Calvary Road Baptist Church

“JUST FRIENDLY? OR A REAL FRIEND?”

Proverbs 18.24

 

Turn to Deuteronomy 13.6. When you find that passage in God’s Word, please stand and read along with me silently while I read aloud:

 

6      If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;

7      Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;

8      Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:

9      But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.

10     And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

 

We read this passage last Sunday night, as I focused your attention on the concept of “thy friend, which is as thine own soul.” I pointed out that close and intimate friendships exist, even if they are not common in our culture, and that they can have powerful influences on people. What also needs to be pointed out is the proper role of all our relationships, be it friend, or be it brother, child, spouse, or your parents. Horizontal relationships are important, but the maintenance and cultivation of those relationships must be guided by scriptural prescription and principle.

For example: It has come to be accepted wisdom among pastors these days that family must come first, because without your family you are not qualified to function as a spiritual leader. To that end, many pastors justify lowering the bar and reducing the level of their commitment to the gospel ministry by pointing out that they do so to keep their wife or children from disqualifying them for ministry.

I find this tragically amusing, in light of so many pastors who are discovered to be adulterers or embezzlers who continue in the ministry. John Hagee’s divorce and remarriage did not seem to interfere with his ministry, so what need is there to use one’s marriage or the ruination of one’s children as a matter of great concern. Of course, I speak sarcastically. Pastors use their wives and children to justify lowering the bar, not because such is scriptural, but because they want to justify their own lack of commitment to the gospel ministry.

A close look at Deuteronomy 13.6-10 seems to suggest that a spouse should not be allowed to create an obstacle to service. Neither should a child, a sibling, or a friend, for that matter. The point Moses seems to me to be making is that nothing should be allowed to lessen your commitment to serving and glorifying God, least of all these important relationships you have with your family, loved ones, and friends. Thus, should a husband be allowed to prevent a Christian woman from serving God? Should a child have so much sway that participation in the church’s ministry is prohibited by concern for the child? Should a friend have so much influence over you that consideration for the friend interferes with faithful participation in ministry?

The point that I seek to make is that while relationships with other people are important, and should be properly attended to, since they are vital in a healthy and fruitful life, they are not more important than your relationship with God. Neither should such relationships trump your holy duties and obligations toward God. What that means is, you do not miss a church service to take your wife out to dinner. You do not miss a church service so your kid can play in a regional championship game. You do not miss a church service to go hunting or fishing with your buddy. Your unsaved husband does not merely announce to you that you will be going out of town the weekend our church has a special evangelistic service planned. Who does he think he is to treat a Christian woman as if she is a mindless slave who must do his bidding and adapt to his selfish and antichristian schedule? Though we certainly do not advocate the Mosaic Law punishment for a spouse, a child, or a friend who lures you away from one of our four services a week, it is appropriate for the Christian to so train and educate friends and family members about the facts of your life that they realize that they do not schedule events that conflict with a Christian’s high and holy privilege of worshiping and serving God.

I mean, if someone needs to be flexible, let the person whose time is not important and who does not take God seriously be flexible. If that means offending mom, then mom gets offended. My mom got over it. I am sure yours will, as well. If that means your unbelieving husband departs, Paul already provides counsel on such matters. Let him depart. Face it, ladies, you have no realistic chance of bringing him to Christ by accommodating his whims at the expense of your service to the King. Therefore, we see that while friendship is very important, friendship and other relationships, including marriage, should be ruled by you and should not be allowed to rule you. You must manage relationships, Christian, including friendships, family, and marriage, but you do not allow any relationships to dictate your communion with God, or to determine your level of commitment and service to God. In other words, lead, and do not play anyone’s Christian patsy.

The unyielding devotion to God that a Christian woman’s husband should witness prompted the apostle Paul to write First Corinthians 7.15: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.” A husband does not leave a wife who yields to his whims. He only loses respect for her Savior. However, a lost husband does leave a wife whose devotion to God is strong enough to resist his efforts to undermine and alter her service.

Therefore, it is obvious that God’s Word shows us God must come first. When marriages are Christian marriages, when homes are Christian homes, and when friendships are Christian friendships, such a prioritizing causes very few problems. However, when there is an imbalance, even with Christians, there will be trouble.

