Ecclesiasticus 6:5-17
Trinity VII
July 30, 2017
St. Paul’s Anglican Church

“What Type of Friend Are You?”

Make new friends, keep the old.
One is silver and the other is gold.

Faithful friends, tried and true,
Are God’s gracious gift to you.

The lesson before us this morning is about friendship. In the span of only thirteen short verses, the word “friend” is found an amazing ten times.

Any one reading this morning’s Old Testament Lesson might well note that it is not all “spiritual.” The goal of Christian Faith is not – and I repeat, the goal of Christian Faith is not – as so many in our day believe… spirituality. The goal of the Christian Faith is by the Spirit to love God and neighbor as revealed in the pages of the Bible… and especially – supremely – as exemplified in the Life of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is most noteworthy that our Heavenly Father has permitted His Own Son to be referred to as a Friend – the friend of sinners… the friend of those who have rejected the friendship of this world in order to follow Him… And Jesus had friends Himself! Lazarus was a friend of His, and we are told that our Lord wept when Lazarus died.

The Bible reminds us of the special friendship that existed between David (son of Jesse) and Jonathan (son of King Saul). It reminds us of the deep and abiding friendship between the widowed Moabitess, Ruth, and her mother-in-law, Naomi. It reminds us of the remarkable friendship forged in adversity between four young Hebrew exiles far away from home in the land of Babylon – Shadrach… Meshach… Abednego… and their good friend Daniel.

The “entry level” for friendships, we are told, comes through introductions and acquaintances. And we are instructed that the method of developing these is to be pleasant and to be polite. This is not to give us the label of “man-pleasers” – but to possess basic manners.

Verse 5: Sweet language will multiply friends: and a fairspeaking tongue will increase kind greetings.

Kindness and friendship go together! But there is a danger! And we are issued a clear caution! Not all those who bear the name “friend” are who we think them to be! The text identifies three categories of such “friends” with which we ought to concern ourselves.

The first category described in our lesson might accurately be labeled the “Fair-Weather Friend.”

Verse 8: …some man is a friend for his own occasion, and will not abide in the day of thy trouble.

The fair-weather friend is like the proverbial weathervane. When the skies are blue… and when all is well… the friendship is “on.” But when circumstances change – as they do – when clouds of challenges roll in… when difficult rains arrive that douse fair weather plans… when impenetrable fogs set in putting to the test trust and commitment… when winds of adversity exercise the genuineness of relationships by pushing them to their limits – then just as the weathervane pivots, so too does the “fair-weather friend”… and the friendship is called “off”… And the fair-weather friend is last seen exiting for a fairer climate.

I am often reminded that the Apostle Paul, at his first appearance before Nero in the Court of Rome appeared alone. No one stood with him! They all forsook him! Frightened and afraid of his danger – standing before the most powerful leader of the most powerful nation on earth in his day, St. Paul was isolated by “friends” and left to speak on his own behalf. And he later wrote:

I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.

They were “fair weather” friends. We should remember that it is actually a blessing when conditions reveal “fair weather friends” – and flush them out of hiding. Indeed, it is a gift from our Heavenly Father, if we can see it!

The second category described in our lesson might accurately be labeled the “Fault-Finding Friend.”

Verse 9: …there is a friend, who being turned to enmity, and strife will discover thy reproach.

How true a description… and how often the “fault finding friend” makes his appearance – sometimes in cameo fashion.

Years ago, a “fault finding friend” was revealed in the Sports Section of America’s newspapers. A former friend and business partner of a very well-known sports celebrity parted ways over an unresolved business disagreement. The issue never healed, but only festered… So, the “fault finding friend” brought forth tantalizing and incriminating evidence against his “friend”– publishing it to the world… not out of love… but out of enmity… as they say, “to settle a score.”

As you can imagine, the sooner a fault-finding friend is discovered, and flushed out of hiding, the better of one is. Indeed – it, too — is a gift from our Heavenly Father, if we can see it.

The third category described in our lesson might accurately be labeled the “False Friend.”

Verses 10-12: …some friend is a companion at the table, and will not continue in the day of thy affliction. But in thy prosperity he will be as thyself, and will be bold over thy servants. If thou be brought low, he will be against thee, and will hide himself from thy face.

Some people are so self-centered, “friendships” are sometimes – oftentimes – vehicles to “get” something they desperately want! We all remember one who was a friend and follower of our Lord during His earthly tenure… who dipped his bread in the same bowl as his Master at the Last Supper.

But he was eventually found to be “against” Him! Indeed, he brought a band of soldiers and officers of the chief priests and Pharisees to arrest Him in the middle of the night… carrying lanterns and torches and weapons…

His name was Judas, and he was without doubt a “false” friend. And he left his name as the most infamous person of all!

We are advised to know such “friends” for who they really are – and not for who we would want them to be… and to be critically honest in their assessment.

Separate thyself from thine enemies, we are told in verse 13, and take heed of thy [true] friends.

Nothing can match a faithful friend. A faithful friend is a strong defense… the medicine of life… a priceless treasure…

And it is as though in anticipation of our next question (Where is such a friend to be found?) we are counseled with these words in verse 16…

…they that fear the Lord shall find [such a friend]…
…they that fear the Lord shall find [such a friend]…

This is not to say those who go to church will find such a friend – for alas, many churches in our day no longer fear the Almighty… but are, I am sad-to-say brazen and bold against Him. Lawless and corrupt!

It says they that fear the Lord shall find such a friend. When we fear the Lord – when we truly reverence Him… when we make Him the most important element of our lives – something remarkable… something wonderful happens.

Our vision, formerly myopic and inadequate to understand our surroundings, sharpens. Our moral acumen… once slumbering and inactive awakens and reveals itself through active discretion… penetrating awareness… and principled insight…

…they that fear the Lord shall find [such a friend]…

The final verse sounds quite cryptic (verse 17)…

…for as he is, so shall his neighbour be also.

In reality, it is very simple. Those who truly fear the Lord in this life have a way of finding each other. Kindred spirits. Those who fear the Lord are guided by His unseen hand to find each other… Those who truly fear the Lord have much more in common than they have points of difference.

It should be our prayer that the St. Paul’s Church Family will always be a friendly Body of believers… and that we will find in each other true friendship… as we follow a common path.

All of us, to one degree or another, have been wronged by fair weather friends… fault finding friends… and by false friends… And all of us, to one degree or another, have wronged others by not being faithful and reliable friends ourselves… Fortunately there is forgiveness and growth and development from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord…

The Scriptures tell us of a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. We may fail in our relationship to Him, but He will never fail us… for He is utterly faithful… and absolutely reliable. We share His common table. We share His divine food… We share His heavenly drink… We are called His sons and daughters…

…they that fear the Lord shall [truly] find [such a friend]…

Make new friends, keep the old.
One is silver and the other is gold.

Faithful friends, tried and true,
Are God’s gracious gift to you.

What type of friend are you?

World without end. Amen.

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