The Fellowship of Friends
MARCH 23, 2022
The church, the Body of Christ, is a fellowship of friends.
I love John 15. In that passage, Jesus doesn’t call us colleagues, disciples, followers or even Christians. He calls us friends. And anybody who is a friend of Jesus is a friend of mine. That makes us a fellowship of friends.
There are many definitions of friendship, but the best definition I know is found in Philippians 2:19-30 in the warm friendship of Paul, the people at Philippi, Epaphroditus and Timothy. For some background, Paul was in a Roman prison. The church at Philippi sent him a money gift as well as one of their own, Epaphroditus, to serve and to support Paul. In the text, Paul also promises to send Timothy, his trusted follower, to the church at Philippi. So the question is what is friendship? What can we do, as Christians, to create such a fellowship of friends?
“But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you…” (Philippians 2:19). There is something sad about a man or woman who has no friends…because a friend provides a blessing to a friend.
A friend is a blessing to a friend and we all need blessings. God has given us each other. Timothy was a blessing to Paul. The people at Philippi were a blessing to Paul. And Epaphroditus was a blessing to the church at Philippi. They formed a fellowship of friends.
Agree to Disagree
In describing Timothy, Paul writes, “For I have no one like-minded” (Philippians 2:20).
A friend of mine has a poster on his wall: “A friend is one who knows you are who you are, understands where you have been, accepts who you have become and still gently invites you to grow.” I love that statement. As friends, we have to learn to accept and to be open with one another…even when we disagree.
People are different and nobody is perfect. We’re a lot of bad folks. For that reason, we have to give a bit. We have to recognize and to rejoice in the differences among us in order to become a fellowship of friends.
“But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel” (Philippians 2:22). The Greek word here means proof that comes as a result of testing. Friendship is proven.
My mentor, Fred Smith, used to say that you make enemies quickly but you make friends slowly and very carefully. You learn to test your friends. And that happens in crisis. In fact, it is only on the other side of crisis that you discover friendship.
As friends, I want you to lean on me while I lean on you. Let’s prove our friendship in crisis as we serve Christ in this world. It is this proving of friendship that creates the fellowship of friends.
Paul praises and affirms both Timothy and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:22, 25, 29).
When Anna and I were first married, there were a lot of adjustments. Early on, there developed a kind of one-upmanship: “I’m better than you are,” “I know more than you do,” “If you fail, then I succeed.” Over the years, though, we began to realize that we were one. If she failed, then I failed. If she succeeded, then I succeeded.
It is important to learn that within the context of friendship. We are one. We all want and need recognition for the good things we do. In a fellowship of friends, when someone else succeeds, we can and should rejoice with and praise him or her.
“For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow…” (Philippians 2:27-28).
Once you become a friend, you become vulnerable in your friendship. My enemies cannot hurt me. I’m not vulnerable before my enemies. I’m strong. My enemies don’t know my weaknesses, but my friends do. For that reason, my friends could kill me.
One of the great friendships was that of John Calvin and Farel, the man who eventually invited Calvin to Geneva. We often think of Calvin as aloof and cold, but he shows himself quite the opposite in his letters. In Calvin’s last letter of his lifetime, he wrote to Farel, “Farewell, my most excellent and upright brother; and since it is the will of God that you should survive me in the world, live mindful of our friendship.” At Calvin’s funeral, Farel said of Calvin, “Oh why was I not taken away in his stead, and he preserved. Oh how happily he has run a noble race. May the Lord grant that we run like him.” There is great sadness and pathos in that. You can expect the same.
“Because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me” (Philippians 2:30). The phrase Paul uses here “not regarding his life,” “risking” in other translations, is a gambling word. In other words, Epaphroditus, in going to Paul to serve him while in prison, wagered his whole life for Paul.
Did you know that early Christians were described as gamblers? In the third century in the city of Carthage, there was a great plague. There were dead bodies everywhere that, in turn, endangered the entire city. Cyprian, the Bishop in Carthage, called all the Christians together and asked that they go out and bury the dead. In gambling their lives to save others, the Christians saved Carthage.
Christians are gamblers. I want to so gamble on your life that, if you blow it, it breaks my heart. Likewise, I want you to so gamble on me that, if I fail, it destroys you. We are a part of one another. That is what it means to have a fellowship of friends.
“Is it true,” the student asked, “that Texas is so big that all the people of the United States could live there?” The teacher responded, “Yes, that’s true…but only if they were friends.”
Is it possible for people who come from so many backgrounds with different politics, personalities and perspectives to all be a part of the Body of Christ? Yes, it is…but only if they are friends.