Marks Of True Friendship

Marks Of True Friendship

Henry Adams wrote, “One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many, and three are hardly possible.” While I do not share his pessimism or cynicism, I do believe that true, close friends are certainly not prevalent. There are too many factors at play. Friendships take time, trust, and transparency. Some things can be barriers to developing close companionship from contrasting values to clashing viewpoints.

The Bible gives insight into factors essential to building true, lasting friendships. Since God made man, He knows what makes us tick and operate at our optimism levels. Here are four quick principles:

A Friend Loves At All Times (Proverbs 17:17).

Solomon does not suggest blind loyalty or blanket endorsement. Scripture does not encourage fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), but it also points out that we all struggle with sin problems (Rom. 3:23). We also are prone to weak moments and we go through trials and reverses of fortune. It is a blessing to know we have people we can count on to be there even when we’re not at our best or enjoying our mountaintop moments (Heb. 12:12-13; Rom. 12:15).

For The Despairing Man, There Should Be Kindness From His Friend (Job 6:14).

For every one we exchange superficial greetings with, even as we are carrying our hidden cares, we need true friends to turn to for help when we face deep needs in our hours of trial. Rare is the friend who knows, sympathizes, and is ready to help with a kind word or deed. You can imagine how Job’s friends added to his despair by failing to offer that when he needed it most. So many things bring despair–job loss, family crisis, financial reverse, health issues, and other life changes. It is then that astute acts of kindness make a lasting impact and forge true friendships.

If They Fall, One Will Lift Up His Fellow (Ecc. 4:10).

Solomon does not specify whether the falling is physical, emotional, or spiritual. No matter what makes us fall, it is the trustworthy response of a friend that he focuses on. How tragic not to have someone in our lives with a ready hand when we are sinking! What if we are falling away from God (Jas. 5:19-20)? What if we are losing faith or overwhelmed (Mat. 14:30)? “The Lord sustains all who fall” (Ps. 145:14), and what a blessing when He does so through a faithful friend!

Faithful Are The Wounds Of A Friend (Prov. 27:6).

We need people in our lives who are more than “yes” men and women. True friends care enough to correct if we are going off course. We need those who don’t just rubber stamp our speech, validate our every action, or automatically take our side. None of that helps us refine our character or makes us fit for the Master’s use. It’s not easy to tell someone we like and care about that they’ve fallen short in some way, but having a friend that deep and genuine is a true blessing in life.

These passages challenge me to ask, “What kind of friend am I to others?” Am I deeper than a fellow sport’s fan, a person with common interests, or even a co-member of the church? Can I be counted on to be there in the valleys as well as the mountaintop days? Can I be trusted with kindness on despairing days? Am I a lifter? Do I have the courage even to say the difficult things in difficult moments? I want to be that kind of friend to my friends!

Some of our dearest friends, whom we were blessed to see this past weekend.
Rebuke Requires Relationship

Rebuke Requires Relationship

Neal Pollard

  • A child scolded by an austere stranger may get frightened or bullied, but not persuaded or “reached.” A parent, grandparent, a sibling, or good friend will be much more effective.
  • A church member reprimanded by an aloof elder with none of the skill and instincts of a shepherd will get offended, hurt, and angered, but will likely ignore the admonition. A caring, involved elder, even if what he says is difficult and narrow, will prove much more effective. Jesus makes this clear in John 10:5.
  • A preacher who isolates himself from the members, though golden-tongued and 100% right, will cause rankling and roiling rather than remorse and repentance when dealing with sensitive, “hard” subjects. Yet, a man people know cares about them will be given a hearing on even “hot button” matters delivered in loving conviction. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 makes this clear.
  • A brother or sister bringing a criticism or dispensing blunt advice, who has done nothing to establish rapport and relationship with the object of their censure, will have zero impact for good and most likely widen the distance already existent between them. Galatians 6:1-2 implies one who has worn the yoke with the one approached about the trespass.
  • A “Facebook friend” or social media connection, who does a drive-by, verbal “shooting,” devoid of real life connection and bond, is seen as an obnoxious oaf at best and more likely as an impertinent intruder. That forum is not typically going to work for effective exhortation, especially if the dressing-down comes from one who has established no meaningful link. Remember, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). That’s a real friend; not a virtual one.
  • A neighbor who has taken no time to be a friend or neighborly delivers hollow requests, suggestions, or demands. Without benefit of time and shared experience, this is received as bad manners and bad form. One who takes the time to demonstrate care will be much better heard (cf. Prov. 11:12).
  • A co-worker or schoolmate will be unpersuaded by someone who makes no time for them or takes no time to get to know them but who gets in their business is wasting their time. But, one who proves genuine concern will much more likely get a thoughtful hearing.

