Enter the friends
Job 2: They went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and later on Eliju come to visit poor, miserable Job. I think these guys get a bad rap from most people. The first three, at least, are friends of Job and when they arrive and see the pitiful shape he’s in they’re shocked, speechless and broken hearted. They can hardly bear seeing their friend like this. When they do speak, they do so in response to Job’s complaint and the things they say are the same sort of things Job might have said to them had their places been reversed. The debate that follows isn’t based on Job believing one thing and them believing another. Instead it’s about Job’s insistence that things aren’t working as he and his friends always believed they worked. They say, “Bad things don’t happen to good people, therefore, as surprising as it is, Job must be a bad person.” Job says, “I agree that bad things don’t happen to good people, but I’ve remained faithful to God and bad things have happened to me. Therefore, God isn’t following the rules.” The thing about Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar that needs to catch our attention is that they say all the same things we’ve said at one time or another.
Take Away: Do we trust God even when we don’t understand him?
He’s my friend, but…
2 Samuel 20: Amasa didn’t notice the sword in Joab’s other hand.
Following the defeat and death of Absalom David returns to Jerusalem, victorious but weakened. Soon, there’s another uprising led by Sheba. David realizes that he has to act decisively if he’s to hold Israel together. He shakes up his inner circle, replacing commander Joab with Amasa. The new general is given three days to rally troops to go after Sheba. Time passes and Amasa, for some reason, doesn’t report in and David, feeling time is of the essence bypasses Joab again, this time naming Abishai to lead the force. Being overlooked again angers Joab and with ruthless cunning he acts to regain his position. He, and those loyal to him, joins Abishai’s expedition to root out Sheba. When this group meets Amasa and the force he’s rallied, Joab approaches Amasa as though he’s going to warmly greet him. He then plunges a sword into him, killing him instantly. Amasa is now numbered with Abner and Absalom, all murdered by Joab. Before anyone can respond, he calls for unity in the name of David. In reality, it’s all about him and his power. Joab, though faithful to David, is a ruthless person but David never deals with him. However, he tells his son Solomon that Joab has spilled much innocent blood and that because of him his legacy is stained. I can’t help but wonder why David let Joab get away with it all. He’s David’s nephew but I doubt that has anything to do with it. I think the problem is that Joab serves David’s purposes so well. He’s on David’s side even though his actions aren’t approved of by David. We Christians would do well to study the relationship between David and Joab. Is it possible that we’re too quick to overlook wrong doing by our allies? If someone who’s on “our side” is behaving in an unethical way do we tend to look the other way? Christians are called to a high standard. That should include our reigning in or even disavowing our “friends” when their behavior violates that standard.
Take Away: Ultimately, there’s no right way to do a wrong thing.
A friend in need is a friend indeed
2Samuel 18: You are worth ten thousand of us.
David’s escape from Jerusalem has been successful but the battle is still to come. Even as Saul had pursued David, now David’s own son Absalom has an army and is pursuing him. Even as, years earlier, David refused to kill Saul, he now gives orders that Absalom is to be spared. However, anyone hearing that order might find it a bit confusing. It’s David who’s on the run with inferior forces under his command. Absalom has the upper hand here, leading an army that David, himself, assembled. David prepares his forces for the fight and announces that he will lead in battle. However, his men are having none of it. To the core they’re loyal to David. They’ll fight for him and die for him. What an encouragement it must be to David to have such loyal friends! I don’t have anyone trying to take my life, but when life is unfair, when I’m mistreated, it makes a wonderful difference to have some key people who let me know that they value me and are willing to take some hits for me.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for good friends.
