This past Sunday, our pastor preached a good sermon on friendship, based on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
I've written on this subject in an earlier post (5/19/09), but I was thinking about friendships over the weekend anyway, how wonderful when you have one or more strong friendships, how awful when a friendship breaks down. I've better friendships now than at other, discouraging times in my life when I felt like the only kind available were "fair weather." I value good friends; but some folks don't. I once knew a person (actually a very pleasant personality) who admitted, "I'm a lousy friend!"
Friendships take time, and thus commitment. You can be (or think you are) too busy to give time to friends, and so you're not available when someone needs you. Writing this entry reminds me that I need to call some friends to whom I've not given time lately. "Given time"--friendship is a gift, and keeping friends requires giving.
The benefits of friendship are obvious, not only because of the companionship described in this Bible verse, but also the happiness of caring for a particular person, and the happiness of knowing that a particular person cares for you, even if you don't happen to need tangible assistance at the moment. Thus I'm always a little astounded at how careless certain people can be toward friends.
Galatians 6:1-5 is another good scripture.
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.
In other words, we all have times when we stumble, and we all have to take responsibility for our own actions. But that doesn't mean we have to face life alone: in fact, a sign of true Christianity is the gentleness and care we show toward one another, the willingness to help one another through difficult times.
If you have the Holy Spirit, then you're a good friend! If you're not a good friend ... I hate to say you don't have the Spirit, but you may be resisting the Spirit.
Churches face a difficult balance between being outward- and inward-looking. As all the church-growth pundits say, a congregation must be mission-oriented and concern for the percentages of people in the area who have no church-based relationship to God. On the other hand, those people are hypothetical members, and meanwhile the actual members may not be treating one another as positively as they should. Such folk would do well to work on being better friends to one another, serving one another's needs, and then to reach out to the community. After all, you'd want your church to be a place people would want to attend! If pastoral and lay leaders can create circumstances in congregations for interconnectedness and support, then great things may happen.
Years ago a friend gave me a plaque that read, "A friend is there before you know it, to lend a hand before you ask it, and give you love just when you need it most." A good reminder for any day!