I think it would be safe to say that we are all in need of a friend. I’m not talking about acquaintances or someone to pass time with, but a real friend, someone who will be there through thick and thin. Someone like the person Jesus described in John 15:13,
13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 NIV)
I can tell you about some of my friends who have run into situations where they desperately needed a friend, but none were found. Shenessa was a very happy eighth grader, but then again she had plenty of reasons for her happiness. She had lots of friends at school, the teachers thought highly of her, she made good grades, and she was the princess that every eighth grade prince wanted to sweep off her feet.
At the beginning of Shenessa’s ninth grade year, life took a major downward turn. Shenessa and her mom had to move to a new school district where she didn’t know anyone. It didn’t take her long to learn that no one wanted to know her. Her first day in her new school was filled with tears and fear as the other girls in her new school wouldn’t speak to her; when she went to the cafeteria for lunch there was laughter, music, and table after table of kids enjoying their 40 minute break from the books and whiteboards. No one invited her to sit down, no one rushed up to introduce themselves, no one offered to carry her tray — as a result Shenessa walked over to a lonely table in the corner and had lunch with no one.
Shenessa spent a lot of time in her room after school crying. She told her mother that she didn’t want to go to school, but there was nothing her mom could do. Things got worse for Shenessa. Shenessa was pretty and smart, two attributes which can be a great blessing, but which can also be a threat to others. A group of tough, streetwise girls started bugging Shenessa, picking on her, calling her names, and threatening her. Life was hard for a ninth grader who had never needed a friend so badly in her life, but who couldn’t find a friend to save her life.
David was a pastor in a church which had been growing for a decade. The people loved him and he loved them back. He had married their children, buried their parents, blessed their babies, and been there over and over again when they were in trouble, heart broken, shut-in, and sick. If David had made a mistake in the ten plus years that he had served the people of First Church it was that he had put his church family before his own family in order to “grow the church.” The people of the church had never expressed a great concern about the lack of time he was spending at home — he was meeting their needs, doing what they wanted him to do, and being there for them at the drop of a hat.
Time has a way of causing people to forget; who knows it could be amnesia or simple ingratitude, but nonetheless the people forget when “happy days” grind to a halt. The growth of the church slowed down, the bills kept coming in, and people started to get antsy. Friends became antagonists, minor personality differences became major points of contention, and everyone knew sooner or later the boiler was going to blow. A preacher who had given a good part of his life to serving God’s people needed a friend desperately, but they were more scarce than an 8 track tape player.
Dick and Kay had celebrated their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary and they were reminiscing about their wedding day, buying their first home, the births of their babies, and seeing their children begin families of their own. Their children lived fairly close and so they were frequently afforded the pleasure of spoiling their grandchildren rotten as all grandparents are gifted in doing. They had many friends from the years of living in the same small town, attending the same small church, and always holding their friends interest as priorities. Then one day their world crumbled as they got a phone call from their son. The moment Kay answered the phone she knew something was wrong. Gloom and despair, hopelessness and heaviness hung in the room like she had never experienced in her life. Her youngest son said he had to talk to her and his dad as soon as possible. They arranged a meeting for later that evening, but Kay already knew something horrible was going to be unveiled. When Rick arrived there was no smile, no boyish antics like he used to be so famous for, just sorrow, pure hopeless sorrow emanated from every inch of the young man. Mom and dad had a seat and then they heard the words which pierced their hearts — Rick has AIDS. All of their hopes and dreams for their son came to a screeching halt in an instant and their minds automatically raced to the bedside of an emaciated young man whom they could hardly recognize. Tears could not be held back, mom and dad’s hearts were broken. No questions were asked as they moved toward their son and held him in their arms as the three wept together.
In the following weeks and months Dick and Kay suffered alone as they couldn’t bring themselves to tell their friends that the scarlet letter was being worn in shame at their home. Longtime friends who could have brought comfort and strength couldn’t even be trusted with such volatile information which could ruin their reputation in the small community. Friends were needed, but none were there to rush to their rescue as they sunk deeper and deeper in despair.