Paul and Barnabas’ is an example of a friendship that was out of balance. After their first missionary journey and the bug-out by John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, a second missionary journey was contemplated. Barnabas wanted his nephew along, but Paul had no desire to give John Mark a second chance to fail on an important mission, so there was a dispute between those two men of God. So long as serving God and advancing the gospel was primary, Paul and Barnabas remained good friends. However, when Barnabas elevated family concerns above a single-minded concern for the advance of the gospel, there was trouble. It was Barnabas’ imbalance toward his nephew that created the division that broke up the greatest missionary team this world has ever seen, something not unusual whenever the importance of a family relationship, or some other relationship, is seen as more important than devotion to God.

I think we are clear, at least in theory, that horizontal relationships should never weigh more in our thinking than the vertical relationship we have with Jesus Christ and God the Father. Such an understanding will give us a healthy attitude toward this idea of friendship, and other relationships as well. It was in that direction, last week, that I asked what family units actually do in a church service. Would you consider that question again, please? Take the hypothetical case of a husband, wife, and two teen youngsters brought up in church. Why do they need to sit together? Does sitting together strengthen their marriage? Does it fortify their home? Is that the only way the woman can keep other churchwomen from pouncing on her husband? If that were the case, then why did family units not sit together in church for more than a thousand years? You do realize, do you not, that for most of Christian history men and women did not sit together in church? In fact, for a long, long time men and women did not sit in church, but stood in designated areas to keep the sexes separate. Do not get me wrong. I like sitting down. In addition, I like it that males and females are not segregated.

Consider this question: What if family units sitting together actually hindered effective outreach? What if kids sitting with their parents had the unintended effect of enabling unconverted children to emotionally hide behind their parents so they would not have to address the truths preached to them? As well, what if wifey, sitting with her husband, effectively neutralized her as an effective Christian witness to that woman who is attending the service alone? On the other hand, must it always and ever be only those women whose husbands are not sitting with them who feel the freedom to minister to that woman who is alone, while the woman sitting next to her man has no duties or obligations toward any of the women who attend church alone? Is that what is intended for married couples, that marriage frees you from duties and obligations in church so that only single people should do certain things?

Again, I am in no way seeking to undermine either the place or the importance of the family unit in God’s plan for this age. I hesitate the recount the role I have played in many of your lives and marriages as evidence to the contrary. I am, however, challenging some contemporary behavior, especially so much of what I observe in churches in America today, because methinks it is entirely counterproductive and a hindrance to the advance of the gospel.

At this time, I would like you to turn to my text for this evening, Proverbs 18.24. Stand, once more, and read along with me: “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” There are two declarations in this verse. The first statement is a declaration of obligation, of responsibility. The second statement mentions the possibility of a special blessing. A man of friends, a man with friends, is obligated to show himself friendly. In other words, if you are a friend you have to be a friend. For such a person, the person who is a friend, there is the possibility that you will make such a friend that is closer than a brother.

Those things understood, and recognizing that all relationships need to be kept in right relationship to your duty as a Christian to God, let me now make some comments about and applications to friendship as an evangelistic tool in our church to remove barriers and obstacles to the unconverted hearing the great and glorious gospel message that Jesus saves. Consider the use of friendship as a marvelous tool given to us by God in four levels or states of development:

 

First, THERE IS THE NARCISSIST

 

Ask.Com defines the narcissist as “A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem.”[1]

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines narcissism as egoism.[2] That same dictionary gives the following as a definition of egoism: “excessive concern for oneself with or without exaggerated feelings of self-importance.”[3]

In the April 30, 2007, special issue of Time magazine an essay pointed out that Sigmund “Freud explained narcissism as a failure to grow up.”[4] He was also opined, “All infants are narcissists.”

Far be it from me to place much stock in anything Sigmund Freud wrote about anything. However, I am of the opinion that he was correct about the connection between immaturity and self-centeredness. How else do you explain the actions of someone between the ages of 15 and 75 who has spent the better part of his life in church, is thoroughly familiar with every aspect of church life and the people in the church, but who seems blind to the entrance into the auditorium of a first time visitor?

Does it make a great deal of sense to you to spend hours every week working to persuade people to attend a service at a church you have spent your life in, only to completely ignore one of those people when they set foot inside the auditorium?

There are only a few possible explanations for such mindless refusal to connect the dots between what your efforts seek to accomplish on Saturday nights and the fruit of that effort on Sunday morning or Sunday evening. Stupidity comes to mind first. Excuse me for being terribly blunt, but since I don’t think anyone in this church is stupid, I can express that feeling without fear of offending anyone. You spend hour after our seeking by various means to get someone into the auditorium, yet you do not see the connection between that effort and the person who just walked in. One possible explanation for that failure is stupidity. It is almost like misunderstanding the connection between the light switch being flipped and the light coming on. Who would not understand that cause and effect?

