Date:    8/1/04

Text:     John 15:15

Title:     Friendship--- the crown of life

Theme: Since Friendship is the highest form of human relationship, it is our challenge to maintain the friendships we have.



            One thing impresses me most about weddings is: Friends. They would travel from all over the country and even overseas to participate in the celebrations. This echoes  C. S. Lewis's words, "Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me, is the chief happiness in life."

            In the scriptures, we learn that God called Abraham and Moses his friends. During the last few days of Jesus' life on earth, he said to the disciples, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." John 15:15. Can you imagine the honor the disciples must have felt, to be called friends by the Creator and the Redeemer?  No wonder, C. S. Lewis writes in the Four Loves, "To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue."

            I remember when I first entered ministry 22 years ago, my prayer was that God would help me to be friends with those he has called me to serve. Even to this day, it is still my desire to be your friend and your pastor.

            However, down the years, I have also learned how difficult it is to build and maintain friendships. Sometimes it is due to our own brokenness, bringing different unrealistic expectations into the relationships. In addition, our mobile society is not much help here.

            The book of Proverbs has plenty to say about friendship. This morning, we'll turn to some of its words of wisdom to help us make and maintain friendships.

I.          Friendship needs to be selective.

            13:20, "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." 22:24-25, "Make no friendship with a man given to anger,  nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways  and entangle yourself in a snare." These passages tell us about the importance of selecting whom to be your friends. The wrong crowd can get you into trouble. Yes, we can and should exert positive influence on others. Yet it is easier to be influenced in a negative way, because within each of us is the propensity to stray and do evil. In the Chinese folk lore, there is the story  of how Mencius' mother would move 3 times so he could  be with the right friends. Parents always have the concern that their children go out with the right kind of friends. Yes, we all need friends, but make sure we are selective.

II.         Friendship needs to be nurtured.

            Now, what do we do with the friends we have? It is like that Boston Fern you bought last week. You have to water and fertilize it, allow just the right amount of light, so it will grow. We are to make an effort to nurture and develop certain characteristics and quality into it. All of these characteristics are also a part of the husband and wife relationship.  The first of these characteristics is:

1.         Permanency in relationship.

            14:20, "The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends." 19:4,6,7a, "Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend…. 6Many seek the favor of a generous man,  and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man’s brothers hate him;.."

            These are universal statements. It points out the reality of "fair weather friends". When you are rich and successful, you will be surrounded by friends. Everyone claims to know you. In 1998, Daniel Tsui, an alumni of Pui Ching Middle School in HK, won the Nobel Prize in Physics. All of a sudden, all the former PC Middle school students started to claim that they know Dr. Tsui. They have either talked to him, or they have seen him in the good old days, and they were friends. Proverb is not condoning fair weather friends, it challenges us to be different. How?

            18:24, "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." 17:17, "A friend loves at all times,   and a brother is born for adversity." A true friendship is one that is always there, in good and bad times. This is constancy. Several years ago, I read a book called, "Deep Friendship of ¼ century 同行1/4 世紀" It's about the friendship between two well-known men--- a doctor and a journalist in HK. They befriended each other during the college days and their friendship lasted 25 years. Several years ago, when the doctor was dying in the hospital, his journalist friend was there with him till his last breath. And then when the journalist friend became ill, the doctor's wife was there with him. The doctor was a Christian while the journalist was not. But prior to his death, the journalist also became a believer. It was a very touching relationship between two friends. This is constancy or permanency in friendship. We stick with each other through the ups and downs in life. A far cry from fair weather friends. Another aspect of constancy in Friendship is:

            27:10 says, "Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend." The writer says, don't neglect your old friends. In our busy schedules, it is so easy to lose touch with friends. So, make an effort to keep up with them. Moreover, it also talks about parent's friends. This sounds quite strange to us, right? We hardly have time for our own friends, not to mention parent's friends. I began to appreciate more and more when I see my older brother and sister making an extra effort to keep up with some of my parents' close friends. It brings a sense of continuity in life.

            3:27-28, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you." In other words, to cultivate constancy in friendship, we are to be generous in offering help to our friends. When you watch some of the TV sitcoms: Friends, Seinfeld or some Japanese shows, friendship is often depicted as: when a friend is in need, all the other friends will rise up to the occasion and help, at all times. This echoes what the scriptures teach us: To maintain permanency in friendship, Be generous and sacrificial in helping our friends when there is a proper need.

2.         Honesty and Openness

            Besides constancy, 27:6, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend;  profuse are the kisses of an enemy." 29:5, "A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet." 28:23, "Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue."11:12, "Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,  but a man of understanding remains silent."

