Day 174

Three Keys to Great Friendships

Wisdom Psalm 77:10-20
New Testament Acts 15:22-41
Old Testament 1 Kings 11:14-12:24

Introduction

A leading UK retail chain commissioned a survey by a team of psychologists into their key customer demographic: Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996, and also known as Generation Y). They interviewed 800 people. The results were so startling that they did not believe them. They interviewed another 800 and got the same results.

The results portrayed an alarming picture of an increasingly lonely and lost generation. More people live alone than at any other point in our recorded social history. On average, Millennials spend six-and-a-half hours a day on social media. Many who were interviewed considered work to be something they fitted in between social media and lunch! They found people had a very large number of ‘friends’ but an increasing sense of loneliness.

There is nothing wrong with social media, but it is no substitute for real, face-to-face friendships. We were created for friendship with God (Genesis 3:8) and with one another (2:18).

Marriage is part of the solution to aloneness. Friendship, vital also in marriage, is a crucial part of the solution too. Jesus set an example of close friendship with men and women. He demonstrated that marriage is not the only solution to aloneness. In one respect, friendship is even more important than marriage. Marriage is for this life only; friendship is eternal. ‘Friendship’, as C.S. Lewis writes, is the ‘crown of life and school of virtue’. Friendship multiplies joy and divides sorrow.

The Bible is very realistic. We see examples of relationships at their very best, but we also see examples of their frailty and failure. Through these examples and the teaching of the Bible we see three keys.

Wisdom

Psalm 77:10-20

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
  the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
  yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
  and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
  What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
  you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
  the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

16 The waters saw you, God,
  the waters saw you and writhed;
  the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
  the heavens resounded with thunder;
  your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
  your lightning lit up the world;
  the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
  your way through the mighty waters,
  though your footprints were not seen.

20 You led your people like a flock
  by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Commentary

Value partnerships

Mother Teresa said, ‘What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.’

We saw yesterday how the psalmist, in his distress, cried out to God. In the second half of the psalm, he recalls some of the amazing and mighty ways in which God has acted in the past (vv.11–12).

In particular, he looks back to God’s great deliverance of his people in the Exodus. He prays, ‘You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples’ (v.14). He meditates on the parting of the Red Sea (vv.16–19) and concludes, ‘You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron’ (v.20).

Moses and Aaron’ were the human partnership involved in this great work of God. It is one of the greatest success stories in the history of the people of God.

It came about because they were involved in a cause greater than themselves. They were looking outward in the same direction. Despite being brothers, they had very different skills and roles. While Moses was the leader, Aaron was responsible for the communications (Exodus 7:1–2) and for leading the people in worship (28:1).

We need good partnerships today. There are good reasons why Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. Ministry can be very lonely. Going out in pairs can make all the difference. This is how some of the greatest friendships are formed.

Prayer

Lord, I pray today that you will raise up good partnerships in our local church and the church worldwide. May there be many who, like Moses and Aaron, complement one another and see you achieve great things through them.

New Testament

Acts 15:22-41

The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:

The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Farewell.

30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. \[34\] 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas

36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Commentary

Guard friendships

From the very beginning of the Christian church we see examples of friends working together in partnership. Paul and Barnabas were partners in the gospel (v.22). They were sent out together to take the message of the council of Jerusalem to the Gentiles (v.23).

They are described as ‘our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v.26).

They were accompanied by another partnership – two other leaders, Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas (v.22). Judas and Silas were prophets who ‘said much to encourage and strengthen the believers’ (v.32). Again, it is a good thing for prophets not to operate in isolation, but to work together in partnership with others.

All this is good. But as we read on, we see that division, even in the early church, was not only over doctrine (v.2), but also over personal relationships (v.39). As Sandy Millar often says, ‘The calling is divine; but the relationships are human!’ Paul and Barnabas fell out (vv.36–38). They had a ‘sharp disagreement’ and as a result they ‘parted company’ (v.39). They ended up going their separate ways.

In the providence of God, it all worked out well in the end. Barnabas found a new partner in Mark, who was his cousin. (See Colossians 4:10.) Paul found a new partner in Silas and ‘went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches’ (Acts 15:41). It may be that Paul and Barnabas were later reconciled (see 1 Corinthians 9:6).

The reality is that sometimes even Christian partnerships struggle and fail. God can bring hope into these situations: it is not the end of the world if Christians fall out and go their separate ways. This passage shows that their disagreement did not lead to the removal of God’s blessing from them.

However, as John Stott points out, ‘this example of God’s providence should not be used as an excuse for Christian quarrelling’. We should always do our best to resolve our differences and avoid such painful parting of company.

Guard your friendships. When there is a fallout, always seek reconciliation and remember that, as Martin Luther King said, ‘Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.’

Prayer

Father, thank you for the inspiring example of Paul and Barnabas who risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to resolve our differences and avoid, whenever possible, painful partings of company.

Old Testament

1 Kings 11:14-12:24

Solomon’s Adversaries

14 Then the Lord raised up against Solomon an adversary, Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom. 15 Earlier when David was fighting with Edom, Joab the commander of the army, who had gone up to bury the dead, had struck down all the men in Edom. 16 Joab and all the Israelites stayed there for six months, until they had destroyed all the men in Edom. 17 But Hadad, still only a boy, fled to Egypt with some Edomite officials who had served his father. 18 They set out from Midian and went to Paran. Then taking people from Paran with them, they went to Egypt, to Pharaoh king of Egypt, who gave Hadad a house and land and provided him with food.

