Elder Neil Phelan, Jr.
A FRIEND THAT STICKS
It is indeed true, one that desires friends must be friendly to others and he that hath the most friends, has been friendly to many. There may be those who would boast in the many friends that they have, but who has more friends that Jesus? And even though there may be those who would be surprised at some of the friends that Jesus has, their reaction has never altered His affections nor moved His foot from the door of His friends. In spite of Satan's attacks to malign the character of this Holy One, He continues to have friends all over the world who not only claim Him as their friend, but are willing to give their very lives for His cause. There must be something about the character of this One, who has never condoned sin, nor compromised His virtues, who has lived a Holy and consecrated life, and still retained the many friends that He has. How can this be? Because He is a friend that sticks.
CLOSER THAN A BROTHER
As Solomon has observed, brotherhood makes the best of friends. This word "brother", as used in our text, has both natural and spiritual connotations. Literature abounds with stories of natural brothers making great sacrifices for one another. Spurgeon spoke of one Timoleon who, "with his shield, stood over the body of his slain brother, to defend him from the insults of the foe." (Spurgeon's Sermons, vol. 3, p.12, Baker). Brothers who have been nurtured by the same parents should be the best of friends. And what would we give for those brothers in Christ, those who have been nurtured in the same spiritual house, by the same Heavenly Father, taught under the direction of one Spirit?
Here are bonds of love that stick, even through the toughest of times. John wrote to the wellbeloved Gaius and said, "But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name" -3 John 1:14. John's brothers and sisters in Christ were his best friends, the people he preferred above all others in this world....which is the way that it should be. Paul said, "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another" -Romans 12:10. But even then, even as we explore these kindred spirits and close family ties, Solomon declares that there is one who sticks even closer than these; a friend who cheered his heart when all others had gone out; one who had stuck with him through every circumstance and condition; one that Solomon found not in his house of mirth, but rather in the pavilion of the most High. I believe Solomon's friend to be none other than our Lord Jesus, who is indeed "a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
WHAT IS A FRIEND?
Many years ago, a prize was offered for the best definition of a friend. From the many entries, this was the one which received the prize: "A friend is the person who comes in when every other person has gone out." How many times we have found this to be true in the person of Jesus Christ, the one who has come into our lives so may times when all others had gone out. Who could count the numerous occasions where Jesus entered after all others had closed the door of hope?
This definition reveals the cornerstone of every true friendship, that characteristic we all appreciate in a friend and that is fidelity. We observe fidelity in the bonds of the natural family, in the relationship between husbands and wives, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Some might suggest that these are the closest bonds known to mortals, but even as we explore these blood bonds, there remains to be one who sticks even closer. David said, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up" -Psalm 27:10. He is always there to cheer the heart because He is "a friend that sticks."
The fidelity of our Lord goes beyond the bounds of even the closest of mortals. David said, "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me" - Psalm 139:7-10. This Psalm beautifully displays both the Lord's omniscience and omnipresence. As we read verse seven we find a declaration in the form of a question. In this verse David declares that there is not a place that he may find himself in which the Lord's spirit and presence is absent. What a friend!! Who can stick like this friend? He is always there when we need Him because He is a friend that sticks.
Solomon reveals yet another golden thread of friendship and that is the virtue of an unending love: "A friend loveth at all times" -Proverbs 17:17a. A true friend will continue to love through every trial and in every circumstance. Like David and Jonathan, whose hearts were knit together in covenantal bonds, a friend does not come and go with the tides of life. The love of a true friend is as constant as the seasons, which never cease to present themselves before us with their refreshing vigor. We've all had friends like the snow goose. When winter comes into our lives they fly away to warmer climates. Let our friendship be like the red bird, who makes her nest near our window in spring and chirps to us during the winter. Is not Jesus such a friend, "a friend that sticketh closer than a brother?"
Paul records many refreshing moments with his friends. From this we should note the great value the apostle placed upon his Christian friends. To be refreshed is to be strengthened, renewed, and revived. Every soldier of the cross must be refreshed if they are to continue in their Christian warfare. Paul enjoyed many such moments with his friends.
When Paul was a prisoner, bound for Rome, he was refreshed by the visitation of his friends. On this occasion, Julius courteously entreated Paul from the prison ship, "and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself" -Acts 27:3. From this brief visit with his friends, Paul was greatly encouraged, strengthened and refreshed.
In Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth, he mentions three friends by name, "Stephanas, Fortunas and Achaicus. This is what Paul found in these friends: "For they have refreshed my spirit and yours: therefore acknowledge ye them that are such" -1Corinthians 16:18. Paul not only enters the names of these refreshing friends in the letter, but he encourages the church to acknowledge all who are of such a spirit.
