never take our friendships lightly or for granted, but we must always seek to build them up and encourage them—even when our friendships fall on tough times. We should also remember that with many of our friends we share a common purpose in life—to minister, to serve, to encourage God’s people. We need to set our eyes on our eternal purpose rather than on our petty differences which work to destroy friendships and oftentimes even churches.
Friends share a loving affection for one another that is felt at the deepest level. In verse 8, Paul says, 8 “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” The Greek word which is translated, “affection” is an odd word. Today, when we want to emphasize our love for someone we will say, “I love you with all of my heart.” To the modern-day Christian the heart is the storehouse of all human emotion, especially love, but to the ancient Greeks this would seem very strange. If we were in Philippi and I wanted to emphasize my love for you I would say, “I love you with all of my gut.” The Greeks believed that the storehouse for all human emotion, especially love, was found deep in our bellies. I sure am glad that we have relocated the storehouse of human emotion. Aren’t you?
Whether we talk about love from the heart or from the gut, the heart of the matter is that Paul and the Philippians shared a relationship that consisted of deep, heartfelt feelings for one another. The affection was not reserved only for a particular few, but it was offered to all without reservation. There is a great need in the church today for people to express their deep heartfelt affection for one another. We find ourselves in a society that is rapidly closing up its heart to its inhabitants. The church must set the standard in risking it all so as to influence a few for the Kingdom of God.
We are called to offer the love of God to all people, not just those we enjoy being around, not just those who have proven to be “good” friends, but we are to love all people. We should be people who walk around with our eyes and ears open to the cries of this world and prayerfully look for ways to be a blessing, to be a friend.
Dr. Tony Campolo is a professor of Sociology at Eastern College in Pennsylvania. Tony was in Hawaii speaking to a group of churches in the area. Because of the time difference he had a problem going to sleep the first night he was in Hawaii. He got up, put on his clothes, and went in search of a cup of coffee and a donut at 3 am. Tony found a little greasy spoon café and walked in. When he entered the door, a big guy came out and said, “What can I get you?” Tony said, “How about a donut and a cup of coffee?” The big guy raised the cover on the donuts and laid his greasy hand right on the day old donut and gave it to Tony. While Tony sat there eating his donut and drinking his coffee a group of prostitutes came in and sat down at the counter right next to Tony. Tony was kind of startled but he just sat there and listened in on their conversation. It was rough, street tough, but one of the prostitutes said, “Hey, tomorrow is my birthday.” Another prostitute spoke up, “Oh yeah, well what do you expect me to do about it—throw you a party? Everybody has birthdays every year.” The girl said, “Alright, I was just telling you that’s all. I didn’t expect you to do anything special for me. Besides, I’ve never had a birthday party before anyway, why should I start now?” The conversation quickly changed and then the prostitutes got up and left.
The lights were flashing in Tony’s head and he called the big round man back over and said, “You know those prostitutes? Do they come here often?” The big man said, “Yup, every night about 3 am.” Tony said, “Listen, I’ve got an idea. One of them is having a birthday tomorrow and she’s never had a birthday party in her life. How bout we throw her a party?” The big guy asked which one it was and Tony described her. The man said, “That’s Agnes.” The man called his wife from the back and told her about the plan. She got so excited, she told Tony, “Oh mister, Agnes is really a special person in her own way.” The three of them planned the party and Tony was in charge of decorations, the big man said, “I’ll bake the cake!” His wife was in charge of inviting Agnes’ friends.
The next night at 2 am Tony arrived at the café and he had streamers all over the place and a big sign that said, “Happy Birthday Agnes.” The cake was beautiful and almost every prostitute in Honolulu showed up for the surprise party. When Agnes walked in Tony stood up and yelled, “Happy Birthday Agnes!” and everybody started singing, “Happy Birthday to You.” Agnes sat stunned and tears welled up in her eyes as she sat and looked at the cake while listening to everybody sing to her. When they finished their song she just sat there and finally the big man broke the silence, “Come on Agnes cut the cake.” Agnes turned to Tony and said, “I’ll cut the cake in just a minute but can I go up to my room for a minute and then I’ll be right back? I promise I’ll bring the cake right back and then we can cut the cake.” Tony said, “Sure Agnes go ahead.” Agnes was so shaken by all of her friends honoring her by throwing her a party that she just wanted to relish the moment for a little while longer.
As Agnes walked out, the place got very quiet and after a short while Tony said, “Why don’t we all pray?” After the prayer the big man said, “Hey, you didn’t tell us that you were a preacher.” Tony said, “Yeah, I’m a preacher.” The big guy said, “What church do you belong to?” and God put just the right words in Tony’s mouth as he said, “I belong to the kind of church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3 am in the morning.” The man said, “No you don’t! No you don’t! I’d join a church like that.”
Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all? There are 7 billion people in the world and yet loneliness is one of the most prevalent emotions people feel. So many people are looking for a friend and you and I know that in Jesus we have the greatest friend of all. We’re not to keep Him to ourselves, we are to share His love with all people.
If you are one of those lonely folks who feel all alone I’ve come here today to tell you that you have a friend who will stick closer than any family member. Won’t you invite Jesus into your heart this morning and allow Him to transform your life?