August 25, 2019
Good morning. We’re continuing our study of the Proverbs, so if you have your Bible, you can make your way there. Chapter 18 is a good place (27 also). We’re going to consider what this book has to say on friendships. As we have been doing, we will read a few verses to set the tone and then we’ll jump in. 18:1 – He who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. Proverbs 27:9 – Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
When we began this study on the Proverbs back in June, Josh and I designed it as an 8-week study. We were going to spend 8 weeks in the Proverbs and close Scott’s sabbatical with a different 4-week study. That was the plan. But God shaped the path. We quickly realized that we needed to extend it through the entire summer. We live in a crazy world, and the ancient wisdom in this book is extremely relevant to our lives. We are now on week 10 of what was supposed to be an 8-week series. I bring that up because the topic we are going to study todaywas not in the original plan. As I scoured the book of Proverbs, I though it would be good to cover important matters like familyand moneyand words. But an entire message on friendship? Nah. That’s for kids. (We don’t have time for that).
Friendship almost always takes a backseat to “more important matters.” Most of us are too busy with our family and careers and hobbies and dogs to invest in meaningful friendships. Somewhere along the way we learned to power through without them. Now, if you’re in middle school, friendship is a life or death situation. But if you’re an adult, friendship feels like a luxury item. Yes it would be nice to have a few good friends, but you probably should think about it too much; be thankful for what you have.
That is the practical wisdom of a busy & lonely world. But it is not the wisdom of the Bible. As I scoured the Proverbs for wisdom on friendship, I discovered a different narrative. Friendship is not a nice bonus in our life; it is one of the most fundamental aspects of our humanity. You could actually view the entire Bible through the lens of friendship. God created Adam (listen) with a heart that ached. He woke up in a world that was literally perfect, but he couldn’t bear the pain of being alone. He burned for a friend. And no matter how much you deny it, you burn for one too. It’s part of your humanity.
This was one of the most painful messages I have ever prepared. As I wrestled with the Proverb’s teaching on friendship, it forced me to consider the ache that God created in my heart – the ache that I learned to cover up decades ago. Jesus exposed a very old wound this week, and it hurt. But it opened the door for me to know Christ in a deeper way. My goal this morning is to elevate the idea of friendship in your life so that you can know Jesus as a friend. If you know Jesus as your friend, you can enjoy relationships on this broken planet. It is one of God’s greatest blessings to us. Listen to JC Ryle. “This world is full of sorrow because it is full of sin. It is a dark place. It is a lonely place. It is a disappointing place. The brightest sunbeam in it is a friend. Friendship halves our troubles and doubles our joys.” Here’s the outline for the morning.
1. The ideal friendship
2. The problem with friendship
3. The healing of friendship
First:the ideal friendship. As we’ve seen throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon is always happy to show us the picture of perfection. And so when he gives us wisdom on friendship, he will show us the ideal friend. I’ll highlight 3 qualities.
First, friends are compassionate. Look at Proverbs 17:17– A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. What a beautiful sentence: a friend loves at all times. If you have a brother or a sister, they inherited a relationship with you at birth. You share the same blood, so when your life falls apart, they’ll be there for you. It’s part of their job description. But a friend… they don’t have any biological connection to you. They aren’t legally bound to show up. They just do because they love you. And they don’t just show up on hard days; they love at all times.They laugh with you and they cry with you. They’ll sit with you for 4 hours on a road trip and not say a word, and it’ll be OK. As James Taylor sang: Winter, spring, summer of fall, all you have to do is call, & I’ll be there yes I will.
The true friend is a rare friend. Most of us form friendships for practical reasons. You might have friends at work because it’s a good political move. You might have rich friends because… well you know why. Solomon will warn us about these kind of fair-weather friends. Pr19:4,6– Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend. Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.
Fair-weather friends are convenient. They’re easy to find and they can take away the sting of loneliness, but they’re not really your friends. Here’s the problem with fair-weather friends. When you lose your money or position, you lose your friends. Think about the prodigal son. When he went to a foreign land with a fist full of money, and made quick friends. But when his cash ran out, so did his friends. Where were they when he was eating the pig filth? They were mooching off someone else.
Consider the quality of your friendships for a moment. What is fueling your friendships? Is it love or some other reason? If you have a true friend, you have a rare treasure. Guard that friendship with everything you have.
