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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Grieiving the Spirit

I read this and found it so helpful.  I hope you do too!!

"9 Things That Grieve The Holy Spirit: We can block the Holy Spirit's work without realizing it."

by Lorraine Pintus
Discipleship Journal Issue #91 January/February 1996

"I have no interest in changing my long distance service." The irritation in my voice was unmistakable.

"You mean you don't want to save money?" persisted the saleswoman on the other end of the phone.

I slammed down the receiver and returned to my now cold soup.

"That's the third time they've called this week, and each time it's been in the middle of dinner," I complained to my husband. "It's so rude."

But I knew the "rude award" belonged to me. That poor telemarketer, desperately dialing numbers in hopes of one positive response . . . she was just doing her job, and I'd blasted her.

Sadly, being rude to her had been easy. I did not know her. Had the caller been a close friend, my attitude would have been more gracious.

There is another Person I have thoughtlessly offended because I did not know Him —the Holy Spirit. Oh, I professed to know Him. Having been a Christian for 15 years, I knew who He was, what He did, even where He lived (Jn. 14:17). In truth, I knew His résumé. I did not know Him.

One morning during my devotions, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, Lorraine, you love the Father. Jesus is your friend. Now, wouldn't you like to know Me?

It had never been my intention to resist the Holy Spirit, but by not fully yielding to Him, I had hindered His work in my life. I had observed that emotional responses often accompanied the Spirit's work. This made me nervous. My cognitive faith knew emotions were not always trustworthy. Perhaps that's why I had never fully embraced the Person of the Spirit. I had a slight fear —a mild distrust —of Him.

Now the Spirit was urging me to lay aside my reservations. Obediently, I waved the white flag of my will and surrendered.

My fear was confirmed. Emotion did accompany the work of the Spirit, and, ironically, this proved to be a tremendous blessing!

The Spirit deepened my love for Jesus. Never had I felt such empathy for the lost or had such a compelling desire to train disciples for Christ. Joy punctuated my writing. Passion permeated my teaching. Ministry was no longer a burden —I had a Helper eager to assist me!

The Spirit's constant companionship delighted me. Perhaps that was why I was so devastated when He pulled away.

Grieving the Spirit

One day several friends and I were discussing major changes in my former church. I made a somewhat derogatory comment about a church leader. Suddenly I felt a "lurch" in my spirit, as if something inside me had been ripped away. I knew I'd offended the Spirit, and that He had withdrawn to some far-off corner of my heart. I'd grieved the Spirit in the past, but the intensity of my remorse was new to me. I was sickened by my words, horrified by my arrogance, and saddened that I had hurt the One I loved.

I was grateful for the churning within me. It is impossible to understand grieving the Spirit from a strictly cognitive perspective. Grieving involves deep emotion. The Spirit's sorrow had become my sorrow. I hated sin with a new vengeance and resolved to know the things that grieved the Spirit so I could avoid hurting Him in the future.

As I dove into Scripture, two areas surfaced as being particularly grievous to the Spirit: the actions of the Israelites and the attitudes of the Pharisees. And my study revealed that we are often guilty of the same actions and attitudes.

Old Testament Grieving

The Israelites "rebelled and grieved [God's] Holy Spirit" (Is. 63:10). Psalm 78 documents the actions that prompted God's sorrow.

Forgetting God. "They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them" (Ps. 78:11). God freed the Israelites from captivity, parted the Red Sea, provided bread in the desert, and led His people to a prosperous land. "In spite of all this, they kept on sinning" (Ps. 78:32). God lamented, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you" (Is. 49:15). But "you deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth" (Dt. 32:18).

Grumbling. "They spoke against God" (Ps. 78:19). Daily, God provided the Israelites with the "bread of angels." But they weren't satisfied; they whined for more. Their complaints made God "exceedingly angry" (Num. 11:10). Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses, God's appointed leader. "The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them," and Miriam became leprous (Num. 12:9). When God allowed the Israelites to glimpse the glory of the promised land, they grumbled about the great size of the people instead of being grateful for the great size of the grapes. God sighed, "How long will this wicked community grumble against me?" (Num. 14:27).

