Text: Proverbs 17:17; 27:6
Introduction: Well, believe it or not, this is the 7th message in our preaching series … Neighboring 101. If you’re interested in any of the others you can review them by going to our website and opening up the sermon menu and clicking on the one that most piques your interest. Now today I want to talk with you about loving your neighbors as friends. Friendship, as you know, goes beyond just an occasional wave of the hand in a greeting or even sharing a special moment with another person. It is more than involved than that. Friendships are formed as people open up their lives to each other and risk an appropriate amount of transparency and trust with one another. A word of caution: It’s possible for that intimacy to be inappropriate and unholy, and I’m not suggesting that! Listen to what Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:15 — 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’ve heard from my Father I have made known to you. Did you hear it? Our Lord measures our friendship with Him by our obedience to God’s commands. The more we obey, the closer we are to Him. I have learned over the years that the best foundation for a God-honoring friendship is one where we, as believers, choose to walk with Christ while sharing our lives with those around us. I admit it has taken me some time to learn this lesson. As I’ve mentioned before, when I was a young man in the latter part of the 1970s, I attended Slippery Rock University in Western Pennsylvania. I still remember the day my mom dropped me off at the Patterson dormitory. At a campus of six thousand students, I knew two people when I unpacked my boxes. There was a guy from my high school who was also a freshman and my girlfriend’s sister who was in her senior year. By the grace of God, in the first week or so, I managed to find a group of about nine other guys to hang out with, and probably because we were all somewhat insecure and afraid to risk other relationships, we hung out together for all four years of college. Like many of you who attended a university, I shared some of the most entertaining and fun moments of my life with these guys. I remember the time we got up at 2:30am and rushed to the intramural fields to push Jimmy Powell’s van out of the mud or when we played another group of guys in a football game which we lost on the last play and filmed the whole thing with an 8mm camera. The night before we graduated, we gathered in the lobby of our dorm and watched it again. I have to admit that I believed I was very close to each of those guys and that the friendships we’d carved out together would endure for a lifetime. But after graduation, we slowly drifted apart and after a few short years, I remained in close touch with only two out of the ten. Why? it wasn’t as if we planned to go our separate ways. It just sort of happened. Today I can look back with a better understanding of what friendship requires and see why we lost touch. We had built our relationships around a series of fun moments, but failed to understand that good times are not enough to sustain good relationships. It takes a lot more than that. So this morning, as we try to understand how to love our neighbors as friends, I want to point out to you four qualities of the kind of friendship that is built to last a lifetime. Let’s start with this one.
- A true friend SERVES his neighbor. Listen to these words from Philippians 2:3-4 — Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but in humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourself. Do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others. Have you ever asked yourself how many people in your life willingly and even joyfully serve your interests and not just their own? If you have, I bet it’s not a long list, but everyone on it, you probably regard as a real friend. Jesus was a great model of service. That’s what the next part of Philippians 2 (verses 5-7) It reads, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself taking the form of a bond-servant.” A bond-servant is one who is bound to serve another without receiving payment in return. Though Jesus was God in human flesh, He deliberately chose to set aside any claim to the glory that was rightfully His and instead served His followers. I find a story in Matthew 14:13-21 to be a remarkable illustration of His complete other-centeredness. When Jesus learned that John the Baptist had been murdered by Herod because of a silly request by the daughter of the woman he lusted for, He did something very human. He withdrew from the crowds by getting into a boat and putting out to sea. I’m sure anyone who received that kind of news would want to be alone as well. The problem was that the people could see Him from shore, and so rather than return to their homes, they simply followed the shoreline, keeping a watchful eye on Him. Eventually Jesus came ashore and the people were there to meet Him. Many of them were sick and all of them were hungry. What did He do? He once again took the role of a bond-servant and healed those with infirmities and performed a miracle with five loaves and two fish so that everyone’s stomach was filled. That’s impressive to me. At a time when no one would have begrudged Him the right to turn the people away, Jesus continued to serve them. But that’s what a real friend does! He ignores his own needs and focuses instead on the people he cares for. Illustration: When I was growing up, the person that I spent more time with than anyone else was my older brother by four years … Mark. We both loved sports and played them together almost every day. When we weren’t shooting hoops, hitting a baseball or throwing a football, we were reading comic books together. We came to be very close to one another. Though I was much younger, Mark always made time for me. In fact, he actually served me. When he bought season tickets to the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, I was his frequent companion. When he went to another friend’s house, he often let me tag along. The truth be known, he even took me along on dates with his girlfriend Peggy. Now I admit that I manipulated him a bit so that he would invite me, but each time, Mark was putting my needs before his own and that’s why our friendship grew. Application: Now let’s talk about neighbors for a moment. If you want to build a friendship with the people God has brought into your life, a good place to begin is by serving them. When you make their needs a priority, it really says something about the value you place on those relationships. They really matter to you.
