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Galatians 5:22; John 15:9-15

Develop and sustain relationships through the Spirit

Befriend – the kindness of the Spirit

Over the last few weeks our headlines have been filled with tragedy. We have heard about hurricanes, earthquakes, and most recently, a mass shooting. In these stories there are victims and heroes. As we read we fear being the victims of catastrophe and something in us longs to be a hero. Our role is not always chosen by us. William Shakespeare wrote. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

There has not been a natural disaster in our town, but there is a spiritual one that surrounds us. Everywhere we look we see the devastation of sinful and selfish choices. The devastation begins as soon as we look in the mirror in the morning. It continues in our home and spills out in the community. We have fallen far from Eden. Like the aftermath of a hurricane there are people crying out for assistance and there are people rushing to their aid. Where are you at today? Do you feel like you are drowning spiritually or are you rushing to rescue people around you? What would it take for you to move from victim to hero? We have that answer in Galatians 5:16

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. It is through the Spirit we conquer our sinful habits and find the strength to serve others. Not through law, rules, or will-power.

We have been studying the fruit of the Spirit for several weeks now. We have learned some essential information that we need to recover before we go further in this study. First, we must realize that these characteristics are produced by the Spirit when He is at work in our hearts. We are not talking about mere personality, but supernatural change.

Further when the Spirit is at work He produces these characteristics all at once. The word fruit is singular. You cannot pick and choose. These traits are unified and point to a radical new way of life that is focused on God and oriented to serving others. You will know that you are walking by the Spirit when you see all these traits growing together. We use the metaphor of fruit because the development is slow and sometimes halting. This is not because the Spirit is weak, but because we struggle to stay submitted to His leadership. But He is patient and kind with us. Over time He is persistent to change us.

We could simplify the whole list by using the word Christlike because Jesus Christ perfectly embodied and displayed these traits. This is helpful because we see how He interacted with all sorts of different people. Further, this is helpful because Jesus demonstrates these traits to us every single day. We exist through His love and service to us and His grace powers our service to others.

Galatians 5 gives us nine characteristics and they describe for us the Christian life. This is what God is laboring to produce in you. We begin with love with is really an overarching description of the Christian life. We are to do all things in love. Then we have joy and peace. These are internal characteristics that mark the life of a believer. And if we have hearts that are filled with love, joy, and peace then our outward actions will be marked by patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You can see that a Spiritually controlled life is heavily invested in serving people.

We looked at patience last week. We are called to suffer long with difficult and hurting people. But patience is enduring the negative reactions of others. Today we are going to look at the positive side – how we are to serve the people around us. This is a weighty topic. Let’s pray and then we will examine it together.

Today we are examining kindness and goodness. Kindness is graciousness of attitude and behavior. It is a disposition that longs to help others. Goodness involves taking action by doing good and generous things for others. It is difficult to define human virtues. We feel virtue almost instinctively. The Bible often describes virtues rather than defining them. Kindness and goodness are described by pointing to God and His work towards us.

Eph 2:7-9  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  (8)  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  (9)  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Luke 6:35-36  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (36)  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

The word kind is a little abstract because it can be used in so many ways. When we use the word we are often just talking about good manners. When God uses the word he is talking about gracious and costly service. It is kindness that sent Jesus to rescue us. It is kindness that holds back God’s judgement. There are a lot of different aspects to kindness. We have a word for a person who is continually good and kind to us. We call them friends. The word friend captures the essence of these two traits. I think we will have a much better understanding of what we are being called to if we explore the idea of friendship.

Defining Freindship

So, what is friendship? We often use the term loosely.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” ― Elbert Hubbard

What does the Bible say about friendship?

Pro_17:17  A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Pro_27:6  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

In light of these verse we have very few real friends. Pastor and author Scott Sauls offers this observation:

REAL FRIENDSHIP IS HARD. There are other, less real versions of friendship. The less real versions are “less” because they are less costly, less committed, less disruptive, less scary, less gritty, less gutsy, and less out-of-our-control than real friendship. But here’s the rub: Less real versions of friendship are also less rich. In the short run, they feel better and smoother than real friendship. But in the long run, they leave us lonely and alone. And it is not good to be alone.

He explains that there are digital friendships – people you just show of to, but you never have to be vulnerable with these people. You only share what you want to. There are transactional friendships. These are people you hangout with as long as it is good for you. If the relationship gets hard or costly you let it go. Then there are one-dimensional friendships. You rally around one cause or shared interest. This relationship prioritizes sameness. As long as we all pretend to be the same we are fine. We don’t want disagreement or to be challenged. I think churches often fall prey to this kind of thinking – we become homogeneous because  we can all share the same assumptions, politics, background, and values. It is hard to love people who are different than you. It requires grace.

