Pursuing God in Good Company
(24) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
(25) Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Great friendships are part of our literature. We cannot imagine Robin Hood without friar Tuck. We cannot imagine Tom Sawyer without Huckleberry Finn, or Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Watson. In the Lord of the Ring Trilogy, it is a faithful friend, Samwise Gamgee that enables Frodo to destroy the ring. In the Star Wars Trilogy, with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C3PO, we are introduced to some of the great friendships in film history. Their opponents who serve the empire are cold and unloving, driven individualists who never understand the power generated by this band of friends. At one point the evil emperor mocks Luke, telling him his greatest weakness is his faith in friends.
The Christian pursues God in the company of friends because the HS has woven this desire into us. From the beginning, God saw that “it is not good for man to be alone.” We worship God in three persons: Father, Son, and HS. Perhaps our hunger for community originates in the very nature of a Trinitarian God. Just as there is fellowship within the Trinity, human beings, male and female, were created for relationship with God and each other,
As believers, we are called to be strong individuals, but we will not reach our full potential alone. Wherever we find people in the past, wherever we find their bones, they are always living together. That is our biology, and it works that way spiritually also. We pursue community because God is in community. We pursue God in the company of friends who like us are called out of the world. The NT Greek word for church is “ekklesia,” which comes from two words: “ek” meaning “from” or “out of” and “klesis” meaning “calling.” So “ekklesia” literally means the “called-out ones.” It refers to those people who have been called out by God. It refers to believers in Christ. These beleivers, these “called-out ones,” have been called IN to fellowship. There is another NT Greek word you need to know—“Koinonia.” It means “communion, fellowship, sharing” with each other in the kingdom of God. Believers are a group of friends with a shared interest.
Hebrews 10:24 urges us to “consider one another.” Help each other: love each other: strengthen each other; encourage each other. Have the attitude of concern.
During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across country on horseback. They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour. The swollen river had washed the bridge away. Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents. The real possibility of death threatened each rider. As the presidential party was making this crossing another a traveler arrived and stood watching them. After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river. The president agreed without hesitation. The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side. As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, "Tell me, why did you ask such a favor of the president?" The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him. "All I know," he said, "is that I looked in your faces and I saw the answer ’No,’ and I looked in his face and saw the answer ’yes.’ His was a ’Yes’ face." Christians are people with “yes” faces. God calls us to be kind to all, to be friendly, to be willing to serve those around us by extending a helping hand.
This is a story I heard as a boy, In his first seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play Major League baseball, faced venom nearly everywhere he traveled--fastballs at his head, spikings on the bases, racial slurs from the opposing dugouts and from the crowds. During one game in Boston, the taunts and verbal abuse seemed to reach a peak. In the midst of this, another Dodger, a Southern white boy named Pee Wee Reese, called timeout. He walked from his position at shortstop over to Robinson at second base, put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder, and stood there with him for a few moments. The gesture spoke more eloquently than the words. He was saying, this man is my friend.
Proverbs says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24 ESV). The best friends are those who are helpers in times of trouble. Those who are our advocates when we find ourselves in need.
A British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following:
"One who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is inviolable."
"One who understands our silence."
"A volume of sympathy bound in cloth."
"A watch that beats true for all time and never runs down."
The winning definition read: "A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out."
By friendship we mean the greatest love, the greatest usefulness, the most open communication, the noblest sufferings, the heartiest counsel, and the greatest union of minds among human beings.
And among Christians, our love and concern is to a purpose. The KJV says we should “provoke unto love and good works.” We do not use the word “provoke” like that any more. “Provoke” today has a negative meaning. We speak of provoking someone to anger and resentment. To provoke means to irritate or offend, but back in 1611, when the KJV was written, it meant simply to “arouse, to excite, to call into action.” the idea is, that Christians are encourage each other to a life of love. How are we to do that? V25 answers that question: by assembling together. But the verse puts it negatively. It says do not forsake the gathering of believers.
We pursue and worship God in the company of friends. A glimpse of the first Jerusalem church reveals their active participatory devotion to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to praying and praising God and to each other. They swarmed to each other like bees to the honeycomb. We read in Acts2:46: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”
We love and encourage each other in the company of friends. Jesus gave the church our identity when he commanded his followers to “love one another”, emphasizing the practical responsibilities of our love for individual people. We are to bear each other burdens, forgive one another, be patient and kind to one another, and confess our sins to one another. The church is a community of wounded and broken people who are being healed and loved. “Desperado,” is a classic Eagles song. The lyrics of the last verse are
Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin', but there's a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you, before it's too late
The song challenges us to let ourselves be loved. Let God come into your life with his love and forgiveness.
