One of my favourite television series is “Call the Midwife”. Those of you who are familiar with the series will know that it’s set in Poplar, East London in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. And, not surprisingly, it revolves around a group of midwives who, in the course of their work, come up against all sorts of challenging issues. Although each episode can probably be viewed as a standalone, there is nevertheless a storyline, or theme, that links one episode with the next. Here at ACF and PCF, we too are going through a series but, as you’d expect, our theme is rather different from that of “Call the Midwife”.
Our series title is “Wisdom for the Way”, where each of the messages is drawn from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. And the storyline or theme that binds all the messages together is how we can apply wisdom to specific aspects of our daily lives. Now, when I say “wisdom”, I’m not talking here about building our knowledge base or increasing our intelligence. Not that kind of wisdom. The wisdom taught in the book of Proverbs is godly wisdom, which covers the skill of living wisely, or living well, in our relationship with God and people. It’s about responding to the various circumstances of life in a way that’s honouring to God and beneficial to those around us. And we’ve seen from earlier messages in the series that this wisdom starts with a healthy fear or reverence for God which motivates us to live in ways that delight His heart. We begin to see life from His viewpoint and act in light of this. And the more hectic, complex and uncertain our lives become, the more we need godly wisdom to see us through.
In Proverbs chapter 4, a father is passing on to his children what he had been taught by his father. This is what he says (and I’m mostly reading from the New Living Translation this morning) beginning at verse 5: 5 Get wisdom; develop good judgement. Don’t forget my words or turn away from them. 6 Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you. 7 Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgement. Well, no prizes for guessing the message here is “get wisdom, develop good judgement.”
I reckon getting wisdom or developing good judgement is vitally important for almost every life activity. And this includes today’s topic – FRIENDSHIP. But, not only is wisdom necessary for building healthy friendships, friendship itself can play an important role in helping us pursue wisdom in other areas of our lives. It’s a two-way street, if you like. So, let’s see what we can unpack this morning…
- Realise that friendship can make you wise.
Hey, does this mean I can become wise just by having a friend or two? Not really… because according to Proverbs 13:20, it depends on what your friend, or friends, are like. The verse begins (and I’m quoting from the Contemporary English Version): “Wise friends make you wise…” So, if we want to get wisdom and good judgement from our friendships, it looks like we need to befriend people who possess wisdom and good judgement, right? But how does this work? How can wise friends make us wise? Well, let’s consider the power of friendship.
- Firstly, wise friends can have a huge influence on our thinking, on our feelings and on our decision-making. When we’re facing a difficult choice or the road ahead looks very confusing, wise friends can offer advice and bring much-needed perspective to a situation that might be troubling us. You’ve heard the expression, “You get like the people you live with”; well, I think we can also get like the people we spend time with – our friends – and, as a result, their wisdom and good judgement can rub off on us.
- Also, wise friends can help us stay on track. For example, if one of the characteristics of a wise friend is, say, self-discipline, associating with this friend could motivate us to stay on track with our spending, our daily exercise, or other lifestyle habits. And the result might be we end up exercising wise judgement in these areas.
- The power of friendship can be further seen when we’re at a low ebb emotionally. We’re much more vulnerable to temptation at these times, so a wise friend can guide us away from potentially reckless behaviour and give good, helpful advice and support which might enable us to make wise decisions and choices. So, friendship can make you wise as you spend time in the company of wise friends, learning from them. But that’s not all. You need to…
- Be aware that some friendships are harmful.
We’ve seen that Proverbs 13:20 begins, “Wise friends make you wise…” then it continues, “…but you hurt yourself by going around with fools” (CEV). You see, not all friendships make us wise. If we go around with fools (that is, people who have no time for godly wisdom and lack good judgement) we might end up getting hurt. But in what ways can you “hurt yourself by going around with fools”? Here are three possibilities…
- Let’s venture outside the book of Proverbs for a moment… The apostle Paul wrote many letters to the churches of his day and, in one of these letters to the church at Corinth, he quotes the following: “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Yes, good character or moral standards can be damaged or warped by keeping company with the wrong kind of friends. I’m sure you don’t need me to give you specific examples but, in the same way as the wisdom and good judgement of wise friends can have a positive effect on us, the foolishness of bad company can have a negative effect on us. You hurt yourself when your good character is corrupted by foolish friends. How else might we hurt ourselves in a foolish friendship?