Scott Sauls states that, “Real friends not only agree but disagree; real friends not only applaud each other’s strengths but challenge each other’s weaknesses; real friends not only enjoy life together but struggle through life together; real friends not only praise one another but apologize to and forgive one another; real friends not only rally around their points of agreement but love and learn from their points of disagreement. When this happens  — when friendship grows beyond one dimension to many dimensions.”

“Real friendship happens when we move toward the people we are most tempted to avoid. These are the people who are best equipped to challenge our perspectives, push our buttons, and require us to put on love.” – Scott Sauls

Jesus gave us a perfect model of redemptive friendships. He was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners. In the garden He calls Judas friend. So, when the Bible speaks of friendship it goes far deeper than a common definition. Jesus loved and befriended people based on their potential rather than their current state. He invested in and transformed people through service and love.

Friendship is a committed relationship which allows you to serve one another with love, transparency, and loyalty. Your effectiveness in serving God will largely be based on your ability to build solid friendships. People are the lone thing that last for eternity and you reach them through friendship. We must build strong relationships in our church and community. Discipleship is built on friendship.

Transition: At this point in the message you may have realized that we are not talking about hanging out with kind people who are comfortable and easy to be with. We are talking about reaching out to people who may be very different, who are hurting, and loving them in a way that helps them thrive. So how do you develop this? 

Developing Friendship

Learn to value relationships

It hope it’s obvious, but we are not talking about a program or a method. I cannot give you 12 steps to make everyone like you. We are talking about relationships which means they will be slow to develop. They will be costly. You might be sitting there thinking why bother? I have enough going on who needs relationships? The answer is – you do. CS Lewis explains this graphically and powerfully,

“Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact … give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.”

You are on this earth to build redemptive friendships. And your love is not just one sided. God uses relationships to transform us. Relationships are the best way for God to expose our hearts and to change us.

Authors Lane and Tripp explain “but God wants to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we would see our need for a relationship with him as well as with others. Every painful thing we experience in relationships is meant to remind us of our need for him. And every good thing we experience is meant to be a metaphor of what we can only find in him.”

God is calling us to make disciples. You can’t just study doctrine or pass an offering plate in this building. Christianity is serving people. That call is to develop deep, meaningful, long-term relationships. As you show God’s love to others you will also be changed. This is how we grow, this is how the church is strengthened, this is how the world is changed.

I need to stress then that people are not projects. If you go out into your community and you try pressure people into becoming spiritual, or to just come to this church, or to just pray a prayer you are likely going to do far more harm than good. People don’t want to be treated like projects nor do they want you to change them. People don’t need a sales pitch. They need a relationship with God. When we talk about redemptive friendships we are talking about helping people walk with God. Your testimony, this church, spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading are all wonderful, but they are means to get people to God. Please understand that these means are critically important. I’m thrilled you are here today, but my concern is not if you like the building, or the service, or the programs. Did you meet with God? Did we help you see Him and help you follow His word?

For the rest of our time this morning I would like us to consider the friendships that Jesus cultivated. We need to see the sort of friendship he offers to us and the friendship we need to cultivate with others. Please turn to John 15 o r page 1071 in a pew Bible.

Joh 15:9-15  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (10)  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (11)  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (12)  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (13)  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (14)  You are my friends if you do what I command you. (15)  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

Seek People in Love (v9)

Notice that Jesus reminds His disciples that He has loved them over the last three years the way the Father loves Him. Jesus chose His disciples and remained with them even though they so often got things wrong.

Consider how many people ministered to. He was free with His love and cared for those who simply wanted a good show or an answer to their problems. He once healed ten lepers and nine forgot to thank Him. You cannot choose the result from loving people. You can only choose to give yourself to them and they will embrace you or turn away. I want to encourage you to show generous love to all those who are around you and faithfully serve those who respond. Build relationships with the willing. You can’t serve everyone, but someone wants to be with you.

Develop Vulnerable transparency (v15)

Look at verse 15. Jesus explains that He is not just a master who commands His servants. He has been open and transparent by showing His disciples what He had heard from God. Relationships are based on trust and that trust must go both ways. When you share your hope, dreams, and hurts with other people you give them a little piece of yourself. You make yourself vulnerable.

One Pastor states, “Friends tell secrets. Friends open up. Friends let you in. Friends show you what they’re really like, what they look like without their makeup on, what they’re really dealing with, how they’re really feeling. – Tim Keller

I want to be really practical today. You invite a relationship when you trust someone with yourself and people are offering you the same opportunity when they trust you. When they open their heart by telling you something personal they are inviting you to go deeper. This work is slow. You might trust someone with your favorite restaurant, but you don’t give them the keys to your house. Trust is offered and if it is honored the relationship grows. If trust is ever violated the relationship is severely damaged. Consider how Jesus restores Peter after his denial.

