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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sermon – Proverbs 18:24 – What kind of friend are you?

Pastor Chris made the announcement during today's service that he will be giving away a pair of books on his personal blog later this week for Valentine's Day. So check over there this week for details.

Lay Reading – Today’s readings are again a collection of wisdom from Ecclesiastes and the book of Proverbs. These readings all relate to our friendships and relationships.

ECC 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

Proverbs 27:9 - The pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.

PR 15:22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

PR 27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

PR 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

PR 13:20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.


Let me start today by reading for you the key verse for today’s message. It is Proverbs 18:24, and it says: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” This week we are taking a look at our friendships, and what kind of friend we are to others. Another in this series of practical life issues from the book of Proverbs.

One of my favorite series of books and movies is the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. If you aren’t familiar with this series, I can loan you the DVDs, but suffice it to say they are incredibly well written. In this series Tolkien spins a tale in which a friendship between two Hobbits succeeds in destroying the most powerful and evil thing, thereby liberating all of Middle Earth. As these stories develop we find strong friendships throughout the books – Gandalf and Bilbo, Merry and Pippin, and Legolas and Aragorn all come to mind. In fact, one of the central features of the entire epic is the extraordinary relationship between Frodo and Sam. Tolkien crafts a masterful story about this friendship that can teach us much about true friendship in the real world.

As the story begins to pick up steam, we see an interesting segment of dialog that gives us insight into these characters friendship as they embark to destroy the ring of power. Frodo says: “It is going to be very dangerous, Sam. It is already dangerous. Most likely neither of us will come back.” Sam then replies: “If you don’t come back sir, then I shan’t either, that’s certain.” Sam continues on saying he doesn’t care if Frodo goes to the moon or if he is pursued by the scariest thing on the planet, Sam will remain with Frodo. And indeed Sam holds true to this promise. Through many trials and a grueling journey Sam never wavers in his commitment to Frodo. He cheers him on, cares for him in his times of need, protects him, looks out for him, and stays with Frodo no matter what happens. Near the end of their quest, as Frodo’s strength fails him, Sam literally carries Frodo on his back up the side of a mountain so they can complete their task to save the world.

Now my guess is, few of us have made a similar trek as these two Hobbits with a loyal friend by our side, on a quest to save the world from moral and spiritual darkness. But you don’t need that ultimate bonding experience to know the value of friendship. Friendship is something that cuts across all cultures and is universally desirable. This is because it is literally woven into our very nature, for we have been made in the image of our triune God who in Trinity is in relationship. We have been created for the experience of deep, lasting friendship, and honestly few things in life are more rewarding.

Among Christians, friendship has the unique potential to be redemptive as well as rewarding. The gospel of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is about God being glorified in all things as they are becoming redeemed through him. Redemption therefore can take place at every level and in every moment. Any act or decision that furthers God’s purpose on earth is redemptive, and Jesus fully understood this. He knew the redemptive power of friendship. For example, when he sent out his disciples to reap the harvest, he sent them out “two by two” (Luke 10:1). Couldn’t the disciples have covered more ground if they went individually? Yes, but not with the same effectiveness. Jesus sent them in pairs because he understood that friendships enable us to do extraordinary things; things we could never do on our own. This is because the Christian life is inescapably corporate. We need each other. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” A Christian life is most fully lived in the company of godly friends.

Of course, friends like this are hard to gain, and unfortunately all too easy to lose. We are prone to sin against one another, take offense where none was intended, or we permit neglect to creep in. So we have to be careful, and intentional about creating and maintaining good friendships. And by friendships, I should clarify that Proverbs is talking about the non-romantic relationships, generally of the same gender. I love being married to my wife, and I’m not just saying that because Valentine’s Day is coming up, but as wonderful as it can be I still need men to talk to, just as my wife needs women to talk to. I need someone who can relate to me, and understand me. I need someone to grunt with (grunt/growl), to lift heavy things with, and someone who understand my desire to play in the mud and who shares in the fun in blowing things up.