The cement of lasting friendships
1 Samuel 20: God will be the bond between me and you, and between my children and your children forever!
There’s a lot of tension around the palace these days. King Saul is unpredictable and on the verge of losing it altogether. He’s developed a habit of sitting on his throne with his spear by his side. If anyone displeases him in the slightest his glare tells him or her that the spear isn’t just for appearances. Even his own son, Jonathan or the hero of the land, David is not exempt. In fact, both of these good men have barely escaped with their lives when Saul made use of the spear. Jonathan still thinks he can handle his father but David is unconvinced and urges his best friend to test things for him. David’s concerns are justified. Saul’s a danger to anyone who’s in his vicinity, but especially to David. If he’s to survive it’s time for David to run. As he and Jonathan meet in preparation for David’s departure we get a glimpse into the heart of their deep friendship. The bond is God. They both love the Lord with all their hearts. Both are willing to die for the Lord. It’s their relationships to God that’s cemented their friendship with one another. The best, lasting, healthiest, most satisfying relationships have, at their core, God. This is beautifully illustrated in this passage.
Take Away: Where the Lord is at the core of a relationship that relationship will be marked by love.
President of David’s fan club
1 Samuel 19: I’ll go out and talk about you with my father and we’ll see what he says.
Saul has a haunted look these days. There’s no peace for him, but instead, a constant, nagging fear. He has power and authority and a certain kind of cunning, but things are going downhill for him. David is his greatest irritant. David is everything Saul should have been. No one will actually say this to Saul, but in his heart he knows that David is the next king of Israel. Of all people who should side with him in opposition to David, his son Jonathan should be first. In this age, when the throne’s at stake, there’s generally a bloody coop. Jonathan should realize that, not only is his future position at stake, but his very life depends on dealing with David. Jonathan, though, will have none of it. He’s the president of David’s fan club. When Saul signs a death warrant for David, it’s Jonathan who talks his father out of it. Every time Jonathan appears in this story he’s doing the right thing. He fights the enemies of God with skill, bravery, and resourcefulness. He’s a friend to David without thought to himself. He stands up to his father even when doing so can easily make himself the target of his father’s murderous rage. It occurs to me that Jonathan reminds me of one of my favorite people in the book of Acts, the Son of Encouragement: Barnabas. I thank God for people who simply do the right thing. Often they aren’t the ones with the starring roles in life’s stories but they support the stars, like David or Paul. Jonathan, like Barnabas, is a good role model for me.
Take Away: Jonathan’s example of always doing the right thing should challenge and encourage us.
Thank God for good friends
1 Samuel 18: Jonathan was deeply impressed with David – an immediate bond was forged between them.
The connection between Jonathan and David is a surprising one. Aside from some forced, perverted effort to make this into something it’s not, we still see here that Jonathan, who should be the next king of Israel, becomes a committed friend to David, God’s choice for king. You’ll find no better picture of friendship than this one. Jonathan and David stand together no matter what. I guess this isn’t especially profound, but when I read of their friendship I’m reminded of those who are friends to me. I could name names but I won’t. I’ll just mention that across the years the Lord has graciously sent me some precious friends – men who’ve prayed for and with me, who’ve been willing to let me, the pastor, sometimes just be “one of the guys.” Just writing about them today, even in this general a way, warms my heart.
Take Away: Don’t take good friends for granted – they are a gift from God.
The secret to evangelism
Colossians 4: Make the most of every opportunity.
Believers aren’t supposed to create closed communities of the faithful. Rather, we’re to live right out in the open, rubbing shoulders with those outside the faith, making friends, sharing in their lives. I don’t think this means that believers are never to “retreat.” After all, Jesus at least attempted to get the disciples away from the crowds sometimes. Still, he always went back to them, loving them, and, apparently, liking those who weren’t his followers. Paul urges the Colossian Christians to not only stay involved in their community but to make the most of that involvement. Interestingly, his directions for them aren’t as evangelistic as you might think. He describes “making the most” as being “gracious in your speech” and tells them that their “goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation.” Apparently, our influencing others for Christ doesn’t necessarily start with a “spiritual conversation” at all. Instead, it starts with friendship, respect, genuine interest. In fact, Paul specifically warns them not to “put them down” or “cut them out.” In light of these instructions, becoming a “friend” to someone just so we can tell them about Jesus is off the table. My seizing the moment starts, instead, with my making some genuine friends outside the body of believers. Then, I make sure I’m always gracious in my conversations with them, wanting the best for them. Real friendships are the secret to evangelism.
