Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Benefits of Christian Community: Friendship

Here is a continuation of the notes from last Sunday's sermon on Ecclesiastes 4:9-16 on "The Benefits of Christian Community":

Back in 2001 Harvard public policy professor Robert Putnam wrote a book titled Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.  The work argued that over the previous decades there had been a steep erosion of “social capital” [the social networks that provide real personal benefits] in American society.  The title came from research finding that while more people were bowling in America sharply fewer were doing so in community bowling leagues.  They preferred to do it alone.

You can still go to the website and read about his study, including the following factoids:
Trends over the last 25 years indicating declining social capital:
Attending Club Meetings:  58% drop
Family dinners:  43% drop
Having friends over:  35% drop
Other factoids:
Joining and participating in one group cuts in half your odds of dying next year.
Every ten minutes of commuting reduces all forms of social capital by 10%
Watching commercial entertainment TV is the only leisure activity where doing more of it is associated with lower social capital.
He wrote this book just at the internet was getting taking off, and my guess it has likely only gotten worse. Social media gives plenty of Facebook “friends” but often leaves social media users feeling more isolated, lonely, longing, and dissatisfied.
Never has there been a better time for the Biblical truth:  “Two are better than one.”
We might also ask what social relationships are being specifically addressed here under the banner “Two are better than one.”

I think it can apply to at least three sometimes overlapping spheres of relationship:

Christian friendship.
Christian marriage and family.
Christian church.

Let’s begin by considering the benefits of Christian friends:

We have the Biblical models of the friendship.  Perhaps the greatest is that between David and Jonathan.  In 1 Samuel 18:1 it says, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”

For women we can point to the friendship between Ruth and Naomi.  Though they had a relationship that came through Ruth’s marriage to Naomi’s son, clearly their friendship persisted even beyond the death of Ruth’s husband.

Think also of the example given us of our Lord.  Jesus called his disciples his friends:

John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

Consider the close friendship Jesus had especially with Peter, James, and John who often walked with him in important times of his life (the mount of transfiguration, Gethsemane).  John, in particular, was called the beloved disciple.  And it is said that at the death of his friend Lazarus Jesus wept (John 11:35).

The Proverbs describe the benefits of having close friends:

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

Proverbs 27:9 Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel.

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

One might ask, Well, where can I find friends such as these?  We must first understand that a Christian can only find true friendship with someone who shares with him a like precious faith in the Lord.  Compare:

Amos 3:3 Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

There will be limits to how close we might become to unbelievers.  Toward unbelievers our goal is evangelism. With fellow believers it is edification.

We must also understand that true and deep friendships must be formed over long periods of time and through many shared experiences.  There are so many things that work against the forming of lasting friendships.  One is the constant mobility of our society.  People often cannot form real friendships because they are constantly leaving and moving.  Another is the lack of taking the time and making the commitment to friendship.

One verse that speaks to the discipline of forming friendships is Proverbs 18:24a:   “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly [though some modern translations alter the wording].”

If we lack friends, is it because we have not shown ourselves to be friendly?

Will we seek the benefits of Christian community that come through friendship?


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