There is a lot of interest today in relationships and in the topic of friendship in general. One can’t help but notice how introverted and isolated we’ve become with the heavy demands being placed on our schedules. With technological advances like e-mail, the internet, and cellular phones, we become even more isolated. We don’t always take time to interact with each other on a personal level. People become an inconvenience or even worse, an interruption to our daily routine. When tough times come along we wonder where all our friends have gone or why they have suddenly abandoned us when we need them most.
For example, two friends named John and Dave were hiking when they spotted a mountain lion staring at them through the trees. John froze in his tracks, paralyzed with fear. But Dave sat down on a log, tore off his hiking boots, pulled out a pair of running shorts from his backpack and quickly began to put them on. "For crying out loud," John hissed, "You can’t outrun a mountain lion!" "I don’t have to," shrugged Dave. "I just have to outrun you." Something was amiss in that friendship!
Or take for example, Pepper Rogers, the head football coach at UCLA. After a terrible season he was very upset and didn’t think his wife was encouraging him enough. He complained, "My dog is my best friend. And a man needs at least two friends." Pepper’s wife was unmoved. She said, "Go buy another dog." We all understand the wisdom of Socrates who said, "There is no possession more valuable than a good and faithful friend."
I remember spending a good deal of time with an elderly gentlemen who was slowly dying of lung cancer and was also plagued by a number of other complications. He had built a lot of relationships in the community, but he found himself dying, alone with his wife. In the final months of his life what was worse than dying of cancer was discovering that he had more acquaintances than close friends. Guys he’d known for years wouldn’t stop by to visit. They wouldn’t call. They wouldn’t even write! From a distance they would wish him the best. "I just don’t understand it," his wife told me privately. Fortunately, in his hour of need an elder in the church came alongside him and refreshed his spirit by visiting with him almost every day. To this day his wife tells of how grateful he was to find new friends in the most unusual circumstances. Such close friendships are a priceless possession in our relationally bankrupt culture.
Can Jesus really be a friend to us?
From time to time we sing a hymn called "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." The verses are really quite interesting if you study them closely. What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and grief to bear. Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear. Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Are we weak and heavy laden? Cumbered with a load of care. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? The chorus invites, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Imagine going through life without close friends.
It is difficult enough to go through life without close friends. But imagine the despair of going through life without Jesus. Imagine struggling with sin alone, in secret, without the support of others. Imagine grieving the loss of a loved one without the support of friends and family. Imagine not having the, "peace that transcends all understanding" that Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:7 (NIV) that comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Imagine needlessly bearing your pain alone, enduring trial and temptation alone, bearing your trouble alone, carrying the weight of your own sorrows, and not having someone who can put her arms around you and strengthen you. Life quickly becomes overwhelming without close friends. But it is even worse for those who have not found a savior and friend in Jesus Christ.
But I wonder how many of us consider Jesus a friend? I saw on an internet message board where a Christian had written about a difficult situation he was facing and how he had found great strength in Jesus, his friend. A skeptic ridiculed him, "You’ve been deceived. Jesus is nothing more than an imaginary friend!" I wonder how many of us feel that way, or have never been challenged to think differently?
Jesus thought of himself as a friend to us.
One thing I have noticed recently is that Jesus didn’t just think of himself as God almighty, creator of the heavens and earth, and the ruler of the universe. In the truest sense Jesus thought of himself as our friend. The worst accusation the religious leaders could levy against Jesus was, "He’s a friend of sinners." Matthew 11:19 (NIV)
In Luke 5:20 (NIV) Jesus addresses a paralytic man by saying, "Friend, your sins are forgiven." In John 15:15 (NIV) Jesus tells his disciples, "I no longer call you servants,… instead I have called you friends." What this means is that Jesus can both be our friend, but by virtue of his life can also show us how to be a friend to others. So what kind of friend was Jesus and what kind of friend should we be to others?
Jesus stood on principle.
