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Be with Jesus! - Soul Friends

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Webster’s Dictionary defines a friend as “a person on the same side in a struggle; one who is not an enemy or foe; ally.”
Aristotle as once asked, "What is a friend?" and he replied "A single soul dwelling in two bodies"
Deuteronomy 13:6 agrees describing the closest friends as the "your friend who is as your own soul.”
Bits and Pieces, a magazine in 1991,offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following: “One who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is inviolable.”
“One who understands our silence.”
The winning definition read: “A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.”
I. The Importance of Soul-Friendship
The Celtic Church had a lovely concept of soul-frinedship, called: “Anam Cara”
Anam Cara is a Gaelic word meaning soul friend. It symbolises a spiritual friendship that is not affected by time, distance, or separation.
In the Celtic tradition, the Anam Cara was someone you could share your innermost self, mind and heart with
This soul friendship was an act of recognition and belonging with a commitment to help us return to the place of peace and contentment with out Creator!
Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17). When things are tough in life, there is nothing better than the support and encouragement of a friend - "One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own."  ( John O'Donohue (Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong)
Jesus was that kind of friend - our soul friend!
Just as Exodus informs us that The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”(Exodus 33:11) Abraham is called God's “friend”(2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8;Jas 2:23) so we have in Jesus “a friend who sticks closer than a brother!”
Jesus is our friend - In Matthew 11:19. He is called “ a friend of tax collectors and sinners” and again in John 15:15 Jesus says “I no longer call you servants...Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
“What A Friend We Have in Jesus!” - Jesus is the ultimate example of friendship. In John 15:13 Jesus told his disciples that the greatest love that can be shown to friends is to lay down his life for his friends” - and he did just that. His life was not taken from him but it was laid down, as an act of sacrificial service for the ransom of His peopls souls!
And interestingly, Jesus calls us to mimic this type of friendship - John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When we couple this command with John 15:13–14 (ESV), “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” the implications are clear. Our love for one another, in service to Jesus requires a willigness to pay the ultimate cost - 1 John 3:16-18, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
This is why the Christian church is uniquely placed to offer real, costly, faithful frteindship to the world so that they may know the reality of the person of Jesus - Ian Bradley in Colonies of Heaven says “In its availability and vulnerability friendship of any really meaningful kind is a costly rather than an easy option. The absence of close friends pushes many towards the brink of depression or sends them into the arms of counsellors and doctors…” (p. 110-112)
II. A Model of Soul Friendship - David and Jonathan!
Perhaps the best possible example of the soul friend is that of Jonathan and David:
“Saul and Jonathan speak to us of such a relationship— “the soul of Jonathan became attached to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam 18:1)......“In the early Church, authentic relationships were not just an idea—they were a way of life: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the elders of the church and they should pray over him, anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord” (Jas 5:13). The early Church didn’t respond to sickness or pain by saying, “I’ll pray for you.” They actually prayed....the early Church swiftly took care of their own. They made friends by being loyal, as Christ was loyal to them. They created community by showing love and kindness without requiring that kindness to be returned....How can you show authentic friendship to others?” (John D. Barry).
Let’s look at their friendship and see how it presents us with a model of how we should be….
a. It was a friendship with God at the centre:
The relationship between David and Jonathan was a covenant relationship,which had God at its very centre! - - “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father’s house. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.” (1 Sam 18:1-3)
b. It was a friendship born out of adversity
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov 17:17).
David was going through possibly the worst time of his life so far. It was during this period of David’s life that God showed his faithfulness and his love for David by providing Jonathan, a true friend.
Jonathan, King Saul’s Son, took a liking to David and we’re told, was bound to his soul. God used Jonathan to meet the needs of David as he journeyed through this dark valley.
Intimate friends stick together – They don’t abandon you when things get tough! They stay.
c. It was sacrificial friendship:
Sacrifice was symbolised in the giving of a belt, a sword and a ring in 1 Samuel 18:4 and it was evidenced in Jonathan's risking his life and his relationship with his father for David!
It’s easy to miss the sacrificial nature of Jonathan’s actions but when he stripped himself of the robe he was wearing and gave it to David along with his armor, his sword, his bow, and his belt, his actions were symbolic – the robe and the ring symbolize the kingdom and the sword, undying loyalty.
Jonathan was the potential heir to his father’s throne, but now we see him sacrificing his future for David.
In every friendship there is someone who gives and someone who takes.
We need to acknowledge those moments when someone has sacrificed for us. That is what friendship is all about when you are on the receiving end.