As trust is built we begin to offer advice and even criticism. The proverbs tell us that the wounds of a friends are faithful. Proverbs 29:5 states that friends don’t flatter. You are interested in the advancement and success of your friend so you tell them the truth. This is the essence of goodness and kindness. Jesus tells His disciples in verse 11 that He invests in them so that His joy can be full and that their joy can be full. If there is a solid foundation of trust your friend will hear you and respond.

commit to Sacrificial loyalty

The metaphor used by Jesus is a vine with branches. Jesus instructs His disciples to remain in Him and they will be fruitful and prosper. In verse nine He instructs the disciples abide in His love. He was telling them that His love would always be available. If they would continue with Him He would continue to teach and empower them.

Earlier He stated that if the branches were removed that they would wither. You can just remove branches and then put them back on. Growth is slow and constant. The relationship is two ways and it is constant.

Pro 18:24  A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

People need you to stick with them. Often relationships grow best during adversity. If you want to serve people well you are going to have to give sacrificially of your time and resources when they are hurting. Jesus gave everything to His friends and then told them in verse 12 to love others in the same way. This is the essence of friendship. “Good friends always let you in and never let you down” – Tim Keller

Transition: This is a beautiful passage and I think this is the most demanding passage that we have examined since I have been here. Some people are anxious and broken and are barely able to survive in life. Surely God understands that many of us are in no capacity to serve right now. . . How do we honor this passage and maintain redemptive relationships?

Sustaining Friendship

God sees us in our weakness and lovingly tells us to serve others. Who do we serve? Some of you have people in your homes. Some have coworkers. All of us have neighbors and people we know in town. Look for someone who is hurting that will let you serve them. It is in service that we learn to get over ourselves and to find what really matters. A heart that focuses on its own problems becomes cold and hard. When you focus on service it drives you to God as well as others.

Find friendship in Christ

We all recognize that you’t can continually give to others without facing exhaustion and burnout. God is not asking you to serve out of your resources, but out of His. Remember that love, patience, kindness, and goodness are all fruits of the Spirit. As we walk with the Spirit we are pointed to Jesus.

In Jesus we find everything we need to thrive in our own lives. We find faithful love that pursues us even when we run away. We find acceptance even though we fail. We find wisdom to guide us and radical generosity to provide everything we need.

You might be here and everyone around you may be demanding of you. Perhaps no one appreciates your work or understands the emotional state you are in. If that is your case you need to run to Christ. He is the only one who fully understands and who is equipped to give you exactly what you need. If you call yourself a Christian you can’t live or serve without Him. Run to Christ and make sure you spend ample amounts of time with your savior, your rescuer.

 

If you are with us today and you do not have a relationship with Jesus I would invite you to run after Him as well. No doubt you have challenges and relationships that you can’t manage. No one in this room can handle the burden that is on their shoulders. Jesus lived the perfect life that you and I could not live and died to pay the penalty of all the failures and sins you have ever committed. If you will confess your failings and will embrace Jesus as your king He will rescue you and will begin an incredible work of transforming your life. If you have any questions about this truth I would be happy to speak with you any time.

Let’s go back to serving others. You might be thinking, “God want to give me strength, but people around me are still demanding resources that I do not have.” This will always be the case. So, as you run to Jesus for help you can point other to Him as well.

Teach others to rest in Christ

Can you see that you and I are called to befriend people and to serve them, but they don’t ultimately need us. Yes, we will share life together and we will care for one another, but they need Jesus just the way you do. So, as you are listening to their trouble and concerns you are pointing them to the riches of God’s grace. When they speak about marriage problems you point them to God who can satisfy and lonely or frustrated soul. God is more than enough and where sin has ravished a life He stands ready to restore and comfort through Himself.

This means two very important things. First, you can squeeze out of friendship what only God can give. Your friend, fiancé, or spouse cannot be your savior. They can’t heal your hurts, give meaning in life, or give you the kind of acceptance that will let your soul rest. Run to God. If you are hurting or need help find your help in Him.

Secondly, for those of you who are exhausted trying to be everybody’s savior. Stop. Love people, listen, but through your friendship always point them to the only one who has power to change their life. You can only teach others what you know for yourself. Grow strong in the Lord and then teach others to do the same.

Let’s start right now. Please bow your heads. I want us all to spend a few moments in the Lord confessing our brokenness, our selfishness, or our exhaustion. Then invite Him to be your joy and strength as you serve others this week. Please pray silently as after a while I will close us in prayer.