There are many kinds of friends, friends that we have shared many enjoyable moments with. As we consider the friends of life, who are those friends that rejoiced the heart, those friends that we could not live without? Are they not the friends of our Master; those friends who cheered and refreshed us most in the darkest moments of our life; those fellow companions of Jesus?
"You may value the friendships of youth and of age,
And select for my comrades the noble and sage
But the friends that most cheer me
On life's rugged road
Are the friends of my Master
The children of God"
Friends of like precious faith are most refreshing, with both their presence and hearty counsel. They too, recognize that this world is not their friend nor their home. Just to be around these kinds of friends is refreshing.
Paul had another special friend, one who refreshed him when others were ashamed of him. His name was Onesiphorus: "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain" -2Timothy 1:16. Onesiphorus came in when all others had gone out, not once, but "oft". As Paul penned these words to Timothy, his heart burst forth in prayer as he remembered the kindness of Onesiphorus: "the Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus." We can't help but pray for those who refresh us most! Perhaps Onesiphorus had a special need at this time and Paul intercedes on his behalf. Onesiphorus refreshed the spirit of Paul.
Paul wrote the church at Corinth and shared with them some wonderful news: Titus was refreshed by their spirit, which became a blessing to them all: "Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all" -2 Corinthians -7:13. Oh, how the face of the preacher shines when he meets with refreshing saints. How vigorously the Lord's people will labor after they have been refreshed by their friends in Christ.
Philemon's devotion to God's house refreshed many saints, "For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother" - Philemon 1:7. Who really knows whose heart will be touched by refreshing friends.
The refreshing character of Jesus has always been contagious. His friends long to be more like Him that their presence might also refresh others. Is there any wonder that Jesus has so many friends! He has refreshed multitudes of hearts. Many of them knew not his name. He does not have to speak a word. Just His dynamic presence refreshes the weary and worn pilgrim. May we all look forward "when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord" -Acts 3:19. Such refreshing we will all find in faithful friends and especially in the person of Jesus Christ, "a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
A PROVEN FRIEND
Jesus has proven His friendship to His chosen seed from the morning of time. When God foresaw the fall of Adam, Jesus was there, obligating Himself to redeem His elect from the consequences of sin. He was "foreordained before the foundation of the world" to redeem His friends. When Adam fell, and all of his posterity with him, Jesus did not desert His elect.
Jesus remained loyal to His friends, even when they were polluted in their own blood. If there was ever a time for this friend to desert us, that would have been the best moment, but yet "he abideth faithful: He cannot deny himself." When we became sinners by practice, He proved his fidelity by revealing Himself to us and showing us our sins. His wounds are "faithful".
Upon the cross of Calvary, He remained loyal to every heir of promise. He was a faithful friend when our sins were placed upon Him. And even now, if one were to ask Him, "What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends" -Zechariah 13:6. Yes, it was the sins of His friends that nailed this faithful one to the cross. It was there, upon the cross, that He revealed to the world both fidelity and love for His friends for, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" -John 15:13.
Jesus has proven Himself loyal to His elect over and over again. Is there one in a billion who could say, "He has been less to me than a friend should be?" Here is a friend we should all emulate, a friend that remains true, even when wounded by His fellow friends; one who could look upon a murdering mob and say, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" -Luke 23:34. Jesus is truly "a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
How many times have we been lost in the valley and found shadow and darkness? There seemed to be no way out! We wandered aimlessly for days, weeks, months and seemed to find no comfort until....until we found the "lily of the valley". There He was all along with all of His beauty and fragrance to refresh the sorrowing heart. Do we remember the experience? We stopped wandering, we lingered to observe His beauty, we closed our eyes to inhale His fragrance and when we opened our eyes again, we were out of the valley and upon the mountaintop. Such it is with our friend Jesus, "a friend who sticketh closer than a brother."
A FAITHFUL FRIEND
If a friend "loveth at all times", he must also be faithful in our hour of temptation. A friend must be willing to risk his credentials for the sake of his friends. There was once a man who was facing a world of trouble. In his struggle to deal with the calamities of his life, he turned to alcohol. When visiting his friend, his newly acquired crutch became apparent and his friend said, "friend, I am worried about you. Your drinking does not become you." After some thought the man recognized his sin for what it really was and gave up his drink: "faithful are the wounds of a friend." While Judas seemed to be a friend, his kiss was the kiss of betrayal. The true friend is willing to suffer the punishments of those that he loves to bring about good in their lives. He has the correct spirit, for his desire is for the welfare of his friend, who he places above himself. True friends offer more than kisses. They are willing to spend and be spent for the welfare of their friends. They stick!
How faithful our Lord has been to us by revealing Himself to us, showing us our sins, wounding our conscience and then binding us up again. We may limp as Jacob did at the brook, Jabbok, but oh how better off we really are. How faithful this friend has been to us both in love and duty. He is a friend that sticks.