19 Pharaoh was so pleased with Hadad that he gave him a sister of his own wife, Queen Tahpenes, in marriage. 20 The sister of Tahpenes bore him a son named Genubath, whom Tahpenes brought up in the royal palace. There Genubath lived with Pharaoh’s own children.

21 While he was in Egypt, Hadad heard that David rested with his ancestors and that Joab the commander of the army was also dead. Then Hadad said to Pharaoh, “Let me go, that I may return to my own country.”

22 “What have you lacked here that you want to go back to your own country?” Pharaoh asked.

“Nothing,” Hadad replied, “but do let me go!”

23 And God raised up against Solomon another adversary, Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, Hadadezer king of Zobah. 24 When David destroyed Zobah’s army, Rezon gathered a band of men around him and became their leader; they went to Damascus, where they settled and took control. 25 Rezon was Israel’s adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad. So Rezon ruled in Aram and was hostile toward Israel.

Jeroboam Rebels Against Solomon

26 Also, Jeroboam son of Nebat rebelled against the king. He was one of Solomon’s officials, an Ephraimite from Zeredah, and his mother was a widow named Zeruah.

27 Here is the account of how he rebelled against the king: Solomon had built the terraces and had filled in the gap in the wall of the city of David his father. 28 Now Jeroboam was a man of standing, and when Solomon saw how well the young man did his work, he put him in charge of the whole labor force of the tribes of Joseph.

29 About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, 30 and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. 32 But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe. 33 I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.

34 “‘But I will not take the whole kingdom out of Solomon’s hand; I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of David my servant, whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees. 35 I will take the kingdom from his son’s hands and give you ten tribes. 36 I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. 37 However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. 38 If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. 39 I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.’”

40 Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt, to Shishak the king, and stayed there until Solomon’s death.

Solomon’s Death

41 As for the other events of Solomon’s reign—all he did and the wisdom he displayed—are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon? 42 Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years. 43 Then he rested with his ancestors and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son succeeded him as king.

Israel Rebels Against Rehoboam

12Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone there to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard this (he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), he returned from Egypt. 3 So they sent for Jeroboam, and he and the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: 4 “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

5 Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.

6 Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.

7 They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

8 But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 9 He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”

10 The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’”

12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, “Come back to me in three days.” 13 The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, 14 he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the Lord, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.

16 When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:

 “What share do we have in David,
  what part in Jesse’s son?
 To your tents, Israel!
  Look after your own house, David!”

So the Israelites went home. 17 But as for the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah, Rehoboam still ruled over them.

18 King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, but all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam, however, managed to get into his chariot and escape to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

20 When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

21 When Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem, he mustered all Judah and the tribe of Benjamin—a hundred and eighty thousand able young men—to go to war against Israel and to regain the kingdom for Rehoboam son of Solomon.

22 But this word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: 23 “Say to Rehoboam son of Solomon king of Judah, to all Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 24 ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.’” So they obeyed the word of the Lord and went home again, as the Lord had ordered.

Commentary

Prioritise loyalty

In this passage, we see human relationships at their worst. Solomon began to reap what he had sown. He had sown disloyalty to God and now he began to reap disloyalty all over the place. The first adversary was Hadad (11:14). The second was Rezon (v.23), ‘the leader of a band of rebels’ (v.24).

Next, Jeroboam rebelled against the king (v.26). He was one of Solomon’s officials, ‘a man of standing’, whom Solomon had put ‘in charge of the whole labour force of the house of Joseph’ (v.28). Solomon ends his life surrounded by adversaries and trying to kill Jeroboam (v.40).

Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, inherited a mess. He did not deal wisely with his opponents. He failed to listen. He ‘turned a deaf ear to the people’ (12:15, MSG). They realised that he ‘hadn’t listened to a word they’d said’ (v.16, MSG).

He rejected the advice that the elders gave him. As a result, most of Israel rallied around Jeroboam. ‘Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David’ (v.20). Yet again, war broke out (v.21). The result is a divided kingdom – but even that is not the end of the problems. God promised Jeroboam amazing blessings: ‘if you walk in obedience to me’ (11:38). Tragically (as we will see over the next few days) Jeroboam did not – and the results were disastrous.

This episode in the history of the people of God is a story of disloyalty to God, disloyalty to the king, rebellion and infighting. It is not how things are meant to be. You are called to love, unity and loyalty. Your loyalty should be a reflection of God’s loyalty to you.

If you sow disloyalty, you will reap disloyalty. If you sow loyalty, you will reap loyalty. You show loyalty by your actions and your words. Be loyal to those who are not present. In doing so, you will build the trust of those who are present.

However disloyal we are, God remains faithful to his promises. He remembers his covenant with David (see 2 Samuel 7), and does not completely reject the people (1 Kings 11:32,34,36). Although he disciplines us – ‘I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not for ever’ (v.39) – his discipline is temporary, his loyalty is eternal. ‘God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness’ (Hebrews 12:10).

God’s commitment and loyalty to you is such that nothing will be able to separate you ‘from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39).

This is not a reason to be complacent, but it is a motive to delight again at God’s grace, and to give yourself to wholehearted worship. You can choose again to respond to God’s call on your life – ‘walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes’ (1 Kings 11:38).

Prayer

Lord, please pour out your Spirit of love, unity and loyalty on the church. Help us to work together in partnership with one another. Guard our friendships, protect our partnerships and give us wisdom in dealing with our adversaries.

Pippa adds

Acts 15:37–39

It is very nice when people stand up for you. Barnabas stood up for Mark and gave him a second chance. Is there someone for whom you could put in a good word today?

Verse of the Day

Psalm 77:14

‘You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples’.
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References

C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (William Collins, 2012).

John Stott, The Message of Acts (IVP, 1991).

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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