Date: 05 Jun 2016
Text: 2 Timothy 4:16-18
Birmingham City Mission – Prime Time
Manchester United have just changed their Manager; did you know that? The outgoing Manager, Louis Van Gaal, complained bitterly in a newspaper report a few days ago that he had been stabbed in the back by his old friend Jose Mourinho who has replaced him at Old Trafford. I think we can take it that that spells the end of a beautiful friendship! In some ways that may sound quite amusing given that I suspect there are few real friendships in football and Mr Van Gaal was allegedly paid £4.5M in compensation. However it did spell the end of a friendship that had lasted many, many years. Sad though that story may be it is a picture of how friendships can be, even among the rich and famous.
What about you, do you have good friends? If so, are they people you can rely on and turn to when you need help or someone to talk to? It is important to have friends since we all need someone to talk to or even confide in from time to time. When we go through bad times we need someone to be there for support. My second daughter, who is now 41, has been close friends with someone since they were both 5 years old. They have always been there for each other through the good times and the bad times, and they have both suffered bad times over those years as well as many good times. That friendship has lasted and there is no reason that it shouldn’t. Friendships do though break down don’t they? Friends pass away and so are no longer there. One involved in the friendship may move away due to a variety of circumstances. Saddest of all, there may be an argument which causes the friends to never see or speak to one another again.
The Apostle Paul who wrote this letter to his young protégé, Timothy, had lots of friends. He wrote quite a few letters to some of those friends in the churches that he had either visited or founded and 13 of those letters are contained in the Bible. In each of those letters he mentions plenty of friends by name. Over the years they all helped him in one way or another and Paul was always grateful for their help. Like most people though Paul could be a bit awkward and was far from perfect. On one famous occasion he fell out with a young man by the name of John Mark. They were away together visiting new places founding churches, preaching and teaching the gospel and helping people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately John Mark got homesick and left halfway through their journey. Paul was furious and vowed never to work with him again. So bad was this argument that Paul’s very best friend, a chap by the name of Barnabas, also eventually left the team and went his own separate way. Can you see the damage that falling out with a friend can do? Paul fell out with John Mark and it caused another friend, Barnabas, to also stop being friends with Paul. Does that happen to you? Have you fallen out with someone only to find that a mutual friend has taken sides against you by siding with your ex-friend? Such things do happen.
One friend who did stand by Paul no matter what happened was the young man Timothy to whom Paul was writing this letter. Timothy lived in a small town called Lystra and probably came to faith in Jesus Christ when Paul visited the area somewhere around 46-48 AD. They actually met when Paul went back there in about 50-52 AD when Timothy joined him on Paul’s various travels. Now as Paul writes this letter he is in prison in Rome somewhere around 67-68 AD. Do the sums and you’ll see that Timothy was still a good friend after roughly 16 years; that is quite some friendship and knowing how awkward Paul could be it just shows that friendships can endure no matter what happens. Timothy was such a good friend that Paul trusted him to visit the church in Corinth to try and sort out their problems, and then to lead the new church in Ephesus. A little while later Timothy co-wrote Paul’s letters to the church in Thessalonica and to another friend of Paul, Philemon. Good friends do trust one another don’t they? Without that trust there can’t really be a friendship and that trust should last through all the ups and downs that friendship brings with it.
As Paul languished in prison he wrote to his old friend for support. We don’t know why Paul was in prison although it was undoubtedly connected to his preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, something that the Roman authorities frowned upon. Paul founded the church in Rome and knew many, many people there. If you read the last chapter of his letter to the Romans you will see just how many he listed there as he thanked them for their support. Now, at precisely the moment that he needed their support more than ever, they deserted him, not one person in the church came to his aid. No one visited him or helped him in any way. Why do you suppose that was? Were they worried about the possibility that they too would be locked up for associating with Paul? Whatever the problem was, Paul was locked up with no one to come to his aid to defend him. Whilst under Roman law Paul was entitled to legal support, no one was prepared to defend him. How sad that must have been for him; in his hour of greatest need not one friend was there to help him. Has that happened to You? I’m pleased to say that thankfully it has never happened to me; my friends have come to my aid just when I needed help most.
Whilst many of us may get bitter at being deserted at such a bad time, Paul certainly didn’t. He wrote to Timothy and said of being deserted, “May it not be held against them” (4:16b); he held no grudges. His words remind me of what Jesus said as He hung dying on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus’ friends also deserted Him in His hour of need and yet as He hung there suffering He sought forgiveness for them and that of those who were crucifying Him. I’m not altogether sure that I could do that.
His friends may have deserted him but Paul knew that he wasn’t alone; as he wrote, “the Lord stood at my side” (4:17a). Paul had absolute faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour and as a result he knew that even though none of his friends came to his aid, Jesus would never desert him. Not only that, but Paul went on to say that the Lord, “... gave me strength” (4:17a). Whilst we don’t know the precise charges that Paul faced, I think we can be sure that if he was found guilty the punishment would be severe, perhaps even the death penalty. He needed all the inner strength that he could muster and so to know that the Lord was with him by his side and giving him the strength he needed was a massive help. A few years earlier Paul wrote a letter to his friends in Philippi and talked of Jesus and all that He had done and the Apostle told the Philippians that he could “do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Paul’s friends may have deserted him but His Lord never would.
Friends may come and friends may go but Jesus is always there and He never wavers or changes; nor does He ever let us down. Someone once wrote a letter to a Hebrew church and told them, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). That means to me that He is a good and faithful friend Who will never leave us.
Do you know Jesus as your friend? You may have friends already and not feel the need for anyone else. However, a sad fact of life is that sooner or later that friend or those friends may desert you and leave you alone. It is then that you may suddenly realise that you do need Jesus after all; He is waiting to be your Friend, just ask Him into your life and He will be there and never leave you. Because I’m old and have a memory for stupid things, I can remember a TV advert from many years ago for a brand of cigarette; the catchphrase from the advert was “You’re never alone with a Strand”. I prefer to think that I’m never alone with Jesus by my side.