The Joy of Christian Friendships – Part 1
In John 16:33 we have one of the great promises of Jesus. He tells His followers that, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Now I know that this wasn’t one of the promises you were hoping for! But it is SO true! We live in a world that every day we face circumstances or situations that we would rather not have to deal with. Another similar promise of Jesus is found in Matthew 10:22, “And all nations will hate you, because you are my followers.” Again this is very accurate. The persecution of Christians around the world is really heating up again. In America, we do not suffer the same style of persecutions that other Christians face, but never in the history of America have there been the negative attitudes and hatred towards Christ and His followers as there is today.
Also, we live in the highest pressure society the world has ever known. The stresses that we face each day have taken their toll. Heart-attacks, strokes, ulcers, suicides, these are the trademarks of a life under pressure and without joy. This is the reality that we live in, but there is another promise that Jesus gave to us as well, in John 15:11, while teaching His disciples about being plugged into Him as the vine He says, “I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow.” Now that’s a promise we can get a hold of and I hope that it a promise that also gets a hold of us! Because it is so easy for us to get discouraged, get upset and depressed that unless this promise gets deep within us, we will often go without the joy that has been promised to us by our Lord.
In this series we will be taking a look at many scriptures, as is my custom, but primarily we will be going through the book of Philippians. In this short book of only 4 chapters Paul encourages his audience to rejoice or be joyful 16 times! You would think that things were going great for Paul at this time; he is writing the Christian manifesto on joy, everything in his life must’ve been great. This is hardly the case, at the time of writing his letter to his friends, Paul is at Rome, in prison, chained to a praetorian guard. No privacy, very little rest, just rotting away awaiting his sentence. But Paul had a source of joy that was indescribable. I think that it is evident that Jesus’ promise of joy had taken hold of Paul and it made a dramatic difference on how he lived his life, my hope for us is that as we engage in this study that it makes a difference in all of our lives as well.
Paul wrote his letter to his friends at the Church of Philippi around 60-62ad. Paul had started this church on his second missionary journey 10 years or so earlier. You can read all about it in Acts 16. Paul was at Troas, a seaport on the eastern edge of Asia Minor. Paul received a vision from God to bring the Gospel to Macedonia, as Paul obeyed, with Luke, Silas, and Timothy in two days they were at the city of Philippi. There he met a business woman named Lydia who became a Christian and after that Paul and Silas were thrown into prison and through their praise God miraculously delivered then and the jailer and his family were saved. These people became some of the first members of the church of Philippi. Paul stayed at Philippians for about only three months, but he forged friendships with the people there that lasted the rest of his life.
Historical Note: The city of Philippi was famous for being the place where Marc Anthony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassias, the assassins of Julius Caesar. This took place in 42BC. Because of this event the city of Philippi was granted “Ius Italicum” by the Roman Empire. This was an honor conferred upon cities of importance within the empire that did not fall within Italy’s boundaries but from a legal and privilege point of view it was as if they did. Everyone who was born in that city would be a Roman Born Citizen and they were not subject to some of the extra taxes and fees that were placed upon other subjected citizen in cities that did not have this distinction. They had the freedom to buy and sell property and were protected under Roman Law.
In Philippians 4:1, you can see how much his friends at Philippi meant to Paul, “Dear brothers and sisters, I love you and I long to see you, for you are my joy and the reward for my work.” And that brings us to the main point of this first lesson in joy, God created us in such a way that we receive great joy when we cultivate relationships with other believers. What did God say about man in Genesis 2:18? (Allow time for answers) “It is not good that man should be alone!” We need our Christians friends in our lives and as we engage in these friendships and actively pursue these friendships; they bring us joy. Who knew the Beatles were right; we do get by with a little help from our friends!
ASK, “What does it mean to be a Christian Friend?”
ASK, “How are some of the ways that your Christian friends helped you?”
ASK, “Have you been a Christian friend to someone?”
Available, gracious, hospitable, helpful
Analysis of the text:
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-- to the glory and praise of God.”
A Heartfelt Salutation
Re-Read Philippians 1:1-2, ““Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul considered himself and Timothy to be servants to the believers at Philippi. Paul was an apostle, but he introduces himself (and Timothy) as slaves or bondservants in Christ. He didn’t have the attitude that what he was doing was more important that what they were doing. (see Romans 12:3-21) Paul was emphasizing that they were all one in Christ.
ASK: “Why is this attitude important?”
Paul pronounces a blessing over them that they continue to be in God’s grace and peace. As they were his friends, Paul wanted the best for them.
Friends In The Ministry
Re-Read Philippians 1:3-5, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now”
The Christians at Philippi not only had the first church in Europe, but they actively supported Paul while he was with them and also while he was away to other regions starting other churches. Because of this Paul counted them as his friends and as partners with him in the ministry.
Remember what it means to be a friend?
Mark 2 helps us here. Review the story or Mark 2:1-12. The friends of the Paralytic.
Friends in God’s Blessings
Re-Read Philippians 1:6-7, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me.”
Paul wanted to remind his friends that what God had started he was going to finish. He wanted to remind them that there were engaged in a process with God and that God still wanted to do more in their lives.
This is another main point for us to remember to help us retain our joy: We are God’s and He will complete what He has started in us!
ASK: “How should this assurance affect our walk with God?”
As Christians we are all going through a growth process together. Some people call it the process of sanctification; Paul mentions this in 1 Corinthians 1:18 as “those of us who are being saved” and all this means is that we are all on a journey to becoming more like Christ each day (see Psalm 17:15, Eph. 5:1-2, etc.) And just to be clear, it has nothing to do with our salvation. On the day that we accepted Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross we will never be more “saved” that we were at that moment. But there is a process we go through of becoming more Christ-like, and we are to encourage each other and remind each other that together we can all make it.
Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10, “Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble.”
In our journey to becoming more Christ-like we need to encourage one other and remind them that God will finish what he has started. Because to become more like Christ requires us to frequently go though a refining fire. And that fire burns! But after we go through the fire we find God’s best blessings were found in the process!
These blessings are often times the friendships that are strengthened as we draw closer together.
Isaiah 45:3, “And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness-- secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.”
(Are there any thought or comments?)
Friends In Christ
Re-Read Philippians 1:8, “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
When people are friends in Christ, their friendships are marked by a concern and focus for the other person. So many relationships today are marked by what people can get out of it for themselves, Paul’s love and concern for the Philippian believers was so strong that He compared it to the love that Jesus had for them. That’s because when Christ is at the center of our friendships then His love just permeates out. This is the type of love that we are supposed to have for one another. John 13:35, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Friends Remembered In Prayer
Re-Read Philippians 1:9-11, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-- to the glory and praise of God.”
Paul then prays for his friends, another hallmark of good friendship. Notice what Paul prays for:
1. Grow in the knowledge of God
2. Grow in the understanding of God.
3. Discern what is pure and blameless
4. Honor God by the way that they live.