The act of writing, of sharing the circumstances, the gifts and the graces planned and carried out by my Savior and God brings joy, peace, and contentment to know that He has my life in His hands. My prayer for those who read, who share in what I continue to learn each day, many times through my weakness, is that you will be encouraged to look for God's presence and grace in your life also.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Proverbs on Friends and Neighbors

[The following is a lecture I prepared to give at our Women's Bible Study today but was canceled due to a snowstorm.  I pray that you will find it encouraging and helpful.]

 —Neighbors and friends—friends and neighbors—They are certainly a big part of our lives.

  God is relational and since we are created in His image we are also relational.  We want to have friends, we want to have neighbors to live beside us and go through life with us.  We need people around us give us support, encouragement, love, a listening ear and value.  And in turn we grow as we help others.   

—We have all heard and probably given advice about how to deal with our friends and neighbors.  Many books have been written to help us not only deal with neighbors and friends but also how to be a good neighbor and friend.  Some of the best times of our lives have revolved around time spent with good friends and good neighbors while some of the worst times of our lives were a result of our relationships with friends and neighbors falling apart because of either our actions or theirs.

This book of wisdom, Proverbs, gives us wisdom concerning friends and neighbors—a wisdom that is based in the “fear of the LORD” and that is played out in covenant life—the practical details of everyday situations and relationships.

I’m sure many of you had times growing up when you didn’t feel you had a friend.  Maybe you had had a best friend and they moved away but there was no one left to be your friend.  With tears running down your face, you heard your mother say, “In order to have a friend, you have to be a friend.”  That actually came from a man named Elbert Hubbard, but really was a retelling of Proverbs 18:24 in the King James Bible:

A man that has friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother”.

As women, one thing we all would like is a close, trustworthy, faithful friend.  Spouses are great but a best friend, a bosom buddy, a kindred spirit like Ann had in Diana in Ann of Green Gables is something we all desire. 

 The wisdom we looked at this week in Proverbs pretty much sums up why that is:
       We were reminded that a true friend.....
            —loves at all times
            — sticks closer than a brother
            —goes with us to the ends of earth to take care of us just like Ruth did for Naomi
            —picks us up when we are down after all two are better than one
            —isn’t ashamed of us and if we get kidnapped or thrown in prison like Paul did
            —and speaks truth into my life so that I am a better person. 
Because she is a true friend, she will give good counsel, she will actually wound me if it is for my good, and she will listen to my rebuke to her and not be hurt knowing my counsel comes from my love for her.

Years ago, probably 40 years ago, there was a woman, Marlas, in the church we went to.  Her calling in life was to share the Gospel with everyone she came in contact with, but when it came to working in the kitchen during pot-luck dinners, funerals, banquets she always disappeared.  She was always coming up with ways we could have these dinners so we could minister to more people but she never helped.  One day she and I were in the basement and she was asking me to plan yet another "meal."  In my head, I wanted to scream, "You do it this time."  But instead I firmly said something to the effect of, "Marlas, it is time that you started helping in the kitchen when we have these dinners.  You don't even know how to find the dishes we use."  If someone had said that to me, I would have been hurt but what I saw happen was that she took my "advice" and applied it.  From then on she was right there helping us work.  My admiration and respect for her only grew after that. 
Various proverbs go on to say that the qualities I should expect from a friend include being:
            —one who would never share bad things about me to others behind my back
            —one who would overlook my faults and just love me
            —one who would give me the benefit of the doubt when it seems like I am offending her because she loves me and knows I wouldn’t do that intentionally
            —one who would understand that when it seems like I want to fight or start an argument, there are circumstances beyond my control—like PMS, menopause, the bills, something my husband or kids said to push me over the edge.  A friend stays calm, quiet and loves me because she understands me and knows me well.

We all know what we want in a friend, but true friends, stick-closer than a brother types, are hard to come by.  I have no doubt that many of you would love a friend like that. I would like a friend like that. So the question for each of is:
      "Am I that kind of friend?"  
      "Am I willing to do what it takes to be that kind of a friend to someone else?"

From life’s experience…..I know that close, trusted friends are few and far between.  I read somewhere that we should feel fortunate indeed if we have one such friend in our lifetime.  If we have had more than three in a lifetime, we should feel blessed. In our culture the shortage of close trusted friends is probably due to time.  It takes time, a lot of it, to really grow, to nurture a deep friendship. And it also takes selflessness to be a friend and with the emphasis today on “me” and “my” needs, many can’t see beyond themselves to the hurts and needs of another.  Friendship must be a giving relationship.  It has to be about what can I do to encourage you, help you, ease your pain, hurts and aches—and a lot of times that means we need to be listening not talking.

We live in a culture, a country where we know many people. Just look at FB.  I mean how many friends do some of us have on FB?  I have a lot—over 600 and I know people who have even more.  My friends include classmates and friends from high school and college, church friends from the last 45 years, 160 students from 17 years of teaching, and other people I’ve met in various work and social situations.  When I speak at retreats, I usually gain a few more “friends."

