Friendship is formed over shared loves. Friendship shines in sacrifice. There are two proverbs on friendship that I hope we’ll all memorise. Proverbs 17.17:
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity
And Proverbs 18.24:
A person of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
That’s the kind of friend I want to be, and that’s the friend we have in Jesus Christ. These are two proverbs are well worth getting into our bloodstream if we want to foster really healthy friendships. Imagine if I told you that you would never be married – how would you feel? Or imagine if I told you your children would never be married? My guess is there would be understandable sorrow. Afterall, marriage is a good thing; it’s a gift God has given to humanity. It’s a good thing to want to be married. Marriage is a gift of God, but it’s not a specific promise of God. There’s no guarantee.
Between the years 2002 and 2017, the office of National Statistics measured an increase in the number of unmarried people over 50 – up from about 5% to about 13%. And maybe you have experienced, or are experiencing, the worry that maybe you won’t get married. And as the years go on you feel it becomes less and less likely. What does that mean for you? Or maybe you are, or you know someone who is, Lesbian or Gay, and you know that God made marriage to be between a man and a woman, and maybe you have realised that being a Christian and saying yes to Christ may feel like signing up to lifelong singleness. What does that mean? Do you feel, like I do, that to be single your whole life is basically to be miserable? That life will just be one long regret at having missed out on the only source of relationship, comfort and companionship available to us.
When we think about it do we really believe the choice available to us is to be married or to be lonely? If you feel that way, as I do from time to time, I’m so glad you’re here. The choice between marriage and misery is not the choice God gives us. The Bible does not mourn singleness – rather it celebrates it. Jesus was single. Paul was single. In the new creation, Jesus reminds us that none of us will be married like we are in this age, and yet we’ll be far happier and more relationally satisfied then than we ever could be now. The thing the Bible mourns is not being unmarried. The Bible mourns being alone. But being unmarried should not mean being alone because of two big relational pillars that God gives all people: Family and Friendship. And maybe one of the reasons we think we need to be married in order to have companionship in life is because we’re missing out on really good friendships. For example, listen to what one commentator, whose book I do NOT recommend you buy, wrote about David and Jonathan’s meeting in our Old Testament passage:
When was the last time you saw a heterosexual man swept away by brotherly love, offer another man his most precious possession in their first encounter?...the author of Samuel is describing a classic love at first sight encounter that happens to involve two men.
[The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships by Rev. Jeff Miner & John Tyler Connoley]
The author of that commentary just can’t conceive of friendship in those terms. They think there has to be something sexual going on. But what if there were depths to friendship that we hadn’t realised and hadn’t experienced? What if our obsession with sex has meant that we’ve been blinded to riches of real friendship and cut ourselves off from enjoying travelling through life with such friends? What if the kind of friendship that David and Jonathan enjoyed was typical in our churches? The kind of friendship that takes risks for one another, suffers disgrace for one another, celebrates victories with one another, grieves deeply for the loss of the other and willingly provides financial and practical support for next of kin for the sake of the other. David and Jonathan did all these things for each other over events described in 1 Samuel 17 to 2 Samuel 9.
What if Jesus words in John 15.13 (Greater love has no one than this, that a person lay down their life for their friends) did not mean showing love by dying for people who are not as important to us as our family but instead meant showing the depth love between friends that is put on display when one friend gives up their life for the other. Imagine if the friendships between us at church were so strong that we would willingly die for one another. If that was true, how could we possibly think that marriage was the only way to enjoy companionship? Saying all of this makes me feel my own poverty in friendship and makes me want to be a better friend, so for the next few minutes let’s take a look at the beginning of David and Jonathan’s relationship, and listen to Jesus words to his disciples, whom he called his friends. From David and Jonathan – we see that:
1. Friendship is formed over shared loves.
C.S Lewis wrote some essays on different types of love and they’ve been collected into a book called The Four Loves. He commented that the difference between eros (the love between lovers) and Philia (the love between friends) was this:
lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other, friends, [are] side by side, absorbed in a common interest.
He describes the beginning of a friendship typically going along the lines of “What?! You too? I thought I was the only one…” That realisation that you’ve met another person who shares your love for something you love. That’s what’s going on here. Jonathan recognises in David a similar love and zeal for the God of Israel.