- Well, jumping back into the book of Proverbs, we read this: “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other”. The New Living Translation has the word ‘friends’ in quotation marks, suggesting that, although they’re referred to as friends, they’re probably friends in name only and are not real friends. But how can these so-called friends end up destroying each other? One way is by their words. Listen to this proverb: “With their words, the godless destroy their friends…” These words might be hypocritical, flattering words that destroy, or at least blunt, a person’s good judgement and they end up being duped by what they hear. Another proverb says that “gossip separates closes friends”. Words of gossip might not only destroy a friendship but could also destroy someone’s reputation. So, you hurt yourself when you’re led astray by the words of foolish friends.
- Here’s another proverb that warns how we can hurt ourselves in a foolish friendship. “Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul” or, as some versions put it, “get entangled in a snare”. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to be angry, for example, being angry at things that grieve the heart of God. But the idea in this proverb is that, by hanging out with people who are characterised by anger, whose tempers are easily provoked, you run the risk of becoming like them. And this could get you into trouble. The bottom line here is that you hurt yourself when you imitate the negative traits of foolish friends.
Okay, if friendship can make us wise and some friendships are harmful, I suggest we need to…
- Appreciate the value of good friendships.
I remember an aunt of mine being upset at the behaviour of some family members. Then, with some resignation she said, “Well, you can’t help who your relatives are.” But, while we have little or no choice regarding who’s in our family, this isn’t the same for our friends. I used to have a little fridge magnet that read, “Friends are the family you choose for yourself.” But if we’re going to grasp the importance of good friendships, we need to know what this looks like. I’ve already mentioned the importance of having wise friends (and being wise friends), but the book of Proverbs doesn’t stop there. It gives us useful guidance about what a good friendship looks like. I think it’s probably worth highlighting at this point that friendship is a two-way process. People can be good friends to us and we can be good friends to them. It works both ways. So, with the help of selected proverbs, here are a few questions we might want to ask about our friends (and we could perhaps think about applying these questions to ourselves too).
- Are they loving friends? “A good friend loves at all times.”
What you do think of when you hear the word “love”? Most often we tend to associate it with a positive feeling of warmth or affection towards someone. A few years ago, a Christian band had a song called “Luv is a verb”. In other words, love is something you do. Some of the people you know might be stretching your feelings of love almost to breaking point but, as a good friend, you will love them at all times by your actions. What could you do today for your friends that would show your love for them?
- Are they loyal friends? “…a real friend sticks closer than a brother.”
Have you ever come across people who are “fair-weather friends”, hanging out with you when things are going well, but not wanting to know you when things get difficult? Well, these aren’t the marks of a good friend. A good friend is a loyal friend, sometimes more so than members of your own family. Someone has said, “One loyal friend is worth more than a thousand fake ones.” Is there someone who needs you to be a loyal friend to them today? Perhaps they’re going through a particularly difficult experience and to know that you will stick by them through it all is exactly the encouragement they need to keep going.
- Are they sincere friends? “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”
A sincere friend looks out for your best interests. Do you have a friend like this? Or are you that friend to someone? It’s good to know there are people who care enough about us to speak truth to us – friends who are not phony but will tell it like it is. Sometimes this might involve saying and doing things that could be hurtful, at least in the short term. You see, a good friend doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear, but they will tell us what we need to hear, even if this hurts us for a time. But how do you respond when a good friend, whom you know you can trust, wounds you in some way? Do you become defensive and critical of your friend? Do you withdraw from that person and allow the hurt to ruin a perfectly good friendship? Or are you prepared to carefully consider what your friend said and use this to make improvements in your attitude and your behaviour?
