Allen Jackson - The Responsibility of Friendship - Part 2
Hey, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be together today. What a privilege to be with God's people. We're doing a study that is one of my very favorites, we're gonna talk about "My Friend Jesus"! And we're gonna consider the difference in being Jesus's friend and being friendly with Jesus. You've got a limited number of spaces in your life for friends. You can be friendly with a lot of people, but your calendar gets full very quickly if you're truly sharing life with people. You wanna be more than friendly with Jesus, you wanna share your life with him. It makes all the difference. Enjoy the lesson.
But I want you to imagine with me that friendships exist on a spectrum, that it isn't enough just to say, "You're my friend". Friendships come with different levels of commitment and accommodation and experience and intent. And for the Christ follower, I think what we are striving for is to understand that we are serving a King. And the best example, like, is in Acts chapter 4. This is very early after Jesus has ascended back to heaven and the Day of Pentecost has occurred and the Jesus story in Jerusalem is really going viral, first time ever. And it's getting enough attention that it's causing jealousy and some anger because these uneducated fishermen are getting more attention than we are, and we have better buildings than they do.
"So they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. And Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we can't help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'" See, by this point in their journey, we've known Peter and John, by this point, for three years. We watched them when Jesus said, "Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men". We got to listen in while they argued about who was the greatest. We got to listen in on other days when Jesus looked at 'em and said, "Are you really that dull"? And the answer was, "Yeah, we really are at the moment, but bear with us, we're learning, we're growing".
I'm pretty certain some days God looks at me and goes, "Are you really still that dull, Allen"? Yes, but be patient, I wanna learn. I wanna grow. But by this point in their journey, there's a boldness, a courage, a determination. They recognize they're serving. They said, "Listen, you know, we know you killed our boss. We have seen your demonstrations of power. It's intimidating, it frightened us. We hid for a while, but we're not hiding anymore. And you can determine whether you think we should listen to you or we should listen to God, because we've already made our decision". Some of us are afraid to post things in social media that honor Jesus. Surely, we can at least be anonymously bold for Jesus? By this point, they've had an awakening. But we're talking about this spectrum of friendship.
Let's imagine that over on one end where there is no friendship at all, you're just unaware. "I don't know you, I don't know about you, I'm not even sure I wanna know. I just don't know you," unaware. And maybe next, if we're not the friendship, it would be an, "I know who you are, and I don't like you. I don't wanna know about you. I can just tell by looking at you, I don't like you. I've heard about you". There are some people you don't like that you don't know 'em, and you don't like 'em. There's probably a long list of those people. You're mad at 'em. Some of you are carrying anger and bitterness around about people that you don't even know. Not helpful. Repent. "Well, they're doing things I don't like". Forgive them. Anger and resentment and hatred will put you in bondage, not them. Unaware, antagonist. Unfriendly.
Now you maybe have a little interaction, "But I'm not being nice to 'em. Hm-mm, no, no, no, no". How many have the spiritual gift of unfriendly? Some of you just looked at somebody. That was a bad move right there. And if you can move past that, maybe you get to a point where you're accepting. "I'm not sure I wanna be your friend, but I'll tolerate you". And beyond that, perhaps you can be friendly. Not friends, friendly. If you can move beyond that, you begin to be an advocate for someone. "Yeah, I'm with them. I think they're okay. I'd be happy to stand alongside of them. Yeah, I know who they are. I understand, yeah, I've heard that story about them too but I'm still gonna stand next to them".
It's what friends do. True friends aren't your friends today and then they're not your friends when somebody else is looking. But then if we move that further down the spectrum, beyond being an advocate, I think the real expression of friendship is when you're willing to be a servant. "I'll serve that person". Isn't that what Jesus said? The leaders of the Gentiles lorded over them. They used their authority in an overbearing way, but he said, "Not so with you. The greatest amongst you will be your servant". And on the night of his betrayal, before they get to Gethsemane they have dinner and then Jesus takes a towel and washes the disciples' feet. Do you remember that? He said, "Now, I have done this for you. I've shown you the way".
You see, the real evidence of our friendship with the Lord is we will serve him. Now, I understand there's some growth involved in that. We don't begin at that point. Most of us, when we begin our journey in the kingdom of God we think God's relieved to get us on his team. That's a pretty universal response. "Now we can do something". And then somewhere along the line we awaken to the liability he accepted when he put us on his balance sheet. You see, friendly does not equal friendship. And I think we've confused it. We can be friendly towards the Lord, we can be respectful of the Lord. We can be associates of the Lord, but not necessarily be his friend. I'm inviting you towards something, towards this intentional idea of being an advocate.
See, that's not the position or the space for the hyper-disciple or the zealot or the fanatical person. If you're not willing to be an advocate for him, tell me again what's the evidence? Oh, you said a prayer. Well, I believe in the power of prayer, but if I read that earlier, Jesus said when we started tonight that he's chosen us that we might bear fruit. Fruit has to do with life and reproduction and outcome. You be an advocate and then you'll be a servant. Offer yourselves, we're told, as living sacrifices. "So I don't wanna be in the ministry". I'm not talking, we're all in the ministry, folks. We all have God assignments.
