How To Be A Good Friend [Proverbs 25]
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How To Be A Good Friend – 06.19.2022
Today’s sermon is the finale to our series on Proverbs – which has been so practical and helpful. BUT today is also Father’s day. So it felt appropriate to open with the greatest dad joke of all time. It’s a classic, so you might have heard it before – but it’s called “Moses and Jesus play golf.” It goes like this. Moses and Jesus are part of a threesome playing golf one day. Moses pulls up to the tee and drives a long one. The ball lands on the fairway, but rolls directly towards a water trap. Quickly Moses raises his club, the water parts and the ball rolls to the other side, safe and sound. Next Jesus strolls up to the tee and hits a nice long drive directly towards the same water trap. It lands right in the center of the pond and kind of hovers over the water. Jesus casually walks out on the water and chips the ball right up onto the green. Then the third guy gets up and sort of randomly whacks the ball. It heads out over the fence and into oncoming traffic on a nearby street. It bounces off a truck, hits a nearby tree. From there, it bounces onto the roof of a shack close by and rolls down into the gutter, down the drain spout, out onto the fairway and straight towards the pond. On the way to the pond, the ball hits a little stone and bounces over the water and onto a lily pad, where it comes quietly to rest. Suddenly a large bull frog jumps up on the lily pad and snatches the ball into his mouth. Just then, an eagle swoops down and grabs the frog and flies away. As they pass over the green, the frog croaks with fright and drops the ball, which bounces right into the hole for a beautiful hole in one. Jesus leans over to Moses and whispers, “I hate playing with my Dad.”
If you think about it the book of Proverbs, which we’ve been learning is wisdom literature coming from this guy King Solomon – the wisest king in history, is basically just a bunch of dad advice strung together. I’ve introduced it as King Solomon’s twitter thread – but it’s basically just some down to earth, home grown dad advice. Think about what we’ve learned so far – 1) the line between good and evil is not between us and them, it runs down the middle of our heart. We choose wisdom or we choose folly. 2) if someone is trying to help you, it’s smart to listen to what they’re saying. If you want to help someone else, make sure they know you love them – use kindness and loyalty to give someone advice. 3.) Then we saw that hard work is a very good thing. It’s what gives our lives meaning and purpose – to fill our lives with good things that we can be proud of doing. And then finally, last week we saw that God gave us a voice – and if we get our posture, content and goal correct – we can use that voice to bring healing and encouragement to the people around us. The big book of Dad advice has been very good to us for the last month. Very practical, very helpful. And there is one more lesson for us to find – this time from the end of the book, in chapter 25.
Now this teaching has been in place all along, throughout every chapter – but I really want to name it and drill down on it today. All these teachings, all these pieces of advice which teach us how to live as a child of God – they matter because you are not alone in this world. You are not alone – which is lovely – but the other side of that coin is that if you are not alone, then we have to figure out how to live our life in community. Your life is not just about you. The ripples of your life are going to bump into the people around you. The final teaching is about how to live life in community – how to be a good friend. There’s three pieces to it. First, [read v.12-13]. Now I’m not sure how I feel about mentioning (whisper) snow in June – but after this past week I think we can all understand what he means. Whew, it was HOT this week. But having someone in your life who is trustworthy, a messenger in your life who will tell you the truth - it’s like having a nice cool snow in the middle of that 90 degree heat. It literally revives the spirit.
I was listening to a podcast this past week, and there was an interview with famous actor Bradley Cooper. If you don’t know, Bradley Cooper got his start in a series of comedies where his character was always kind of intense or basically just a jerk to people. But now he’s like this super successful director/actor/everything guy who has been nominated for like 9 academy awards. And he tells the story that when he started out in acting he was incredibly insecure, and “mean” comedy was the big thing at that time. Making people laugh by telling horribly, mean jokes. And he used that as a mask, but the dissonance in his life led to drug abuse and all kinds of problems. He was spinning out of control. And at the time, he happened to live next to another actor named Will Arnett. At one point they had a dinner together. And Bradley Cooper was wearing his mask. He was the life of the party, telling mean jokes and being a jerk so everybody would like him and accept him. The next morning Will Arnett shows up at Bradley Cooper’s door, and he says, “hey, about that dinner last night. How did you think that went?” And he basically called Bradley Cooper out and said, “you’re being a jerk, you’re on the wrong path and you’ve got to fix this.” And in the interview Bradley Cooper’s crying and Will Arnett’s crying, but Brad said that was the moment when he realized he had a problem with drugs. That was a turning point for him to turn his life around. Because he had a friend call him out and turn him around. Proverbs tells us, trustworthy messengers are like snow in summer – they revive us. Verse twelve says, “Valid criticism is valuable.” It can literally save someone’s life. Verse 15 tells us, [read it]. We talked about this last week, and it’s the first key to being a good friend – valid criticism is valuable, but the method matters. Proverbs says “patience and soft speech” can make all the difference.