Take Away: For church people it’s a big challenge to make good friends who are outside the church. Still, it’s a key component to evangelism.
Friends of Jesus
Mark 3: His friends heard what was going on and went to rescue him, by force if necessary.
We don’t know anything about Jesus’ life from his childhood until he appears on the scene to begin his ministry. Apparently, he has some friends who like him and want to protect him. As Jesus explodes in popularity they’re concerned about him. People are constantly crowding in, bringing their needs to him, and demanding his attention. Jesus doesn’t even have time to eat. His friends decide that Jesus has gotten carried away by all that’s happening. If necessary, they’ll act unilaterally to rescue Jesus from the crowds. As far as I can tell nothing ever comes of it. When the mother and brothers of Jesus show up he turns it into a teaching moment: “he went back to teaching.” On one hand, I see here that Jesus knows what he’s doing and doesn’t need me or anyone else to explain things to him. On the other hand, though, I’m taken with these unknown friends of Jesus. In a day when everyone wants a piece of Jesus here’s a group of people who only want to take care of him. On this day, their conclusion is wrong, but I’m impressed with their hearts. I understand that I’m a needy person and that the greatest needs of my life can only be met by my Lord. At the same time, I want to be his friend. It’s not that I think he needs me to protect him, but I do think he appreciates it if I just want to be in his presence; to enjoy just knowing him, no miracle required.
Take Away: Am I a friend of Jesus?
Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Matthew 9: A lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.
Matthew’s job of collecting taxes makes him one of the most disliked people in the community. His dealing with the Romans is unsavory in the eyes of most people and tax collectors are viewed as being dishonest, taking advantage of others. We don’t know if there’s more to the story, but his transition from collecting taxes to following Jesus happens in one sentence here in the book of the Bible that bears Matthew’s name. Jesus invites and Matthew stands up and follows. Later on, Matthew throws a party in honor of our Lord. Having followed Jesus for less than a day poor Matthew doesn’t have any “insider” friends. All he has is “outsider” friends; others who are looked down on by the “right” sort of people. Matthew invites them all to come to this event where they, too, can meet Jesus. The religious leaders can’t believe their eyes. All their suspicions about Jesus are confirmed. He can’t tell the difference between good and bad people. In fact, he’s too at home with the wrong sort of people. Know what? Jesus is right at home with them. However, the question to ask is, “Why are we followers of Jesus so uncomfortable around sinners?” Jesus loved them, enjoyed their company, and offered them a better way. I fear that we church people have more in common with the religious leaders than we do with Jesus. We isolate and insulate ourselves inside our church buildings. We read our Christian books and go to our Christian movies and listen to our Christian radio stations. We have Christian softball and bowling leagues. When the pastor urges us to bring our unsaved friends to church we shrug our shoulders and declare that we don’t have any. Maybe the church world needs to add “befriend a sinner” week to our busy church calendars.
Take Away: We can’t bring light to the world if we spend all our time hidden behind closed church doors.
The Lord is much more than a Friend
Ezekiel 22: They can’t tell the difference between sacred and secular.
It’s a horrible time for the people of Jerusalem. There’s threatening war, a devastating drought, and a collapse of civil authority. Down at the Temple the priests continue in a God-ignoring pattern, treating sacred things as common. The Almighty complains that they profane him by trying to “pull me down to their level.” I like to sing “What a Friend we have in Jesus” and feel humbled and honored at the thought that the Lord is willing to be my Friend. However, I can’t help but think that the “friendship” model only works at one level. This Friend is the King of Kings. He’s holy and eternal. My relationship with him starts with my bowing before him. It’s he who takes my hand and gives me permission to stand in his presence. If I call him “Friend” it’s only because he allows me to. The priests of Ezekiel’s day treat the holy as common. Today, in my blessings and comfort, I don’t want to make the same mistake.
Take Away: I call the Lord my friend only because he has graciously allowed me to.