Do you remember what Jesus told his disciples in John 15:14 (NIV)? He said, "You are my friends if you do what I command…" We’ve all had friends whose basic attitude was "my way or the highway." You know, you could be their friend so long as you played by their rules. The friendship was conditioned on them getting their way. Your job was to please and their job was to be pleased. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Such coercive friendships work for a while, but they always end in disaster. This is in not what Jesus had in mind when he said, "You are my friends if you do what I command."
Instead, Jesus was speaking to the critical necessity for every friendship to be undergirded with a specific type of morality. This morality is rooted in the character of God. Think about it. God is faithful. God is trustworthy. God is pure. God is just. God is truth. God is holy. God is patient, kind, slow to anger, and abounding in love. Jesus was inviting (commanding) his disciples to embrace God’s character as the foundation for their very important relationship. In John 15:12 (NIV) Jesus elaborates, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." Jesus wanted the disciples, his friends, to be exactly what he was. Just like God!
Choose your friends with care.
There is an old adage that says, "Choose friends with care; you become what they are." I learned the truth of this when I was young. When I hung out with Mike and Matt, I found myself rebelling against authority. I’d lie to my parents and break their rules. I’d sneak out at night and cause trouble in my neighborhood. I’d bully kids at school and be a jerk and make fun of them. I’d cuss and swear.
When I hung out with Brian and James, I got angry and destructive. They were into handguns, rifles, and switchblade knives. We’d go out to the creek and shoot every living creature we saw. I’d watch movies my parents asked me not to watch. When I hung around Dave and Clayton, I got caught up in computers and fantasy role-playing games like "Dungeons and Dragons." I drifted away from my church and my faith.
But when I hung around Josh and Andy, I wanted to do good to others. I befriended outcasts at school. I was eager to talk about Jesus. I listened to Christian music, read my Bible, and went to church. I came alive spiritually! The difference was that Josh and Andy stood on principle. They wanted to glorify God’s character in their lives. If I were to be their friend they expected me, in fact demanded that I embrace the values that were important to them. Whenever I would act up they unapologetically drew lines and stood firm.
Since we become what our friends are, it is important that we seek friends who have the character and live by the values we want to embrace. The disciples chose Jesus as their friend because he embodied the qualities they most wanted.
Jesus lived for others.
Let me remind you of the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples in John 15:13 (NIV). "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." It has been said that there are two kinds of people. Those who brighten the room when they enter, and those who brighten the room when they leave. What makes the difference is a person’s orientation.
Some people are oriented inward, toward themselves. They talk about themselves, their interests, their hobbies, their health, their children, their grandchildren, their families, their work, their neighbors, their problems, and their opinions. They go to great lengths and mostly without success, to interest you in their life. Five minutes with them feels like an eternity. In fact, you avoid them. You gravitate to the other side of the room to avoid a never-ending conversation.
Some people are oriented outwards, toward others. They are less interested in themselves and more interested in you. They ask questions about your life, your interests, your family, your work, and your opinions. They listen more than they talk. They take a genuine interest in you. Five minutes with them flies by. You go out of your way to talk to them. Dale Carnegie said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people then you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you."
Its always struck me that for the disciples, Jesus was the kind of friend who was radically oriented outward, toward the needs of others. He was oriented to others to the degree that he willingly laid down his life for his friends. In Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV) Paul tells the Philippians, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others betters than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." But before we are even given a chance to ask why, Paul continues in Phillipians 2:5-8 (NIV), "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of the servant, being made in human likenesss. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!"
Jesus made himself nothing. He poured himself out in service to others. He laid down his life as if it were nothing, for his friends.
In his book Be a People Person John Maxwell challenges us to translate Jesus’ example into practical, everyday, other-centered behavior. He says we love it when other people encourage, appreciate, forgive, listen, and understand us. To be a people person, we must give others what we like to receive ourselves: encouragement, appreciation, forgiveness, a listening ear, and understanding.
He offers a short course in human relations.
