What would we do without friends?
Friendship is a vital thing and the Bible speaks of friendship in both the Old and New Testaments. The book of Proverbs alone, at least in the New International Version, has 14 verses devoted to the importance of friends and friendship.
Friendship can also be a difficult thing as well. Jealousy is a very potent acid which can eat away at a friendship. Gossip? Another one as well. Unreasonable expectations is another acid which can eat away at the bonds of friendship.
So to help us focus on just how dynamic, fluid, necessary, and sometimes inflammatory, friendship can be, lets watch to great friends, Ethel Mertz and Lucy Ricardo, sing about friendship…
… and act like friends sometimes do!
Did I mention unresolved conflict as well? And teens… we are talking adults here! You are asking us about friendship?
This classic clip I think serves as a picture of friendship that hits close to home.
Friendship can be both a strong bond,
and in some situations, a noose, from which we can either grow or suffocate ourselves and another person.
Now you might be thinking, “Pastor Jim calling friendship a noose is pretty harsh.” Well, I wonder if some our teens might agree with me. For when some of them wrote about friendship in response to my query as to sermon subjects they would like addressed, the pain and harshness of friendship is quite clear in their thinking.
“How much trust is too much? (In other people.)”
“Anger with other people.”
“Friendship. Friends that betray.”
There are some deep emotions here that cannot be dismissed. We adults, I think, have the same questions and feelings as well.
Two stories from scripture came to mind this past week as I pondered these thoughts about friendship. The first one illustrates, tragically, the idea of friendship as a noose because of betrayal. And betrayal is one of the greatest threats to friendship that exists.
It is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and our text is found in John 13:21-30:
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
One of the things I noticed several years ago as I read the gospels is that Jesus repeats over the course of His ministry that the Son of Man is going to be betrayed and that He seems to get a bit clearer about what that means each time He says it until we get to this passage and He gets very specific:
“One of you is going to betray me…”
It gets their attention very quickly as noted in verse 22:
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.
It also outs Judas as the betrayer.
… dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
It is one of the most tragic stories in the Bible.
Jesus knows that betrayal will happen and that someone will betray Him as noted in Matthew 26:24
The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Judas was the one who betrayed but it could have been any one of the disciples. Peter, who denied knowing Him, could have betrayed Him. Matthew could have. John could have. Mary Magdalene could have betrayed Him.
Betrayal is a noose in any relationship – marriage, family, work, even the church. It hangs us. It hangs a relationship, a marriage, a friendship. It takes the life out of them.
Why did Judas betray Jesus? I am not talking about the fulfillment of scripture reason. What pushed Judas to betray Jesus?
We really don’t know and I do not think that Judas was born and lived only to be Jesus’ betrayer. But one reason given for his betrayal was that Judas, and perhaps some of the other disciples as well, had an expectation that Jesus would finally exert His power and overthrow the Roman government and restore Israel to independent nation status. Perhaps Judas thought that if Jesus would be arrested that He would finally react and do something.
It did not happen because Jesus was not on earth to provide a political solution to the human condition but a spiritual one. He was here to offer a deeper solution- a solution to change the human heart and condition in way that no political, economic, or any other kind of solution could.
But He was betrayed. He personally experienced what it was like to be stabbed in the back by someone He had personally called to follow Him.
The betrayal resulted in His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But it also resulted in Judas’ tragic death.
Have you ever been betrayed?
Have you betrayed someone else?
I think that friendships and relationships are hung with several noose (nooses?).
One is called envy.
A second is called jealousy.
A third is called unrealistic expectations.
A fourth is called resentment.
When these are operating in our hearts, attitudes, and our actions, we are on the path of seeing our friendships hang and die. Anger takes root and trust vanishes. And I truly believe that unless we choose to stop and ask God’s help to staying stopped with all of these, we are destined to hang our friendship and be hung as well.
We can also have, and do have, great joy and in life in our friendships and relationships don’t we?
When Facebook opened up to the general public about 7 or 8 years ago, I was truly shocked by the “friending” which took place. People I never thought I would see, let alone hear from again, began popping up in my network.
But for all the wonderful connections and re-connections that have been made still does not substitute, in my opinion, for face to face communication, interaction, and bonding.
We are made to be social. Yes, some of us do not require as many friends in our lives and we are fine with a small circle of them. Others of us, the more the merrier. But we are made for meaningful interaction with others.
One of the greatest stories of friendship in the Bible is that of Jonathon and David that we find in the book of I Samuel. We read in 1 Samuel 20:16 and17 these words:
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
This friendship is a bond between two un equals in one regard. Jonathan was, if you will, the crown prince of Israel. His father Saul was the King. David was a warrior in the Israelite army.