We are equipped for service in the company of friends. In her often-quoted prayer, St. Teresa of Avila reminds us of this purpose of the Christian community: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion looks out on the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. And yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.” The Apostle Paul taught that the complementary nature of our talents, temperaments, and gifts means we function best together, like a body where each part needs the other and no part can do without another.
Thus we read in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 ESV
(12) For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
(13) For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Part of our equipping comes from learning to love, accept, and work side-by-side with people who are different from us. This is not easy. There is an old saying, “to dwell above with saints we love, oh that will be glory, to dwell below with saints we know, now that is a different story.” Platitudes about love are to be tested against real people pursuing God together, warts and all. By choosing disciples with different backgrounds, Jesus made sure this company of friends would not be some comfort zone of sameness; his was not the company of the same, but the company of the different. The Apostle Paul clarified, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 ESV). If your allegiance is to the Lord Jesus, cultural prejudices about gender, race, or social status are checked at the door.
But understand that this great ekklesia of believers who have koinonia with each other is motiviated by something beyond each other. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Then he added, “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 ESV)
Our greatest friend is always Jesus. Jesus gives us love, direction, strength, and power. The presence of Christ in our lives enhances all our other friendships.
The old gospel songs sing
Friendship with Jesus!
O what blessèd, sweet communion!
Jesus is a Friend of mine.
A friend of Jesus! Oh, what bliss
That one so weak as I
Should ever have a Friend like this
To lead me to the sky!
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
leaning on the everlasting arms;
what a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
leaning on the everlasting arms.
Friendship is enhanced when we share mutual activities that contribute to the qualitative and quantitative expansion of the kingdom of God. This might be illustrated by a triangle. When two people want to get closer to one another they must first draw closer to the Jesus at the apex of the triangle. As they draw closer to the Lord in obedience, love and trust, they will find themselves drawing closer to one another. Most of the time people falsely assume that they can form friendships without making Christ the center of all relationships. It does not work very well. Spiritually it does not work at all. Without Jesus at the center of every friendship we lose our focus as spiritual beings.
With Jesus, we can be the kind of friend that we ought to be. True friendship evidences the qualities of patience, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness without seeking its own interests. Love grows friendships. Love is not anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. It knows no limit to endurance because it bears all things, believes the best in every person, hopes for the best in every difficult situation and endures all kinds of disappointments. Without an agape love, friendships tend to be fleeting and fair weathered, but if all our relationships are centered on Christ, if all our friendships are founded upon his love, then they become an important part of our spiritual lives.
We serve Christ as a joyful company of friends. The communitarian nature of the Kingdom of God seems out of place in this highly individualistic competitive age, but it is exactly what we need. Mr. Rogers, Fred Rogers, told a story about Seattle's Special Olympics. Nine contestants lined up for the 100-yard dash. At the sound of the gun all of them took off. Then one little boy tripped, fell, and hurt his knee. He began to cry. When the other eight heard him crying, they slowed down, and then every one of them ran back to him. A little girl with Down's Syndrome bent over and kissed the boy and said, “This will make it better.” The little boy smiled and stood up, and then all nine of the runners joined arms and joyfully walked to the finish line, all finishing at the same time. Filled with emotion, the crowd in the stadium gave them a standing ovation. Many had tears in their eyes as they clapped, whistled, and cheered for the heroic little band of friends. People still talk about that special moment because it was a warm reminder that helping others win is more imporant than winning for ourselves, even if it means slowing down and changing our course. Such is the cooperative nature of our faith, such is the spirit of the love and joy found in our company of friends.
You may ask, where do I find such a company of friends? My simplest answer is that you start by being the kind of person who exemplifies the worshipping, loving, serving member of the kingdom of God. There is an old story about a pastor who after many years of service at a church, decided that the church was dead—dead in every way, dead financially, dead from lack of membership, dead spiritually. So he announced that on a certain Sunday there would be a funeral for the church. Well this got around the community and on that Sunday the largest crowd in years showed up. There was an open casket down at the front of the church, and the pastor invited the crowd to file by single-file and look on a dead church. So each person got in line and walked by the casket and looked inside and saw themselves. There was a mirror in the bottom of the casket. As they looked down to see a dead church they saw themselves.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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