It’s just the way we are. We bristle at cold, heartless interference from the seemingly disinterested party. But we are open and receptive to people who take the time to get to know, understand, and care about us. The same thing said the same way will make a big difference, depending on the presence or absence of a relationship. We would do well to strive to build more and better relationships, especially if we desire to help people grow closer to Christ and go to heaven. May we first work on the connection before we attempt the correction.

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FORGOTTEN FRUIT

FORGOTTEN FRUIT

Neal Pollard

Paul especially urges a particular quality that seems rarer these days. However, this is not a trait disappearing only with those in the world, but one that seems harder for us who claim to be disciples of Christ. He uses a word in Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Timothy 6:11, among others—James does, too (1:21; 3:13). The word, πραΰτης, means “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1996, n. pag.). They suggest the word includes “always speaking softly to or not raising one’s voice” (ibid.). Another Lexicon, in defining the word, speaks to what may prevent one demonstrating gentleness, namely “…being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (Arndt, Danker, et al, 2000, n. pag.). Yet, surely there are other impediments to our bearing the fruit of gentleness.

We struggle to be gentle, don’t we?

  • With our children’s weaknesses and mistakes.
  • When responding to our spouse, whether in impatience or aggravation.
  • With rude fellow-shoppers, incompetent cashiers, or pokey or inattentive drivers.
  • Being at odds with a brother or sister in Christ in a clash of personalities or purposes.
  • Having thoughtless or rude neighbors.
  • Engaging in a disagreement with a faceless, nominal acquaintance on social media.
  • Dealing with customer service, especially if we get an ESL representative.

This is just a sampling of situations which tempt us to abandon a gentle spirit. Aristotle called this quality “the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason…and not getting angry at all” (Zhodiates, Dictionary, 2000, n. pag.). The New Testament does not tell the Christian that we cannot defend ourselves, protect our rights, or get what we pay for, for example. But, in addressing concerns, needs, and problems, how we do this makes all the difference.

For many of us, gentleness needs to be intentional. It doesn’t come naturally.  We need to pray about it, prepare ourselves for it, and practice it. Our passion needs to be harnessed. Our speech needs to be tempered. Just making the need for gentleness a conscious priority in our lives will greatly improve our performance, with family, friends, brethren, and strangers. It is a powerful tool to win hearts and shape lives, beginning with our own.

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Please Hang Up Your Smartphone

Please Hang Up Your Smartphone

Neal Pollard

Prefatory note: I am writing as a guilty party rather than an innocent bystander.  The following words are directed inwardly at least as much as outwardly.

It is getting hard to remember what we did before we got our smartphones.  How did we keep from answering everyone’s texts immediately or looking up the minutest factoids about athletes, actors, and ancient history before we let another moment pass? What did husbands and wives, other family, and friends do at dinner and other public and private places?  Why did we ever engage in face to face conversations with the person in front of us when we could have been blowing them off to inbox or text a person hundreds or thousands of miles away from us?  Wasn’t good manners and courtesy way overrated?

It seems like an epidemic, whether an etiquette virus or relationship dementia.  Too often, we have become so absorbed with posting, tweeting, Facebooking, and like communicating with our cellular device that we have slowly started disconnecting with the real world and the moment.  Last Sunday, sitting at the airport, I was amazed to see rows and rows of future passengers glued to their seats with eyes glued to their laptops and phones.  The airlines have even modified their policy in recent times to allow one to never have to cut off their “handheld devices” so long as they are in airplane mode.  I’m no expert, but I wonder for how many of us our tools of technology have become avenues of addiction?  I have given a little thought to this, and now offer some totally unsolicited advice:

  • Choose the person in the room who can see whether you are paying attention to them over the one elsewhere who won’t know you didn’t answer their message immediately.
  • If you choose face-to-face interaction, try putting your phone away and even out of convenient reach.
  • Try to be self-aware of how much time you are spending with and how often you gravitate toward your phone.
  • If it is an urgent or emergency situation, consider excusing yourself (if possible without divulging that you are tending to your phone) until after you’ve completed the text, call, or message.
  • As much as possible, stow the phone when it’s family time, date time, double-date time, or social or spiritual fellowship time.
  • Realize that any excuse given for why you are answering that text or message will almost always sound lame.  Don’t excuse rudeness.  Eliminate it.

We can really help each other break this habit, and we need to do so with love and patience while realizing most of us are guilty of these things at least sometimes.  Let us not let the virtual and technological worlds interfere with and even hamper our “realtime relationships.”  May we all practice “hanging up” our smartphones more often!