THE SEPARATION OF FRIENDS
Solomon tells us that "A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends" -Proverbs 16:28. Even the chiefest of friends have been separated by whispering. This was the design of our Lord's enemies when they whispered behind His back and called Him "a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!" I wonder how many of His friends were affected by this whispering when His accusers said such things as, "I saw Him at the feast and He gorged Himself with all dainties of meats, He drank too much and His company of friends was less that desirable; He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners." Indeed, children of wisdom would justify this Holy One, even amidst the whispering of others. Have we allowed the whispering of others to affect our relationship with Jesus? Oh, what whispering we hear in the world today about Jesus and the principles of His doctrine; those who malign his particular redemption; His predestinating grace; His unconditional election; His sovereignty. If they whispered behind His back when He was visibly present, should we expect less today? We can be thankful that Jesus has never been moved by such devices of Satan. If He were affected by such, where would we be today? Let us laugh, for "the accuser of our brethren is cast down." Jesus has not only ignored the accusations of Satan, He has also bruised his head. If He has done so much for His friends in the past, we can be confident that He will remain loyal to His beloved forever for He is "a friend that sticks."
THE CHOICE OF FRIENDS
The word "elect" tells us much about our Lord's choice of friends for this very word means "a choice of love." These are His friends, His eternal friends, those that He has loved from everlasting. He has not chosen His friends by any outward perfections, for they had none. He has chosen them through the bonds of love. He has placed His perfections upon them and in them by giving them a portion of His beauty. Let us look for "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance" in others. What wonderful perfections we may find in every heir of promise, the friends of Jesus.
Apparently, the wise man Solomon knew a lot about friends. He not only highlights the positive, but he also warns us of many carnal influences which might affect our choice of friends. One of these was riches. Solomon found that "Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbour" -Proverbs 19:4. The wealth of Solomon earned him many friends, but not those that would stick. The prodigal had many friends while his wealth lasted, but when his money ran out, so did his friends. A true friend remains a friend in poverty and prosperity. Such a friend we will find in our Lord Jesus. Rich or poor, He is a friend that sticks. Fame, wealth, health, beauty, all have their attractions, but our Lord has never been influenced by such worldly attractions. Job had many friends until he was smitten with poverty, grief and disease. His "three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him." Apparently, they forgot the purpose of their appointment. As they lingered in the presence of their friend who was once rich and now poor, who was once healthy and now whose "flesh is clothed with worms", who was once happy who now said "My days are spent without hope", their friendship faltered and their behavior toward their friend changed. These great men of wisdom and understanding were such friends that Job would say, "I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all" -Job 16:2. "Yea, ye overwhelm the fatherless, and ye dig a pit for your friend" -Job 6:27.
Everyone wants to be friends with the winner, with the favorites of health, with the champion, with the popular, but who gave Job the strength to continue in all but hopeless conditions? Who refreshed Job? Whose love continued through this darkness? Where do we observe true fidelity? Was it not in the person of the Lord, a friend that "sticketh closer than a brother?" He is there in every trial: in loss of health; in loss of material possessions; in loss of loved ones; and at the bed of the dying saint. How many times have we been at the bed of the dying saint and they knew not husband, wife, sister or brother? But when they were asked about their Lord, they remembered Him, they remembered Jesus. Why is that? Because He is a friend that sticks!
Many friendships begin in the house of mirth. When Solomon said in his heart, "Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure", these kinds of friends were readily available. But all that Solomon found in these friends was "vanity", a vapor that vanished away. Again, the prodigal found much the same in these kinds of friends. Such are those friends made in the house of laughter. Solomon concluded: "It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth" - Ecclesiastes 7:2,4. Here is where Jesus is found, in the house of mourning. Has He not promised, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" -Matthew 5:4.
A FRIEND WHO SHARES
When we search the world over and examine the many kinds of friends that are available to mankind, there is truly no friend who cheers the heart more than our Lord Jesus. Many reasons have been cited, but there is yet another, perhaps the greatest of all. Jesus is that friend that we may share every feeling of our heart knowing that He will remain our friend. We may share with Him our troubles, our fears, our joys, our worries and yes, we can even share with Him our deepest and darkest sin and have confidence that he will remain our friend. Not only that, but He will intercede to the Father on our behalf. What other friend in all of the world could we share these private and intimate feelings with and retain a lasting friendship?
Not only does His loving character encourage us to approach the throne of grace with the yearnings of our heart, His office as mediator demands His loyalty. And we are greatly encouraged to do so. Our Father has promised, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" -I John 1:9. As the song has suggested, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", a faithful friend, "a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." Have you found Him to be so?