- Are they uplifting friends? Do they lift you up – spiritually, emotionally, and in other areas of your life? When I was in my early teens, I remember falling off my bike. I was by myself and feeling quite miserable sitting at the side of the road until a friend, who just happened to be passing by, stopped and literally lifted me up on my feet again. In reality, this was quite a trivial incident but, at the time, I was grateful she had arrived just at that point. There’s a verse in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes that says, “If you fall, your friend can help you up… (CEV). Maybe you know someone who has fallen in some way and could use a helping hand to get back on their feet again. Perhaps you could lift them up by giving encouragement, or practical help, or offering to pray with them.
Okay, these are some of the marks of a good friendship. But not everyone has friends like this… Perhaps you’ve been badly hurt by friends in the past, so you hold back from committing yourself to a new friendship in case the same thing happens again. Or maybe you find it difficult to make new friends if you’re unable, or afraid, to go out and meet people – particularly at the present time of lockdown. This is where the church’s new “Meet and Eat Lunch Chat” is so good. Meeting via Zoom on Wednesdays at 12 noon, you just click on the link on the homepage and take it from there. Who knows what friendships you might strike up as a result of this?
But whether you already have good friends or find it difficult to make good friends, there is One whom you can readily connect with – whoever you are and wherever you are. Earthly friends come and go and even the best of friends can let us down from time to time. But Jesus, whom the religious leaders of the day disapprovingly referred to as a “friend of sinners”, will never let us down. And this leads us to my final point…
- Embrace friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
As you know, the title of this series from the book of Proverbs is “The Way of Wisdom”. And any study of godly wisdom isn’t complete without reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:24 tells us that “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God”. And verse 30 goes on to say, “For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself”. If you want to get the kind of wisdom mentioned in the book of Proverbs, get the Lord Jesus Christ. Take him as your Saviour, submit to him as your Lord, and love him as your Friend.
Jesus has all the qualities of a friend, and he has these in abundance – he is supremely wise, caring, loving, loyal, sincere, and reliable. He also lifts us up when we fall. But when I think of friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of the universe – when I think of this, there can be no place for flippancy. He’s not our buddy, he’s not our pal, he’s not our mate… As the God-man, he’s so much more than this, yet he welcomes us as his friends. Listen to Jesus addressing his followers – this is what he says in John 15:13-15…
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (v.13). And this is precisely what Jesus did when, sacrificing his life on the cross, he opened the way into the presence of God for everyone who places their faith in him and turns their back on those things that grieve his heart. And it is here, at the cross that we start to identify as his friends. But it doesn’t stop there. Listen to what Jesus says next…
“You are my friends if you do what I command” (v.14). We demonstrate that we are Jesus’ friends when we live in obedience to what he says, not reluctant obedience, but obedience that is willing, joyful and without delay. And verse 15…
“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me” (v.15). You know, there’s a special intimacy about being Jesus’ friend. Psychological research suggests there are four levels of friendship – acquaintance, friend, close friend and best friend. If we belong to Jesus, he is more than an acquaintance, more than just a friend, more than even a close friend. He’s our best friend – forever. And it really is forever, because he will never, ever, give up the friends for whom he laid down his life.
But in any friendship, communication is vital to its survival. And in the times in which we live, there’s a huge variety of ways in which we can connect with our friends, near and far, thanks to the range of social media options we can access. And this is great! But, and I’m sure many of you will agree with this, there’s nothing quite like actually being with your friends, talking and listening to them, enjoying their company and getting to know them more deeply. The same is true of friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The more we come into his presence and spend time with him, listening and talking, the more we begin to enjoy his company and get to know him better. When we take him with us into our day and talk and listen to him throughout our day, an amazing thing happens. We find ourselves ‘tuning in’ to his words of wisdom. We start to discover that, in the words of Colossians 2:3, “In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”.
I said at the beginning of this message that the main thrust of the book of Proverbs is to get wisdom and develop good judgement. When we seek to become the devoted friend of wisdom personified – the Lord Jesus Christ – I believe this will set a very positive tone for our friendships with other people. Amen.