· The least important word: I (it gets the least amount done)
· The most important word: We (it gets the most done, relationships)
· The two most important words: Thank you. (appreciation)
· The three most important words: All is forgiven. (forgiveness)
· The four most important words: What is your opinion? (listening)
· The five most important words: You did a good job. (encouragement)
· The six most important words: I want to know you better. (understanding)
Jesus remained loyal.
Last, I want you to consider the final hours of Jesus’ life in Matthew 26. If you have your Bibles, consider the headings that appear in the text. In Matthew 26 the chief priests and elders assemble with the high priest Caiaphas to plot a way to arrest Jesus and have him killed. A few verses later we find Judas, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, plotting with the chief priests to turn Jesus over at an opportune time for a sum of a money. During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus breaks the news to his disciples that he is about to be betrayed by one of the twelve. He predicts that his body will be broken and his blood will be shed. As Jesus takes the bread and cup he signals to Judas, his betrayer, that he knows exactly what he is up to. "It is you…" he said in Matthew 26:25 (NIV).
After the Lord’s Supper, Jesus goes out to the garden of Gethsemane where he agonizes over what is about to happen to him. The next time Judas appears is in the garden. I would like you to follow along beginning at Matthew 26:47-49 (NIV). "While he (Jesus) was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: 'The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.' Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, 'Greetings, Rabbi!' and kissed him."
And then Jesus’ response in Matthew 26:50 (NIV), "Friend, do what you came for."
Jesus even remained loyal to Judas, his betrayer.
Matthew 26:50 contains the most bizarre six-letter word in all the New Testament. Despite Judas’ blatant act of betrayal, despite Judas’ phony greeting and phony friendship, despite Judas’ utter contempt for Jesus and everything he had learned from Jesus over the last three years, despite Judas’ greed and selfishness in betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, despite all these acts of betrayal, Jesus still addressed Judas, "Friend."
Had any of us been in Jesus’ shoes, we would have used a different five-letter word. Enemy. Why Jesus still addressed Judas "friend" after all Judas had done is one of those great mysteries that will remain hidden deep in the heart of God for all eternity. But I do think there is an obvious application that can be drawn. Some of our closest friends may very well betray us or hurt us in some way. People we trust, that we’ve grow close to through the years, that we’ve opened our hearts to along the way, may very well turn against us tomorrow.
Our natural tendency will be to turn on those friends and call them "Enemy!" But the example of Jesus would have us remain faithful in friendship unto death and to never give up on those who fall away, who hurt us, or who betray us. Like Jesus, we should keep the door open for redemption and reconciliation. This is what Jesus has done for us. This is what he did for even for his friend Judas.
Jesus' example of friendship should be an inspiration to all of us.
I said earlier that we can find a great friend in Jesus, but that we can also learn how to be a great friend by following Jesus’ example. I wonder this morning if you know Jesus as your friend? Is Jesus the Lord of your life? Are you striving to obey his command that we love one another as he loved us? Are you surrounding yourself with friends and a church family that will encourage your relationship with Jesus Christ? Or are you surrounding yourself with people who are antagonistic to the character and heart of God?
I also wonder if Jesus is savior of your life? There is no greater love than the love Jesus showed you. He laid down his life for you, that you may live for God. He poured himself out and he emptied himself in obedience to God. He opened up a way for you to be welcomed into heaven by God. He invites you into his presence through faith, repentance, confession, and baptism.
I also wonder if you are being faithful to Jesus. He remains our loyal friend to the very end of life. He gives us opportunity after opportunity to turn from our wicked ways and to be the kind of friend to him as he is to us. If not, we give you this time in our service to dedicate yourself to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
And last ask yourself, "What kind of friend am I to others?" Do you brighten up the room when you walk in or do you brighten up the room when you walk out? Do you spend more time trying to interest people in your life or more time trying to get interested in someone else’s life? Do you stand on principle, letting the character of God shape your friendships? Do you live for others, emptying yourself, pouring yourself out, and serving? Are you a loyal friend, or a fair weather friend? Do you keep your hand to the plow even when the going gets tough and when you feel betrayed and all alone?