Friendships Take Grace
Topic: Grace Passage: John 15:12–15:17
When Matt and I were planning the series on grace that we’re in right now I knew that I wanted to take a week and look at the important role that grace has in our experience of friendship and the important role that friendships have in our experience of grace. We will be visiting the book of Proverbs quite a bit this morning, but I want us to begin with one of the most amazing and beautiful passages on friendship in all the Bible so turn with me please to John 15:12-17.
Over the summer we have been in a series called This Grace In Which We Stand and you might wonder, what does friendship have to do with grace? This passage helps us to see that the kind of friendships that the church should be filled with must be strongly founded on grace if they are to reflect Christ’s ideal for friendship in his church.
Jesus calls his disciples his friends. Jesus calls us his friends, and that can only be by grace. He is holy, we are sinful, he is completely perfect, we are completely flawed, he is powerful, we are weak, and yet he calls us “friends”. What an amazing privilege for us that is, and what an amazing condescension for Jesus that is! The Pharisees meant to insult Jesus when they called him the “friend of sinners” but he wore that insult joyfully because that’s exactly why he came – to save and befriend lost sinners like you and me!
There is a wonderful old hymn that says, what a friend we have in Jesus, and anyone who has walked with Jesus for any length of time or through any depth of trial knows how precious it is that we can call Jesus our friend. But Jesus doesn’t just say that we can call him our friend, he says that he calls us his friends. Can you imagine us singing, what a friend Jesus has in us. But that’s what he is saying, not that we can call him friend, but that he calls us his friends. That’s grace.
Jesus tells them that they need to keep his commandments to be his friends. But what’s his commandment? To love one another! So loving Jesus must include loving those whom Jesus loves. And Jesus equates friendship with love when he says, greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus would be the ultimate friend and make the ultimate sacrifice, laying down his life for us so that we might be restored back to God in right relationship. That is love, and that is friendship. And we are to imitate Jesus in loving and laying down our lives for each other. So if that’s true – and it is- then the people of God are to be a loving people and deep and lasting friendships should be a common thing in the church. And yet the reality is that often the church struggles with this more than the world does. The sad reality is that it’s probably easier to find more honesty in a lot of bars than in a lot of churches.
The title of the message is Friendships Take Grace and this morning we’re going to explore seven biblical components to being a good and faithful friend and the grace that it takes to be such a friend. Some points I will sharing quickly, others I’ll take a little more time with.
A word to the wise before we start: please remember this only works if we focus our eyes on ourselves and not the person next to us. If you listen to this message thinking, “yeah, that person really needs to hear that. That’s right, they’re not doing that either. Wow, these people really needed to hear this” you’re going to miss what God wants to say to you. One translation of Proverbs 18:24 carries good advice: He who has friends must show himself to be friendly. So making and keeping friends depends on being friendly – being the kind of person we would want as a friend. Looking at what others lack short circuits God’s work in us right from the start, so allow the Lord to speak to you personally, and by His Spirit to change you from within and that will be the best thing you can do to grow in authentic friendships. And maybe this is a good question for us to consider: am I the kind of friend I would want to have? Be honest and look at how you deal with your friends when you’re with them and when you’re not. Am I the kind of friend I would want to have?
1. Friendships take grace to forgive
Our friendship with Jesus is built on forgiveness – and so it must be with our earthly friendships. It is inevitable that there will be sin in our friendships. There will be need to forgive, and need to be forgiven. Be quick to forgive a friend, and quick to ask for forgiveness from a friend. One of the ways we lay down our lives for our friends is by absorbing the pain of being sinned against and freely offering forgiveness to a friend. Only the Lord Jesus could lay down his life to purchase forgiveness and save us from God’s punishment for our sin, but Paul tells us to forgive as the Christ forgave you, and that is especially true in friendships.
I spent this week at youth camp and on the first day we played dodgeball. There were 8 teams and we were all in quadrants trying to eliminate all the other teams. Well, at one point I got hit in the face with a ball – didn’t even see it coming. It knocked my glasses right off my face and cut my nose. The good news is it didn’t knock me out of the game cause face balls weren’t allowed. So I got to stay in. But later I found out from Matt that he threw a ball and though he wasn’t aiming for me it was headed straight for my head but at the last minute the ball swerved and buzzed right by my head. I never even saw it. I joked that the Lord swerved the ball cause He knew that that would have been the end of our friendship. Of course I was joking, but you know, in real life we will probably all get hit between the eyes by someone we thought was a good friend – not in a harmless, dodgeball kind of way but in a way that can be very devastating. If we focus on the “wrong they did me” we will become bitter and hard and we will make sure it never happens again by guarding our hearts from forming deep friendships ever again. Christ’s answer is better and harder: forgive. Absorb the pain and give it to Christ. You can’t take the hit back, maybe they don’t even ask for forgiveness, but the Lord calls us to do the supernatural by His grace: absorb the pain and forgive. Not for the person’s sake, but for Christ’s sake. For the glory of his name. For the good of his body. And because we remember how much he has forgiven us, and therefore we must forgive others.