- A true friend LOVES his neighbor. There are a lot of different facets to love. We talked about the nature of love in our first message in this series when we looked at the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We observed that love feels something, does something, costs something and reveals something. This morning I want to look at our love for our neighbors through the lens of standing up for or, sometimes to them whenever God leads. Here’s what I mean.
- He stands up for his neighbor even when no one else will (Proverbs 17:17 — A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity). Have you ever seen someone abandon a friend in his moment of greatest need? Unfortunately, it does happen, and when it does, it reveals something about the true nature of that relationship. There is no real love in it. Listen: When the cost of identifying as a friend to someone exceeds the price one is willing to pay, that’s when a lot of friendships end. Jesus never allowed public pressure to influence His choice when it came to who He would identify with. In John 8, the story is told of a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. She was brought before the Lord as He was teaching in the temple courts. The scribes and the Pharisees pointed out that the law was clear on adultery. She was to be stoned. But Jesus knew their hearts. They were not concerned with the holy laws of God or they would have brought both participants to Him. No, they just wanted to put Jesus to the test and cared nothing for the woman. If there was ever a time when she needed a friend, this was it. And guess what? Jesus stood by her challenging her accusers with these words: “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.” Of course, no one could say they had not sinned, so the woman’s life was spared. That’s typical Jesus…standing up for someone when no one else will. Illustration: Someone has said, “A friend is someone who is there for you when the good times aren’t.” My brother stood up for me when we played football against a guy everyone called E.P. Because we were winning, E.P. decided to take it out on me, the smallest person on the field. He hit me so hard one play that I couldn’t breathe. While he stood over me, mocking my inability to catch my breath, my brother Mark, came to my rescue. He knocked E.P. to the ground and made it clear that no one was allowed to mess with his little brother (except him of course). Application: A true friend is always willing to take the heat for the people he or she loves. The cost of identifying with them never exceeds the value of the relationship. It didn’t with Jesus and it doesn’t with us.
- He stands up to his neighbor when he knows he’s wrong (Proverbs 27:6 – Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Deceitful are the kisses of an enemy). If you’ve been around very long, you know that standing up for someone is often easier than standing up to someone. In the first case, you’re often viewed as a hero, but in the latter one, you’re efforts may be unappreciated. Still, if you love someone, you have to be willing to wound them emotionally when you know it will be to their benefit. The writer of Proverbs warns that anyone can pretend to love you (that’s the kisses of an enemy part), but it takes a true friend to inflict hurt for a good reason. Jesus was not afraid to stand up to someone He loved when it was the right thing to do. Consider the time he look at Peter, one of the twelve, and said to him, “Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to me” (Matthew 16:23). Knowing that His words would hurt Peter, Jesus did not hesitate to say them because his disciple was attempting to prevent Jesus from accomplishing His Father’s will. When Peter understood that Jesus was going to die he said, “Forbid it Lord. This shall never happen to you.” Peter did not realize at the time that he was attempting to do the very same thing as the Evil One….to prevent God’s plan for redemption from taking place. Was he hurt by Jesus’ words. No doubt, but they needed to be spoken just the same. Illustration: On Monday nights when I was growing up back in Pennsylvania, I would make my mom cry. My dad was in a bowling league and wasn’t home to defend her, so I would assert my little self-centered, independent will and she would bear the brunt of it. That’s when mom would send me off to my room that I shared with Mark. He would listen to me cry for a bit and then confront me about what I’d done wrong. Eventually, I would feel so guilty, that I would walk out to my mom and apologize. Application: Mark, like Jesus, never hesitated to pull the trigger and point out my misdeeds. He knew that coddling me at that moment, would only reinforce bad behavior and he loved me too much for that.