In the book of Proverbs we find at least three factors that are central to these redemptive friendships. Those factors are counsel, correction, and comfort. You might want to write those words down if you are keeping score at home. Counsel, correction, and comfort.

Let’s look at counsel first. Proverbs 27:9 says: “the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.” In our lives, we are all faced with many major decisions: where to go to college, whom to marry, where to work, where to find a new job, how to raise our children, should we buy this house? On top of these serious questions, we also have many lesser yet still significant decisions to make, and this is where our friendships can be so valuable. Proverbs 15:22 tells us our plans will fail if we don’t seek wise counsel. Proverbs 27:9 advises us to seek “earnest counsel.” This is the kind of selfless and sincere guidance that a true friend can provide. Notice how the verse doesn’t mention anything about true friends telling us what we want to hear. That’s not a friend, that’s a yes man. We need to have people in our lives who have earned the right to speak truth to us when it looks like we might go down the wrong path.

The second item I mentioned is correction. So a true friend is available for counsel, and also for correction. These two things are somewhat similar because both involve speaking the truth in love. Correction comes when we have ventured down the wrong path. These friends can point out to us where we are wrong, and we will listen because they have earned that right. We will listen, even when we hear something we don’t want to hear. That is true redemptive friendship. In other words, counsel is to prevent mistakes, correction comes after mistakes with the goal of getting us back on the right path. As Christians we need true friends who can look at our lives with a biblical God-centered worldview. If we are on the wrong path, he or she is able to see that, and they will not deceive us about what they see, painful as it may be. And while this correction is painful, it is as necessary as a doctor removing the cancer or resetting a broken bone. We cannot heal properly if this does not take place. But the wounds we will feel from a true friend’s correction are far less painful than what we will experience if we don’t listen. Am I right? How many of you know this is true? How many of you aren’t raising your hand because your friend is in the room and you don’t want to admit they were right? In the long run, a true friend will save us a lot of pain and heartache. Yes gentlemen, it means we of the grunting and playing in the mud type have to be a little bit vulnerable from time to time. And it also means we have to be trustworthy if we are that friend, because nobody wants a blabbermouth telling the world about all their mistakes and failures. As friends we need to be able to offer good counsel and wise correction.

We also need to give comfort. Proverbs 17:17 says: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” If you want to know who your true friends are, pay attention to who sticks with you when the going gets tough. Who comes to help when you have a hide-a-bed sofa to move up four flights of stairs? Watch for those who continue to offer comfort to you in your seasons of adversity. These are your friends in the truest, most biblical sense. They are there with you, bearing your burdens with you, sharing the love of Christ with you in your times of need. A biblical example of this would be Jonathan and David in the Old Testament.

Young David had been anointed by God to be King over all of Israel. The problem with this was that he appeared to be a threat to the reigning king, King Saul. Saul’s arrogance had disqualified him from reigning by God’s standards, yet he clung to his position with a death grip, hating and fearing the favor God had been showering on David. So for many years, King Saul relentlessly pursued David with the hope of killing him. David frequently felt that he was without a friend in the world and that his entire life was collapsing around him. But in the middle of this severe adversity, God supplied David with the friendship of Jonathan. Jonathan was so committed to David that he had pledged a friendship covenant, a covenant that Jonathan kept despite the fact that he was the son of King Saul. Jonathan sacrificed his royal privilege and put his own life at risk to remain loyal to David. And in that, Jonathan provided great comfort to David in his darkest days. Jonathan provided comfort, correction and counsel to David.

We too can have these kinds of relationships, but they require work on our part, they don’t come easy. This is a rhetorical question, but how many of you have a friend like this? How many of you are a friend like this? Do you have someone in your life who fill this role? If not, why not? Only the proud think they can do it all on their own. So in humility, seek these kinds of friends, and let them serve you. And be this kind of friend as well, and serve others. That way, when your time of need comes, someone will be there. And when the time to celebrate comes, you won’t do it alone. Jesus himself said in John 15: “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Pray with me…