What a Friend Is Not

I hope all of you enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a great time when we can get together with family and friends and enjoy the things God has given us. I enjoyed spending Thanksgiving with family. It was nice for us to have all of our family to the house and enjoy great cooking together, and mostly just to sit around and enjoy catching up with enjoyable conversation. There was lots of laughter in our home and a lot of joy that makes family times rich. I’m sure many of you share similar experiences.

The whole idea of being thankful should be one of great interest to the Christian. I’m glad that in our country we have a day where we focus more on being thankful. But it is different for the Christian and the non-Christian. For us, we have someone to be ultimately thankful to. The fact that we have food on the table, a home, family, laughter, meaningful relationships, the fact that we have any of these things is only attributable to one person, and we know it is God.

Every good thing that we have, all that we have is from Him. God is a giving God and we are to be a thankful people. Like the Psalmist David, we can give thanks with all of our hearts as we consider all that He does for us, all that He gives to us, and for who He is.

1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9:1-2)

As we end the Thanksgiving season, I hope that we don’t end being thankful, but that it’s a regular part of our lives.

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. 25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (Philippians 2:19-30)

We talked last week about faithful friends, faithful spiritual friends. We discussed some qualities of faithful spiritual friends and how we can be that in other people’s lives. We looked at Paul and Timothy and the church in Philippi. We talked about their spiritual friendships. Here is an area where we can often express thanksgiving to God for the friendships that He gives us. Thank the Lord for faithful friends He has put in our lives who point us to Christ. And thank the Lord where He has allowed us to be that faithful friend in another’s life, when He has given us opportunities to point them to Him.

Our friendships with one another are not fleeting, they will not be eternally destroyed. They will go on – we will go on – together forever, in heaven, and they will become richer than what they even have been here. We can thank God for this now and look forward to the fullness of what we now experience to a lesser degree.

Paul says in Colossians 1:

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:3-5)

Do we take the time to thank the Father for people He has put around us who point us to Him in a variety of ways? Are we truly thankful for spiritual friendships? Do we verbalize to others things such as, “I am so thankful to God for your presence and help in my life”? Probably none of us do that enough. But maybe today that can change! We are to be a thankful people, thankful to God for His many blessings, thankful to God for people He graciously brings our way.

Not all friends seem helpful in our lives. We have been looking at those who are helpful for us spiritually, but not all seem helpful. As Paul talks about spiritual friends in Philippians 2:19-30 and their work and the spiritual benefits of such dear friends, he inserts verse 21, where we are today, which gives us a contrast to the rest of the passage.

For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 2:21)

Paul has been talking about sending his friend and protégée Timothy to his other friends in Philippi. Timothy was going to check on them to see how they are doing, with plans that he would return to Paul, who was imprisoned, with good news of their progress in the faith. That good news was going to light up Paul’s life because he was connected to them spiritually. He wanted to hear of their progress in the gospel, how they were doing. Timothy was a trusted friend to make the trip. In fact Paul said there was no one like him, meaning Timothy, who would be genuinely concerned for their welfare. Later in these last few verses Paul speaks of Epaphroditus, speaking of him as a brother, fellow soldier, and a worker in the ministry. Paul also speaks highly of his friends in Philippi. 

But in verse 21 he speaks of those who have not been so faithful as friends. He speaks of those who had decided to focus their lives, their hearts, and minds on things other than on Jesus Christ and His message of salvation and grace. There was a contingent, apparently of believers, who were less than engaged in the work of the Lord, in their lives and in the lives of others. How does he describe them? They were those seeking not after the interests of Christ, not so interested in loving Christ and others, as they were in loving themselves and working to fulfill their own desires.

When this happens among believers, this makes for, at least potentially, a disaster in relationships among the body of Christ. In Paul’s case there was work to be done, ministry to be accomplished. There were people to be checked on in Philippi, and there were very few people who were in a position of living for Christ to do the work. Many apparently decided to focus on themselves.

Who were these people that Paul mentions? Who were these who were seeking after their own interests and not the interests of Christ? Who are they? Who are these who stand in sharp contrast to Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the believers at Philippi? Who are these people who would be so selfish with their time, thoughts, energy, and money? Who are these selfish people? Well, apparently they were some of the church people. They were the people whom Christ had died for. It’s probably those mentioned in Philippians 1:15-17:

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. (Philippians 1:15-17)

These are people who stand in contrast to Timothy’s character qualities mentioned in verse 20 of chapter 2, which were “like-mindedness” with Paul and “genuine concern for others.” These character qualities exemplified the gospel.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

We heard that from Paul, and now we get to see that in Timothy. These are not just words, they’re the way we’re supposed to live. Timothy was apparently living this way as a faithful friend and servant of the Lord while others were living for themselves. And a consequence of living for themselves was they were not very helpful friends.