Second, friends are careful. One of the things that make a true friend so great is that they know you to the core. They know what makes you tick. They know your list of favorites and all your pet peeves. They can anticipate your moods. They know how to read your face. They know when to lean in & when to give you space. They know you better than you know yourself. Solomon has some strong warnings to people that are not careful with their friends. Proverbs 25:20– Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.Proverbs 27:14– Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing. (Amen!)
The uncaring friend just wants to make you happy. They want to lighten the mood. They haven’t dealt with their own pain, so they certainly can’t handle your pain. That is why they crank up the happy music when your heart is heavy. I think of Michael Scott from The Office. He doesn’t care about you; he just wants to lighten the mood. The uncaring friend is a super nice guy but he’s not a true friend. If you want to go deep into your relationships, you need to care enough about the other person to sit with him when he’s sad. You need to care enough to back off a little when she needs space. As Kenny Rogers said, you got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, and know when to walk away. The true friend cares. He will sacrifice his own mood for the sake of his friend.
Do you have a friend like this? If you want to develop a friendship like this you need to invest a lot of face-to-face time.I wonder if our world is short on true friends because we try to develop our friendships over technology. You can’t really get to know someone online. You need to be with the person to truly know them. It takes a lot of time & effort to cultivate a true friendship, but it’s worth the effort. The next point will show us why.
Third, friends are candid. We just saw that a true friend is sensitiveto the needs and moods of his friend. But that doesn’t mean that he’s a pushover. A true friend is candid & will say hard things in love. Look at Pr 27:5–6Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. This is so backwards. Most of us live by the exact opposite rule: faithful are the kisses of a friend& profuse are the wounds of an enemy. But Solomon got it right. A soft friend will butter you up & cover you with kisses. But he isn’t a true friend because a true friend says hard things. They call you out. They even woundyou. As Oscar Wilde says, “True friends stab you in the front.”
One of the painful lessons that I’ve learned this summer in our study of the Proverbs is that life is a long process of getting rebuked. When you were a child, your parents lovingly rebuked you (if you had good parents). But just because you grew up and went off to college doesn’t mean that you should stop being rebuked and challenged. We continue to make stupid decisions well into adulthood. This is why we need good friends to continue to “parent” us. I will never outgrow my need for instruction. If I need to hear hard stuff, I’d like to hear it from someone that loves me and knows me.
I want to surround myself with people who will push me to something greater. My wife said some painful words to me in October of 2015. What an incredible gift! She got my attention, and her words stung, but I am indebted to her. Her friendly wounds changed my life. Matt Parker painfully confronted my bitter heart in the summer of 2006. His words stung, and I was even angry for a few days, but he said what I needed to hear. He woke me up to the destructive power of sin. My friends push me. And it always hurts, but it’s what I need. None of us like to be pushed, but when you’re stuck in the mud, you need a good push. And it’s only a good friend that will get in the mud with you & push you out. Do you have friends that will push you out of the mud? Have you given them permission to lovingly rebuke you or are you immune to criticism? Are your friends scared of you?
And so this is the picture of an ideal friend. He loves at all times. He is sensitive to your needs. And he speaks the truth in love. At this point I could give you a few tips for making better friends and we could call it a day. We could get out of church early, and you’d like me, and we could become friends. But I don’t want to be that kind of a friend. I need to be candid with you this morning. You see: there is a problem at the core of our being that makes this type of friendship impossible. This is the 2ndpart of our outline.
Look at Proverbs 16:28 – A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. This verse gives me chills every time I read it. The word for close friend here is the Hebrew word,alluf. It describes the most intimate type of friendship you could possibly have. Solomon is saying this: you could work on building a friendship for decades. You could log thousands of hours in deep conversations and forge a spiritual bond with another soul. And it can be destroyed (by a whisper). God help us. We are not as strong as we think we are. Our friendships are extremely fragile.
I imagine most of us have felt the searing pain of a broken friendship. Maybe you destroyed it because of a careless word. Or maybe your reputation was destroyed by a friend’s whisper. But Solomon’s point is important: friendships break. They can crumble overnight or they can slowly fade away over years. The relationship that God designed us to enjoy is impossible to sustain on this broken planet.
