Born for Adversity
Series: The Wisdom of Friendship
“Born For Adversity”
Text: Proverbs 17:17 // Series: The Wisdom of Friendship
Message @ JRCC – Sunday, Sept 26, 2010
Good morning, friends. Welcome here to Jericho Ridge’s Sunday morning gathering. I’m going to invite you to come back in and grab your seats and we’ll continue with our teaching time here this morning as we look into God’s Word. Well, if you’re new or visiting with us this morning, a special welcome to you. This September thru Thanksgiving, we’re doing a 5 part series called The Wisdom of Friendship which is rooted in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament – that’s the section in the middle of your Bible where the really old but really smart guys wrote stuff down.
So just a quick recap of where we’ve come from…
- Sept 10th – The ‘WHY’ of Friendships
– God created us for community
– “Two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12)
And we ate a LOT of licorice and had some fun playing board games with the purpose of getting to know one another. Then, last week,
- Sept 19th – The ‘HOW’ of Friendships. Pastor Keith reminded us
– Friendship develops when common interests and goals are found and time is invested. We talked about some guys with impossible to pronounce names and how they served together which forged a bond of friendship
– “Tychicus… is a beloved brother and faithful helper who serves with me in the Lord’s work” (Colossians 4:7)
- Today… The ‘WHAT’ of Friendships
What do friends do and not do? And we’re going to define our terms a bit more clearly from the book of Proverbs as we understand that a genuine friend is “Born for Adversity”. Let’s pray as we look into God’s Word.
To help us understand one of the core purposes that God has given us friends in our lives I want to walk us through the book of Proverbs. And here we see that one of the reasons God has given us friends is so that they can be a robust and very real support system for the times not if, but when, my life gets challenging. Proverbs 18:24 sets the stage for us here by describing the 3 groups of people in our lives (which facebook puts all into one category)
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24 NIV)
In the original language that the Old Testament was written in, Hebrew, this is a very difficult verse. And so various English translations go in different directions with it – some of you may have an NASB which says “a person with too many friends comes to ruin” which sounds a bit odd to us, especially those who are raving extroverts. How could a person have too many friends? What is the wisdom of friendship that this text is driving at? Well, it might help to draw out what it seems that this text is articulating. And that is that there are 3 spheres of connection that most of us have in our lives. Most of us have the acquaintance sphere (the NIV uses the term
‘companions’). There are people we know in passing – from work, from our neighbourhood, from our kids’ schools, from being in one class with them, from church. And for some people, this is a very large sphere.
But there’s a second sphere of people that this text highlights – friends. For most of us, this has some level of overlap with circle #1, which varies depending on how many friends you think that you need or have. This middle circle is the real deal… The text says that these people have the capacity to stick with you even closer, in some cases, than the third sphere, which is the family sphere. Now, the text is not downplaying or minimizing family… it is simply stating a real-world scenario that would apply today for many of us. And that is that for some of us, our families are either geographically or relationally distant and so this middle circle becomes vitally important. Let me sketch out a few possibilities to illustrate
So what I want you to do is take a minute in your momentum journal or on your iphone or Info Sheet to sketch out your relational world… What does the acquaintance circle look like? The Friend circle? The family one? Where do they overlap? And I want to make a simple observation… This diagram might help explain why some of you hate coming to church. It’s not that I can’t hum, as Pastor Keith rightly pointed out last weekend, it’s not that theology bores you. It’s a circle question… Some of you are wired up to only need a very small acquaintance and friend circle and when you come into a room with 150 or 250 other people, it makes you deeply uncomfortable because the usually understood convention is that the A and F circles are ballooning beyond your usual comport levels or capacity. What you might want to consider is defining and defending your terminology… And could we help you by releasing you from the pressure this morning of feeling that we as a leadership team are asking you to be best friends with everyone here at JRCC? It isn’t reasonable or realistic. As Pastor Keith said last weekend, it’s not the job of the pastoral team to set you up on play dates – either on Sunday mornings or at other times. What we are concerned about is that you have friends who will sharpen you spiritually and, as these texts indicate, will walk with you when adversity strikes.
Because each of these spheres plays a different role in your life. Take, as another example, Proverbs 17:10… which describes this from another angle… Power of Proximity “Never abandon a friend— either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance.
It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away.” Proverbs 27:10
Again, Proverbs is not knocking family, it’s simply stating that friends are born for adversity. And in this case, a particular type of friend – one that lives close by. Whom you see regularly. The verse is asking the question When trouble comes knocking, whose door do you run to? And this might also help to answer the purpose and place of Sunday mornings versus small groups… When people see you regularly and have opportunity to inquire “how’s it going – really” and there’s more than 10 minutes to say “not so good these days”… that’s the power of proximity. But you have to choose to place yourself in those situations. Otherwise, you’ll be left relying on a circle for support – either the family or acquaintance one – that isn’t designed well to do what you need them to do. Does that make sense?
In my own experience, I can remember reading Proverbs 17:17 and completely misunderstanding this point… In the NIV, it reads:
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Now, my only brother is 6 years younger than me. I can remember reading this verse growing up and thinking that finally someone in the Bible knew what they were talking about! It was as if this verse peered right through the centuries and spoke to my situation – I was finally vindicated because the Bible said that my brother and I were destined to spend our lives fighting. He was, after all, born for adversity. My friends? They loved me at all times. My brother, he was born to bring me adversity. But unfortunately, if you read the text accurately, you come to a different con conclusion. Look at how it reads in the New Living Translation…
A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need
The wisdom of friendship expressed here in that adversity helps to clarify which circle will support me in which way. We may think that someone is in the acquaintance circle, but when push comes to shove and we need help with life, they step up and it turns out they love us deeply and are willing to stand with us in unexpected and God-honoring ways. It may turn out the opposite – that those whom you thought were friends simply post a nice platitude on your wall on facebook because they’re too busy with their own lives to demonstrate covenantal loyalty and support.
