Friendships are vital. I think it is safe to say that we all highly value friendship, relationships, and being loved in some capacity. In fact, we are created to be relational people. God designed us with the innate desire to connect with others. We crave community, relationships, and belonging so much so that many seek their identity in these things.
Today we are starting the new year with a new series entitled “Friends”. For the next six weeks we will be looking at various friendship relationships found in the. The Bible has much to say about friendship, but more so it SHOWS us what biblical friendship looks like. My hope and prayers are that as we go through this series, you too, can gain a better understanding of biblical friendship and most of all seek out healthy friends in your lives no matter what age or stage of life you may be in.
A Personal Friend
I have talked about Thom Potts in some of my past sermons. He was my best friend. I realize none of you have ever met Thom, but he was a unique person. He was the kind of guy that every pastor should have in his life; because he provided so many stories to tell to last a lifetime. He was also the kind of friend every pastor should have because he was truly a friend and he kept me grounded in ministry.
I don’t know if he ever realized it or not, but Thom impacted so many lives positively, including mine. I would bet that many of us probably do not realize how many lives we impact positively. In fact, many of us will go to the grave thinking that we made no significant impact in this world, society or in people’s lives and that is unfortunate. However, I believe when we receive the promise of eternal life, then and only then will we see what true impact we have left on others.
Thom fought his battle with cancer for over 20 years and eventually from a worldly perspective he “lost” the battle. On August 21st, 2009 Thom went home to be with the Lord. In the last years of his life we lived hundreds of miles apart but still we remained great friends until the day he died. I was asked by Thom’s wife to “say something” at his funeral to which I complied. When I sat down to write out my thoughts, the first dilemma I faced was how do you say something concisely about a man who has impacted my life so greatly? In fact, Thom was one of two individuals (with the exception of God) that I attribute my coming to know Jesus. So, I wrote an essay of sorts titled, “Life Lessons from my Best Friend.” I will share it you one day. But for today I am so glad I have the memories I have with one of my best friends.
Look at all the Lonely People
I mention that are all created for and crave relationships. However, one of the most unfortunate ironies for people today is that many people are surrounded by other people but are lonely. We do life with, play and work with people all the time, yet according to an NPR survey of 10,000 Americans, 3 out of 5 people are lonely. The article says, “Pervasive loneliness ‘has widespread effects,’ says Bert Uchino, a professor at the University of Utah who studies relationships and health. ‘It's strongly linked to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression…”
The report found several factors that were linked to increased feelings of isolation in 2019. Loneliness appeared to be more common among men. The survey found 63% of men to be lonely, compared with 58% of women. Social media use was tied to loneliness as well, with 73% of very heavy social media users considered lonely, as compared with 52% of light users.
But feelings of isolation were prevalent across generations. Gen Z — people who were 18 to 22 years old when surveyed — had the highest average loneliness score on the 80-point scale (about 50), and boomers had the lowest (about 43). We might think of older people as being the loneliest, but this pattern is actually consistent with results from other studies, says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University. "We need to recognize that no one is immune," she adds.”
Then March 2020 comes along and now many more Americans are facing loneliness during a pandemic. In a TIME, magazine article titled, COVID-19 Is Making America’s Loneliness Epidemic Even Worse. The author writes, “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, public-health experts were concerned about an epidemic of loneliness in the U.S. The coronavirus has exacerbated that problem, with most face-to-face socializing for people still under lockdown orders indefinitely limited to members of their own households. For the 35.7 million Americans who live alone, that means no meaningful social contact at all, potentially for months on end.”
This all seems depressing doesn’t it? If my intention was to make you all feel good about yourself and society then I am failing miserably. Can there be a light at the end of the tunnel? Of course, and this is why we are going to look to the Bible for hope in loneliness and a better understanding of true friendship.
Jesus, the Friend
Often when we look for a friend, we probably look for someone who brings joy to our lives, a person who may have similar interests, and isn’t high maintenance. Granted sometimes people come into our lives who are high maintenance, have interests and desires contrary to yours, and aren’t the most joyful people to be around. But yet, we find ourselves in relationship with them. They can turn toxic quickly. However, we can also gain some great insight when we look at the relationships Jesus had with his disciples to see how He defines and models friendship.