Disobedience. "They did not keep God's covenant and refused to live by his law" (Ps. 78:10). "Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel" (Ps. 78:41). The Israelites' repeated disobedience saddened God. "How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?" He asked (Ex. 16:28).

Disbelief. "They did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance" (Ps. 78:22). Ten times God is described in Psalm 78 as being angry, grieved, or vexed. Disturbed by their lack of faith, God cried, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe
in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?" (Num. 14:11, emphasis mine).

New Testament Grieving

God's Old Testament warning, "do not grieve the Holy Spirit," is repeated in the New Testament in Eph. 4:30, but the emphasis is different. In the Old Testament, grieving the Spirit was connected to the people's response to God. In the New Testament, grieving the Spirit also includes our response to one another in the Body of Christ. Paul explains this in Eph. 4:29–32 as he illustrates how we can keep from grieving the Spirit: avoid unwholesome talk; build others up rather than yourself; share; rid yourself of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander; be compassionate.

The consistent goal of the Spirit in the New Testament is that we achieve unity by maintaining right relationships with one another and using our gifts to serve the Body.

Ephesians 4:12–13 says to serve one another "so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith." Jesus' final plea before the crucifixion was that we would all be one and "brought to complete unity" (Jn. 17:23). Paul urges in Eph. 4:3, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit."

But the church in Jesus' day lacked both service and unity, due in large measure to the ruling religious sect, the Pharisees.

"Pharisee" is derived from the Hellenized word pharisaioi, which means "the separated ones." By Jesus' day it appeared that the Pharisees had set themselves apart because they secretly believed they were spiritually superior to others. Jesus called them "vipers," "fools," and "blind guides." Stephen included them in his description of those who "always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51).

Why was God so upset with these leaders? The reasons should be of concern to us because we grieve the Holy Spirit if we are guilty of these same sins.

Pride. The Pharisees demanded seats of honor at public events. They loved the esteem of the people and being called "Rabbi." They expected to be served, rather than to serve. Jesus exposed their arrogance in a parable that portrayed a Pharisee as boasting, "God, I thank you that I am not like all other men" (Lk. 18:11).

What a contrast to Paul's teaching in Phil. 2:1–3: "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit . . . then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."

Self-effort. The Pharisees trusted in their good works to make them righteous, rather than in God. They erroneously believed they could achieve spiritual blessing through the effort of the flesh. But Jesus said in Jn. 3:6, "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."

"Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength" (Jer. 17:5). "Apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn. 15:5). Scripture condemns all self-effort and warns us to beware of our tendency to act independently of God. "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (Gal. 3:3).

Resistance to the Spirit. "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt" (1 Thess. 5:19–20). Guilty on both counts, the Pharisees doused the flames of the Spirit by attributing Jesus' works to Satan (Mt. 12:25–32) and thumbing their noses at the Scriptures concerning Christ.

The Pharisees' refusal to yield to the Spirit was rooted in their fear of the Spirit. The Pharisees clung to the comfort of the Law, insisting God would never work beyond the Law —at least, not without first consulting them! Jesus was surprisingly patient with their insolence and explained, "Every teacher of the law . . . is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old" (Mt. 13:52). And "do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets . . . but to fulfill them" (Mt. 5:17). Still, the Pharisees turned a deaf ear, confident God would work as He had in the past. Their failure to embrace a new work of the Spirit ultimately caused them to oppose the God they claimed to serve.

Hypocrisy. The Pharisees were spiritual leaders with no Spirit. They professed to know God yet they failed to recognize His own Son. They put demands upon others they were unwilling to accept themselves. Jesus warned, "Do not do what [the Pharisees] do, for they do not practice what they preach" (Mt. 23:3). "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs . . . on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness" (Mt. 23:27–28). Jesus' final analysis was sad: "These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me" (Mk. 7:6).

Legalism. Intellectualism was the god of the Pharisees. Consumed with order, tradition, and doctrine, they so immersed themselves in the study of God's Law and the explanation of it that they ended up missing God Himself! When the Pharisees scolded Jesus' disciples for failing to wash their hands before eating, Jesus rebuked them, "You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition" (Mt. 15:6).