The other explanation that comes to mind is total self-absorption. When someone who has spent years here sees someone new entering into the auditorium and that longtime church attender is not mentally retarded, not completely stupid, then I am left with complete self-absorption as the reason for not getting up from where you are and greeting that guest. Is that not narcissism, “A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy,” or egoism, “excessive concern for oneself”?

We expect that kind of behavior from five-year old children, ten-year old children, and perhaps even a bit older kids who are not particularly well-trained by their parents. However, I knew as a five-year old that, as soon as someone entered our house, my job was to make a beeline to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee.

What I do not understand is how adults can behave that way. The goal is to get people in. So, when someone comes in, do what you can to make their experience so enjoyable that they will want to come back. At least greet someone, express delight at their presence, and exchange names along with shaking their hand. When someone comes to the place where he can approach a guest on his own, without being told to do so, welcome and greet that person in such a way that he feels warmly received, then I think it is safe to say that you have moved past infantile narcissism.

 

Next, THERE IS THE ONE WHO IS NICE

 

This person will smile and say something nice to the visitor, if the visitor sits nearby. Maybe he will even volunteer to move over to make room for two or three people who have come together. The nice church person will not introduce herself to anyone across the aisle. The nice church person will never leave her husband’s side to sit with a woman so she will not have to sit alone. Neither will the nice churchman. He will express a pleasant enough smile, and perhaps a handshake and a nod, but no more than that.

Nice is okay. Nice is not destructive, like narcissism is, but nice really accomplishes nothing. The waitress in the restaurant is usually nice. The person behind you in the grocery store checkout line is frequently nice. People who workout in the gym with you are usually nice. However, should we not expect something more than nice at church? Should we not train our children to give something more than what we expect when paying for gas at a gas station? Yet, so long as you plant yourself in your favorite chair service after service, and condemn your spouse and your children to the horrid experience of sitting next to you and just being nice in church, we will get no more than that. Nice.

Folks, I am not interested in nice at church. I am interested in a touch from heaven when I come to church, and I promise you that getting what I can get at Albertson’s, or getting what I can get at Starbucks, is not sufficient at church. I want to get something more when I come to church than nice. In addition, I want to give something more when I come to church than nice.

 

Third, THERE IS THE ONE WHO IS FRIENDLY

 

This is where some of our people are. Friendly is to nice as Rocky Road is to vanilla. Friendly is to nice is as Porsche Carrera is to Volkswagon Beetle.

The nice person does not harm, while the friendly person does a lot of good. Friendly is getting up from your seat and actually walking over to another person on the other side of the auditorium to greet her, to exchange names, and to welcome that person to the service.

Nice usually depends upon the visitor taking the initiative to exchange names and greetings, while friendly always initiates the exchange of names and greetings. Nice is how you would expect someone who came to visit your house, but friendly is how you would expect anyone who welcomes you into his home.

When I visit someone else’s home, I am tentative. I do not look through closets and dresser drawers at someone else’s house. I try to be nice and stay within boundaries. However, when it is my house someone else comes to, I throw open the door, I warmly greet them, and I make sure that they know my hospitality is expansive. That is what a friendly person does with a visitor here at church. Nice is okay, but let the visitor be nice. You be friendly. You be open. You be expansive. You be warm and welcoming, conversational and attentive.

After all, what does it cost you to be friendly? A few seconds of your time. A small investment of your emotional energy in the form of a smile, a few comments, and some personal warmth, if you have any left over from effusive demonstrations toward your own family members.

We are a friendly church, though most of our people are not friendly. Most of our people are between narcissistic and nice. However, the impact of our friendly people is such that it really compensates for the self-centeredness of those who must always sit in their favorite seat and surround themselves with familiar faces and family. We do work hard to be friendly here at Calvary Road Baptist Church, but we have come to the place in our journey that we need to recognize that friendly is not nearly enough. Friendly does not ensure real connections with people. Friendly does not guarantee making new friends. In addition, friendly will not help our children to make the connections that lead to the friendships that may keep them here long enough to be saved.

 

Finally, THERE IS THE FRIEND

 

I mentioned last week the danger of having a friend outside the church who is your best friend. If you have a best friend outside the church, your intimate friend may very well draw you away from the faithfulness and commitment to this church and to your holy duties that you should exhibit in front of your unconverted children.