Jesus the Perfect Friend (John 15:12 - 15)
Read John 15:12 - 15
Vs 12: Jesus gives the disciples commands that they must obey in order to remain in his love. He starts with the command, not suggestion, to “love one another as I have loved you.” What does this kind of love look like? How does Jesus love you? You and I are able to love because Jesus showed us proper love. Jesus shows us how to love through his sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. His love wasn’t just an example, it was love displayed and showed. Jesus gave his life on the cross because of his great love for you and me and he displayed this love through his sacrifice
Jesus opens our eyes to the truth of love as an act of sacrifice and obedience. Sadly, our society has cheapened the act of love by defining it as an intense emotional attraction and feeling you have towards someone that just happens naturally.
D.A. Carson writes in his commentary of John, “genuine love for God ensures genuine love for his Son, who is the focal point of divine revelation; that genuine love for the son ensures obedience to the new commandment, the commandment to love. By an unbreakable chain, love for God is tied to and verified to love for other believers.”
Vs 13: Jesus lays out the standard for love the disciples should have for each other, and this kind of love also refers to Jesus’ love shown for the disciples through his death on the cross. So, is Jesus saying that in order to show the greatest love to our friends we must be willing to die for them? Or on the flipside, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies does this same rule for love apply?
Vs. 14 - 15: It is here that Jesus is not so much saying that in order to be a friend you must be willing to die for them (but he also isn’t saying that we shouldn’t) but instead he is lovingly informing the disciples that they are now no longer considered servants, but they are now friends if they obey this command of love. Now, this command to sacrificially love is not what makes them friends; it is what distinguishes them as friends. They are his friends because of his great love on the cross of calvary. In response to this great love is obedience. Clearly, this type of friendship cannot be reciprocated. The disciples (or us for that matter) cannot say that Jesus will be their/our friend if he does what they/we say. We can’t declare or demand obedience from Jesus, as he does with us, in order to be called his friend. No, Jesus’ friends are the objects of his love and as a result of his love are obedient to him thus making us his friend.
This is what makes Jesus the perfect friend. He doesn’t call you or me friends because of being a good “friend fit” or because we have certain qualities that appeal to Him. We are his friends because “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” And “If you love me, you will keep my commands.”
Jesus the Friend of Sinners
Read Matthew 11:19
In this short verse we learn something about Jesus that brings comfort and peace to so many. In this we read that Jesus was indeed a friend to the sinner. This was controversial in Jesus’ time and in some ways remains controversial today. It is deemed controversial solely because of the interpretation. It is important for us to understand that when Jesus was called a friend to the sinners it does not mean he condoned their lifestyles or partook in their sin. We see time and again Jesus encountering sinners and showing them love, mercy, and even grace. However, we often overlook what Jesus says or what happens to the sinner as a result.
In John 8:1 – 11 a woman was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus. He responded to the crowd, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Nobody did. Jesus asked her where her accusers were. She acknowledges they left. Jesus tells her he does not condemn her either… BUT “go and sin no more.” Jesus shows mercy and forgiveness, but he also calls for the sinner to stop living in sin.
We see a similar situation with Zacchaeus the tax collector. Jesus goes to his house and in this encounter, Zacchaeus acknowledges his sin and offers to make right by giving back four times what he stole from others.
This type of relationship and transformation happens with Saul who later becomes Paul when he encounters Jesus on the road.
Jesus was a friend to the sinner, but his friendship demanded change. None of We hear story and story of people from all walks of sinful life talking about how the Savior has shown them mercy, grace, and forgiveness. All of us should rejoice in knowing that Jesus is a friend to sinners because then it shows that our Savior cares enough for his creation that he is willing to redeem us even while we were sinners. However, we must not remain in our sins and we must live in be obedience to the savior.
So, what is our takeaway from today? I realize that I have been all over the place in the message. The point I want to make though is friendship is important and the most important friendship you can have is one with Jesus. Friendship with Jesus results in a radically changed life and a radically changed life has radically changed relationships. I conclude with a few applicable thoughts on friendship.
Now, I know that when some of us reflect on our past or current friendships they may stir up some sort of positive or negative emotion. My prayer is that everyone in this room would have a healthy biblical friendship that they can lean on to get them through day-to-day life. But I do want to conclude by saying that the only friendship that is fully satisfying and life-giving is your relationship to Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate friend who will never let you down and will bring peace, joy, and fulfillment in your life.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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