Friendships like the ones we all need and long for are difficult to cultivate in our transcient and untrusting society. It must be said though that these friendships are not impossible to experience for those who are first willing to be a friend, rather than merely looking for a friend.
Today we are going to look at the thoughts of a man who was facing the finality of death in just a short while. The Apostle Paul had concluded a most successful four year missionary tour through Rome, Spain, Miletus, Ephesus, Philippi, and then ended up back in Rome where he was arrested.
There had been a terrible persecution going on in Rome for some time. In 64 A.D. a fire broke out at the north-east end of the Circus Maximus. The many shops that were located around the area were full of flammable goods so the fire quickly spread, got out of hand, and burned for five days. Rumor began to spread that Nero, although he was out of town when the fire occurred, had the fire set in order to remold the city closer to his hearts desire. Nero got tired of hearing the nasty rumors so he pointed his finger straight and long at the best possible scapegoats available — Christians. As Paul concluded his missionary journey in Rome he was imprisoned. Paul had been in prison before in Rome, but then it was not too severe as he was allowed to live in a rented house. Now Paul was confined to a dark, cold dungeon where he was chained like a common criminal. Paul knew that his work was done and his life was about to draw to its conclusion.
Before the Apostle Paul was beheaded he wrote a letter to his friend Timothy expressing his love for Timothy and the concerns that were foremost in his mind as his life was winding down to a close. It is in 2 Timothy that we will focus out attention this morning as we learn some wonderful lessons about friendship from the life of Paul. The first valuable lesson for us is found in 2 Timothy 1:6-8.
Paul challenges young Timothy in the opening of his letter as he says:
(6) “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (7) For God did not give you a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (8) So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purposes and grace.” (2 Timothy 1:6-8 NIV)
Paul uses a very interesting word that is not used in any other part of the New Testament. Paul tells Timothy to “anazopurein” the gift of God. “Fan into flame” the gift of God which has already manifested itself in Timothy’s life. “Anazopurein” is a beautiful word that conveys the idea of rekindling a fire. Think of a time when you went camping — after all the people in camp had finished cooking their hot dogs and roasting their marshmallows the fire began to die down. As the night went on, the blazing fire that was so hot you could barely stand close enough to roast your marshmallow was now a glowing red heap of coals with seemingly no flame. If we leave it alone the fire will go out, but if we get a stick and begin stirring it up flames will burst forth and we will have a fire once again. Add a few logs and before long the scorching blaze will return to its full force.
Paul knows Timothy, he knows the gifts that God has given him, he knows the tremendous blessing Timothy can be to the believers in Ephesus and that is why Paul has no alternative but to challenge Timothy to rekindle those gifts!
A true friend is unwilling to allow you to waste your God-given abilities. A true friend will encourage you to develop your talents and then use them to be a blessing to others. Can you imagine what Timothy would have been like if Paul would have written and said, “Oh, Timothy, I know that you tend to be shy at times and that it is hard for you to lead others from time to time. Don’t worry about it, others will fill in where you don’t feel comfortable.” Paul would have been no friend to Timothy by doing that, but Paul proves to be a tremendous friend when he says, “Come on Timothy, God did not give you a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” That’s a friend!
If you love your friends you will not allow them to wallow in the muck and mire of life. You will challenge them to use God’s gifts to their full potential. Sometimes your friends are not even aware that they are capable of doing what you see in them. I have had so many people throughout my life who have challenged me to rise above my lack of confidence so that I might achieve what God had purposed in my life. They wouldn’t take “No” for an answer, they would not allow me to throw a pity party for myself, but they have always been there to say, “Press on! Don’t give up! Trust God!”