"Yeah, but Pastor, I really, I didn't sign up for that". And we've got to stop for a minute, stop. I'm not trying to sign you up for something. I'm trying to invite you to, how did we get in this mess? We'll tell five-and six-year-olds they should be confused about the condition of their physical person. How did we get to the place where we can't define what a man and a woman is? How did we get to the place where we can't even say "Thank you" for the freedoms and the liberties we have? We complain about them. How did we get to the place where we're not willing to work to put food on our table? We think somebody else should do that. How did we get here? Because we were confused about whose friends we are.
You see, friendship emerges from agreement. You won't be good friends with someone if you are diametrically opposed to their worldview. You can be acquaintances. There can be many things, but when there is a gulf that's that deep, friendship emerges, true friendship emerges from agreement. Amos 3 and verse 3, I put it in your notes, "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so"? Friendship's about walk, doesn't mean you agree on everything. Nobody agrees on everything, that's honest. I mean, two people and they say, you know, the husband and wife says, "We've never had a disagreement". I'm gonna move right on, okay? I'll come back, get that another lesson.
Friendships grow and develop. You know, it's true in your life. Information's exchanged, trust is built, your friendships grow and develop. So does your relationship with the Lord. That's clear as if you follow the disciples from the beginning of the Gospels right on into the book of Acts, their relationship with the Lord changes dramatically. John, on the Island of Patmos, is very different than the John we meet early in the story when he's following Jesus. How's your friendship with the Lord? Where is it on that spectrum, that continuum? Mine's not very fancy. You can build your own.
There's some cautionary notes about friendship we're given in scripture. James chapter 4 and verse 4. You know, James, it's the in-your-face book in the New Testament. If you're a little blue, probably shouldn't read James 'cause he's just gonna tell you kind of the unvarnished truth. "You adulterous people". He's writing to the believers. "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God".
If I add to that 1 Peter chapter 2, you know Peter, you know a bit of his story and his journey and how his mouth would engage sometimes before his brain, but he's the one that's over the side of the boat, and Peter, well, near the end of his life, 1 Peter 2, he says, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in this world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul". You put those alongside of one another, there's an idea that begins to emerge, friendship with this present world system, it's not that we don't appreciate nature, or the creation that God made, but when the New Testament talks about this world, typically it's referring to the present world order, the order of those people who have chosen not to yield themselves to the righteous authority of Jesus.
And they'll build all kinds of systems and all kinds of plans and all kinds of initiatives and they'll tell you they'll make your life better and the world better, and they'll be often widespread acceptance if you'll align yourself with those. In fact, Jesus said before he comes back you'll be hated by almost everybody because of his name. You're gonna have to decide whose friend you are. We've all got that Acts chapter 4 moment on our calendars. You may not know when it is. You may have already had it and not done so well. The disciples didn't do well the first few times they bumped into that appointment.
"Jesus who? No, no, no, we don't know him". But they got it right before they were done. "You decide whether we should obey God or you". Next visit they had in that same chamber, they committed to a beating. They were flogged. And it says they walked away with broken bodies but rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer. Whew! I think the world we were living in before, we would have walked out of there going, "I can't believe God let me go through that. How could he have done that? I thought he led me into that place and that was a hard place. I didn't like that place". You willing to serve the Lord? Even if it puts us through a path of suffering?
We have friendships with one another, but they're different than your friendship with Jesus. As your friendship with Jesus grows, it has to become the defining friendship of your life. It doesn't mean we don't have responsibilities towards people, but there's a transcendence that comes with that. You don't start there. And you don't arrive at a place where people don't matter. Quite the opposite is true. You'll arrive at the place that you'll serve people because you're serving your friend Jesus. See, apart from Jesus, you serve people that you like, people that are like you or people that offer an opportunity to you or people who meet a need in your life or people, whatever, you can fill in the blanks.
But as Jesus's friendship in your life becomes more significant, you'll serve the people that he puts before you. Sometimes, very unlikely circumstances and you'll go, "I'd like to be that person's friend because my other friend arranged this appointment". How many of you would like to get to know the Lord that way? I'll give you an example. The passage is a little long but I'll give you the context. We may not have to read it all. Paul's traveling the Mediterranean, the Roman world, city to city, telling his story. Ephesus, he got to Ephesus and there's a response there. For three years he stays in Ephesus, teaching and preaching.
Now, there's a riot in Ephesus. They try to kill him in Ephesus. It's not without challenge, it's not without difficulty, but there's a response to the gospel message, to the message of the cross in Ephesus. And he comes back through the city. He's on his way back to Jerusalem. It's in your notes, it's Acts 20, verse 25. He says, "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again". There's friends he was there with 'em three years. That's a good run. And he said, "Now, I'm not gonna see you again".