I call them friends but to be honest there are only a few I know well. Some of them could be really close friends if we lived closer but we don’t or if there were more time we could be closer.

Aristotle said “He who hath many friends hath none.”  Today, I’m afraid here in the US most of us have many friends but no close friend who can speak truth in our lives.

The example we looked at in our study of Jonathan and David is one of real friendship—a deep solid love for each other that meant they would die for each other if necessary. Friendship that is a commitment, a life-long commitment. A determination to love through thick and thin.

—Solomon knew the importance of choosing friends wisely.  He said we should be
—staying away from fools, slanderers,  men given to anger, drunkards or gluttons 
—being friends with people like this could bring all kinds of trouble on our heads
—even Jesus prayed before He chose his friends which is good advice for us too

For those of you who are without a really close friend today and would really like one----the kind that sticks closer than a brother/sister, I suggest that you pray that God shows you someone who has qualities to be a good friend and then work hard to make them your friend.  Let me share two stories as examples.

            During summer school when I was in college at Greeley, I was in a dorm room that had suite-mates.  There were two rooms that shared a sink between the rooms.  In the other room was a girl, Pam Williams, who was absolutely beautiful.  She was tall, had dark hair.  She was athletic and so on.  Everything I wasn't and in my mind I checked her off as someone who wouldn't have the time of day for me and wouldn't like me.  So I just stayed away from her.  One day we both happened to be at the dorm at the same time without the other gals and Pam knocked on the wall as she came in my room.  Sitting on the bed, looking me straight in the eye, she said, "Darnly, why don't you like me?"  Wow, that was tough.  I mean I liked everyone and I liked her too but because of my behavior she got a different message.  I have no idea what I said, I'm sure I didn't tell her the truth but I quit ignoring her and we became very good friends and have stayed in touch for over 40 years.  I actually spent this last weekend with her at a conference in Reno and we had a wonderful time talking.

            Then there is my sister, Roxana.  Several years ago she met a woman in a work situation.  A woman (we will call her Ann)  that my sister checked off as not qualified to be a friend for various reasons.  But Ann wouldn't give up.  She needed a good friend, a strong friend and she knew my sister would be that kind of person.  So she started calling just to talk.  She invited Roxana out for lunch and even though she had to ask over and over and over because Roxana said "no" for weeks.  Ann did not give up and today she and my sister are very good friends.  Stick with it!!
And then we come to neighbors—Probably one of the most repeated quotations in the world is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  This is actually a rephrasing of several verses in the Bible including:
Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
And that verse pretty much applies to what Proverb says about neighbors and friends.  As children of the covenant we won’t go wrong if we do for others as we want them to do for us.

Most of the verses we looked at this week—verses that talked about how a neighbor acts—proved this point:
            —We like neighbors who treat us well.
            —We would like good from our neighbors.
            —We don’t want our neighbors to plot evil against us.
            —We would like our neighbors to be generous, especially if we have needs.
            —We really don’t want our neighbors in our house all the time….
After all as Benjamin Franklin said, “Fish and visitors stink in 3 days.”  He really was a wise man.  He also said, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half-shut afterward.”
—We also don’t like people who are constantly playing practical jokes on us just
            to see our reactions.
—And that loud lawn mower, or saw, or party, or screaming match doesn’t endear us to
our neighbors when they have no regard for quiet so we can sleep.

We all know exactly what kind of neighbor we would like.  It is too bad there isn’t a law that says the people who live next door to a house up for sale or rent, get to interview the prospective buyers or renters BEFORE they move in.  That might end a lot of problems before they ever begin.

Of course we won’t always have neighbors who act like we would like them to BUT we can certainly be the kind of neighbor Proverbs talks about.  The kind of neighbor who blesses others, who respects others and their property, their family, their space.  We can be kind, compassionate neighbors who really try to do the best we can for others, Christian or not.  And who knows, if we treat them with love and compassion what work God can do in them to bring more souls into the kingdom.

The problem is  we live in a culture, especially in cities, where we don’t know our neighbors.  It is an easy thing to move into a house or an apartment, live there for a few years and never really get to know the people living around us.
That is a sad thing especially when Christ told his disciples at least 4 times that the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind and soul."  But the second was just as great and that is to “Love your neighbor as yourselves.”  We can’t do that if we don’t know them.

—That is quite a statement…..no a command.  "Love my neighbor as myself. " Sacrifice for them as I do for myself.  Make sure their needs are met as mine are met.  Love them…..do the very best I can for them because I love them…….and think of them before I think of myself. I will admit after reading some of the “worst neighbor” stories online that it might be easier to love some  neighbors IF I DON”T know them.

So why don’t we love our neighbors, really love our neighbors.  I mean I’m nice to my neighbors, I talk to them if they happen to be outside….well I at least mention something about the weather.  But why don’t I spend some of my time, energy, resources to get to know them.  Why do we wait for them to make the first move?  I do want to add here that I know some of you do know your neighbors well.  You have reached out and are loving them as you love yourself.  I praise God for you.