I hope you and I will be such a friend to someone whom God is wanting to use to accomplish His purposes. It is much easier to be “hands off” or to say to ourselves, “That’s their problem,” but God calls friends to urge one another on, to be a cheerleader for one another in this life. Allow God to use you to unlock the great gifts He has given to your friends and pray that the Lord will give you a friend who challenges you. The second great lesson we can learn from the life of Paul is:
There’s a thought that is quite contrary to the popular modern-day unspoken idea of “looking out for number one.” I “Googled” –“songs about betrayal” this past week and boy you should read some of the lyrics. There’s some pretty raw stuff out there folks. Any of you ever been betrayed by a friend? I’m sure we all have. We are not the first to trust someone and have our trust trampled under foot. David, the great king of Israel knew what it was to suffer from a friend’s betrayal. He wrote these words,
9 Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9 NIV)
12 If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. 13 But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, 14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God. (Psalm 55:12-14 NIV)
You see, it’s not just modern-day friendships that suffer from betrayal and flimsy commitments. This plague has always been around, and in our day, friendship for convenience or for self-benefit is rampant. We find a beautiful example of a different type of friendship in 2 Timothy 1:15-18.
(15) “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. (16) May the Lord show mercy to the household to Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. (17) On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. (18) May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.” (2 Timothy 1:15-18 NIV)
Isn’t that beautiful? We read those words from Paul and think shame on those folks that turned away from Paul and didn’t even try to visit him in prison. We must realize that there was a terrible persecution going on and anybody who would have identified themselves as a Christian and friend of the Apostle could have been punished or even killed in Nero’s day. The people had plenty of reasons why they shouldn’t go and visit Paul in prison, I can hear them now: “What would people think if they saw me going into a prison? You know if the Roman authorities find out I’m a Christian there is no telling what they might do. They might behead me, or Nero might use me to light his garden the way he used some of my Christian friends. Paul will understand if I don’t go. He wouldn’t want me to suffer just so I could go visit him in prison.” If those people only knew how lonely and isolated Paul felt. So alone that he could write, “Everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me!” Paul knew that wasn’t the case, Timothy hadn’t deserted him and neither had Onesiphorus, but when you are locked away in a cold dark dungeon fully aware that your days are numbered and feeling so alone, so isolated, so secluded — self-pity tends to set in.
I am saddened to say that I believe most of us can identify much more closely with those who had deserted Paul than with Onesiphorus. Are you willing to risk your job or your life for a friend? I don’t know if that is a fair question because I have never known anyone who has been put in that predicament. I’ve read about Corrie Ten Boom and the way she risked her life to hide Jews from the Germans as Hitler was murdering them by the millions, but I’ve never met anyone who has put their life on the line for a friend. I believe a much more relevant question is, “When you have a friend that is in a pretty nasty situation do you forge ahead at all costs to make yourself available at any time or do you simply not know what to say and therefore shy away from the person during their crisis?”
Today there are families being ripped apart by divorce, drugs, suicide, child abuse, severe illness, spouse abuse, teen pregnancy, abortion, AIDS, and many other things. What kind of friend am I to my elderly neighbor who has become disoriented and paranoid about life? He is acting beligerently almost constantly and being very abusive with everyone with whom he comes in contact. Am I willing to subject myself to verbal abuse from him? What would people think if they saw me with him in public when he goes into one of his fits of anger?
What do you do when you find out your best friend has an alcoholic father who has been abusing her for several years? She’s only in high school and feels like she has no where to go? What do you say?
I want to take a poll this morning. How many of you have been directly affected by either alcoholism, suicide, drug addiction, AIDS, divorce, physical or sexual abuse, or an unwed pregnancy? Now, how many of us know of someone who has been affected by one of these difficult situations in life? The fact of the matter is that almost all of us fall into one of the two categories. Oh how we need boys and girls, men and women who will be an Onesiphorus today and seek out their hurting friends no matter the risk! Onesiphorus sought Paul out and provided love and encouragement to a lonely man.
Someone once said, “A friend is one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” We are in great need of those kind of people today. I know you need an Onesiphorus in your life — someone who will be there no questions asked! I believe the best way of having someone like that for a friend is to become an Onesiphorus. The most important and relevant question is not, “What do you look for in a friend?” But, better yet, “What do you look like as a friend?” There is one final characteristic of friendship that I want us to take a look at before we leave here this morning.
One of my favorite people is the late Corrie Ten Boom. During the Second World War she and her sisters were imprisoned in a concentration camp. They were taken continually to the delousing showers which were used to get rid of parasites on the prisoners and then made to strip naked. One of the twisted SS guards made repulsive remarks during the whole humiliating time. Corrie survived the camp, but her sister did not.
