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The Apostle Paul on Friendship

3 Myths about Friendship

(1)       The first myth is that cultivating close, intimate friendships is primarily, if not exclusively, for weak and immature people who are emotionally needy; friendship exists only for those who need to have their sagging spirits bolstered; only for people with feelings of insecurity. Does that sound like Paul to you?

(2)       The second myth is that friendship is for those who are untaught; those with little or no theological training; those with poor theology; those who just haven't had the time or opportunity to study the Bible (as if knowledge of the latter precludes the need for friends). Does this sound like Paul? Can you hear Paul saying to Timothy:

"Don't bother yourself Timothy. I'm perfectly o.k. all alone. I don't need you or anyone else for that matter. I'd actually prefer to be left alone. I've matured in my faith beyond the need for encouragement and support and the companionship of others."

No! Paul saw in Timothy something that theology alone, books alone, sound thinking alone, could never do.

(3)       The third myth is this: "I don't need friends. All I need is Jesus." One of the problems with this is that even Jesus himself sought out and cultivated close, intimate friendships while on the earth. Look at Paul. Not even the presence of the Lord himself precluded the need for the intimate companionship of another believer. Paul's gratitude for Christ's comforting presence in vv. 17-18 is not a substitute for friendship with other people. His point is simply that the Lord was there to do for me what others failed to do because of their absence.

7 Truths about Friendship (from the life of Paul)

(1)       Paul believed in the critical importance of having close friends - vv. 9,21a.

Don't just read Paul's words. Listen to his heart. There is a sense of desperation in his voice. Notwithstanding all that Paul was, knew, had seen, heard, and experienced, he wanted Timothy. Feel the passion and urgency in his words: "Timothy, make every effort to come to me soon!"

·      "Timothy, I am an apostle, and on earth and in the church no one has greater authority than I do, but please, please, I need you. Make every effort to come soon!"

·      "Timothy, I've seen the risen Christ in all His glory; I've known what it's like to behold His majesty (Damascus road). But Timothy, I need you. Come quickly!"

·      "Timothy, I've been granted revelation and insight into the deepest mysteries of God's redemptive purposes. But please, do what you can to come now!"

·      "Timothy, I've laid hands on the blind, deaf, and paralyzed, and seen them healed. Even the dead have been raised through my ministry. But I still need you. Please hurry!"

·      "Timothy, I have performed great signs and wonders, cast out demons, etc., but do whatever it takes to come soon. Please."

·      "Timothy, I wrote Scripture. I wrote Romans, with all its theological depth and power. But I need you."

·      "For all these things, for all these experiences, notwithstanding all my knowledge and insight, Timothy, I need you: your presence, your friendship, your words to comfort me, someone to whom I can pour out my heart, bare my soul, talk about my fears, doubts, sins, someone I can trust with knowledge of my weaknesses and frailties and frustrations."

"Timothy, make every effort to come to me soon! I know you are busy, but change your schedule. Re-arrange your life. Do whatever it takes, but come soon. I need you now. With every passing day that you're not here, I hurt a little more; my heart grieves a little more. Hurry."

People are more important than power, fame, position, prestige . . . "Oh, Timothy, I don't want to die alone. Hurry, dear friend, hurry!"

(2)       Paul knew from personal experience the pain and anguish of loneliness - vv. 10b,11a,16a.

v. 10b - He refers to the absence of Crescens, Titus, Tychicus. There is no word of condemnation here. Tychicus is on a legitimate mission for Paul ("sent", possibly carrying this very letter). Most likely the same is true of Crescens and Titus.

v. 11a - This isn't a criticism of Luke, as if Paul said: "Only Luke is with me." Rather: "Only Luke is here." His point is: I need more friends. I need all of you. I'm desperate.

v. 16a - "no one . . . all deserted me." Perhaps they left out of fear, thinking that too close association with Paul would result in their imprisonment and death also. Whatever the reason, there is no bitterness in Paul's heart, as he prays: "May it not be counted against them," i.e., "Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

But there is the reverse problem too. "Let your foot rarely be in your neighbor's house, lest he become weary of you and hate you" (Prov. 25:17). Even with good friends, don't overstay your welcome. Don't abuse friendship and show a lack of consideration. "Well, if they wanted me to leave, they'd say so." Not necessarily.