To understand why, we need to consider Genesis 3. I am often led to this chapter during my sermon preparation because it explains why our world is such a mess. But I have never been so viscerally angry as I was this week. A few minutes ago I told you that God created Adam with a deep ache for companionship. He solved Adam’s loneliness by creating Eve. Adam & Eve enjoyed the ideal friendship. They walked with God in the cool of the day. They walked with each other. They had no secrets. They didn’t even wear clothes! But Satan slithered into the garden and whispereda few lies about God’s friendly heart. God isn’t your friend. He doesn’t really love you. They believed his lies and everything broke.
Drew Hunter, in his excellent book, Made For Friendship, draws out 3 implications of that first whisper. First, the whisper separatedAdam & Eve. The intimacy they enjoyed instantly vanished. They covered themselves with fig leaves & found a place to hide. We’ve been hiding ever since. Second, the whisper cooled their affection. They began blaming one another. Finally, the whisper endedtheir friendship. Adam & Eve eventually died. This is the ultimate destruction of a friendship. You get close to someone and they leave.
Sin has frustrated our friendships. If you open your heart to a friend, you will get hurt. Because of this, many people find that it’s easier to walk alone. This is the sad condition of our world. So many people are chronically lonely. This room is filled with lonely people. Our town is filled with lonely people. But I have good news: our friendships can be healed. Our friendships were destroyed by a whisper, but that’s not the end of our story. God healed our friendships with a cross. This is the third point in the outline.And the one that we need to grasp.
Do you remember what happened as soon as Adam & Eve hid in the garden? They heard the sound of God walking in the cool of the day. It was a vivid reminder of God’s friendship. And then he uttered some of the sweetest words our world has ever known: Where are you?What an act of friendship! We swallowed the delicious lies of the whisperer and it fractured our friendship with God. But God was not done with us. He chased after us.
And he is chasing after you. God wants to be your friend. Do you believe it? I realize that is a preposterous statement and many of you doubt it. But this truth is made as plain as possible in the life of Jesus. When the Son of God came to our world of broken relationships, he did not insolate himself. Instead, he gathered 12 rugged disciples and walked with themfor 3 years. In fact, he was so friendly that the religious leaders accused him of being a friend of sinners. Exactly. Jesus articulated his desire for friendship with us in the moments before the cross. Look at John 15:12–17.
 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friendsif you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
A few minutes after Jesus said these words, he found himself on a cross, completely alone. He had been abandoned by everyone he knew, even God the Father. He laid down his life for the sake of his friends. He swallowed our loneliness & misery so that we could once again walk with God in the cool of the day. It was the greatest act of friendship that our world has ever known. Listen to Spurgeon: “In the heart of our Lord Jesus there burns such friendship towards us that all other forms of it are as dim candles to the sun.” Jesus is the ideal friend. And he wants to be your friend.
I know this room is filled with lonely people. I know it because God created you with a lonely heart that longs for a friend. But Jesus has called you his friend.Will you receive his offer of friendship? You might be thinking: how is it even possible to develop a friendship with a person I have never seen. I understand that. I’ve been wondering that most of my life. It is far easier to relate to God as an abstract idea or a theological concept. But Jesus is alive. The resurrection is not a myth. It actually happened. Jesus is alive and he wants to enjoy your friendship. I think of Peter’s encouraging words to the struggling churches in 1 Peter 1. Though you have not seen him, you love him. It is possible to enjoy a friendship with Jesus, even though we don’t currently see him. Paul learned how to do this. There was a moment at the end of his life where he was completely alone. Look 2 Tim 4:16–17 – At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. Paul was physically alone, but he enjoyed the friendship of Jesus.
What a friend we have in Jesus All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer
Do you know what would happen to this church if we all received Jesus as our friend? We would live up to our very ambitious name. We would become Alliance Bible FELLOWSHIP. That’s an old word, but it’s a good word. We would become a gathering of friends. And it would be the best type of friendship because we would be gathered around our mutual love for Jesus. It wouldn’t matter if you’re a Jew or Gentile, man or woman, rich or poor, black or white, republican or democrat, sick or healthy, short or tall: if you belong to Jesus, you belong to us. We really can be friends. We can give this lonely world a small taste of what God created us to enjoy.