Sacrifice is the ultimate example of intimate friendship. A willingness to sacrifice for each other. The ability to put another’s needs, desires, and wishes above those of our own.
Ultimately it’s what Jesus showed when he laid down his life for us reminding us of his word’s in John 15:13 that “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.”
And it was the winning quality of the early church who sacrificed their material goods for the sake of the needy so that none went hungry or without shelter! - Acts 2 and Acts 6
d. It was a deeply-loving friendship:
the relationship was so deep and intimate that it is said that “Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself”.
Much has been made today about David and Jonathan’s relationship and some have even suggested that the two were so close that their relationship just had to be more than "just friends" What is being missed here is that there is a wide chasm between the culture of David’s time and the culture today.
Paul, on at least four occasions instructs the recipients of his letters to greet each other with a holy kiss. It is not a culturally normative thing for us to do but I’m sure you have been asked to join hands in prayer before and if you are like me you find that a little uncomfortable doing. But, closeness like this was not a big deal to David and his culture, so the suggestion that the he and Jonathan are romantically involved is ludicrous. They were very close, loving friends
What did that mean for their friendship?
They had complete freedom to be themselves - There’s something very comforting about being with someone around whom you feel at ease because you know that they accept you for who you are. In an intimate friendship you don’t have to explain why you do what you do. You just do it.
They were honest with eachother – no pretending! - In I Samuel 20:41 Jonathan had just given David the sign that things were not ok in the palace, that his father was going to kill David, and David and Jonathan were forced to say goodbye as David would then take off to hide.
They were emotionally connected and comfortable - The text tells us that they wept together. When your heart is broken, you can bleed all over a friend like this and he’ll understand. He won’t try to comfort you in your misery or tell you to straighten up. Intimate friends let each other hurt. They weep together. If your friend needs to complain, listen.
One of the things that’s amazing about this entire story is that while the hatred of Saul for David was growing every day, David was protected by someone who loved him.
We’re told that the Israelites loved him, that the King’s son Jonathan loved him, and that the King’s daughter Michal loved him (I Samuel 18:20).
The irony should not be missed! In the midst of this darkest hour of David’s life, while Saul’s hatred for David burned within him, everyone else was growing more and more fond of David.
This love for David has a spiritual rootedness - as David drew nearer to God, Saul hated him more YET others were attracted to him - He who loves purity of heart and has grace on his lips, the king will be his friend.” (Proverbs 22:11).
Have you ever been around a person like David and Jonathan?
People who are godly and attractive, full of grace and compassion. Those who have something of Jesus about them!
These are the kind of people that we want to be friends with and who make friends much more easily because they’re attractive on the inside and make excellent friends.
When you and I grow in the image of Jesus Christ, when we begin to evidence the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives, when we, because of what’s on the inside become different on the outside we will begin to draw people to ourselves.
There will be something attractive about us that has nothing to do with external appearances.
But the converse is also true: there are a lot of people today who have no friends because they’re just plain ugly on the inside and it shows through to the outside
If we want a friend then the contemporary proverb is true: to have a friend you’ve got to be a friend - If I take offence easily; if I am content to continue in cold unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” (Amy Carmichael)
e. It was a deeply-loyal friendship:
We’re told that Jonathan went to his father and spoke well of David. In doing this, Jonathan stood up to his father and did not allow blood loyalty to get in the way of his godly relationship with David.
In his first intervention on David’s behalf, he was so convincing that his father agreed that he was right and David was brought back into the palace and everything was good again for some time.
The second intervention however was not well received by Saul who in frustration and anger even attempted to kill his son! However we must admire Jonathan’s determination here - he would rather have David’s friendship then to have the kingdom. He would rather be the friend than a King! That is the mark of a true friend, when you put the accomplishments of another above your own; when you put the well-being of another person above your own.
This is the attitude found in John the Baptist when we read in John 1 about the priest and the Levites coming to John and asking him who he was - he isn’t the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet; he is sent only to prepare people for his coming. John was committed to the one who would come after him and in John 3:30 he says, "He must increase and I must decrease." John saw the God given mission of Jesus and was perfectly happy to take a backseat to it. Couldn’t the same be said here of Jonathan...couldn’t you hear him say about David..."He must increase and I must decrease." Jonathan saw the bigger picture and was happy to let his friend increase and to take a backseat to the one who would become king.
A true friend is a deeply-loyal and will defend you before others.