And then he starts to remind them of some big rock ideas, "Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock". He said, "I know that. I know you people and I know the churches I've planted, and I have enough insight," it's a prophetic passage. He's not just being Debbie Downer. He's not just being some Negative Nelly. It's not just some bad report he's handing them. He has a vision of what's in front of them and he said, "Savage wolves will come in among you". That's a pretty intense message from somebody that really led your community of faith into existence.
"Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them". He understands there are some bad apples in the bunch. "So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance amongst all those who are sanctified". He's talking to 'em about inheritance. He's pointing them towards something beyond time and something beyond the temporal.
You see, if we allow only the temporal, only the things done under the sun, to define our agendas and set our goals and define our objectives, folks, we will miss much of what God has for us. Enjoy your life, enjoy the world we're in. God made it for our enjoyment but our purpose for being under the sun is to serve our friend, the King. He will reward you. He said that. We're not done with the study but he said, "If you give up houses or land or family or friends for the sake of the kingdom, you will receive exponentially more". God's not cheap. He's not gonna be indebted to you for your sacrifice. We've just had the equation a little out of balance. We had so much. Verse 36, "When he'd said this, he knelt down with all of them and he prayed. And they all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship".
Paul doesn't know what's ahead of him. He just knows he has enough of a window, "I'm not gonna get to come back here". And it's on the travel path, it's on the route, but he said, "I've got enough clarity to know I'm not coming back this way". In fact, en route to Jerusalem, in more than one stop, they're begging him not to go. They said, "If you get to Jerusalem, there's gonna be trouble". And he responds the same way. "Oh," he says, "I know there's gonna be trouble, but I've been asked to go. I've been asked to go".
Friendship with the King, it's not easy. It's not about calling in favors. It's not about some privileged status. See, I wanna invite you towards a bit of a broader imagination of what it means to be a Christ follower. And we've spent a lot of time together, if you've been a part of this congregation. We've made a journey together and some of the ideas, I've been a part of, and I understand it but I'm trying to grow in myself 'cause the world has shifted. The things that I thought were stability in our lives a few years ago, aren't present any longer. Boundaries that I thought were unassailable have been deconstructed, which means we have to understand whose authority we live under, and who we are trusting for our futures and what will secure them. That if the deterioration were to continue or escalate, even, would we be panicked or frightened or terrified? Or would we have an imagination that the one who created heaven and earth is watching over us?
It's very, very difficult to try to find faith in God after you hear Goliath bellow his challenge. Do you understand what I mean by that? When David heard Goliath, he said, "I can do this. Yes, he's big and he looks powerful and he's well trained, but he has challenged the armies of the living God. And I can do this. God delivered a lion or a bear to me and I'm pretty sure he can deliver this guy to me. I got this". There's a whole army filled with Israelite soldiers unaware of that. They didn't recognize the challenge to God. You see, we've got to build a relationship with the Lord when somebody says that there is no longer objective truth, you go, "No, no, no, no, no, see, I know the one that wrote the book, and I can pray for you with compassion but I will not yield. I have a friend, and I'm serving a King".
We've been a bit casual, but I believe if we'll begin to say to the Lord, "I wanna honor you, I wanna serve you, I wanna be an advocate for you. I want the people that know me to know that I know you. I don't want there to be any exceptions any longer. And if it means I'm left out, so be it. If it means there's a forfeiture around that, it's okay. I wanna be your advocate".
Now you've got some business to do with the Lord. Some of us need to begin to talk to the Lord a little bit 'cause we haven't been that way. You've got a church face and a business face and a recreational face or whatever. You describe it how you choose, but you understand what I'm meaning and we're gonna have to bring a better alignment to our lives. Begin to talk to the Lord about that. Tell him, be honest with him. One of the most helpful practices I've ever learned was to just tell the Lord the truth, "You know, Lord, I love you but your people, ah".
And to my amazement, the more of the Lord I let into me, the more I liked his people, right? Who knew? There was so little of Jesus in me, being around people that loved him was a problem. I give you a little Litmus test. If you get more excited about being with ungodly people going away from the Lord than you do about coming to be with godly people towards the Lord, you need to talk to him. He will help you. I brought you a prayer. It's actually a proclamation. I built it out of Psalm 136. It's at the end of your notes, which we will do sometime. Why don't you stand with me? I'm gonna need your help on this. You can't read the whole proclamation, part of it's mine.
One of the most powerful ways I know to pray is to say what God's Word says about us. And I don't like to do it as a matter of ritual, but I do like to plant the idea in your heart that when you put God's Word in your mouth, you release it with an authority. I understand that idea can be manipulated and misused but so could cupcakes but that doesn't mean they're wicked. We serve them at Christian camps. So I took a portion of this Psalm and I identified the verses for you, so you can read the whole Psalm. The pattern endures through the entire Psalm if you want some extra credit in your devotional, but I'll say the first part. Your line is, "His love endures forever".
Can you do that, on three? One, two, three. Mm, okay. When we see him, we'll do that with more enthusiasm. "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good". To him who alone does great wonders. Who by his understanding made the heavens. To the One who remembered us in our low estate. And he freed us from our enemies. And who gives food to every creature. Give thanks to the God of heaven. Amen, hallelujah.