There were loads of other people Jonathan could have made a covenant with, but it was only David who became one in Spirit with him because David had shown on the battlefield his zeal and trust in the Lord. He’d worn his heart on his sleeve and Jonathan could see it was the same heart that he had. That was the beginning of their friendship. And isn’t that true for our experience of friendships too? The people we connect with most deeply are the ones who share our loves? That doesn’t mean we don’t offer friendship (we don’t say because you don’t share my love of trains I’m not going to be your friend) but we’ll find our friendships will flourish when we share loves together. Whereas they’ll probably strain if we reduce them down to responsibilities towards one another. And maybe it’s counter-intuitive, but friendships around shared loves won’t be cliquey or exclusive.
The litmus test is whether our friendship group is open to others who share our loves. The clique gets a kind of perverse pleasure from being exclusive and from knowing there are people outside who want to be inside but a friendship, formed around, say a love of music – yes it might only be three or four people and everyone knows they go off and listen to Bach or Heavy Metal or something – but the joy of the group is in the music and its open to others who share that love. What does that mean for us? How do we make JPC a place where strong friendships can flourish? Let’s be open with one another about the things we love. In particular, let’s be people who:
i) take pleasure in Creation
ii) who take pleasure in Christ.
These are both and, not either or. Creation exists for the Glory of Christ and Christ came to redeem Creation. As we take pleasure in Creation we remember it reveals the Glory and Majesty and Creativity of God. As we take pleasure in Christ we remember he has redeemed us for eternal life in the New Creation. We should not be Christians who get so absorbed in our work or our hobbies that we forget about Christ. Nor should we be Christians who think devotion to Christ means viewing creation with suspicion. God looks at creation and he’s thrilled by it! He loves it (he said in Genesis this is very good. I like what I have made! And he said by the resurrection – I’m gonna stick by what I made.
Let’s make JPC a place where we talk about our loves with one another, and where we make it ok to talk about our love for Jesus with one another. We’ll all have different particular creation loves but as Christians, we all unite around a love for Christ – which opens up friendship to all. So from David and Jonathan we see friendship formed over a shared love. From Jesus’ teaching to his disciples we see that:
2. Friendship shines in sacrifice.
Turn back to John 15.9:
As the Father has Loves me, so have I loved you.
Just feel the weight of that little word as. The perfect love the Father has in the Son (completely delighted, so happy, so proud) the Son is completely worthy of the Father’s approval and delight. And if you’re a Christian, Jesus looks at you and says “That’s how much I love you!” And then look at John 15.12-14:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Look at how Jesus measures love – not between love of husband for wife or mother for child, it is friendship that puts love on display. The greatest love is expressed by a person willingly laying down their life for their friends. And Jesus says we are his friends if we do what he commands. Do you see it means specifically for our relationships with one another?
i) Love one another as I have loved you – (i.e. by laying down your life for your friends)
ii) You are my friends (i.e. the ones I have laid down my life for) if you do what I command.
Jesus expects that the people he died for will be willing to die for one another. What does this mean for friendship at JPC? It means that our worship together is fundamental for our friendship and sacrifice for one another, because the foundation of our friendship is shared love for Jesus. One of the joys about getting to visit Christians in different countries or from different cultures to our own is getting to see them express their love and worship to Jesus. Everything may be completely different to what I expect (different language, different setting, different people), I may not know the words or the moves, but when you see how it’s Jesus they worship there’s just this profound feeling that I’m amongst friends here (I belong here) because I share their love and faith. And that friendship will shine through sacrifice.
Take a moment to think about the friendships in your life. How do you recognise in one another the heart on sleeve love for Jesus in each other’s life? How do you celebrate that together? How do you recognise the ‘heart on sleeve’ love for Jesus in others in church? How do you share it with them? In a room this size, the friends you’re thinking about will represent a huge amount of needs and circumstances. Some of our friends will be going through some really hard trials, and probably some will be feeling really lonely. How can we help one another lay down our lives for our friends? Could we make that a topic of conversation one evening in our homegroups, or over the dinner table in our families? If you meet one to one with another Christian, can that be something we ask one another; how are we laying down our lives for our friends? I’m sure in this room there are many who are laying down their lives in some really beautiful and costly ways. Some I know are. Please hear Jesus’ words “Greater love has no one than this – that a person lay down their life for their friends” – you are showing love at its greatest by what you are doing.
Maybe for some of us, we don’t know where to get started. Can I suggest picking up the phone and asking if your friend would like to come to church with you? That way you offer to share your mutual love for Jesus together, which is the foundation of your friendship. And from there, you may discover other ways you could lay down your life for them. The Bible promises there are depths to friendship that are waiting to be explored – let’s make JPC a place that puts them on display, as we meet to share our love for Jesus with one another and as we lay down our lives for one another.