Verse 14, [read it]. Pretty basic. If you promise something, see it through. Down in verse 18 [read v.18-19]. So we got the farmer metaphor – clouds with no rain, the warrior metaphor – axes and swords and arrows and stuff, and then the body metaphors – broken tooth or a lame foot. All these different metaphors to describe one teaching. Be RELIABLE. Tell the truth, and live your life the way you say you will. There’s an old quote from Charles Spurgeon (the prince of preachers) where he says, “A man’s life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him they reckon his deeds as dollars and his words as pennies. If his life and doctrine disagree the mass of onlookers accept his practice and reject his preaching.” Your deeds are dollars and your words are pennies. It’s a decent measurement.
Friend of mine on twitter reached out with this story last week. He said, when I was 20 and a newlywed our refrigerator went out in our apartment. Maintenance was an elderly man and he told us that we could remove the fridge from our third floor apartment and swap it with a fridge from across the street – but we had to do it ourselves. At 20 years old, I thought I had the best friends in the world, and proceeded to call all of them, and none of them answered. So I called my dad and he was over within five minutes with a hand truck and lugged two fridges downstairs. Literally a friend closer than a brother – my father. The bible teaches us that to be a good friend, to be a good neighbor: 1.) Valid Criticism is valuable and 2.) your deeds are dollars and your words are pennies.
Verse 16 tell us, [read v.16-17]. It’s funny, because the first part sounds like something I would say to my toddler – but the second part sounds like something we all need to hear. Moderation is not just for sweets, it also applies to our social interactions. A good friend doesn’t wear out their welcome by visiting too much. Now, I want to be careful here. Some folks have very low self esteem and they think nobody ever wants to see them – and that’s not the truth either. If we’re going to be in community together – brothers and sisters in Christ – we need to be in community. There is a sweet spot in the middle. It’s kind of like when you sit next to someone to talk to them. I don’t want you to sit all the way on the other side of the room, because then I can’t talk to you. But I also don’t want you to sit halfway on my lap, because then I can’t talk to you. We sit close enough to hear, while also giving personal space. Moderation is not just for sweets – it also works in relationship.
[read v.20]. You ever have a paper cut, and you use the hand sanitizer? That’s what he’s talking about. That sting, that pain that lets you know exactly where the paper cut is – that’s what it’s like when you’re singing cheerful songs to someone with a heavy heart. We get the same advice in the new testament from Paul in the book of Romans, where it says, [read Romans 12:15-16]. Basically, the long and the short of it is – when you’re with someone, be there for them, in the way they need you. There’s a story that comes from one of my favorite TV shows – the West Wing, This guy’s walking down the street, and he falls into a hole, the walls are so steep he can’t get out. Doctor walks by, and the man cries out, “Hey Doc, can you help me out?” The Doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and keeps walking. Then a priest comes along, and the man shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole – can you help me get out?” Priest writes down a prayer, throws it in the hole and keeps walking. Then a friend walks by, and the man shouts up, “Hey Joe, it’s me – I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” So the friend jumps down into the hole. And the guy says, “what are you stupid? Now we’re both down here in the hole! And the friend says, “yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.” Don’t sing cheerful songs to someone with a broken heart. Sometimes in order to be a good friend, you have to get down in the hole with them, to show them the way out. Or as Paul puts it, “weep with those who weep, be happy with those who are happy.”