In their zeal for theological correctness, the Pharisees reduced religion to a purely intellectual exercise, effectively squelching the Spirit and eliminating responses of the heart. Emotion was unwelcome, unless, of course, it was permitted by the Law. As a result, their hearts were hardened (Mk. 3:5). Jesus said angrily, "Woe to you . . . you have neglected the more important matters of the law —justice, mercy and faithfulness" (Mt. 23:23). Paul, himself a Pharisee, recognized the dangers of legalism and rightly warned, "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6).

Consequences of Grieving the Holy Spirit

Grieving the Spirit carries serious consequences. The actions of the Israelites grieved the Spirit, and God withdrew His protection and fought against them (Is. 63:10, Acts 7:42–43). The attitudes of the Pharisees grieved the Spirit and they were condemned to hell (Mt. 23:13, Mt. 23:33). But the most common result of grieving the Spirit in the Old Testament was simply that He left. Prior to Pentecost, the Spirit was given to selected individuals for a temporary period of time. That is why David, who experienced the coming and going of the Spirit in his own life, pleaded in Ps. 51:11, "Do not . . . take your Holy Spirit from me."

Today, the Spirit works differently. The moment a person accepts Christ as his Savior, he is immediately indwelt and sealed forever by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13–14, Jn. 14:16). We need never question our eternal destiny or doubt God's intentions toward us (1 Jn. 4:16). The Spirit will never leave us, but if we grieve Him, He may temporarily withdraw His fellowship and power. For the Christian who consistently abides in the Spirit, no consequence could be more devastating.

We cannot expect to understand grieving the Spirit apart from that aspect of the Spirit's personality that makes Him cautiously respectful of our will. The Holy Spirit never forces Himself upon us. At times, we may even wish He was more insistent, that He'd whack us on the head and shout, "Don't do that . . . it makes Me REALLY mad." Instead, He quietly, gently, convicts us of sin and leaves us to choose: Will I please Him? Or grieve Him?

To compile a list of everything that grieves the Spirit and carefully avoid each item on the list would, itself, grieve the Spirit! God doesn't want to immobilize us with a "don't do" list. And, ultimately, we'd end up trusting in a list to achieve our goal, rather than in God.

Instead, God prefers that we are continually aware of the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence and sensitive to how deeply sin affects Him, and us. It is good to understand the biblical theology of grieving the Spirit. It helps when we are able to feel God's sorrow over sin. But the surest way to avoid grieving the Spirit is to know Him and walk in a moment-by-moment, love relationship with Him. Then, grieving Him becomes unthinkable.

Copyright © 2006, The Navigators, Discipleship Journal. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Great article from CCEF:

What Not to Say to Those Who are Suffering

Ed Welch

“It could be worse. Imagine if you broke both legs.”
We have some odd ways of cheering each other up.
Most of our bone-headed comments to suffering people are offered with passable intentions, and most of those comments are judged by their recipients as misguided rather than malicious, but it sure would be nice to improve our record of encouragement in the midst of pain.

We could all generate a Top Ten List of words we spoke or received that make us shudder when we think about them. Here is one that, I suspect, makes a lot of lists.
“What is God teaching you through this?”
Hmmm. This is orthodox. God does teach us in our suffering, and he is working all things together for good. We agree with C.S.Lewis when he writes that pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. But the story of Jezebel and her entrails being food for the dogs is orthodox too. We are after orthodoxy that is relevant, pastoral and edifying.
Consider a few of the possible problems with this question.

·         It tends to be condescending. If you heard this question from someone, you probably didn’t hear compassion.

·         It suggests that suffering is a solvable riddle. God has something specific in mind and we have to guess what it is. Welcome to a cosmic game of Twenty-Questions, and we better get the right answer soon; otherwise, the suffering will continue.

·         It suggests that we have done something that has unleashed the suffering.

·         It undercuts God’s call to all suffering people, “Trust me.”

To briefly respond to these four problems,
·         Suffering compels us to modesty. Scripture gives us a number of insights into human suffering, but no insight is exhaustive. The mystery in suffering reminds us that we are still like children who don’t understand how good parents can impose difficulties in our lives. In light of the mystery, humility is natural and necessary. For those who speak to suffering people, humility before the Lord is expressed in humility before the suffering person.