- A true friend ENCOURAGES his neighbor (Hebrews 10:24-25 — And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking the assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day drawing near). According to John Gottman, a professor of Psychology at the University of Washington (See “Are You Two Meant to Last?” from match.com), for every one negative comment we receive from someone else, we need to receive five positive comments to offset the emotional damage that has been done to us by the one negative. This, we’re told, will enable us to maintain healthy relationships and a sense of self-worth. Now I wish this was the experience of most of the people I meet, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem that way. Many of us seem to get criticized much more often than encouraged. And guess what? Dr. Gottman’s research confirms this. He found in his study that the actual ratio of good to negative comments for the average person goes something like this: for every one positive comment we receive ten negative. In other words, for every time that someone points out a good trait in you (like … you are really smart), on average you will already have heard ten biting remarks meant to inflict personal pain and injury. Think about the repercussions of that for a moment! It’s no wonder we have so many people walking around today who don’t like themselves, everyone else has told them why they shouldn’t. Now of course, Jesus Christ wasn’t like that. Oh sure, He could point out wrong attitudes and actions when necessary, but for the most part, our Lord was an encourager. He made it His practice to put courage into the ones He loved to remain true to their calling. Do you remember that after Peter denied Jesus, he was timid to approach the risen Lord. His guilt must have weighed heavily on his soul. So what did Jesus do? He confirmed Peter’s love and devotion and then commissioned him for his lifelong work for the kingdom … feed my sheep! (John 21:15-17). It’s interesting to note that later in his life, Peter would become the source of encouragement for a group of believers who were suffering persecution and hardship, exhorting and encouraging them to rise above their circumstances. “…live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-10). Illustration: Mark was an encourager to me. When I was really down after getting into a shoving match with David, he told me how proud he was of me and that he could see I was growing into the man he always thought I could be. When I really needed it, Mark was always there with a good word. Application: If you’re going to love your neighbor you need to work on becoming a source of encouragement to him. Leave it up to everyone else to discourage, but don’t participate in that. Just keep giving them the courage to make good choices and see what God does as a result.
- A true friend NEVER QUITS on his neighbor (I Corinthians 13:8 — Love never fails). To be able to have the kind of persevering attitude God wants us to have toward our neighbors, we have to look past their failures. Do you remember what Jesus said when He hung on the cross? “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do” (Luke 23:34). I don’t think Jesus was praying just for the people who had orchestrated his crucifixion. He was also praying for His followers who were standing at a distance, mourning His death, but too afraid to get any closer lest they would face the same outcome. Still, to His dying breath, Jesus never gave up on His followers. Their sins and offenses (just like ours), He chose not remember against them. Illustration: One of the best examples I have of forgiveness next to Jesus’ death on the cross, occurred on July 4th, 1976 as our country celebrated its bicentennial. After begging Mark to let me borrow his new Chevrolet Camaro to take my girlfriend to a family reunion, I managed to wreck his car. When he forgave me, it was his way of saying, “I’m never going to quit loving you.” I like what Henry Ward Beecher says about the only way to keep loving others. “Keep a fair-sized cemetery in your back yard, in which you can bury the faults of your friends.”
So there you have it. If we’re going to love our neighbors as friends, it will require that … we serve them, stand up for and to them, encourage them and never give up on them. I guarantee that if you take that approach to your neighbors, the friendships you form will last a lifetime.