The good news that we see, in the whole book of Proverbs, but in this chapter specifically – the good news is that God built you for community. For so many of us, we think our faith life is just about us and God – we think the Christian life is about what I believe up in my head. But God built you for community. And that means the Christian life has to be lived out in Community! I think one of the best ways to think about Christian community is living on a river. You might think, this is my yard – I can do whatever I want to the water. But whatever you do is going to affect the people downstream. Just like the people upstream – whatever they do is going to affect you. If I can use a gross metaphor – you don’t pee upstream from your friends. God built us for community – our world is a lot less individualistic than we think. We have to be justice-oriented. Think, not just about ourselves, but how all the things we do affect the people around us too. All the teachings in Proverbs, in the big book of Dad advice, it’s not just about helping you be a good person all by yourself – it’s about how to live best in community. Because God built you for community.
Coming off of that, the application should be really obvious. My challenge to you today and everyday – based on the fact that God built you for community and he wants you to live that out by loving your neighbor – my challenge is to BE a good neighbor. Set that as a goal for yourself – what can you change in your life to help you be a good neighbor? Well I suppose I could give you a few suggestions. First, remember that valid criticism is valuable. If someone comes to you, someone who loves you and they’re on your team – listen to what they have to say. Maybe they’re not trying to make you feel bad – maybe they’re trying to help! Valid criticism is valuable. The other side of that coin is that if you have a friend who is struggling, talk to them. Give your friends that valuable, valid criticism. I can’t tell you how many times people come to me and tell me things about someone else – and I ask them, “did you tell THEM that?” Well, no – they might get mad at me. Maybe, but if you come to them in love, with loyalty and kindness – valid criticism is valuable. It’s a way to be a good friend.
Second, be reliable. If you want to be a good Christian neighbor – let your words and your actions line up. I like the Spurgeon quote, “reckon your deeds as dollars and your words as pennies.” One of my favorite stories about being a good friend is that classic story about the two guys who were hunting in Northern Michigan. Suddenly one guy yelled and the other one looked up to see an enormous bear charging them. The first guy started frantically putting on his tennis shoes and his friend asked him, “What are you doing? You know you can’t outrun a grizzly bear!” And the friend responded, “I don’t have to outrun the grizzly. I just have to outrun you.” (laugh) That’s the opposite of a reliable friend right there. The second key to being a good Christian neighbor is to BE RELIABLE. And I should mention – the better you are at being reliable the easier it is to do step one. When someone knows you are reliable, that your words line up with your actions – they are more likely to listen when you get up the courage to give them that valid, valuable criticism.
The last piece and third step to being a good neighbor that we find in the text today is to Moderate your methods. Like eating too much honey, don’t be that neighbor who overstays their welcome. Don’t be singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart. Moderate your methods, pick the right thing at the right time to be a good friend for each person. There’s a guy named Ed Stetzer, he’s a Pastor who wrote a book called “Christians in the Age of Outrage” and he tells a story about one time when he and his wife sat down and took out a map of their street. And they mapped out their literal neighbors and made a goal to meet all of them and be the best neighbors they could. And they started by just praying for that house. It was just a house – they didn’t know who was in it. Then they’d meet them, and pray for the people – they had names. Then they’d get to know them and they’d pray for their needs. Then once they knew the house, names and needs – they had a neighbor, a friendship established. And they’d move to the next house. Now, I don’t know if it was as organized and systematic as all that – but basically he set a goal and they started leading their neighbors into a relationship with Jesus Christ, by being a good neighbor and praying for them – pretty cool, right?
C. Raymond Beran once said, “What is a friend? Friends are people with whom you dare to be yourself. Your soul can be naked with them. They ask you to put on nothing, only to be what you are. They do not want you to be better or worse. When you are with them, you feel as a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent. You do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you think, as long as it is genuinely you. Friends understand those contradictions in your nature that lead others to misjudge you. With them you breathe freely…. They understand. You can weep with them, sing with them, laugh with them, pray with them. Through it all – and underneath – they see, know and love you. A friend? What is a friend? Just one, I repeat, with whom you dare to be yourself.” And so I’ll leave you this. May you leave here this morning reminded that God built you for community. May you resolve to be the best neighbor, the best friend you can be to the people around you. And then I pray that God may surround each of you with the same. Amen.
 C. Raymond Beran, in Bits & Pieces, September 19, 1991, p. 3-4