·         We over-interpret suffering. I am speaking with a person now who has gone through horrible suffering in her life, and “What is God trying to tell you?” has been the question everyone asks. She has wondered for years why she doesn’t have an answer yet. All she can figure is that she is too sinful to get it or God is not giving out the answer key – so she is alternately guilty and frustrated. Job in the Old Testament and the man born blind in the New Testament (John 9) should keep us from endless speculation about God’s precise intent. Neither one was supposed to get what God was teaching them.

·         Focus on a sin-suffering nexus to your peril. Granted, the question might not assume that the suffering person is in sin. The question might have been intended more positively, as in “How are you learning about the Lord in this?” But unless there is an absolutely clear connection between a person’s sin and suffering, and it is obvious to every believer on the planet, then we shouldn’t make the connection and do everything we can to keep the suffering person from making the connection. Most of us see more of our sin during our suffering – I know I do – but that doesn’t mean our sin was the cause of the suffering.

·         Insight can work against faith. By that I don’t mean that we should be mindless stoics in our suffering. But when our primary goal is to discover a personal message about a specific deficiency in our lives, then we are resting in our human understanding rather than the plainly revealed character of God. Faith is our calling in suffering – faith in Jesus Christ. This is not a mindless leap into the unknown. It is a turn of heart, away from us and to Jesus. In our suffering we want to remember that God is, indeed, good and compassionate. Jesus’ incarnation and his voluntary suffering culminating with the cross are the undeniable evidence. Then we trust him.

Some have heard the question, “What is God teaching you?” and, though not especially edifying, the question wasn’t discouraging. If so, expect that this question was not the first one asked, and it was asked in the context of a secure relationship.
When in doubt, skip the question all together.
Replace it with something like this.
“How can I pray for you?”
Here is a hard working question. With it we are coming beside those who suffer, we are reminding them that God hears, we are asking them to consider the promises of God to them, and we are saying that they are going to be on our heart. If we get an answer such as “pray that God would leave me alone” or a roll of the eyes – something that suggests either anger or spiritual indifference – then we can propose something that is a promise of God, such as comfort or the knowledge of God’s love and presence.

Even better than “How can I pray for you?” we could pray for the person on the spot. “How could I pray for you now?” And after that comes the most important part – we follow up. When we pray for someone we keep praying and we pray until we have witnessed God on the move.
And I didn’t personally say the one about the legs. I am guilty for many other unedifying comments, but I didn’t say the one about the legs. A “friend” said it. Really.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Good words from Joshua Harris

I loved this from Joshua Harris.  Praying and grieving IN HOPE for all of us in the Body of Christ experiencing brokeness.  Our hope is sure because our hope is in Christ who is faithful and He promises to redeem His bride.  Romans 5:5 "And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."

Spend more time in prayer than speculation. Spend more time interceding than choosing sides. Spend more energy loving others than arguing. Get away from the internet, get into the Scripture, go talk with God. Let's ask that he would use this season in our church to make us all more gentle, loving and broken--not more angry, self-righteous and irate. He is in this and he loves everyone involved.

It's a beautiful day outside. I'm going to go take a prayer walk.

1 Peter 3:8-9 "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bitterness and Mourning

I literally could not fall asleep because I was thinking... mourning is a better word.  I was thinking about some losses in life over the past few years and experiencing the heartbreak of it all.  Yes, there has been some healing.  Yes, there have been some strides.  Yes, there has been some growth.  Yes, there has been some repentance.  And yet there is still pain.  There is still unresolved.  There is still distance. There is more enduring in love to do.  There is more prayerful waiting to do. There is more learning for me to do.  There is more repenting to do when my heart wanders into bitterness, which is something for which I need to be constantly on guard.  There are still effects--known and unknown--that need to be worked through.

I came downstairs to read and write, and I stumbled on my friend, Wendy's blog.  When I read the title, "What Bitterness Really Is," I was sure that God was going to use it to show me that the unease in my heart right now was due to my bitterness--that bitterness was the reason the effects of certain events still linger in my heart.  But actually, He spoke to me a different word.  While I undoubtedly do need to guard my wandering heart against the bitterness that creeps up in me, there is reason to mourn.  There is a difference between mourning and bitterness.  And it is okay to mourn. 