After the war, Corrie became a Christian spokeswoman all over the world, preaching forgiveness everywhere she went. One day she was speaking in Munich. At the end of the lecture, a man came up to her and stuck out his hand and said, “Ah yes, God’s forgiveness is good, isn’t it?” As she looked into his face she recognized him as the twisted SS guard. His face had been imprinted on her consciousness forever. She said, “I thought in my heart I had forgiven him, but as he reached out his hand, my hand froze by my side, and I could not reach out and take his hand. Here I was, the world-famous forgiver, and I had come face to face with a man I couldn’t even touch. I prayed to God, ‘God, forgive me for my inability to forgive.’ When I asked God for that, He gave me the grace to reach out my hand, take that man’s hand, and say, ‘Yes, God is good.’” Forgiveness is a powerful instrument given to us by God that He can use to heal our hurts and restore us to our fellow human beings.
Forgiveness was difficult for the compassionate, kind, and tender Corrie Ten Boom and it must have been difficult for the Apostle Paul, but we find in his letter to Timothy a remarkable turn of events.
Paul mentions Mark only once in this letter and it is a seemingly insignificant reference, that is, unless you are aware of the history of Paul and Mark’s friendship. Take a look at 2 Timothy 4:9-11.
(9) “Do your best to come to me quickly, (10) for Demas, because he loved the world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. (11) Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:9-11 NIV)
This one little reference brings to light one of the greatest attributes a friend could ever possess. Mark was just a young man when the outreach effort of the church began. Paul and Barnabas were gearing up for their missionary journey when they decided to take Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark, along with them. We find in Acts 13:13 that something went wrong and as Paul and Barnabas left Pamphylia, Mark turned back and left Paul and Barnabas. This left a very bad taste in Paul’s mouth. So bad that when Paul and Barnabas were getting organized for their second missionary journey Paul refused to allow Mark to go along. Barnabas insisted, but Paul would not have it, so Barnabas and Paul split over the issue and Paul took Silas rather than Barnabas on his second missionary journey.
We don’t know what happened after Paul, Barnabas, and Mark split up, but tradition has it that Mark went to Egypt and founded the Christian Church in that country. Whatever he did, he certainly redeemed himself. When Paul wrote Colossians from a prison in Rome, Mark is with him, and Paul brags on Mark to the Colossian Church and encourages them to receive him. Now as Paul’s life is drawing to a close, he says to Timothy, “Be sure to pick up Mark on your way because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” What a turnaround!
These two great Christian leaders were able to do something that fewer and fewer people are willing to do today — Forgive one another, totally! How many relationships have been lost because one or both of the parties who were wronged refused to forgive one another? If you wrong me or I wrong you and we both refuse to take the initiative in repairing the relationship and allowing God to bring healing to both of us, then we will both be robbed of a potentially wonderful future full of meaningful experiences, laughter, victories, and shared defeats. I will lose someone who will be there for me when I need a lift and you will lose someone who will challenge you to keep pressing on. The basic question is: “Which is most important — the preservation of the friendship or proving you were wronged and punishing the guilty party by condemning them forever?” I pray that God will enable us to join Paul and Mark — join with Paul in seeking the restoration of broken relationships and join with Mark in letting old wounds heal for the sake of the frienship. If we can learn this one lesson of forgiveness we will reap the rewards of experiencing restored relationships whch are strengthened and able to endure the hardships of time.
We are all in need of a friend. I hope you and I will seek to be that friend to someone else and in turn I am certain that our Lord will send us a friend to comfort us, challenge us, and forgive us when we go astray.
Realistically speaking none of us meets all of the criterion we studied this morning, but there is a friend who far transcends the qualities. Jesus has proven that His friendship is true. He has been faithful to me when I failed to be faithful to Him. He loved me when I didn’t even care if He existed. Won’t you allow Jesus to come into your heart and be your Lord and Savior? Don’t let this day pass you by without finding the love He has to offer.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
November 2, 2008