But by this point in the story, Saul has lost favor with God who selects David to be the next king. And the result is a frayed and violent relationship between Saul and David with Jonathan in the middle.
Jonathan, because of his father’s disobedience, will never become king. David will. So why would Jonathan befriend David? Why be nice to someone who will take the place that was to be yours?
How can a friendship exist, thrive even, in such an atmosphere of jealousy, mistrust, and fear?
Jonathan even puts himself at great risk to support and protect David as we read in places such as 1 Samuel 20:33 when in a rage Saul throws a spear at his own son, who is defending David. Why would he want to do that for a political rival?
As I re-read this segment this past week I was stuck at how much Jonathan intentionally chose to be friends with David even though he had nothing to gain as much as David had to lose. This commitment; this choice to develop and invest in a friendship that was a serious risk to both men, says a great deal about Jonathan’s character.
Do such relationships, can such friendship exist today? I think that this level of friendship might be hard to imagine today. We live in a culture in which competition and winning at any cost is paramount. It is a “me first,” you second attitude.
What advice would Jonathon get today about this friendship?
“What are you thinking?
“Dude, get rid of him! He’s gonna’ take what is rightfully yours!”
“What do you hope to gain by befriending this guy?”
(Do you ever think that David asked Jonathon, “Why are you doing this for me?”)
Jonathan’s friendship with David is not based on political expediency but on a deeper set of values and commitments that transcend the power issues that envelope both of them. It is not “What can you do for me David?” It’s “What can I do for you David.”
This kind of friendship makes life go! This kind of friendship is empowering. This kind of friendship, I believe, creates room for God to work.
I believe that we desire this kind of friendship.
This is the bond of friendship at its best.
This friendship benefited David more that it did Jonathan in the following ways.
It gave David important support when he needed it.
It gave David a safe place.
It gave David a model to use when he became king and relied on his advisers and officers.
Good friendship, in which trust is built and sustained, empowers others, develops and enriches the other to become the person God would have them become. Good friendship helps us grow up and become responsible people.
I also believe that friendship is a key element in the great commission. Read the book of Acts and notice how friendship helped the gospel move further and further out into the world. The partnerships which develop between Paul and others enable effective ministry to be done.
So what does this mean for us this week?
Three things are needed for a friendship to be a bond and not a noose.
The first thing is a steady commitment. Friendship thrives on a day in day out decision to give as much as take in a friendship. As my mom used to say to me, “You have to be a friend to get a friend.”
Without a steady commitment to a friendship, a friendship will struggle to stay afloat.
Decide, and keep deciding to be a friend.
The second thing is forgiveness.
Do you have a friendship that needs you to forgive them in order to let go of the anger and resentment that has kept you all tied up for as long as it has?
Do you need to finally let someone of the hook?
But Pastor Jim… you don’t…
I may not understand but God does and He knows the inner turmoil you are still in because you have not let go and determined to forgive the other.
Life is too short for resentments, or as they are often called, grudges. God is not honored by them.
Is there a friendship that you would like to have back again but because of a conflict forgiveness and resolution have not been done?
The third and final thing, related to the second thing, is appropriately dealing with your anger.
Some anger comes from fear.
Some anger comes from jealousy. I want what you have and I am angry because I don’t have it.
Some anger comes from simple self-centeredness that is a result of “I am not getting my way and I am angry because I am not.”
This kind of anger is an acid which eats away at our souls and our relationships. Nothing good comes out of living in such anger. It has to be surrendered to God and let go of.
I felt betrayed many years ago by someone who was my friend. It took me a while to forgive him and no longer feel resentment and anger toward him which did not wish him harm.
But it took me awhile to finally realize that I had betrayed some people by the harsh and mean words I had spoken about them. And my anger came back on me and I could not blame anyone else for my actions, my attitude, and my words.
Now, my friendship with this person will never be what it once was. He lives somewhere else and it has been nearly 20 years since I have seen him. But I no longer hate him and I pray that he is following the Lord.
I conclude on an up note. (Is that a word, upnote?)
Get out a piece of paper and pen or pencil or your phone and get ready to complete an exercise.
Here we go…
- Who are the five most important friendships to you right now? List their names.
- Quickly write down one reason for each of the five why their friendship matters to you.
- When was the last time you took the time to specifically tell them why their friendship means so much to you?
- Finally, what have you done lately for them to help them be a better person and person of faith?
Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family
Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)
We close this segment of worship with a time for silent prayer and reflection.