A true friend won’t talk about you when you’re not around. True friends stick up for each other and defend each other when others attack.
f. It an encouraging and affirming friendship:
David and Jonathan have a friendship which is a constant source of encouragement – “A loyal friend laughs at your jokes when they're not so good, and sympathizes with your problems when they're not so bad.” (Arnold Glasgow)
when the King’s men discovered where David was and Saul went out to kill him we’re told that Jonathan went to David and encouraged him in God.
That’s the kind of friend to have. He sees David at the lowest moment of his life, frightened and stumbling through the wilderness and he brings him encouragement. “There’ll be a brighter day some day, but right now I’m here with you, no matter what.”
g. It was deep and lasting - “in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted”(2 Sam 1:3)
Eugene Peterson, in his book called Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians writes about friendship through the lens of the relationship between Jonathan and David.
“Each of us has contact with hundreds of people who never look beyond our surface appearance. We have dealings with hundreds of people who the moment they set their eyes on us begin calculating what use we can be to them, what they can get out of us. We meet hundreds of people who take one look at us, make a snap judgment, and then slot us into a category so that they won’t have to deal with us as persons. They treat us as something less than we are; and if we’re in constant association with them, we become less. And then someone enters our life who isn’t looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what’s deepest within us. A friend.”
III. Learning to be a Soul Friend.
The command to love was lived out in the Church community where the fellowship(Koinonia) was emphasized as a vital component of being together - Acts 2:42-45 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
Acts 2:42–45 ESV
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
the quality of that fellowship was a winning factor in its evangelistic success - see its care of the poor in Acts 6.
We need it so much and the world needs it so much - “This generation has more opportunities for communication than any before it, with email and social networking making it possible to interact with others 24/7. Yet suicide rates are higher than ever, and antidepressant medications have become almost standard fare. We have more connections than ever before, but they’re not relationships. We still feel alone. People need authentic community—a sense of communing with someone—to feel whole and healthy.
So let us become Soul-Friends by
a. Learning to walk alongside another - Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.Walk beside me and be my friend.”- Albert Camus (also attributed to Maimonidies).
A friend who encourages with words and encourages by mere presence! A friend who knows another well enough and has learned to interpret silence - “One of the tasks of true friendship is to listen compassionately and creatively to the hidden silences. Often secrets are not revealed in words, they lie concealed in the silence between the words or in the depth of what is unsayable between two people.” ― John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
b. Being willing to give of yourself - “If you send out goodness from yourself, or if you share that which is happy or good within you, it will all come back to you multiplied ten thousand times. In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control. The more love you give away, the more love you will have.” - John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
The soul friend must be faithful and have the quality of perseverance.
And what kind of soul friend should you be?  Hear the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:1-5: "If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself".  (The Message)
"Be deep-spirited friends" - Love and care in the way Christ Himself loves and cares for us!  
"Be deep-spirited friends" - Love and care in the way Christ Himself loves and cares for us!  
c. Being prepared for the uncomfortable nature of true friendship - “Your noble friend will not accept pretension but will gently and very firmly confront you with your own blindness. Such friendship is creative and critical; it is willing to negotiate awkward and uneven territories of contradiction and woundedness.” ― John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.
“Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.”C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
d. Recognising Jesus in the person - “Real friendship or love is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition.” ― John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
Remember Matthew 25, The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats - “For as much as you did it for one of the least of these my brothers, you did it for me”!
And let us when choosing Soul-Friends, Choose wisely! - "A righteous man is cautious in friendship"(Proverbs 12:26)
A righteous person is person who lives before God and according to God's law. Such a person is careful in his choice of friends.  
According to John Walvoord, the word "cautious" could be translated “searches out” (cf. Deut. 1:33) or “investigates” (cf. Eccles. 7:25). This is in contrast to "the wicked" who Walvoord says are "unconcerned about who becomes their friends. The wicked lead other wicked people astray for they are all on the wrong path" (1)  
“Friendship (as the ancients saw) can be a school of virtue; but also (as they did not see) a school of vice. It is ambivalent. It makes good men better and bad men worse.”C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
So, in the making of soul-friends we should be "cautious" in our choices.
Is our friend a good listener?
Can such a friend be trusted with our most intimate secrets?  
Will that friend be able to minister to us from the word of God and through prayer?
Does that person understand our heart for Christ and share our world view?
Will that friend be honest with us even if that means upsetting us?  
Will our friend then bind up our wounds and patiently persevere with the relationship?
If our churches could produce friendships of this sort they would be much happier and healthier communities of grace!
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