Eleanor Rigby – picks up the rice in the church where a wedding had been, lives in a dream. Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?
All the lonely people – where do they all come from? All the lonely people – where do they all belong?
Eleanor Rigby – died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came. Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No-one was saved. All the lonely people – where do they all come from? All the lonely people – where do they all belong?
We live in a world of lonely people. It is partly down to the growth of towns and cities. People move to new places. We don’t live out our lives in the families and communities where we were born. We are all just anonymous members of “society”. Then there’s television and the internet and smartphones which encourage us to relax by ourselves being entertained instead of mixing with and talking to other people. Sociologists call these problems privatization. Family used to be defined as a group of people linked by biological relationships. Fifty years ago family was becoming a collection of individuals gathered around a television set. Twenty years ago family was turning into a set of bedrooms arranged around a fridge-freezer. Now for many people family means the group of people who share the same wifi. It was fifty years ago that Lennon and McCartney pointed to the problems of “All the lonely people – where do they all come from? All the lonely people – where do they all belong?”
Our theme this morning is friendship. In the Bible there is no finer example of friendship than David and Jonathan – best of friends.
EVERYBODY NEEDS FRIENDS
David and Jonathan could have been enemies and rivals. Jonathan was the son of King Saul, the logical heir to the Kingdom of Israel. David was the shepherd boy who God had chosen and the prophet Samuel had anointed to actually become the next King of Israel. But they weren’t rivals. Instead they were best of friends. We can learn so much about friendship from the story we just read.
A FRIEND IS SOMEONE YOU CAN TURN TO IN TIMES OF TROUBLE (v. 1-23)
1 Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, ‘What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?’
BEST FRIENDS HELP EACH OTHER
4 Jonathan said to David, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.’
FRIENDS LOOK OUT FOR FRIENDS AND PROTECT FRIENDS like Jonathan protected David even though he was on the run from Saul.
12 Then Jonathan said to David, ‘I swear by the LORD, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favourably disposed towards you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace.
A FRIEND IS SOMEONE WHO WILL STICK WITH YOU EVEN IF EVERYONE ELSE IS AGAINST YOU (v. 24 -34)
30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “(insult, insult) …. Now send someone to bring (David) to me, for he must die!’
32 ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ Jonathan asked his father. 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David. … he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.
A FRIEND IS SOMEONE WHO WILL ALWAYS TELL YOU THE TRUTH (v. 35-42)
BEST FRIENDS MAKE A COMMITMENT TO HANG IN THERE (1 Samuel 20:42)
42 Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, “The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants for ever.”’
Everybody needs best friends like David and Jonathan. Everybody needs friends. Friends do things together and have fun together. Friends share with each other and help each other. Friends laugh together and cry together. Friends trust each other. A friend is someone that you can talk to and who listens to you. Friends are honest with each other and loyal to each other and keep confidences. Friends accept us for who we are. Friendship demands openness and honesty and authenticity. No masks, no cover ups, no facades. A friend is somebody with whom you dare to be yourself. Friends understand us and challenge us and stick by us in the good times and the bad times. Friends stick with you when all the world is against you.
Somebody has said, “Friends make the ordinary-running errands or eating lunch, for example-extraordinarily fun. And good friends ease our pain and lighten our heavy load …. Not only are friends good for the soul but for the body as well. Friends help us ward off depression, boost our immune system, lower our cholesterol, increase the odds of surviving with coronary disease, and keep stress hormones in check. A half dozen top medical studies now bear this out. … You can extend your life expectancy by having the right kind of friends.”
Friendships can arise from common interests. Jobs or hobbies or sports or other pastimes. Friendships can also arise from common experiences. Just by living next door, or sharing holidays, or even by going through the same crisis together. No matter how a friendship begins, all friendships need effort and commitment and time. Friendships need trust and loyalty. Deep and lasting friendships can take years to build. The heart of friendship is communication. Talking about anything and everything and nothing. Even the most private of people need company sometimes – friends to talk to. No man, or woman, is an island.
God does not want people to be lonely. We were designed to have friends. Some people are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges. Friends need to be prepared to be open with each other and willing to be vulnerable to each other. Christians should be good at making friendships because we are already completely secure in the love God has for us. Sadly not all are. Indeed, sometimes we can be so busy doing “Christian things” that we don’t have time to make friends. Alexander McLaren once said, “Few of us have reached middle life who do not, looking back, see our track strewn with the gaunt skeletons of dead friendships.” Everybody needs friends. No man is an island.
CARING FOR OUR FRIENDS
1 Samuel 20:17 Jonathan made David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
1 Samuel 20:42 Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, “The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants for ever.”