I also mentioned last week that when your children have close friends outside the church those close friends are as likely to pull them away from church as not. Therefore, if the conversion of your own child is a real concern, you need to work wisely to increase the number of friends your child has in this church (and not necessarily in our Christian school). Christian school friendships do nothing to keep youngsters in church.

Then there is this matter of the person who steps into the auditorium. Whether from a door hanger or from meeting someone at a coffee shop, or seeing us on the Internet or in the yellow pages, what do you think should be done with that person? Do you really think our church should respond the way you respond? Is that person helped in any way by all of us doing what you do?

Narcissism results in that visitor walking in and sitting down, without anyone noticing or even being nice. Isn’t that wonderful? Fat chance of that person ever coming back again. In addition, is that not precisely why so many kids who went here for years do not come anymore? Narcissism. Because they did not go to our school, they were not deserving of our attention. That is the way Christian school kids behave so often.

Nice results in smiles and handshakes, so long as the visitor passes by you or sits right next to you. However, with your family surrounding you, how is a visitor to get within fifteen feet of you? Spread those kids around the auditorium so they can at least exercise the freedom to be friendly. If you don’t trust them to behave, make sure you sit here where you can see them there. Just look daggers at them if they start getting squirrelly.

Though friendly is a great improvement over narcissism and nice, what we really need to demonstrate is that we are not just friendly, but that we are friends. The problem with being a friend is that it costs, and it is risky. Friends invite people over to their homes. Friends arrange to meet for lunch. Friends actually extend the offer to help, and really do help people who are in need. However, most of all, friends give time.

Consider the last time you made a new friend. I will bet that for most of you it has been years since you have made a new friend, and likely as not your last friend made became your friend because he initiated the friendship, rather than you extending the hand of friendship. The reason you are unwilling to make new friends is twofold: First, you have been burned by someone and don’t want to risk it again. I understand that, but you have to get over it. It is the price of doing business as a real Christian. Second, you have enough friends and you just do not want any more. You see, your life is well ordered and you are settled into a routine. The friends you have are predictable and in their own rut (or routine). However, making new friends is part and parcel of the spiritual Christian’s life. No matter your devotional and prayer life, no matter the quality of your family life, no matter the quietness and orderliness of your life, if you are not making new friends you are not spiritual. If you are not making new friends you are not truly engaged in evangelism. If you are not making new friends you are not involved in bringing the lost to Christ, something that will have a devastating effect on your efforts to bring your own children to Christ.

We need to become as a church what a very few of our people already are, friends. The Rrrrrs are friends. The Fffffffs are friends. The Ssssssss are friends. The Gggggggs are friends. There are others, but you get the picture. To be a friend you have to connect with someone new, and you have to bring him or her into your home. You have to give your time to them, allow them to disrupt your routine to some extent, and be very patient as God works in their lives.

As well, you need to liberate your own children to be friends. Open the floodgates and encourage your children to meet others of their age group at church and to feel the freedom to invite them over to the house. Help them to get over this slavery to one or two kids who are the only ones who always come over, so they can develop into the kind of men and women who know how to meet people, who know how to make friends, and who will see some of those friends come to Christ over time.

 

When someone starts attending church, he formulates a concept in his mind of what church is supposed to be like. It is almost like an unwritten contract between him and the preacher, and changing from that template is very, very difficult once the routine of church is established. Therefore, I fully understand how very difficult it is for you folks who have grown up in church to appreciate the importance and to overcome your fears of changing some of the routines you are very comfortable with. Just keep in mind that at its core, decisionism is very impersonal, and I am working to lead this church to a much more personal Christianity.

I am convinced of the importance of what I am preaching tonight, but I also know that each one of you can be like the super tanker Exxon Valdez, in that course changes are sometimes very slow in coming. So, whether you are like a jet ski and your family can turn on a dime, or you are slow in changing direction, let me share a comment one of our deacons recently mentioned to me.

He said something to the effect that, “Preacher, when I see people doing this or that, or not doing this or that, the only way I preserve my sanity is to remember what Jesus said in John 21.22, when Peter expressed concern for someone else’s behavior: “what is that to thee? follow thou me.”

My friends, some of you are narcissists. Some of you are nice. Some of you are friendly. In addition, some few of you are friends. Wherever you are in your Christian life, where someone else is should not be your concern. That is my concern. I am the pastor. Let perfect the saints for the work of the ministry. When each of us has our eyes on the Lord then we are all doing okay, no matter where we are in our progress toward being real friends to sinners.



[4] “It’s All About Him,” David Von Drehle, Time, September 30, 2007, page 30.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org