"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." - Pr. 17:17
"A man that has friends must shew himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother." - Pr. 18:24
I, for one, do not think Solomon was speaking of Christ Himself in Pr. 18:24. I think he was speaking of very special friends God gives that go much deeper than earthly family relationships. I believe he was speaking of a God-given close friendship in our journey in grace.
For some reason, I often think of the importance and power of friendship. I'm not sure why, except that over the course of my life, I have had some very special ones, some that affected me deeply, some that were there to speak words of life when it seemed my heart was dying, and some who simply pursued me and really cared. After saving and sanctifying grace, the ministry of truth, and the ministry of the local church, friends have impacted me more than any other earthly reality. The fact is, a great majority of grace, truth, and edifying church life has been channeled to me through deep and special friendships.
Leonard Ravenhill once said something to the effect that if a person has one true friend in life, he is very rich and has found a rare treasure. I think this is true. But I find that it is a very rare thing for those who consider themselves friends to faithfully pursue one another to keep that friendship a treasure.
In reading my favorite author this week, his words on the subject of friendship are found to be very insightful. Here are some of those thoughts.
"The Christian discovers that, while he has fellowship with all his brothers in Christ, he has special friendships only with some of them. It is not always easy to say why such friendships between some Christians develop or why potential friendships with others come to nothing. But it is a fact which ultimately must have its explanation in the mystery of God's providence.
"The best of God's servants have had special friends--Moses and Joshua, David and Jonathan, Daniel and his brethren, Peter and John, Paul and Timothy; even our Lord had his special relationships with his own disciples. Out of the twelve, three were more intimate--Peter, James, and John. Out of the three, one was unique. Only John was known as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved.'
"Therefore, it appears clear that we as Christians ought not to be surprised to find that we have closer relations with some of God's people than with others. This must certainly not lead us to be dismissive of brethren who are not in our intimate circle of friends. But it reassures us that there is no sin in the Christian having closer ties with some than with other brethren."
Mack talking now
This applies to all of us as believers. We are to love all other believers. We find a minimal Christian bond with all true Christians. And we are duty-bound to love them because Christ does. But isn't it true also that in life we find God giving special friendships that have a knitting, a special kinship, a unique closeness with someone that was not expected, planned or foreseen, and was not humanly produced by us. God just gives it because He purposes it. And when He does, such a friendship is to be cherished, nourished, and maintained by both persons.
The important thing for us to realize about this is that each of us ought to treasure those special friendships and keep them nourished and continuing, certainly not to the neglect of other relationships, but it is a responsibility to pursue those friendships and keep them fresh. It is possible to neglect, presume upon, and be careless about close friendships that God has given and not even know you are doing it. Remember-- 'A man that has friends must shew himself friendly'. The question each of us ought to ask ourselves is: Having I been shewing myself truly as a friend to those friends or have I been neglecting them?
Favorite author again
"It belongs to the genius of our friendships that we must accept our brethren for what they are and extend affection to them accordingly. The gifted brother who cannot bear to be anything other than idolized will have admirers but not friends. There is a significant difference. An admirer cares about us for the sake of our talents or giftings, but a friend loves us for our own sake. Friendship is far more beneficial to us than admiration because it makes sanctifying demands on our character.
"Gifted brethren who want only our admiration are only seeking additional fuel for their own self-love and ego. But genuine friendship leads to the destruction of self-love because it forgets itself in a sincere desire to do good to the other person."
I have often wondered how much my pursuing a friendship has been based primarily on my admiring someone or upon how I could benefit from that friendship. Let's face it-- we are all attracted to those who benefit us somehow-- that preacher who deeply ministers to us, that person who makes us feel accepted and loved, that individual who is always interested in how we are doing. Supposed friendships are all too often only about self-centeredness, not self-giving.
"To accept our brethren for what they are, within the bond of Christian friendship, is to leave them room to think and act as they wish, provided they keep within scriptural bounds. This is far from easy because we are all inclined to hold our opinions in lesser matters rather too strongly and, given the opportunity, we tend to squeeze others into our own mold, even in secondary matters. It is much easier to quote Augustine's famous statement than to practice it in our friendships: 'In things essential, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity'."
I have often seen in my heart an alienation happening between myself and brethren who did not agree with me; they were not violating Scripture-- they just had a different opinion or a different position on something than me. So they must be wrong, right? Wrong! But even if they are wrong, can I still love all Christians when I differ from them on some point, even if I feel stronly about it? If I abstain from drinking alcohol, do I relate to in love just as much those who drink wine as those who abstain? Or do I judge them in my heart as being less spiritual because they are doing what they do? If our friendships and our showing ourselves friendly is based upon conditions or complete uniformity with our own personal preferences, then it is not true Christian friendship.
"Friendships are good and necessary for us, just as, in most cases, marriage is necessary. It corrects our angularity and rubs off our corners. The recluse is the first to fall into eccentricities or even error. The more we are alone with ourselves, the more we become like ourselves (Ugh!- MT). It is only when we come back into the circle of our godly friends once again that we realize how awkward or opinionated we have become. We all go astray like sheep, but we go astray less if we keep within the flock and refuse the temptation to wander off into solitary pastures where we are on our own. Healthy Christian character, which is full-orbed, well-rounded, and rich in good fruit, can best be formed within the circle of sanctified friendships."
How are your closest friendships? Are you pursuing those friendships still or has it become a one way street, where you are still pursued but you fail to pursue in return, where they have pursued you but you do not reciprocate? It seems sinful to be this way. When we do this, we are the losers in the equation.
Each of us ought to be a true, consistent, pursuing friend to those special friendships God has given to us. If the friendship continuing and staying fresh depended on how you are toward them, would it remain or dissolved? Don't neglect them. Both you and they are missing out on some good things God has for you both.
To Be Continued