This was certainly the case with Job, another part of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. We don’t have time to read all of Job’s story but it’s worth the effort. Because the Bible says that Job was an incredibly rich man. He was rich in monetary and business terms, rich in relationships with family and friends. But then tragedy strikes him. He is reduced to poverty and all of his family die in a tragic accident. And then he gets sick so that he doesn’t even have his health. So in chapter 2 we read about Job’s friends… “When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite… Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.”
To the novice reader, this sounds amazing! Here Job has not just one, or two but three close friends who would uproot themselves at great personal cost – travel from a long distance away to be with him in his time of need. And not only that, but they get it – they get it. They sit with him for a whole week without saying a word to express their sympathy and solidarity. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I have three friends who would be willing to give me a week without a word. So as a reader, we think ‘oh good… Job’s friends have arrived.’ But then they open up their mouths and we begin to see that they may not be born for adversity in the same way we think they are… At first they’re a little more tentative and encouraging, but then as time goes on, Job has some serious questions for God and his friends are not great at walking with him to give wise counsel and input. They actually begin to turn on him as they probe his life because they are convinced that it’s because Job has sinned against God that he is facing hardship. Finally Job gets fed up with them! I love Job’s speech in Job 19… it’s not going to come up on the screens so you’ll need to turn with me there in your Bibles – Job begins [read verses 1-5 & 13-21]
In his hour of need, Job turns to his friends and they turn out to be more like acquaintances. Un-acquainted with him and under-acquainted with God they end up speaking for neither party. They actually make things worse! And it’s here that we can learn some Personal application around the question of HOW to be a friend to those around us.
From Job, we learn some principles of being a good friend to someone in a time of adversity: Some of this is common sense so it’s just a reminder, but one thing God mentions when He answers Job at the end of the story is that Job’s friends should have keep their traps shut!
(1) Talk less; pray and be present more
What usually comes out of our mouths when someone we know is experiencing challenges? Usually we’re like Job’s friends… We spout off something this is technically true, but not timely. Like sitting beside someone who is dying of cancer and saying you know ‘all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.’ It’s a Scripture verse but how insensitive can you be?
We’ll likely all likely been in or observed situations where someone spouted off with a cute little saying or even Scripture verse that was NOT what we needed at that time. This is a bit of the problem with posting stuff on a person’s wall saying “We’re with you heart and soul” but then not actually being ‘with’ the person. (platitudes and pleasantries stink!) So if you want to be a friend that’s born for adversity, get in habit of talking less, listening more and praying more. Being present as opposed to simply regurgitating something you heard of Christian radio or in a Hallmark card! (alright, so you know how I feel about that!)
Secondly from Job’s friends we learn the danger of simplistic answers…
(2) Don’t always try to explain away or solve the problem or challenge
This is where Job’s friends began to really get on his nerves. They actually weren’t there to support him – they may have been at the beginning. But as the book goes on, we see they were there to score theological points. To use Job’s life as a case study for their views on God and the nature of suffering. They became more interested in giving a lecture to Job on the question of ‘why bad things happen to good people’ than they were on being a true friend. They tried to explain the cause of misery and give Job quick solutions to his problems (n chapter 2:9 his wife – very supportive - had a great one: she says, “hey honey, I want you to curse God and then die”) Nothing like strong support from the family circle, am I right? But Job’s friends try to play the part of God and explain away his challenge.
The other application goes back to the circles you drew earlier and might be good fodder for a discussion in your Life Group this week. Some of us think we have lots of people who are genuinely interested in us, but if push came to shove, they might be more of a facebook friend than a genuine friend. And adversity has a way of clarifying this question. So you may want to ask yourself and your small group…
- If you were to face significant adversity starting this afternoon, who would you turn to? For some of you, this will be a challenging exercise because you may realize you don’t have the support structures around you that you thought you did or that you might need. Remember, though we’re not here to set you up on play dates, we do have a role to play in creating environments such as Sunday mornings and small groups and men’s gym nights and her connecting and serving teams where the possibility exists to see a few people move from the acquaintance circle into the friendship one.
- Don’t be too proud to let people know when & where you need help!
Some of you are in the midst of challenging situations right now. And I’m going to ask the worship in song team to come and to lead us in songs of reflection. Some of you may need to hear this morning the gentle reminder that God has not forsaken you. You may need the reminder of the gathered community that God is a very present help in time of trouble. But not only is God on your side, but we as the gathered people of God are also here for you. Our prayer team will be available and some of you need to be bold enough to head over there and say ‘I need someone to stand with me in this challenge’. You may want to head over there to pray for someone else in your friendship circle that’s going through a hard time. You may want to celebrate with them… But know that they are trained and here for that very purpose. Have the humility and the guys necessary to walk across the room.
As we close, I want to remind you that if you’re here this morning and you’ve never said “I need a friend that sticks closer than a brother”. My acquaintances, friends and family let me down at points, know that God Himself wants to fill that void in your life. He wants to enter your life this morning.
Authentic community is one of our core values here. Help us help you to clarify terms, to step deeper into the circle of friendship and see what God does in and through you as we learn to stand with each other in adversity. Let’s pray.