For nearly 15 years,evangelist Jim Baker headed up his own Christian television network in the United States. He was well-known as a televangelist,but his life went horribly wrong when he was convicted of fraud. In 1989 he was sent to prison for eight years. It was a dark period in his life,where he had plenty of time to reflect on his mistakes. In his book “Baker,I was wrong”,he refers to the help he received from Billy Graham and his family,especially Billy’s son Franklin. They found a house for him to live in and gave him a car. The first Sunday he was released,Ruth Graham (Billy’s wife) invited him to attend church with her. When he got there,the Pastor welcomed him and he sat with the Graham family,two rows of them. The organ started playing and the place was full,except for one seat. That was the seat next to Jim Baker. Then Ruth Graham walked down the aisle and sat next to Jim – an ex-prisoner who had been out of prison for only 48 hours. But in that simple act,she told the world that morning that Jim Baker was her friend.
That’s the kind of friendship that really means something. People would have understood if the Graham’s had kept their distance from Jim Baker. But that was not an option,because Jim Baker had been their friend for a long time. Yes,he had made mistakes. He had had hard times,but true friendship is not fickle. In fact,the Bible says in Proverbs 18: 24 “Some friends don’t help,but a true friend is closer than your own family”. And what a tremendous strength they can be. We read in the Old Testament of David and Jonathan. Saul was the King of Israel and during one of the wars David,a young shepherd,slew the giant Goliath. From then on,David and Saul’s eldest son,Jonathan,became close friends. David was a shepherd and Jonathan was the commander of a thousand soldiers in Saul’s Army,and despite very different backgrounds,they did share some things in common. Both were brave and successful,and they had great trust and confidence in each other. On one occasion,David was running for his life from Jonathan’s father Saul who wanted him killed. Jonathan even risked his own life to protect David. Earlier on,they promised to be loyal friends and Jonathan said “Whatever you want me to do,I’ll do it for you”. Those words sound wonderful in good times,but they mean more when the storms of life and difficulties come. Friends will not be sitting on the sidelines,but will be there to help. And if the storms come in our relationships,loyalty and trust means we need to work harder.
True love is not the romantic picture we often paint,but a deep abiding commitment to care for others,and do what’s best for them in all circumstances. Christian love is not so much about feelings as it is about the will – the decision to act in loving ways.
C.S.Lewis once said “Don’t waste time bothering whether you love your neighbour. Act as if you did. As soon as you do,you discover one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone,you will presently come to love him”.
As friends,David and Jonathan shared many things in life,and it’s the same with us. We have things we can share with our friends. When gifts are exchanged,we realise it’s not the monetary value,but what they represent. One of the greatest gifts we can give our spouse,our children,and our friends,could be the time we spend with them. Remember,a solid friendship is built on relationship,not superficial things. A good friend is not there because of what they can get from you. They are there because of what you mean to them.
Everyone needs a friend,and we recognise that true friends are hard to come by. If you have one of those good friends,take time today to thank God and say to those people “I’m glad God has brought you into my life. I’m glad you’re my friend”.
If you were to ask me who is the greatest friend of all I would say Jesus is. He said “The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them. And you are my friends,if you obey me. Servants don’t know what their master is doing,and so I don’t speak to you as my servants. I speak to you as my friends” (John 15: 13-15). Jesus is the ultimate friend of all people,and as we look at the Gospels we see His friendship in action. He was compassionate,encouraging,loyal,understanding,and loving.
But He got into trouble with the religious establishment who said “Look at this man! He is a glutton and a drinker,a friend of tax collectors and other outcasts”. (Luke 7:34) The Pharisees and teachers of the law were outraged that Jesus associated with sinners. They condemned Him,because they taught God did not welcome sinners nor would He forgive them. Sinners were outcasts from society,and to see Jesus befriending them was too much to take. This was no mere criticism,rather the ultimate condemnation. In Jesus’ day,people knew their place in society,but He came and ate and drank with those considered unwanted and unacceptable.
Jesus didn’t worry too much about who he mixed with. One day He stopped at the tax office where Levi,son of Alphaeus,was working. Traders had to pass through there,and tax collectors were not the kind of people you wanted as a neighbour. They had no conscience,and because they dealt with Rome,any left over collected tax was theirs to keep. They often over- taxed people,became wealthy,and were hated by their fellow citizens. In Jewish society of that day,you wouldn’t have met too many men who were considered lower than a tax collector. But that day Jesus does an incredible thing. He approaches Levi and said “Follow Me”. People crowding around must have been astonished,but Levi got up and followed Jesus. In doing this,he lost everything. He burned his bridges and followed Jesus. There was no going back. Later that day,Jesus went to Levi’s house for a meal. It was probably more like a celebration banquet and Jesus was right in the middle of it. Other guests included tax collectors and other outcasts who never went to church. They may have been rich or poor,well- known or not. It didn’t matter,because Jesus treated each of them as His friend,and Levi was proud to introduce Jesus to them. This was a friendly time,probably with lots of laughter and joy,and others came and watched. No doubt the Pharisees were welcome,but they huddled together as they shared their disgust and asked His disciples “why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” Fellowship at a table meant more than politeness and friendliness. It meant peace and acceptance .What they didn’t know was that Jesus had invited Levi into His circle of friends as a follower and disciple. His life had been changed forever by the call of Jesus
Jesus overhead their question and said “People who are well do not need a doctor,but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people,but outcasts” (Mark 2:17). And here was the key to all Jesus did. He offered love and acceptance to all people and refused to put them in categories. No doubt there were other times when Jesus accepted invitations to dinners,and by so doing I’m sure He hoped His presence would make a difference. Think of the conversations that would have happened then,and my guess is they changed lives.
I’m confident also Jesus would have taken this badge “glutton and a drinker,friend of tax collectors and sinners” and worn it with pride. His critics wanted to put Him down,but He was proud to be everyone’s friend.
Presbyterian Pastor J Wilbur Chapman wrote the hymn that said “Jesus. What a friend for sinners. Jesus. Lover of my soul. Friends may fail me,foes assail me,He,my Saviour,makes me whole.
You may have heard the story of two friends fighting side by side on the battlefield. The combat was fierce and many men were dying. One of the friends was wounded and couldn’t get back to the trenches. The other friend went out to get him,going against orders. He returned with a wound that would lead to his death,and his friend was already dead. The commanding officer looked at the dying soldier and said “It wasn’t worth it”. And the soldier replied “O,but it was,sir. When I reached my friend,he looked at me and said “I knew you would come”.
Friendship is such a wonderful quality,but it needs to be worked at. Samuel Johnson used to say “A man should keep his friendships in constant repair” and that’s true. God has given us friends to help enjoy life,and from them we can draw strength,wisdom and support. Have you ever considered Jesus to be your friend? He is our Saviour and Lord,and He is also our best friend.
‘Today,Lord,we thank you for friends who stand with us when we are alone or feeling afraid. They mean so much,and they are Your gift. Help us to appreciate them more every day,AMEN.’