Perhaps the bridge between mourning and bitterness is pride--creating an "us" and "them"...thinking that we would never be capable of doing "such a thing", forgetting that we are also sinners in need of grace, and meditating on how our "rights" have been trampled by the one who has betrayed or abandoned us rather than laying down our rights out of love in service to another's good.  Humble mourning instead is motivated by love--feeling the pain of relationship interrupted and experiencing this pain because we love the God who is love and who loved us first, and accordingly, we love others. We were created to love and be loved and when sin causes separation, it ought to produce mourning. 

And I sit here, feeling the sting of a broken heart, I know my Savior feels that sting too and that He is at work--redeeming me and redeeming the others involved.  And that thought does bring me peace and is a salve to my broken heart.

Great Post from Paul Tripp on Relationships from Desiring God

God's Wisdom, Your Relationships

June 1, 2011
by: Paul Tripp

God’s Word really does open up to us the mysteries of the universe. It really does make us wiser than we could ever be without it. And yet, having said all this, it's sad that we don’t take more advantage of this wisdom God has given us. It's sad that we don’t think his thoughts after him, that we don’t require ourselves to look at life through the lens of his revelation. It's sad that we swindle ourselves into thinking that we are wiser than we are. We're not irritated by his foolishness, nor are we motivated to seek his help. One of the places you see this most clearly is in the struggles we experience in our relationships.
Why have I reminded you of all this? I encounter people everywhere I go who are discouraged and confused about their relationships. I want you to think about your own relationships and look at them through three perspectives derived from biblical wisdom. These mentalities are essential in creating and sustaining a healthy relational lifestyle.

1) You must live in your relationships with a harvest mentality.

Paul captures this mentality with these very familiar words: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). This is an essential mentality if you want to live with habits of reconciliation. You have to buy into the principle of consequences. Here it is: there is an organic relationship between the seeds you plant and the fruit you harvest. In the physical world you will never plant peach pits and get apples. In the same way, there will be organic consistency between the seeds of words and actions that you plant in your relationships and the quality of harvest that you will experience later as you live and relate to one another.
Every day you harvest relational plants that have come from the seeds of words and actions that you previously planted. And every day you plant seeds of words and actions that you will later harvest. Most of the seeds you plant will be small, but one thousand small seeds that grow up into trees will result in an environment-changing forest. Your relationships are continuously planted with little-moment seeds of words and actions grow into the forest of either love or trouble.
2) You must live in your relationships with an investment mentality.

We are all treasure hunters. We all live to gain, maintain, keep, and enjoy things that are valuable to us. Our behavior in any given situation of life is our attempt to get what is valuable to us out of that situation. There are things in your life that you have assigned importance to, and once you have, you are no longer willing to live without them (these principles are laid out in Matthew 6:19–33). Everyone does it. We live to possess and experience the things upon which we have set our hearts. We are always living for some kind of treasure.

Every treasure you set your heart on and actively seek will give you some kind of return. An argumentative moment is an investment in the treasure of being right, and from it you will get some kind of relational return. If you aggressively argue the other person into a corner, it is not likely that the return on that investment will be his or her appreciation for you, nor will it be the desire to have similar conversations again. If you invest in the treasure of willing service, you will experience the return of appreciation, respect, and a deeper friendship. If it is more valuable to have control than it is for your friend or spouse to feel heard, loved and understood, then you will live with the return of that in the quality of your relationship.

Investment is inescapable; you do it everyday, and it's hard to get away from the return on the investments you have made. Ask yourself,

What are the things that are valuable to me right now, the things I work to experience everyday and am unwilling to live without?

How is the return on those investments shaping my relationships?
3) You must live in your relationships with a grace mentality.

When I got married, I didn’t understand grace. I had a principle-istic view of Scripture that caused me to bring a law economy into all of my relationships. The central focus of the Bible is not a set of practical principles for life. No, the central theme of the Bible is a person, Jesus Christ. If all you and I had needed was a knowledge and understanding of a certain set of God-revealed principles for living, Jesus would not have needed to come.