For the rest of us we have excuses…..dozens of them
            —I don’t have time or they don’t have time.
            —they have more than I do.  What could I possibly do for them that they can’t do?
            —some of you might even think that it isn’t worth it to reach out because you will only be here in Colorado Springs for a short while before you are transferred.  It is hard to get to know people and then leave them behind.
            —Some of us worry about what they will think…..will they think I’m crazy.  I mean they probably won’t eat the bread or cookies because they think I poisoned it.
            —But we do need to reach out to our neighbors.  We do need to get to know them.

A big question in all of this is just who are our neighbors?  Is it just those who live next door or on our block?  It is interesting that Jesus actually answered this question while he was here.  It would be good if we looked at this story—we can learn who our neighbors are.
Luke 7:25-32  [Click to read text]
What a story of compassion and mercy.  We all admire this good Samaritan because of what he did for this poor man on the Jericho road who was at the point of death.

First let’s talk about the characters in the story:
We have the Jewish man going from Jerusalem to Jericho.  The road, still visible today, included long stretches of rocky terrain that made it a useful base of operation for robbers. It was actually 18 miles long and descended down 3,200 feet.  For you mountain climbers that is quite a descent. The man had been attacked by robbers leaving him half-dead.

Next we have a priest and a Levite also going down the road—both men whose occupation was to help others, especially other Jews—I mean that was one of their duties.  They both passed by on the other side unwilling to stop and help him.  This probably had something to do with the possibility of the robbers still being close by waiting to rob anyone who stopped to help.  They would be facing danger if they helped. I’m afraid for many of us, perceived safety issues keeps us from helping the most needy among us—those that live in drug infested neighborhoods or neighborhoods with gangs and drive-by shootings.  Or how about working with those who have AIDS.  Or even going to third-world countries can be dangerous—there are diseases, bad water, drug lords, deadly bugs and snakes.

But in this story Jesus told, we have a Samaritan walking down the road to Jericho who saw the injured man and  had compassion on him.  One thing we need to understand is that it would have been unthinkable then for a Samaritan to help a Jew or a Jew to help a Samaritan.  Jews thought Samaritans were nothing more than dogs and the Samaritans hated Jews just as much.  And yet this despised Samaritan  man stops and helps someone who was really considered his enemy.  He even sacrifices his own money and possessions as he binds the wounds, pouring on his own oil and wine to dress his wounds.  He took the Jew to an inn and cared for him all night.  The next day he gave money, his own, to the inn keeper saying he would be back and pay for any other bills that were yet to be incurred to take care of him.  Sacrifice of his own goods, property, time, energy to do for someone who he knew he hated him.  I couldn’t help but think: I wonder when the Jewish man realized who had helped him, who had saved him possibly from death, who had done all of this for him, I wonder if he felt differently about Samaritans.

And why did Jesus tell this story?  Because a lawyer was trying to justify himself to Jesus that he had indeed fulfilled what was written in the Law— “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and will all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 
Jesus told him he had answered correctly but he was to go and love his neighbor as himself….then he would live.
But the Lawyer, knowing He had not, asked another question, “Who is my neighbor?” and thus we have the story.
So based on this story, WHO indeed is our neighbor?  The pretty, nice, hardworking neighbor who believes like I do?  Or what about the old widower, who rides a really old Harley, wears earrings and runs around without a shirt on and loves to talk because he is lonely? Or what about the Muslims in our city, our country, or the drug addicts, or the atheists, or the liberals.  Or what about the children in our city, our country, our world who are unloved, hungry, hurting with no hope.

The point Jesus is making here is that we need to show care and compassion to those with whom we would not normally have any relationship.  It is good to help our friends, those in our communities, those in our families but Christ asks even more from us…we are to love our neighbors, yes even our enemies.

 Luke 6:27-36: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, love those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.  Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

You loved us when we were your enemies, sinners in total opposition to you and your holiness.
     We were wretched, dirty, unlovable.
            We were hopeless with no one to save us.
            Yet because of your steadfast love and faithfulness You sent your only Son to redeem us from the penalty of our sin—sin that should have separated us from You forever.
            Father, help us to be a friend like You have been our friend with acceptance, forgiveness and steadfast love. 
            —Just as you brought hope to us, help us to bring hope to the hopeless.
            —Just as you sacrificed the thing most precious to you for us, help us to sacrificially give to others.
            —Just as you loved us when we were unlovable, help us to love the unlovable.
Help us with your power to be kind to the ungrateful and evil.  
Help us to show mercy as you showed us mercy.   
Show us how to be a true friend and a kind, compassionate neighbor to those you bring our way.
In the name of Jesus, our unfailing friend, 

[You might also find this previous post "Love your Neighbors" helpful.] 
[Ann Voskamp also wrote her blog on the same topic today....go to 4 Ways to be a Better Friend.


  1. Darnly, I really appreciated reading this, and I'm sorry that we will never hear you give this talk! I tried to "hear" you as I read. This is a terrific lecture for this lesson on friends. Thank you so much for posting it!
    Elaine V.

    1. Thank you Elaine. God knows and I'm glad there is this avenue now to make lectures like this available to read. I know it was a great one for me to prepare....thanks for your comments.