The truth is, the closer a person is to you, the deeper they can hurt you. David writes in Psalm 55 that if it were an enemy that were insulting him he could endure it, what hurts is that it is a close friend. Jesus was betrayed by one of the 12 – and the fact that Jesus knew it was coming doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt Jesus.
I am praying for two men who once were good friends but now are going through a very damaging time of hurt and accusation and as is so often the case, there’s no way to put the genie back in the bottle. There’s no way to undo what’s been done or unsay what’s been said. The only thing that can bring healing balm to the friendship is forgiveness. And Jesus is ready to give us the grace we need by the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive. Friendship takes grace to forgive.
2. Friendships take grace to give strength
God has ordained friendships to be a source of strength and renewal for us. While at youth camp I needed to get away and work on the message and because my computer was out of power, I needed a place to plug in. After trying several fast food restaurants only to walk out because there was no power outlet, I ended up in a Chinese restaurant that did have an outlet. It was only after I had been working there a half hour that I happened to look at the sign on the window to see that the name of the restaurant was “Good Friend”.
A good friend will be a source of strength and encouragement that we can “plug into” when we are at the end of our strength. Eccles 4:9-12 speaks of the increase of strength we receive from friends: two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against a man who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
There is a multiplication of strength in friendship: strength to accomplish more together, strength to renew, strength to fight enemies and challenges. The word encouragement means to put courage into – and that’s what friends can do for us, pour courage into us when we run out. There are battles in life we will face, there are enemies we will encounter, and friends can help us fight and overcome those battles. And there are times when we will fall – so many ways we can fall – and a friend is one who holds out their hand when we’re down to lift us up. Grace to give strength.
3. Friendships take grace to be accepting
Romans 15:7– accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God. And how did Christ accept us? Just as we are. With full knowledge of our sin and failures and oddities and rebellions. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus’ acceptance doesn’t translate to a que sera sera attitude about our sin. He loves us enough to want to change us – and our love for one another should be big enough to want each other to grow in holiness and freedom from sin. But his acceptance begins with love for who we are where we are, it doesn’t begin when we get our act together. And we should accept one another with our sin, and our flaws, and our quirks, and our differences.
That acceptance is a necessary grace if people are really going to grow. See if the church isn’t accepting of people in spite of their flaws, then people start to put on an “I’ve got it all together” façade and you will have a church full of phonies. The Holy Spirit can do far more with a flawed but honest person than He can with a spiritually mature person who is just faking it. He can work with flawed, He can’t work with fake. As someone once said, God can’t anoint unreality.
But that acceptance extends beyond our sin to our quirks. You know what I mean: everyone else you know has odd idiosyncrasies. One of our teens wore a t-shirt at youth camp that said, “normal people scare me.” Love that! But are there any “normal people?” We all have our idiosyncrasies. Times when I am just weird. That ever happen to you? Ever walk away from a conversation thinking, why did I say that? That was so stupid. What was I thinking? And I know from experience that you say dumb things too. And we all have odd emphases and different quirks. What kind of friend could we be if we rejected one another because of idiosyncrasies – just odd tendencies.
One struggle I’ve had all my life is a temptation to feel like I needed to perform well to be accepted. I don’t know if you know what I mean, but I can still feel an internal pressure – am I doing enough to deserve this relationship? Am I meeting up to an “expectation” that someone has – and that expectation may not be at all in their mind, it may only be in my head. But somewhere, a long time ago, a performance ethic was planted in my heart and I need to fight to overcome it. One way to fight it is to grow in our passion to live for Christ’s approval and not man’s approval. Another way to fight it is to realize that a friendship that is based on constant approval isn’t a friendship, so that internal pressure is leading me to believe a lie. And we fight lies with truth.
True friendships are strong and resilient and safe: true friendships don’t reject one another because of failure or disappointment.
Watch Your Expectations
I think that expectations can be a killer to growing friendships because rather than friendship being something freely given and freely received, expectations tend to move friendships into the marketplace: what is your friendship doing for me? Are you living up to my expectations of what you/your friendship should be? I knew someone years ago who swung on a pendulum of expectations from really high highs to really low lows: when they first met someone they were the best people and the best friends in the world. But then that person would inevitably disappoint them in some way and they swung down to being the worst kind of people and the worst kind of friends in the world.
If you want to place expectations, place most of them on yourself, not the other person. If you feel like your friendship isn’t deep enough, don’t tell them that they’re not doing enough– trust me, it will have the opposite effect of what you intend. Just work harder to deepen it on your side. Tell them you treasure their friendship and want to see it grow deeper. If they don’t respond then accept where it is and move on.
4. Friendships take grace to be honest
I wanted to put this point next because accepting one another doesn’t mean we don’t say the hard things to one another when it’s needed.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (NAS) Prov. 27:6
When an enemy tells us what we want to hear, it is deceitful – they have an agenda that is hurtful to our soul. Nice things they say are veneers covering the evil they really mean – so it is to our folly to embrace their kisses. When Judas kissed Jesus, that kiss outwardly expressed affection and love, but it wasn’t motivated by affection – the kiss was a cover up for an evil agenda. Don’t be enamored by those who always say what you want to hear or speak well of you to the point of flattery.