I think there are many Christians living in Christless relationships. Without knowing what they have done, they have constructed law-based rather than grace-based relationships. And because of this they're asking the law to do what only grace can accomplish.
The problem with this is that we are not just people in need of wisdom; we are also people in need of rescue—and the thing that we need to be rescued from is us. Our fundamental problem is not ignorance of what is right. Our problem is selfishness of heart that causes us to care more about what we want than about what we know is right. The laws, principles, and perspectives of Scripture provide the best standard ever towards which our relationships should strive. They can reveal our wrongs and failures, but they have no capacity whatsoever to deliver us from them. For that we need the daily grace that only Jesus can give us.
So, we must not simply hold one another to the high relational standards of God’s Word, but we must also daily offer the same grace that we have been given to one another so that we may be tools of grace in the lives of one another. Our confidence is not in the ability we have to keep God’s law but rather in the life-giving and heart-transforming grace of the one who has drawn us to himself and has the power to draw us to one another. When we live with this confidence, we look at the difficulties of our relationships not so much as hassles to be endured, but as opportunities to enter into an even deeper experience of the rescuing, transforming, forgiving, empowering grace of Jesus, the one who died for us and is always with us.

Three mentalities—each an essential building block for a healthy biblical, relational lifestyle. Each require the honesty of personal humility, and each encourage us to be reconciled to one another and to God again and again, and again

Great Blog Post on Friendship by Kevin DeYoung

The Gift of Friendship and the Godliness of Good Friends (Part 1)

We talk a lot about relationships in the church. There are scores of marriage seminars, retreats, and conferences. There are video series and books for newlyweds and engaged couples. Most every church offers marital counseling and most every pastor preaches somewhat regularly on marriage. And the same is true for parenting. There are dozens of books on raising children. There are Sunday school classes, blog sites, and ministries that focus on the parenting relationship. All this is good.

But have you ever noticed we seldom study friendship? It is the most important-least talked about relationship in the church.

Think about your greatest joys in life. They probably center around your friends–the fun times hanging out, the great conversations, the laughter, the sharing, the pleasure of “clicking” (not cliquing!) with someone else or a group of people.

And now think of the most painful times in life. No doubt, sickness and tragedy are on the list. And yet, oftentimes these difficulties are made sweeter by the support of friends and family. But when friendship goes bad–when things get awkward or you feel like you are on the outside looking in–no amount of health and prosperity can fill the gap. Almost anything bad can be wonderful with friends, and almost anything good can be terrible without them.

The worst summer of my life was the summer I spent holed up in a cabin in the mountains of Colorado working on a national government textbook. For three months I worked 10 hours a day studying political science with a classmate and our college professor. We had no electricity (we charged our laptop batteries in town every day) and no indoor plumbing (we used an outhouse). But that wasn’t the main problem. I got used to the rustic lifestyle. The problem was the absence of friends. I was surrounded by amazing natural beauty, engaged in work that I liked fairly well, and allowed time every night and every weekend to read, run, or explore. But I was miserable because I felt all alone.

It’s surprising we don’t talk more about friendship in the church. Depending on how you define friendship, the Bible may have more to say about the friend relationship than it does about marriage and parenting. Further, I bet church “satisfaction” is largely based on two things. If you find happy churchgoers I wager you’ll find these two items present, and where church members are unhappy, I can almost guarantee these two things are missing: quality teaching and quality relationships. No doubt, there are many other important aspects of church life. But for most folks these are the two that matter most. People want a church that teaches them well (which includes sermons, songs, classes, and Bible studies) and a church where they can make friends.

I don’t know if making friends is harder than ever. In some ways, with travel and technology, it is easier than it used to be. But there are still a number of factors that mitigate against genuine friendship.

• We are extremely mobile, moving from place to place, rarely settling down in one spot for a long time.

• We are consumed by family life, pouring almost all our spare time into our children and what’s left over into our spouse.

• We are deceived by email and Facebook, imagining we have hundreds of spectacular relationships when actually we have lots of well-wishers and acquaintances and few flesh and blood friends.

• We are entranced by one-way relationships, expending emotional energy as we bond with our favorite sitcom actor, sports star, or American Idol contestant.

Friendship is wonderful, and we all want it. But friends can be hard to come by. This is nothing new. A true friend has always been one of God’s most sought after gifts. “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6). Thankfully, the book of Proverbs says a lot about friendship. It won’t help you find friends, at least not directly. But Proverbs will help you be a better friend. And the best friends usually have the best friends.

