How to Develop Great Friendships

Posted: June 24, 2014 in Uncategorized
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The UK retail chain Topshop commissioned a survey by a team of psychologists into their key customer demographic: Generation Y (born after 1981). They interviewed 800 people. The results were so startling that they did not believe them. They interviewed another 800, and got the same results.

The results portrayed an alarming picture of an increasingly lonely and lost generation. More people live alone than at any other point in our recorded social history. The average Facebook usage for Generation Y is six and a half hours a day. Many who were interviewed considered work something they fitted in between Facebook and lunch! They found people had a very large number of ‘friends’ but an increasing sense of loneliness.

There is nothing wrong with social media, but it is no substitute for real, face-to-face friendships. We were created for friendship with God (Genesis 3:8) and with one another (Genesis 2:18).

Marriage is part of the solution to aloneness. Friendship, vital also in marriage, is a crucial part of the solution. ‘Friendship’ as C.S. Lewis writes, is the ‘crown of life and school of virtue’. Friendship multiplies joy and divides sorrow.

Jesus set an example of close friendship – male and female – and demonstrated that marriage is not the only solution to aloneness. In one respect, friendship is even more important than marriage. Marriage is temporary; friendship is eternal.

Human relationships are extraordinarily important. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. Bishop Sandy Millar often used to quote his old Scottish minister who said, ‘The calling is divine, but the relationships are human!’ The Bible is very realistic. We see examples of relationships at their very best, but we also see examples of their frailty and failure.

PSALM 77:10-20
1. Value partnerships

Mother Teresa said, ‘I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.’

We saw yesterday how the psalmist, in his distress, cried out to God. In this passage, the second half of the psalm, he recalls some of the amazing and mighty ways in which God has acted in the past (vv.11–12).

In particular, he looks back to God’s great deliverance of his people in the Exodus. He prays, ‘You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples’ (v.14). He meditates on the parting of the Red Sea (vv.16–19), and concludes: ‘You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron’ (v.20).

The psalmist remembers the human partnership involved in this great work of God. The partnership between Moses and Aaron is one of the greatest success stories in the history of the people of God.

It came about because they were involved in a cause greater than themselves. They were looking outward in the same direction. Despite being brothers they had very different skills and roles. While Moses was the leader, Aaron was responsible for the communications (Exodus 7:1–2) and for leading the people in worship (Exodus 28:1).

We need good partnerships today. There are good reasons why Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. Ministry can be very lonely. Going out in pairs can make all the difference. This is how some of the greatest friendships are formed.

Lord, I pray today that you will raise up good partnerships in our local church and the church worldwide. Lord, may there be many who, like Moses and Aaron, complement one another and see you achieve great things through them.

ACTS 15:22-41
2. Guard friendships

We see this principle of partnership at work in the early church. Paul and Barnabas were partners in the gospel (v.22). They were sent out together to take the message of the council of Jerusalem to the Gentiles (v.23).

They are described as ‘our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v.26).

They were accompanied by another partnership – two other leaders Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas (v.22). Judas and Silas were prophets who ‘said much to encourage and strengthen the believers’ (v.32). Again, it is a good thing for prophets not to operate in isolation, but to work together in partnership with others.

All this is good. But as we read on, we see that division, even in the early church, was not only over doctrine (v.2), but also over personal matters (v.39). Paul and Barnabas fell out (vv.36–38). They had a sharp disagreement and as a result they parted company: ‘Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways’ (v.39, MSG).

In the providence of God, it all worked out well in the end. Barnabas found a new partner in Mark (who was his cousin, see Colossians 4:10). Paul found a new partner in Silas and ‘went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches’ (Acts 15:41). It may be that Paul and Barnabas were later reconciled (see 1 Corinthians 9:6).

The reality is that sometimes even Christian partnerships struggle and fail. God can bring hope into these situations: it is not the end of the world if Christians fall out and go their separate ways. This passage shows that their disagreement did not lead to the removal of God’s blessing from them.

However, as John Stott writes, ‘This example of God’s providence may not be used as an excuse for Christian quarrelling.’ We should always do our best to resolve our differences and avoid such painful parting of company.

We need to guard our friendships. When there is a fallout we always need to seek reconciliation and remember that as Martin Luther King said, ‘Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.’

Father, thank you for the inspiring example of Paul and Barnabas who risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us, like them, to teach and preach the word of the Lord and to go around encouraging and strengthening the church. Help us to resolve our differences and avoid painful partings of company.

1 KINGS 11:14-12:24
3. Prioritise loyalty

In this passage we see human relationships at their worst. Solomon began to reap what he had sown. He had sown disloyalty to God and now he began to reap disloyalty all over the place. The first adversary was Hadad (11:14). The second was Rezon (v.23), ‘the leader of a band of rebels’ (v.24).

Next, Jeroboam rebelled against the king (v.26). He was one of Solomon’s officials, ‘a man of standing’, whom Solomon had put ‘in charge of the whole labour force of the house of Joseph’ (v.28). Solomon ends his life surrounded by adversaries and trying to kill Jeroboam (v.40).

Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, inherited a mess. He did not deal wisely with his opponents. He failed to listen. He ‘turned a deaf ear to the people’ (12:15, MSG). They realised that he ‘hadn’t listened to a word they’d said’ (v.16, MSG).

He rejected the advice that the elders gave him. Effectively, he failed to listen to the people (12:15). As a result, most of Israel rallied around Jeroboam. ‘Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David’ (v.20). Yet again, war broke out (v.21). The result is a divided kingdom – but even that is not the end of the problems. God promised Jeroboam amazing blessings ‘if you walk in obedience to me’ (v.38). Tragically (as we will see over the next few days) Jeroboam did not – and the results were disastrous.

This is the tragic history of the people of God. It is the story of disloyalty to God, disloyalty to the king, rebellion and infighting. It is not how things are meant to be. You are called to love, unity and loyalty. Your loyalty should be a reflection of God’s loyalty to you.

If you sow disloyalty, you will reap disloyalty. If you sow loyalty, you will reap loyalty. You show loyalty by your actions and your words. Be loyal to those who are not present. In doing so, you will build the trust of those who are present.

However disloyal we are, God remains faithful to his promises. He remembers his covenant with David (see 2 Samuel 7), and does not completely reject the people (11:32,34,36). Although he disciplines us – ‘I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever’ (v.39) – his discipline is temporary, his loyalty is eternal.

This is a foretaste of God’s loyalty to you under the new covenant. Even when you are disloyal to God or others, God is not disloyal to you. You may face God’s discipline – ‘God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness’ (Hebrews 12:10) – but he remains faithful to you. Even ‘if we are faithless, he will remain faithful’ (2 Timothy 2:13). God’s commitment and loyalty to you is such that nothing ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39).

This is not a reason to be complacent, but it is a motive to delight again at God’s grace, and to give yourself to wholehearted worship. You can choose again to respond to God’s call on your life – ‘walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes’ (1 Kings 11:38).

O Lord, please pour out your Spirit of love, unity and loyalty on the church. Help us to work together in partnership with one another. Guard our friendships, protect our partnerships and give us wisdom in dealing with our adversaries.

Pippa Adds

Acts 15:37–39

It is very nice when people stand up for you. Barnabas stood up for Mark and gave him a second chance. Is there someone for whom you could put in a good word today?


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