            Simply put, a friend will tell you like it is. There is no beating around the bush. When you see your friend doing something wrong, you are to be open and frank with him/her. Often people will come to me and say, "pastor, I have a friend who is doing something that I don't think is right. Do you think you can talk to him?" My typical response is: "you have heard and seen it first hand. You are in the best position to tell him/her that it is wrong; it is not pleasing to God." Yes, not too many of us like to tell others, especially our friends about something that is wrong. But this is what friends are for, right? When your friends point our some blind spots in your life, learn to accept and thank them for their candor. It is good for you.

            Of course, there are times, we also need to learn to keep our mouth shut. We have pointed out what is wrong is his/her life, give them time to think about it. Don't nag them.

3. Wise counsel.

            27:9, Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel." The word counsel means to help form good and godly plans and decisions. C. S. Lewis writes, "The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are."  We need friends to help us make good and godly decisions. 1 Sam 23:16, "And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God." Jonathan helped and encouraged David when he was discouraged. I always thank God for some of the friends he has provided for Cynthia and me in this church. When I find myself at a cross roads and confused, they help me to think through things clearly so I can make the right decision. Friends help friends to make godly plans and decisions.

            Having said this, however, there are also times when friends' words are not necessarily the most pleasant to our ears. Or sometimes, their personalities may rub us the wrong way. I am very relational, but you are a driver. You come across as someone who is pushy and at times I may feel offended. What does Proverb say to this? 27:17, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." When friends rub us the wrong way, it is like two pieces of iron rubbing against each other. the outcome? The iron gets sharpened. When friends rubbing against each other; it will cause us to be stronger and more mature.

4.  Be sensitive to each other.

            25:17, "Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you." My modern translation is: Let your emails be few in your friends inbox, lest his inbox is full of your mail and he will delete them all." In other words, don't impose friendship on others; don't force it. Don't overstay. Give it time to develop. Be sensitive to others privacy and their boundaries. Each person has his/her own schedule and way of doing things. Be sensitive and respectful to them. Along the same line

            26:18-19, "Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”" I feel that sometimes among friends, this is a fairly common occurrence. We carry our jokes too far. We started out as some casual innocent jokes about weight and height and then….. . And the next thing we know is that we have hurt our friends. Yes, we can have fun and joke around. But don't carry it too far. Be sensitive to their feelings.

III.       Friendship needs to be protected.

            We have seen some of the characteristics one needs to develop in friendship. It requires hard work. 17:9, Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends." 16:28, "A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. " These and other passages also tell us that friendship can be ruined. We know this well, right? Individuals who used to be buddy buddy; now have become strangers to each other. It is sad. How do we protect friendship? There are two simple suggestions:

1.          When you feel betrayed or hurt, learn to forgive the other person, forget about it and move on. True friends forgive each other, just as God forgives us in Jesus Christ.

2.        Don't listen to gossip. And moreover don't be a gossiper. If you see something that concerns you, talk to your friend directly. Don't say to others that, have you noticed…..have you heard……

IV.       Enemies in life.

            Then finally, how about enemies? 24:17-18, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,.." 25:21-22, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,  and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,…" 16:7, "When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him."

            This and other passages, including Jesus' teaching, is really telling us that others may consider us as their enemies, but we are not to consider anyone as our enemies. We are to love and care for those in need, including those who may dislike us. Do we have any enemies? The scriptural teaching seems to be clear, doesn't it? No, we don't have enemies. However, the only exception, will be the enemy of Truth. And moreover, when we reach out and love those who do not love us, we may even win them and make peace with them.


            We all want to have friends. May be this is the reason why shows like Friends and Seinfeld are so popular among the young adults. These shows are not a true reflection of the real world. Instead they reflect the need for friendship. We are to remember not to take our queue from Hollywood regarding what friendship is. God's word explains to us that God wants to be friends with us. Friendship is truly the crown of life and the school of virtue. It is the top of any relationship we have, both with God and with each other.

             At Robin and Sabrina's wedding, I was so impressed with their friends. Cynthia and I are so happy to see them have so many of you as their friends. It is truly their blessing.

The scriptures also remind us the need to nurture and protect friendship. Certainly we all want others to be our friends. We want them to be consistent, open, wise and sensitive towards us. We don't want them to hurt us. How about shifting our paradigm this morning? Instead of seeking and expecting others to be that ideal friend, how about asking God to help us to be permanent, open, wise and sensitive to others?  So that others can point to us and say, we are indeed their friends.





Note: Credit to:

                        Kidner's Commentary

                        Collins' class notes