In particular, Proverbs invites us to ask three questions relative to friendship: Are you fake? Are you foul? Or are you faithful? We’ll look at these three questions over the next three days. Be a friend and read along.

The Gift of Friendship and the Godliness of Good Friends (Part 2)

Question 1: Are You a Fake Friend?

There is one defining characteristic of the phony friend in Proverbs: he uses people. The fake friend makes friends with people who can give him things. He establishes relationships solely for personal gain. In Proverbs this means money.

• “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend” (19:4).

• “The poor is disliked by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends” (14:20).

• “Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man’s brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them” (19:6-7).

It’s hard to tell if Proverbs is making a moral judgment on those who cozy up to the rich. Certainly, part of the point is simply to show the privilege of the rich versus the poor. But I think we are meant to see the recognize the fickleness of these friends. Faithful friends are hard to find (Prov. 20:6). Fake friends come in abundance, and they come for your stuff.

Fake friends use people. Money is the example in Proverbs, but there are other ways to use people. Some people get close to pastors or politicians or athletes because they want access, power, or popularity. Others may be so accustomed to soliciting favors for business or school or church affairs that they can no longer tell when their personal charm is genuine and when it’s an act. None of us are immune to the dangers of friendship fakery. It’s possible to plug a book, or speak at a conference, or rave about a blog, or feign chumminess with a Christian mover-and-shaker and all the while wonder if you are doing this to receive the same treatment.

A few years ago I read a book about Billy Graham and the presidents. What struck me most was how these powerful men welcomed Graham into their lives because he seemed like the only person who didn’t want anything from them. History shows they often wanted something from Graham, but he gave them the gift of friendship without manipulation. He was no fake friend.

If I ever get into the business of writing fortune cookies, this will be one of my first ones: “Beware the friend who passes out back-scratchers. He does not have your best interest at heart.”

The Gift of Friendship and the Godliness of Good Friends (Part 3)

Question 2: Are You a Foul Friend?

Let me suggest three traits.

First, a foul friend is quick to criticize. In my opinion, there are two kinds of people that have the hardest time making friends. One is the person wants to have friends so badly she can’t understand what it means to be a friend. These people are socially unaware. They don’t ask questions. They see the relationship as a one way street. Everything about them screams “I’m an empty vessel ready for you to pour your love and affirmation and curiosity into me.”

The other type that has a hard time making friends is the super critical person. These people have an opinion on everything and must verbalize that opinion to everyone (probably bloggers!). More than just offering their opinion, they rain down a relentless barrage of negativity. “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent” (Prov. 11:12).

A few weeks ago I was riding in a car with an older Christian man I’d never met before. I was struck by the bridle he put on his tongue. He would ask me a question and when he saw that we might not completely agree, he’d simply say, “I see you’ve thought about that. I don’t need to say anything more.” He asked good questions and kept his thoughts to himself sharing them would have served no constructive purpose. Bad friends share every thought, however critical, as a means of self-expression. They don’t think what their words are doing or whether they are necessary in this situation.

Consequently, the foul friend gets into conflict that could have been avoided. “Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm” (Prov. 3:29-30). It’s all too easy to ruin friendships because we had a bad day. It’s just as easy to get into a senseless argument because of our own jealousy, insensitivity, or hypersensitivity. Foul friends are quick to criticize.

Second, a foul friend is annoying. We’re not talking personality or temperament. Some people rub us the wrong way. Fine. But other people are just plain rude. Rude, annoying people aren’t aware of, or don’t care about, social customs and cultural norms. This may seem like an innocent quirk, but the Bible calls it sin (1 Cor. 13:5).

Proverbs gives two concrete examples of annoyingness in action.

1) Being obnoxious. “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing” (Prov. 27:14). Got it? Don’t be the life of the party when you wake up. (Kids, this applies to you too.)

2) Not knowing your place. “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you” (Prov. 25:17). If you’re the sort of friend who comes over unannounced, never says please or thank you, always expects people to wait on you, and has no recognition of your role as a guest, then you’re not the sort of friend people are looking for.

