Friends. 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 heavy burden. When our birthday rolls around and we have people to help us celebrate that special day — a friend magnifies our joy. When we lose our job and depression threatens us at every turn — a friend sheds light into dark places. When we experience the joy of child-birth with all of its overwhelming emotions — a friend affirms our feelings of joy. On the other hand, when we share in 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 speaking negatively about us when we are not around — 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 the wounds may never heal without help from God.
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. We have all had our share of friends who wanted to be our “buddy” when it was convenient, but when the road got rocky and friendship demanded more than cute clichés and routine telephone calls, then they bailed out. That is a pretty common practice today in the society of the divine “Me” — the society that exalts self at any and all expense. 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 for future dividends then our friendship is expendable. Although this is very common today, I want us to look at a friendship that the Apostle Paul shared with the people in the church at Philippi which gives us some great insight into building strong, lasting, and fulfilling friendships—the kind of friendships that God fully intends all of us to experience. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Philippians 1:1-11.
(1) Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. (2) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (3) I thank my God every time I remember you. (4) In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, (6) being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (7) It 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. (8) God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (9) And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, (10) so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:1-11 NIV)
The letter to the Philippians is the most joy-filled book of the entire Bible. When we study the book of Philippians we soon discover that the Apostle Paul had found the key to experiencing a joy-filled life no matter what circumstance or situation he encountered. The Apostle Paul wrote the letter from prison some time between 57-61 A.D., depending upon the city in which Paul served his two year prison sentence. We know from the record of Paul’s life in the Book of Acts that he was in prison three times (16:23-40; 21:32-23:30; 28:30). It was during his stay in either Rome, Ephesus, or Caesarea that Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi. The traditional setting has always been Rome with Paul writing Philippians in 61 A.D., but some believe that Paul wrote the letter while he was in prison in Ephesus between 53-55 A.D., and still others believe that Paul wrote while he was in prison in Caesarea during 57-59 A.D.
The Apostle Paul wrote this important letter to the Philippians for several reasons. First, 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 addressed the problems in his letter. Lastly, Paul encouraged the believers at Philippi to “hold fast” and to stand strong in the midst of the persecution that they were being confronted with in Philippi.
The Philippian church was a great church of which Paul had fond memories. He had many friends in the church that he loved and with whom he shared in 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 insight into the secret of developing strong, lasting, fulfilling friendships like the ones 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.
First, 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 in Philippi and his prayer 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 friendship 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 emphasize their love, devotion, and appreciation for their friend. Take the words with a grain of salt and stand back and watch — the friend’s often used, misconstrued, misused and abused in less time than it would take that bouquet to wilt, wither, and die. Any time a gift is viewed as a possession it will suffer neglect and eventually be discarded.
Second, there are those who view their friend as a prize, a gift from God. These people realize that the relationships we share with people should never 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, “I thank God every time I remember you.” In I 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 the Source which provided caring, loving, honest people who were willing to take risks — risk in loving us at all times, risks in being honest with us when it isn’t easy, and risk in sharing our burdens with us when it isn’t convenient. God gives us a valuable gift when He gives us a friend and our hearts should be overflowing with thanksgiving.
The second characteristic of a strong friendship is that friends share a common purpose and a common identity in life. Notice that the Apostle Paul says in verses 4-7,
(4) In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, (6) being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (7) It 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 in Philippi — they are partners! Paul and the Philippians 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, whether it be an interest in business, bridge, fashion, fishing, books, music, shopping, skiing, gardening, travel, or teaching, 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 bigger than any one of the individuals could ever meet or accomplish 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 individuals as well as the relationship. When friends share a common purpose that engulfs their energy and demands their commitment to the challenge, then many of the nagging problems which destroy many friendships will be avoided.
We can see an illustration of the bonding that develops because of a common purpose in Paul’s life and relationship with the people in Philippi. Paul was given an incredible gift which enabled him to communicate with people the mission of the Christian faith. Paul’s passion was to communicate to all people the abundant life of Jesus to every person. Not only could he communicate the mission to them, but he also witnessed to them to make a decision to join the team.
When the Apostle Paul first went to Philippi during his second missionary journey, 49 A.D.- 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 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 so he took his sword and started to kill himself. All of a sudden, Paul stopped singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and said, “Hey, don’t kill yourself! We are all right here!” 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. It is this common purpose that bonded their relationship solidly together and enabled it to grow so that time and distance could not deter the mission or the love shared by friends. 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 friendship is 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 they 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 business to pick each other apart over insignificant nonsense. They had a mission to accomplish and time was growing short so therefore they had to give their energy to the more important tasks.
The third characteristic of strong friendship is 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 “splagchnois” 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 Greek this would seem very strange. If we were in Philippi and I wanted to emphasis my love for you I would say, “I love you with all of my bowels or my gut.” The Greeks believed that the storehouse for all human emotion, especially love, was the gut or the bowels. 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 bowel, the heart of the matter is that Paul and the Philippians shared a relationship that consisted of deep heartfelt feelings one for 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 others. 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 God’s Kingdom. If we will openly express to others that we care deeply for their welfare and future, then we will develop deep relationships that will make a positive impact upon individuals and our society. Friends are willing to share, openly and unapologetically, their deep concern for one another.
So far we’ve learned that friends share a mutual feeling of thanksgiving, a common purpose, and a deep level of affec¬tion. The last characteristic of strong friendships is this: friends possess a prayerful heart which continually intercedes on their behalf before God. In verses 9-11, Paul says.