David and Jonathan’s friendship was rooted in God. It had a spiritual dimension which brought them even closer than human friendships. That was why Jonathan was prepared to disobey his father Saul in order to help David when he needed help. We all need help sometimes and that is when we find out who our real friends are. John Lennon wrote “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.” Friends help each other. Sometimes we need help with practical things – DIY or mending the car or help with a lift or some babysitting. Sometimes we may need some advice or encouragement. Sometimes we need help with spiritual things. Somebody to explain something to us or pray for us. Somebody to support us and stand with us in the difficult times, in depression or in grief or in illness. Often all that most people need to cope in life is good friends. Most people welcome a helping hand and a listening ear and all of us need those kinds of friends.
A lot of my first book Making Disciples One-to-One was about “spiritual friendships” or “soul friends.” The wonderful Christians can support and encourage one another in their faith just by being friends. Here are some of the things I said in Part 2 of that book.
Christian friends help each other to understand the Bible and help us to make good choices in life. Friends are there to support each other and pray for each other in the difficult times. Friends help us keep going when we feel like giving up. Friends pray for one another and with one another.
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
There are even greater blessings when friends pray together than when they pray separately.
In our friendships we can open up our lives to each other and in doing so we open ourselves up to God. Many Christians are afraid of doing this. I am afraid of letting other people see “the real me” because then they would realise (in the words of Michael Caine’s character in the film Educating Rita) “there is less to me than meets the eye”. But I really do need to let somebody else in on “the real me” because only then, when I am truly being myself, only then can God really begin to change me. Sharing emotions, sadness, anger, disappointment or discouragement with each other is the same as sharing these feelings with God. Because when we have poured out our heart to our friend, and we know our friend understands, then we can be assured that God also has heard and understood us.
In the battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, having a good Christian friend standing with us can make all the difference. Confessing our sins can help us deal with our temptations. James 5:16 makes this invitation. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. In the process of Christian holiness, turning away from sin and being transformed into the image of Christ, every Christian would benefit from having a friend to confess to. That friend can offer the blessing of declaring those sins forgiven.
God means us to live out our Christian lives with friends. Richard Foster has written, “None of us is supposed to live the Christian life alone. We gain help and strength from others.”
It is good to have committed friendships, and even covenants of friendship like David and Jonathan made. So we dedicate ourselves to our friends, make ourselves accountable to our friends, and “watch over” our friends to help each other follow Jesus better. As we do these things we can see Jesus in each other. The best way to learn to see Christ in others is to develop a close relationship with a Christian friend. Meeting with Christ in that friend is a wonderful way of experiencing the presence of Christ in ordinary everyday life. God gives us other Christians so that we can practise showing His kind of love. We can practise being Jesus with other people by being Jesus to our friends. We learn to forgive and accept strangers by learning to forgive and accept our friends.
For all these reasons it is good for Christians to have spiritual friendships – other Christians who help and support and encourage us in our faith.
OUR GREATEST FRIENDSHIP
One more question. Which is your most important friendship? We might think of our wives and husbands or children or dear friends we have known all our lives. But surely for Christians there is a friendship which is even more important than any of these. God called Abraham His Friend and the Bible tells us that God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. Jesus said that His disciples are His friends.
Our most important friendship will be our relationship with God. And because we enjoy all the blessings of being God’s friends, we will want all our other friends to come to enjoy those blessings as well. More than that, God calls us to help other people to become his friends.
2 Corinthians 5 18 …. (God) through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19Our message is that God was making the whole human race his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends.
This is the job that God has given all Christians to do, to help other people to become God’s friends.
20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends!
God wants us to share the good news of Jesus with everybody we know. Friends at work. Friends along our street. Friends we meet through our hobbies and interests. Since Jesus is our most important friend, we will want to share Him with all our other friends. We can do this lovingly and sensitively, perhaps by sharing books and DVDs, By giving invitations to special events at church or passing them a copy of our outward-facing newsletter Haven News. By gossiping the gospel and simply chatting about Jesus. By praying for our friends that God will reveal Himself in their lives. Always talk to God about your friend before you talk to your friend about God. Then, one of the most important ways we can share our faith with our friends is what I call “linking the chain”. In other words, by introducing your not yet Christian friends to your Christian friends. Maybe even introduce your friend to your minister!
Christians have the best friend anybody could ever have in the Lord Jesus Christ. We should be able to show the world good examples of what it means to be true friends. We all need friends. And we should show God’s kind of love to our friends – that is our witness to the world.