Third, a foul friend can’t be trusted. This may mean you’re a blatant liar (Prov. 23:10-11; 25:18). But duplicity can be more subtle. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give’–when you have it with you” (Prov. 3:27-28). Foul friends don’t keep their end of the bargain. They don’t return favors. They don’t give back what they borrow. They are slow to help and quick to look for ways to avoid being put upon. You can’t trust them to keep their word.

Along the same lines, they are careless with their words. “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking’” (Prov. 26:18-19). Words hurt after you launch them, no matter what you say your intention was. So be careful. If you don’t care about the effect of your words, people won’t trust you. And if you can’t be trusted you won’t be a very good friend.

The Gift of Friendship and the Godliness of Good Friends (Part 4)

Question Three: Are You a Faithful Friend

Yesterday, I gave three characteristics of a foul friend. Today I conclude the four part series with three characteristics of faithful friend.

First, a faithful friend is there in times of trouble. “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of a calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away” (Prov. 27:10). Given how important family is in the Old Testament, it is surprising that Proverbs would say don’t go to your brother’s house. The thought seems to be, “Don’t overlook your friends. They will be there for you every bit as much as your family will.” Contacts are good. Networking can be valuable. Having a plethora of acquaintances and well-wishers is nice. Racking up friends on Facebook is fine. But real friendship is proven in adversity (Prov. 17:17).

Fake friends go away when you’re in trouble. Faithful friends get better when times get harder. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). The next time you are in the midst of suffering and ask God, “What possible reason can there be for this trial?” consider one thing he may be up to is making your friendships sweeter and stronger.

Second, a faithful friend knows how to handle conflict. He doesn’t hold grudges. He doesn’t keep an open file in his brain marked “ways you’ve hurt me.” Keeping a long, detailed record of wrongs is like building friendships with a revolver under your coat. It’s no way to make friends, or keep them. “Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips. Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done’” (Prov. 24:28-29). Faithful friends never seek revenge. They are eager to overlook faults and quick to forgive. “The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes” (Prov. 21:10).

Part of handling conflict well is being slow to speak of your friends’ faults to others. “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Prov. 17:9). Good friends speak to someone, not around him. It’s amazing how many people we will talk when we have a personal conflict, but we avoid talking to the person with whom we have the conflict. It’s like driving in a round-about and never getting off (“Big Ben…Parliament”). Proverbs is right: “Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you brings shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end” (Prov. 25:9-10).

Third, faithful friends make each other better. “A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good” (Prov. 16:29). This is not the way of a good friend. We’ve probably all had those friends that make us feel nobler and purer, and those friends that make you feel a little dirty and out of sorts. Bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33). Your strongest relationships should be with those who lead you to Christ, not with those who draw you away. This is especially true when you are young or when you are outnumbered. Your deepest friendships should be gospel friendships.

Faithful friends help each other with their words. “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Prov. 27:9). The writer mentions two precious things in this proverb, oil and perfume, but neither are as precious as a wise friend. Go to your friends with your toughest predicaments and darkest secrets. Talk to them about sex and money and all the things we keep hidden. Get their advice before buying a house or taking a new job or getting married. The best friends combine their IQ’s and get smarter as a result.

We all know the proverb: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). It’s a great word picture. Ask yourself: am I sponge that never hurts anyone, but never helps much either? Am I a sword that cuts to the quick but also destroys? Or am I a stone, the kind of friend upon which others can be sharpened, made better and more mature? Faithful friends make better stones than sponges or swords.

Jesus Is a Friend

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this series by point us to the One to whom all Scripture points. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That means the greatest friend is the one who laid down the most for his friends. No question who this is.

To be sure, Jesus is more than a friend, but not less. He is the Divine Friend better than any other. He is never a fake friend, but always seeks our best. Neither is he a foul friend. He is slow to anger instead of quick to criticize. He is thoughtful and tender instead of annoying. He’s always trustworthy and never lets us down. Best of all, Jesus is a faithful friend. He not only sympathizes and comforts you in trouble, he delivers you from your greatest trouble, which is sin. Not only does he speak the truth and handle conflict, he made peace through his blood when were at enmity with him. And he doesn’t just make us better, he makes us new. What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to him in prayer.