(9) And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, (10) so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that come through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.
It is common to find committed intercessory prayer in the lives of individuals who share a deep friendship. 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 one another. First, Paul prays that the Philippians love may abound more and more. If the love of God will abound among the Philippians, it will remove those threats of dissension, bitterness, and envy that we see destroy friendships. Let God’s love grow and abound so that our relationships may be characterized by the 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 for one another. The Greek word “aisthesei” literally means “perception.” It indicates the power of moral discrimination and ethical judgment. It is the ability to see through the facade to the reality. 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 it is so easy to lead us astray.
A recent study was done by the Barna Institute and they discovered that over 50% of the Christians polled could not identify more than 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 message! God’s people need knowledge. God’s people need His Word!
Today, there is so much “self-styled” religion which tends to cater to one’s own personal desire and which tends to elevate the individual to absolute authority over all other forms of authority, especially God’s Word. There are many young people who were raised in the church who are finding the progressive religious groups and “New Age” cults particularly 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 the modern-day man or woman.
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. It is only through a study of God’s Word that we can determine that which God requires of us to live a “pure and blameless” life as Paul mentions in verse 10. Christians should be concerned and committed to living a “pure and blameless” life before God not only because they have the potential to reach others for King Jesus now, but because they will also stand before God on “the day of Christ.” Living the life is important in view of the day of Christ, the day of reward and review for God’s people. We cannot possibly be found standing “blameless and pure” on that day unless we lead “pure and blameless” lives here and now. Friends share together in lifting each other up in prayer so that the followers of 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 from walking with Jesus. Paul says in verses 10-11, (10) so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, (11) filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God. If you will remember, the Greek word for “righteousness” can just as easily be translated “right-relationships” and this rendering is a far more practical 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 shared 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 them lightly or for granted, but we must always seek to build them up and encourage them — even when we have fallen on tough times. We should also realize that with many of our friends we share a common purpose in life — to minister, to serve, to bless 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. We need to express our affection for others so that the frozen chosen of this world might “thaw-out” and realize the opportunities that God provides for those who will love one another. Last of all, we need to have a prayerful heart concerning our friends. Pray for me, that God’s love might abound in my life, that I might have knowledge, depth of insight, discernment, and that I might be filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes from God. I will pray the same for you.
In Ernest Gordon’s true account of life in a World War II Japanese prison camp, Through the Valley of the Kwai, there is a story that never fails to move me. It is about a friendship that was shared, a friendship that characterizes the type of love, commitment, and encouragement that we have been discussing this morning.
Angus was a Scottish prisoner in one of the camps filled with Americans, Australians, and Britons who had helped build the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai. The camp had become an ugly situation. A dog-eat-dog mentality had set in. Allies would literally steal from each other and cheat each other; men would sleep on their packs and yet have them stolen from under their heads. Survival was everything. The law of the jungle prevailed…until the news of Angus McGillivray’s death spread throughout the camp. Rumors spread in the wake of his death. No one could believe big Angus had died. He was strong, one of those whom they had expected to be the last to die. Actually, it wasn’t the fact of his death that shocked the men, but the reason he died. Finally they pieced together the ture story.
The Scottish soldiers took their buddy system very seriously. The buddy was called their “mucker,” and these Scots believed it was literally up to each of them to make sure their “mucker” survived. Angus’s mucker, though, was dying, and everyone had given up on him, everyone, of course, but Angus. He had made up his mind that his friend would not die. Someone had stolen his mucker’s blanket. So Angus gave him his own, telling his mucker that he had “just come across an extra one.” Likewise, every mealtime, Angus would get his rations and take them to his friend, stand over him and force him to eat them, again stating that he was able to get “extra food.” Angus was going to do anything and everything to see that his buddy got what he needed to recover.
But as Angus’s mucker began to recover, Angus collapsed, slumped over, and died. The doctors discovered that he had died of starvation complicated by exhaustion. He had been giving of his own food and shelter. He had given everything he had to his friend — even his life. The impact of his acts of love and unselfishness had a startling impact on the compound. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12).
As word circulated of the reason for Angus McGillivray’s death, the feel of the camp began to change. Suddenly, men began to focus on their mates, their friends, the humanity of living beyond survival, of giving oneself away. They began to pool their talents — one was a violin maker, another an orchestra leader, another a cabinet maker, another a professor. Soon the camp had an orchestra full of homemade instruments and a church called the “Church Without Walls” that was so powerful, so compelling, that even the Japanese guards attended. The men began a university, a hospital, and a library system. The place was transformed; an all but smothered love revived, all because one man named Angus gave all he had for his friend.
Angus McGillivray’s friend must have been overwhelmed throughout the rest of his life knowing that his friend died for him. Knowing that he was loved so much by Angus that he was willing to die so that he might live, had to have transformed his life. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Angus’s death had to have an incredible impact on this young soldier’s life because I have had someone die for me also. I learned when I was nineteen years old that almost two thousand years ago Jesus saw that I was dying and because of my sickness He died in my place. When I learned that He willingly died so that I might live — my life was transformed. Today, Jesus has given me a task which will take me the rest of my life to complete, but I will be about His business. My task is to tell you this morning that you have a friend and His name is Jesus. He not only died for me, but He died for you too. What you need is a friend this morning and you are in luck, for He is here waiting for you to come.
Britton Christian Church
922 N.W. 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
November 4, 2007