(3)       Paul knew the importance of having the right kind of friends: be discerning and selective - vv. 14-15.

"He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm" (Prov. 13:20).

Friendship has its risks, its darker side. "A man of many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). If you try to multiply friends indiscriminately, you will sooner or later get the wrong kind. The warning isn't against having friends, but against multiplying friends out of a misguided desire to be liked by everyone.

We don't know what "great harm" Alexander caused. Certainly he attacked Paul's teaching (v. 15). Others believe he was responsible for Paul's arrest and may even have served as a witness against him. Listen to Paul's advice: "Timothy, stay away from him. Guard yourself from him and others like him." Not everyone is a candidate to be a friend. "O.K. I get the point. But what kind of people are you talking about?"

"Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them, for their minds devise violence and their lips talk of trouble" (Prov.24:1-2).

"A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends" (Prov. 16:28).

"Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge" (Prov. 14:7).

"He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets; therefore, do not associate with a gossip" (Prov. 20:19).

"Do not associate with a man given to anger, or go with a hot-tempered man; lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself" (Prov. 22:24-25).

"Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine or with gluttonous eaters of meat" (Prov. 23:20).

"Do not associate with those who are given to change, for their calamity will rise suddenly and who knows the ruin that comes from them" (Prov. 24:21-22).

In sum: don't cultivate close friendships with envious people, those who talk about violence all the time, slanderers, fools, gossips, hot-tempered, heavy drinkers, overly indulgent, discontented.

(4)       Paul knew from personal experience the pain of betrayal and abandonment - vv. 10a,16.

v. 10a - The defection of Demas was especially painful to Paul, for at one time Demas had been one of his closest and seemingly most trustworthy fellow-workers in the ministry. READ Col. 4:14; Philemon 24. But this describes Paul's first Roman imprisonment when conditions were not so threatening. This time, however, Paul's life was at stake and Demas wanted nothing to do with him. The verb implies not simply that Demas had "left" but had "left him in the lurch," had abandoned and forsaken him.

"Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble" (Prov. 25:19). Nothing hurts quite like the disloyalty and betrayal of someone you trusted. It's like a decaying, rotten tooth and a palsied, disjointed foot. Not only are they functionally useless (for chewing and walking), they hurt!

Your own experience with this sort of person has probably made you hesitant, perhaps you have even closed your heart to starting new friendships. But Paul didn't let the betrayal and abandonment of Demas and others scare him off or sour him to friendship altogether. He didn't say, "Oh, Timothy, how do I know you won't abandon me like Demas did?"

(5)       Paul had learned the importance of forgiving those who had failed him. In fact, he believed in giving old friends who had blown it another chance - vv. 11b,16b

v. 11b - During his 2nd missionary journey Mark had turned back. Why? Was he homesick? Did he feel resentment of Paul's eclipsing of Barnabas as leader? Was it physical exhaustion? Was he discouraged? Was it his fear of thieves and muggers? Paul interpreted it as a sign of weakness and an unreliable character. Paul questioned whether he was trustworthy. But Mark had repented and was restored. How? Through the influence of his cousin, Barnabas? Yes. Perhaps also the influence of Peter? Yes. But also Paul! "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy" (Prov. 27:5-6).

Note well: it isn't just that Mark had repented or restored. It isn’t just that Paul has approved his return to ministry. Paul declares, "He is useful to me! I need him, just like I need Timothy. I regard Mark as a close friend who can help me in my final days."

Don't be hasty in making snap judgments about people. Initially, Paul thought Demas would never leave and Mark would never be of use. Now, Demas has left and Mark is back!

(6)       As you grow old in life, in addition to friends, you need books! - v. 13

Here is the aged Paul, after a lifetime of studying and preaching and teaching, burdened by life, burdened by the churches, burdened by the desertion of close friends, with the impending shadow of the executioner's sword hovering over his head, physically weary and emotionally drained . . . but look at what he wants: books! My hero!

(7)       In the final analysis, when everything is said and done, Jesus will always be your best friend; the only friend you can always count on - vv. 17-18.