It seems in this book of Philippians that we keep coming back to an important truth. I didn’t anticipate this when I studied through this book prior to beginning preaching through it. The important truth is that Christ-centered living, living our lives for Christ, brings unity within the church. Studying through the Word is like a treasure hunt, where you find many unexpected things, and this keeps coming up again and again. Paul keeps giving us this in various ways throughout this book.

The primary person in any of our relationships must be Jesus Christ. And the primary person that gets in the way of that is ourselves.

As one who is in full-time Christian ministry, and spends lots of time counseling, I am fascinated by relationships. It is intriguing to me to that any two people can get along at all for any length of time. I mean to have a deep, meaningful relationship with another person for the long haul. And the reason this is fascinating to me is because any time two people choose to have a real, meaningful relationship together then they are allowing two worlds to collide. Person “A” has a long history of wants, desires, expectations, hurts, fears, worries, quirks, preferences, ideas, and philosophies. Some things just set him off that make no sense to the rest of us, and there are other things that bring him happiness. And person “B” has all those same things, just packaged totally differently. And these two people then come together with all their differences and say, “Let’s bring our lives together and exist together in a meaningful way.”

In the short term we can just let things go and get along, overlook what we want, and so on. But for the long term it’s not so easy. This difficulty that occurs in every meaningful, long-term relationship is why we need Christ. These differences must be dealt with for relationships to last. Paul talks about this in Ephesians 2 and shows the importance of the Lord Jesus Christ and His work and presence for there to be peace in any of our relationships.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:14-22)

And so in Christ, we can be at peace with God and with fellow believers. But our focus must be on Christ. So what do we do with this? Practically, what does this mean? Well, I think it means we have some work to do, and some trusting to do.

The work would be in putting off selfishness in relationships, forsaking thoughts like “What about me? What do I get out of this relationship? Poor me, why aren’t my desires met?” and putting on “What would most be pleasing to God in this relationship? How can I glorify God in this? How can I sacrifice in service to Him in this relationship?” That’s some work.

And trust? Where does trust come in? We must trust that God can do this in me for His good pleasure, knowing that this is not my own work and ability.

And here is the great thing: as you evaluate everyone of your relationships, any of them, there is not a single circumstance that would preclude you from glorifying God in that relationship. There is always an opportunity to glorify God by putting off self and having genuine concern for other people. We always have that opportunity to put off self and put on Christ. And that is exactly what God is calling us as Christians to do daily.

We can evaluate any relationship, a troubled one or a great one, any one, and do this. List out the ways you are being selfish in your thinking in that relationship, thinking of yourself first. Then for Christ’s sake letting go of these. And here is what you can replace them with to please God, to say “I will serve this person instead of serving myself, which is what I have been doing. Helping them rather than going after what I want, what I desire.”

Of course our ultimate example of letting go of self and having genuine concern for others is not found in Timothy or Paul, but in Christ. We have seen this in the book of Philippians, as “He humbled himself even to the point of death on a cross.” But we also see this all throughout the Bible. This week I was reading parts of Mark’s Gospel, and even just in the first chapter I was struck by Christ’s selflessness as He chose to relate to His father, to us, and to first century people.

The first chapter of Mark gets right to things. Just in the first eleven verses we read of John the Baptist’s ministry and the baptism of Jesus. Verses 12 and 13 contain a quick mention of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, and in verses 14 and 15 we see Jesus’ first words as recorded by Mark. Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” And with those words, at the inauguration of His ministry, right out of the box, Jesus is setting His course publicly, declaring His ministry that says, “I am selflessly giving myself to this important ministry for the salvation of men and women, which will be at the price of my life and the experience of facing the full wrath of God in the process.” He gave Himself selflessly. Who are we to not do the same?

Paul said, “I’m being poured out as a drink offering,” giving of himself. The Philippians were described as a sacrificial offering, giving of themselves. Timothy refused to seek after his own interests but was genuinely concerned for others, giving of himself. Later in chapter 2 of Philippians we will see that Epaphroditus gave of himself, nearly dying in ministry. In each of these is the common theme of self-sacrifice, selflessness in service to Christ and to each other. Jointly following after Christ in grand unity for the pleasure of God. 

Will we be counted among them as we consider our walk through this life? Are we true spiritual friends, showing a genuine concern for one another, or are we those who are primarily seeking after our own desires and our own interests?

Each and every relationship can be put to the test. Perhaps starting with the most difficult to see if our hearts and minds are rightly focused on Christ. I would just encourage all of us to do that this week, to take it as homework to do some evaluating here to see where we stand as spiritual friends in the lives of other people.

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. (Philippians 2:19-24)