Honesty is essential to a good friendship. Embrace the wounds of an honest friend. They may not always say it completely right. Their words may hurt at times (they may result in wounds), but their motivation is for your best – there is no secret agenda driving their words. If you could slice their heart and see inside, you’d see that they care for you and want the best for you. And so their words are meant to help you see something you’re not seeing or to correct you when you’re going in a direction you shouldn’t be going. See those wounds as faithful – like the cut of a surgeon – and desire your friends to be honest even to the point of hurt.
And be a friend who cares enough to say the hard things. Our speech should be largely encouraging – we shouldn’t always be looking for problems and things to correct. But when something comes to our attention concerning a friend, it takes grace to speak honestly to them. But there is no true friendship without that honesty.
5. Friendships take grace to be loyal
Wealth brings many new friends,
but a poor man is deserted by his friend. Prov. 19:4
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Prov 17:7
Loyalty is kind of like acceptance on steroids: it’s accepting when that acceptance is strained. It’s embracing a friend when others are walking away from him or her. Someone wrote, a friend is someone coming in when everyone else is going out. There is a beautiful quality to loyalty –be a loyal person, be a loyal friend. What if someone who is your friends suddenly finds himself/herself in a lot of trouble? What if that trouble is of their own making? Does the Lord want us to walk away from them or be loyal to them?
How does Jesus treat us?
6. Friendships take grace to be discerning
Someone has said that over the years the two things that will have the most effect on who you are/become are the books you read and the company you keep.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Prov. 13:20
Who we hang with has a tremendous effect on what we become. Notice that Paul doesn’t say good morals transforms bad company. The direction seems to be that the good morals are negatively affected by the bad morals. Its easier to pull someone down from a chair than to pull someone up.
Young people, this is especially important for you to remember. All ages, but one of the most important choices you will make as a teen or a young adult is the kind of friends you choose. Do you choose to hang out with people that strengthen your walk with the Lord, that encourage you to do what’s right, that commend good morals rather than ruins them?
I’ve seen people’s lives devastated because of choices they made – but those choices were influenced powerfully by the people they chose as friends. I remember one young man who had never gotten into trouble at school in his life but started hanging out with a guy who influenced him to join him in a car-jacking escapade. They locked a pregnant woman in her trunk and took a joy ride. He was looking at 10 years minimum and the judge had no sympathy that he had no prior record of trouble. I was one of many who wrote for leniency but the judge rightfully considered it to be a detestable crime (frightening a pregnant woman), and wouldn’t lower the sentencing. Be discerning: if that friendship isn’t good for your life or your relationship with Jesus, end it.
Not at all saying don’t continue to love that person or pray for them or refuse to spend any time with them. But friends are the people we draw close to, and its not wise to draw close to a person whose influence is a negative or foolish one.
If you are a teen or young adult, and your parents or others have been warning you about who you’re hanging out with and the influence – you might want to listen to their warning. Be discerning – it can make all the difference if where your life ends up. I started by asking “am I the kind of friend I would want to have?” Also ask, “is this friend the kind of friend I’d want to have?”
7. Friendships take grace to make them work
Friendships don’t usually just happen. And to make them work, we need to work at them. If you are desiring more friends or deeper friendships, be prepared to work at it. Ask God to give you a fresh grace to invest your life honestly and wholeheartedly into cultivating friendships.
You can have many, even dozens of friendly relationships, but you can only handle two, three, at the most maybe four really deep friendships. Both are important. I think there is a tendency to knock the friendly relationships as not true friendship – I don’t agree. In fact, if all you have are 2 super close friends and no one else on a less intense level, I’d be concerned that that isn’t healthy long term. Friendly relationships can add a lot of joy and strength to our lives. And friendships of all kinds take work.
• Take an interest in others – ask them about themselves, how they’re doing, what the Lord is doing in their lives, how you can pray for them.
• Put yourself in contexts to make friends. CG is good for this. It’s not enough by itself to make deeper friendships, but you can have some very sweet friendly relationships, and those can lead to deeper friendships.
• Surrender your heart to the Holy Spirit, that He might search your heart and reveal places where you might be guarded because of past relationships, or hurt because of disappointment, or resentful of someone.
Close with a time of prayer and ministry. This is not only an important area, it is an area where we can experience deep pain and disappointment and if you are going through a challenge in the area of friendship, we want you to be prayed for.
Here are some needs the Lord put on my heart for us to pray for:
• Those who are having trouble forgiving a friend for something they did
• Those who feel like they were betrayed by a friend
• Those who have had their trust betrayed and are having a hard time trusting again
• Those who are struggling with loneliness
• Those who realize that a friendship is a bad influence but don’t know what to do about it
• Those who have a friend that doesn’t know Jesus and you are praying for their salvation
Close by focusing where we started: we can love one another as friends because Jesus first loved us and called us friends. That frees us up to freely give, and receive sweet friendship based on His great love.